Imprecatory psalms – How is the believer to view these?

INTRODUCTION. This post begins a series of articles focused on the so-called “imprecatory psalms” in the Bible. There are a number of these passages in the psalms, and their purpose seems to be to ask the Lord to destroy the psalmist’s enemies. This series considers these imprecatory passages and how the believer should view them.

What is the believer to do when evil men commit crimes of vicious injustice and are not punished? How is the believer to respond when lawless tyrants murder and destroy the innocent with impunity? Does the believer have a clear, biblical recourse when evil rises to heinous and atrocious levels? What does the Bible say?

In our world today, atrocities, injustice and wickedness are commonplace, and events that would have shocked us as unthinkable ten years ago fail to make the news because of more spectacular evil. What does the Bible have to say about how the disciple of Jesus should respond to this kind of injustice?

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

There are a number of things that we know from the Scriptures about this situation.

  1. We know that in every situation, God is sovereignly in control. Whether or not we understand or agree with the direction of human events is not of primary importance for the believer. “God is sovereign” is primary. Since my God is in control and since God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11), and since “God causes all things to work together for good” for me (Romans 8:28), then I am willing to trust Him and persevere with endurance. “God is our refuge and strength; therefore, we will not fear” (Psalm 46:1).
  2. God alone is the perfect Judge. God is never partial or biased and He always acts with complete justice, having perfect knowledge of all the details of every situation. As Judge, God also knows exactly what His desired outcome is from a given situation. By contrast, our knowledge is always incomplete (sometimes glaringly so), our understanding of justice is flawed, and our knowledge of God’s intended outcome is nonexistent. Therefore, the believer is to leave all judgment of the offender in the Lord’s hands.
  3. The Bible is also clear that the believer is not permitted to retaliate against a wrong done to them, nor are they permitted to take revenge. There are too many verses that speak to this truth to quote them all, but we will look at several to get a feel for the Bible’s teaching.
    1. Our greatest example is Jesus. When He was teaching, He told the disciples, “Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39). Then, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44). After teaching these things to His disciples, Jesus did these things during His passion. To fulfill Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth.” He suffered without fighting back and without seeking revenge upon His executioners or His betrayers. As Peter says about Jesus, “While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). The things that Jesus taught were the things that Jesus did, even when suffering the greatest injustice in the history of the world. And we are “to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
    1. David’s attitude toward Saul when the king was hunting David and seeking to kill him was, “The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed” (1 Samuel 26:11) and “I refused to stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed” (26:23). David refused to kill Saul because he did not have the authority to do that.
    1. In Romans 12, Paul gives us several principles for how we relate to our enemies and those who oppose us. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (12:14). “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (12:17). “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God” (12:19). The message: the believer is not permitted to act personally against enemies, even against those who are trying to kill him.
  4. At the end of the age, the Lord will certainly punish the unrighteous by throwing them into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15) where “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10, the description of the punishment of Satan). This makes clear that, although the wicked may appear to delay justice, there is never a situation where the wicked will escape justice. The Lord will certainly bring a just recompense on all the unrighteous at the end of the age and onward into eternity.

THAT’S THEN, BUT WHAT ABOUT NOW?

Okay, so that is all well and good, and I am convinced that “the Judge of all the earth shall do justice” (Genesis 18:25). I am willing to yield to Him who works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). Yes, God is perfectly sovereign, and I am not, and I trust that He will punish the unrighteous eternally at the end of the age. But here is my question: “What about now in this life?” Is there nothing the believer is permitted to do now in the face of gross injustice except trust the Lord and endure? Are our spiritual hands basically tied?

No. Our spiritual hands are not tied. The Lord has given us a Bible-sanctioned means for crying out to Him to bring justice in this age through the “imprecatory psalms.” So, having given some background, next time we will explore more about these psalms that allow us to cry out to the Lord for justice. “How long, O Lord?”

SDG                 rmb                 3/8/2022                     #500

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