Imprecation and the apostles – Did they curse their enemies?

INTRODUCTION. (This is the 6th post and final on the imprecatory psalms. Last one #509, March 31, 2022.) We began our study of the imprecatory psalms in the hopes that these psalms, which call on the Lord to curse the enemies of the righteous, might offer us an outlet to cry out to the Lord when we see gross injustice taking place. The horrible massacre of the people of Ukraine by the merciless Mr. Putin prompted this search of the Scriptures for such an outlet. As we have journeyed from the Old Testament to the New and have learned more about what Jesus taught regarding our enemies and regarding those who persecute us, it has become increasingly apparent that, since Jesus has come into the world, the imprecation (cursing) of our enemies is no longer an option. This post will examine how the apostles related to their enemies when they were being persecuted. What was their response when the flames of persecution and hatred burned against them?

METHOD OF STUDY. I will use the same approach taken in the other posts on imprecation; namely, we will be examining Scriptures from the book of Acts, the epistles, and Revelation to discern the apostolic church’s response to opposition and hatred from the world.  The study passages have been chosen because they give us information about the church’s attitude toward their enemies. Did the early church imprecate (call down curses on) their enemies? That’s what we hope to discover.

The Scripture reference for each passage will be given and then comments made with a verdict indicating the view of imprecation evidenced.

NOTE: Just as a reminder, “imprecation” in the Bible is when someone calls on God to curse someone else. The way we are using imprecation in this post is when a righteous person calls on the Lord to destroy or curse his enemies.

THE CHURCH IN THE BOOK OF ACTS

The church is born at Pentecost and the opposition comes almost immediately. In Acts 4:21, the Council tells Peter and John not to speak any more about Jesus.

Acts 4:23-31. The church leadership is made aware of the threat from the Council. They cry out to the Lord, but there is no hint of imprecation or of cursing of their enemies. Instead, the disciples affirm God’s sovereignty over all (4:27-28) and then pray that they would speak the word of the gospel with boldness so that Jesus would be exalted (4:29-30). In this whole passage there is no word directed against the Council. No imprecation.

Acts 5:27-32, 40-42. The Council again arrests Peter and the apostles and tells them to be silent about Jesus. Peter, however, will have none of this. Instead of being silent, he retells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. After Gamaliel gives his advice, the Council has the apostles flogged and then tells them (again) to stop talking about Jesus. Do the apostles respond with anger, seeking revenge? Do they cry out to God asking Him to avenge this injustice? Actually, no. Instead, they left the Council “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (41). And then they continued preaching about Jesus. There was no threat or anger or charges of injustice from the apostles. They received the flogging with joy and went back to their work. No imprecation.

(I am going to have to be more selective on these passages or we will have a twenty page document.)

Acts 9:10-17. Saul the persecutor has come to Damascus, and the Lord calls Ananias to help Saul regain his sight. I want to point out in this passage that Ananias has no anger toward Saul, nor does he hesitate to obey the Lord. There is no hatred toward Saul. The church as a whole accepts persecution as from the Lord and they resolve to persevere, not protest or seek revenge.

Acts 14:19-23. Paul is stoned by those in Lystra, yet he evidences no feelings of hatred or injustice. In fact, after his stoning, he goes back into Lystra to again proclaim the word. Paul accepted persecution as simply part of the price to pay for following Jesus.

Acts 16:22-26. Paul and Silas are beaten with rods in Philippi and thrown into the jail, but in the jail they “were praying and singing hymns of praise to God” (16:25). Instead of seeking revenge against the citizens of Philippi for their unjust beating and imprisonment, these men are praising the Lord. Why would they do that? They do that because singing to God after being unjustly beaten commends the gospel much better than seeking revenge, just like everyone else.

