Revisiting imprecatory psalms and imprecation

POST OVERVIEW. Another consideration of the imprecatory psalms and the other acts of imprecation in the Old Testament. This article once again evaluates whether imprecation of enemies is still a weapon in the disciple’s armory and, if not, why not. Other posts on this same topic are Posts #500 (3/8/2022), #503 (3/11), #502 (3/15), #505 (3/18), #509 (3/30), and #514 (4/6) back in March and April of this year, and Post #563 (8/26/2022).

DEFINITION OF IMPRECATION

The first thing we need to do in this revisiting of imprecation is define what we mean. In the Bible, “imprecation” is when a believer calls on God to curse or destroy his enemies. So, in the “imprecatory psalms,” the psalmist (often David) is in distress and his life is being threatened by enemies, and in response, the psalmist cries out to the Lord to give him relief by cursing or punishing or judging the psalmist’s enemies. The question that needs to be answered with regard to imprecation is, “After the first advent of the Lord Jesus, is the believer still allowed to imprecate (call down curses on) his enemies, or has that forever changed with the coming of Jesus?” At the end of my Post #514 (4/7/2022), I wrote this conclusion:

“And so we conclude our study of the imprecatory psalms. We have seen that these psalms which called down curses on the enemies of the righteous are no longer useful to the disciple of Jesus. Jesus Himself commands His people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, which renders an imprecatory psalm obsolete. But also, since we are to be wise ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), we realize that imprecating others is a poor strategy for sowing the gospel.”

In a later post on this topic of imprecation (#563, 8/26/2022), I concluded:

“Thus, the sanctioned New Testament response to persecution and affliction appears to preclude any retaliation, revenge, or imprecation of enemies. We would thus conclude that the disciple of Jesus is allowed to lament the suffering and to groan underneath it, and to long for the day when God will judge the wicked and set all injustice right but is not to imprecate his enemies. Rather, he is to trust the Lord with the administration of all justice and is to endure the suffering in the strength that Christ supplies.”

STILL MORE THOUGHTS ON IMPRECATION

All my study of imprecation has consistently led me to the conclusion that the disciple of Jesus is not to curse or to ask God to curse his enemies, but is rather to endure the persecution and the suffering. This is clear and incontrovertible. This is what the New Testament teaches.

THE FINAL QUESTION TO SETTLE THE MATTER: It seems to me, however, that the discovery of this New Testament doctrine requires a further step to fully settle the matter. That is, why is the disciple of Jesus not permitted to call down the LORD’s curses on his enemies when the Old Testament saints could do this?

As we explore this question, we begin by acknowledging that the solution is somehow tied to Christ and His death on the cross. The challenge, then, is to discern how Christ’s death on the cross has silenced the imprecatory psalms and removed them from the believer’s arsenal. The Lord no longer hears the believer’s imprecatory prayers because Jesus Christ has died and rendered all our imprecation of earthly enemies trivial by comparison. In the ultimate act of injustice, Jesus has died and yet our Lord “uttered no threats nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:23).

Not only has our Lord demonstrated for us that imprecation is no more, for He uttered no threats in His death (1 Peter 2:23), but He has also commanded His disciples to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-30). Thus, the imprecatory psalms are obsolete, like the day of atonement and the cities of refuge. These psalms are part of the old covenant when the LORD would demonstrate His power by vanquishing His peoples’ enemies and when His people would call upon Him to rescue them physically. But under the new covenant, Jesus the Messiah has come and has already rescued His people. “It is finished” (John 19:30). Now that our Lord has accomplished His atoning work on the cross and has been raised from the dead as first fruits of all those who will rise on the last day, physical threat and physical death have lost their sting (Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 Cor. 15:54-55; etc.). Because of the resurrection, the disciple of Jesus no longer fears those who kill the body (Matt. 10:28). Instead, we love and pray for our enemies because our enemies may be of the elect (like Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9). One of my persecutors today could be worshiping the Lord Jesus with me next Sunday.

Under the old covenant, enemies were hated (Hinted in Matt. 5:43; explicitly stated in imprecatory psalms). The sons of Israel often asked the Lord to destroy their enemies and to rescue them from physical danger. But in the new covenant, the Lord Jesus has now vanquished sin, our greatest enemy, and He has rescued us from death. Because of Jesus’ victory on our behalf, we no longer hate our enemies, but instead we proclaim to them our message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20).  With the giving of the Great Commission, the disciple of Christ is no longer focused on sustaining his own physical life but has instead fixed his eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) for the purpose of proclaiming the good news to friend and foe alike.

ENJOYING THE IMPRECATORY PSALMS

But now, on this side of the cross, we can enjoy the imprecatory psalms because they point forward to that time when our great Savior would render all our imprecation meaningless and unnecessary. As the day of atonement (Leviticus 16) and the suffering servant (Isaiah 53) pointed unerringly to Christ in His first advent, so the imprecatory psalms also point to Christ as the One who, by His death on the cross, will rescue us from the most fearsome of all our enemies, sin and death, and will thus set us free to love our enemies and plead with them to come to faith in the Lord Jesus. We can enjoy these psalms because they remind us that Christ has died and risen from the dead and has thus rendered all cursing of enemies obsolete.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/12/2022                 #599

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