Devotions With The Imprecatory Psalms

by Max Andrews

I’ve been stuck in the Psalms all year.  Every once in a while I travel to other passages sporadically throughout the Bible, but for the past seven months or so I cannot seem to find my way out of the Psalms.  As I laid in bed last night I flipped through some old notes of mine and began to read and think.  I woke up this morning and read a few psalms.  Then I decided to read the imprecatory psalms.  Now, I know this isn’t a term heard often but the imprecatory psalms are the psalms that make requests or desires known to God that are… well… evil.  Here’s a few.

Let death come deceitfully upon them; let them go down alive to Sheol, for evil is in their dwelling, in their midst.  Ps. 55.15

O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth… Ps. 58.6

May they be blotted out of the book of life and may they not be recorded with the righteous. Ps. 69.28

Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. Ps. 109.9

How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock. Ps. 137.9

I would encourage you to go to these passages and read them yourself.  Understand the contexts in which these words and thoughts were expressed.  Let’s not be too quick to say, “There’s no wrong in this!”,  “This is the Word of God, these Psalms cannot be evil!”  I’m not saying the psalms are evil, I’m saying that aspects of what are being expressed are evil.  The psalmist, David for the most part, is desiring justice and vengeance.  He wants them to have death be surprised upon them, for them to be buried alive, for their teeth to be knocked out, for them not to receive salvation, and for their children to die in the manner in which his people’s children have been murdered.  I’m just guessing but if I had not set up these imprecatory psalms in a biblical context already you would think that they were pretty evil–no?

So what do we do with these psalms?  We recognize them for what they are–honest.  God’s intention for these were not to be taken as these desires being pure and good.  God’s response to these are, “Yes, that’s right. I’m glad that you see that’s evil.”  Allow time to meditate and reflect on this.  How often do you find yourself desiring such thoughts on others?  Granted, you have not had the same experiences that inspired these desires, but you’ve probably had the same desires.  Manifestations of our heart and will must not be identical in its originating context to be the same manifestations of emotion and feelings.  Being in the world means that we must experience the tensions of life, not get rid of them.  Jesus didn’t come to earth and push the Easy Button to atone for this absurdity.  Jesus came to earth, lived and experienced the same temptations, tensions, problems, and absurdities that we face.  We happen to fall short in our response to these tensions and absurdities.  We respond as David does, though we are honest, we do not channel it properly.  Imagine God responding, “Yes, I’m glad you know these are evil. What will you do now?”  I think David collects himself after many of the psalms only for it to have it happen again.  He relies on God.  He’s obedient to God.  Justice, salvation, blessings… all these rest with God.  We want to chime in and tell God what to do and how to do it–and if it were the case that we got it our way, this is what it would look like.

I’ve come to the realization that I’m not so different in heart and mind from the psalmist who has such evil desires.  I need to learn to experience these tensions and problems properly.  It’s hard to say, but I don’t want the quick fix antidotes.  Experiencing these tensions, persevering through absurdity, and repeating the cycle again when we fail until it is all overcome by Jesus is the process we call sanctification.  When you find yourself in a situation when your prayer simply comes out as, “AHH!” trust that the Holy Spirit knows exactly what you mean and what you need (Rom. 8.27).  With this I will end with Romans 12.


3 Responses to “Devotions With The Imprecatory Psalms”

  1. Very salient point for a Monday morning. I’ve always considered these psalms to be a product of “Old Testament Thinking” when eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth was the norm rather than turning the other cheek and giving up one’s tunic.

    David was very honest about himself and his frailty and weakness in the psalms. I think that’s why they resonate so powerfully, especially today. He fell prey to many of the same weaknesses we all do, and expressed them to God. That doesn’t make him evil; it makes him human. God knew the why behind his request, the true heart behind David’s desires, and rewarded it accordingly.


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