HERE IS A CLUE

And perhaps singing when unjustly beaten gives us a clue to the new paradigm. Now that Christ has come and died and risen from the dead, and now that He has sent out His church into the world, all that the apostles and the church say and do is for the furtherance of the gospel and the glory of Jesus (Ephesians 5:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31). So, for the disciple of Jesus, there is no longer any personal sense of injustice or any seeking God to avenge us on our enemies, because our persecution gives us a solid platform for proclaiming the excellencies of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). The church has been commissioned to preach the gospel and make disciples of all the nations, so our behavior has become constrained by our desire to accomplish the Great Commission that Jesus has given us. Thus, we see each situation as an opportunity to bring glory to Christ.

NEW TESTAMENT LENS

Because of this, imprecation and the imprecatory psalms must be evaluated under a New Testament lens. We have seen that Jesus explicitly teaches that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-29). Simply obeying our Lord rules out imprecating those who oppose us. But more than that, since we are “sheep in the midst of wolves,” we are to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Applying this teaching to opposition, affliction, or persecution means that, in any situation, we are to respond with the wisdom that “makes the most of the opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). When persecution comes, we respond strategically, asking ourselves what response the Bible commends and what response will advance the cause of the gospel. Through a gospel lens, imprecating our enemies fails on two points, for it is disobedient to the Lord’s explicit teaching on loving our enemies and is also a poor strategy for sowing the seeds of the gospel.

The same man who, with Silas, was praying and singing hymns of praise to God in a Philippian jail, also wrote 2 Corinthians. In chapter 6 of that epistle, the apostle Paul gives us instructions about how to have a flourishing gospel ministry. Consider his words below.

1we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, 10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things. – 2 Corinthians 6

As those charged with Christ’s commission, our priority is to “give no cause for offense, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God” (6:3-4). “No cause for offense” means that, in all situations, we present ourselves as harmless. We are meek servants of God, vessels to be poured out for the glory of Christ. Personally, we may be sorrowful, but publicly we are always rejoicing because Christ makes us joyful. We may be materially poor, but our desire is to make many rich with the salvation that Christ gives (see also 2 Corinthians 8:9).

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.

SDG                 rmb                 4/7/2022                     #514

Imprecation and Jesus – How did Jesus suffer?

(The previous post in this series was #505 on March 19, 2022.)

INTRODUCTION. We began our study of the imprecatory psalms from the perspective that the psalms which cursed the enemies of the righteous might offer us an outlet to cry out to the Lord when we helplessly watch the powerless being afflicted and oppressed and even murdered by the powerful. The horrible massacre of the innocent in Ukraine by the merciless Mr. Putin prompted this search of the Scriptures for such an outlet. But as our study has moved from the Old Testament to the New, and as we have learned more about what Jesus taught regarding our enemies, it has become increasingly apparent that, since Jesus has come, the imprecation (cursing) of our enemies is no longer an option. The post will examine how Jesus related to His enemies when He was undergoing the humiliation and agony of the cross. What was Jesus’ attitude toward those who plotted to kill Him? Can we find justification for imprecation here?

JESUS’ VIEW OF IMPRECATION

Having studied the Lord’s teaching in the gospels, we now turn to a study of His actions in the time of His most intense agony. Jesus was betrayed by one of His chosen apostles, abandoned by His closest friends, beaten and spat upon by evil religious leaders, scourged and mocked by Roman soldiers, and crucified even though repeatedly declared innocent. In all this injustice, does the Lord model for us an attitude of judgment of evil men? Does He call down curses from His Father on these wicked people who murdered Him? If Jesus retaliated or cursed or sought revenge, then the disciple would have a basis for imprecation. But it is also possible that the King of kings models the very opposite. Thus, the need for this study.

METHOD OF STUDY. The material will be largely from the gospels. This part of our study will focus on Jesus’ actions during His passion and crucifixion. The study passages are chosen because they give us information about Jesus and imprecation, whether pro or con. The Scripture reference for each passage will be given and then comments made with a verdict indicating the Lord’s view of Imprecation.

JESUS’ ACTIONS DURING HIS PASSION

Matt. 26:1-2. Jesus is completely aware of the plot to crucify Him, yet He does nothing to prevent it nor does He speak evil of the men who are plotting to kill Him. No curses of imprecation are uttered.

Matt. 26:21-25. Jesus again demonstrates His knowledge of the plot against Him by announcing His upcoming betrayal by one of His apostles. It is almost as if Jesus is the director of the play and is announcing the next scene. When He speaks to Judas Iscariot, it is not with hatred or ill will, but is matter of fact. Jesus displays no anger and indicates no imprecation.

Matt. 26:36-46. Now in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is preparing Himself for the agony of bearing God’s wrath against all the sins of God’s people of all time. He knows that His time has come and He knows who will be involved in His crucifixion, yet there is no hint of hatred against those who will crucify Him. He does not flee and He does not curse and He does not seek revenge. He simply bows to the Father’s will (26:39). No imprecation.

Matt. 26:47-50. Jesus allows Judas to kiss Him and thus to identify Him to the large crowd. Instead of angrily accusing Judas of betrayal, Jesus calls him “friend.” No cursing here.

Matt. 26:51-52. One of Jesus’ disciples attempts to defend Him from the crowd, but instead of applauding the disciple’s courage, Jesus sharply rebukes him and tells him to put his sword away. Instead of cursing His enemies, Jesus rebukes His disciple! No hint of imprecation.

Matt. 26:53-54. Jesus, as the Son of God, always has “at His disposal more than twelve legions of angels,” but He explicitly refuses to be rescued. Not only does He not utter a single word of cursing or anger against His enemies, but He also refuses to resist His enemies’ evil. He yields to His enemies, knowing that this is the Father’s will. No imprecation.

Matt. 26:57-68. Amidst all the pompous religious leaders and the false witnesses and the lying accusations, Jesus is completely silent. He does not defend Himself nor contradict the lies. There is no indication of anger or hatred or of seeking justice or revenge. Jesus does not curse or utter any threats but allows the drama to unfold. No imprecation.

Matt. 27:11-26. Now Jesus has been brought to Pilate, the Roman governor, who has the authority to have Him crucified. Now surely Jesus will tell Pilate of the injustice and of the wickedness of these religious leaders! But, no, Jesus does nothing of the kind. While false accusations and lies are flying, “Jesus did not answer him with regard to a single charge” (v. 14). He does not even resist the injustice, let alone imprecate His enemies.

Matt. 27:27-31. The Roman soldiers crowned Him with thorns, beat Him with a reed, mocked Him and spat on Him, yet Jesus endured this without a word. Despite this cruel injustice, Jesus does not curse or threaten or resist. No imprecation here.

Matt. 27:33-50. This passage describes the crucifixion and the death of Jesus. Here is the Lord of glory in extreme physical agony, but also under the full wrath of God as He bears the crushing weight of His people’s sins. And as He accomplishes the awesome work He was sent to do (John 17:4; 19:30), His murderers and the bystanders are hurling abuse at Him, mocking Him, and insulting Him. If ever there was an occasion to respond with curses and threats, this must be it. And yet Jesus speaks only once, not a curse to His enemies, but a cry of despair to His heavenly Father, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Through His entire ordeal, Jesus does not utter a single curse or threat against any of His enemies. Instead, He perfectly yielded to the Father’s will and endured the price of the atonement. No imprecation.

CONCLUSION

Our study of the imprecatory psalms and of imprecation in the Bible is nearing its end and we have reached a preliminary conclusion. Although the Old Testament psalms contain imprecatory passages which call on the Lord to bring divine judgment on the wicked, the life of our Lord Jesus Christ reveals no corresponding verses. Our study has revealed that, in His teaching, Jesus forbade His disciples from cursing their enemies and instead commanded them to pray for their enemies. In His life and death, Jesus modeled a refusal to curse or hate or threaten His enemies. The gospel record reveals that, with the coming of Jesus, imprecation of our enemies is no longer allowed. The disciple of Jesus is to love his enemies and to pray for those who persecute him (Matt. 5:44).

Our study of imprecation will conclude with the next post, which will examine how the disciples in the book of Acts and the epistles viewed imprecation of our enemies.

SDG                 rmb                 3/30/2022                   #509

Imprecation and Jesus – What did Jesus teach?

INTRODUCTION. Our study of the imprecatory psalms now shifts its focus to the New Testament as we seek to answer the question, “Now that Jesus Christ has come, and has lived and died and risen from the dead, and now that we are in the gospel age of ‘the favorable year of the Lord’ (Luke 4:19), are believers still allowed to call down curses on their enemies (“imprecate”) or to pray that the Lord would judge evil, wicked men?” This first part of our New Testament study will consider the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and what He taught His disciples.

Several posts ago, we started a study of the imprecatory passages in the psalms, those verses where the psalmist calls upon the LORD to judge the wicked and to bring curses down upon the psalmist’s enemies. Those passages in the psalms seemed to give biblical justification for the believer likewise calling down curses on those who are guilty of monstrous evil today. “If the psalms contain imprecations against enemies and against the wicked, is it not permitted for the believer today to do the same thing?” Of course, if the Old Testament contained the last word on this subject, then the answer would be yes. But the Old Testament does not contain the last word on the subject, because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come, and Jesus has changed everything.

JESUS’ VIEW OF IMPRECATION

So, what do we see in the Lord’s teaching and in the Lord’s actions that informs our own attitude toward imprecation of our enemies or of evil men? Does the Lord Jesus teach His disciples to call for curses on their enemies? Does the Lord model for us an attitude of judgment of evil men? For if Jesus taught His disciples that cursing their enemies was allowed, and if He Himself retaliated against those who confronted and opposed Him, then the disciple has a basis for imprecation. But it is also possible that the King of kings teaches and models the very opposite. Thus, the need for this study.

METHOD OF STUDY. The material will be largely from the gospels. The first part of the study will focus on Jesus’ teaching (what He said) and the second part on His actions (what He did). The study passages are chosen because they give us information about Jesus and imprecation, whether pro or con. The Scripture reference for each passage will be given and then comments made with a verdict indicating our Lord’s view of Imprecation.

JESUS’ TEACHING AND WORDS

Matt. 5:38-48. “Do not resist an evil person. Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (39). Note there is no imprecation or resistance in the face of mistreatment. “You have heard it said, ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (43-44). Jesus’ teaching in this passage leaves no room for imprecation since He expressly commands His disciples to love their enemies.

Luke 6:27-36. This passage in Luke parallels the above passage in Matthew. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (6:27-28). These two verses alone could conclude this study since they intentionally exclude any thought of imprecation. “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (35a). Once again, the disciple of Jesus is commanded to love their enemies and to do good to others with no thought to how the other person is going to respond. Imprecation is excluded. “The Most High is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (35b). Jesus teaches us that God’s attitude toward “ungrateful and evil men” is kindness. This is certainly opposed to an attitude of cursing. And since God is kind toward evil men, it is incumbent on His children to be kind to their fellow human beings.

Matt. 6:14-15. According to Jesus, forgiving those who have transgressed against them is a mark of His disciples, and an attitude of unforgiveness indicates that the person is not a true believer. Now, it is obvious that forgiveness and imprecation are opposite actions, for no one can curse and at the same time forgive the same person. Since forgiving others is demanded of the believer, it necessarily means that imprecation is excluded.

Matt. 10:16-23. Jesus is teaching His disciples that they will experience opposition and persecution as they go out to proclaim His name. “sheep in the midst of wolves (16).” “they will scourge you in the synagogues (17).” “Brother will betray brother to death . . . they will cause you to be put to death (21).” “You will be hated by all because of My name (22).” “Whenever they persecute you (23).” These are the types of afflictions and suffering the disciples will experience as they go out to tell the world about Jesus. Yet in all this Jesus does not give them one word about how to fight back or to defend themselves or to avoid these afflictions. In the face of enemies and persecution and hatred, our Lord tells His disciples to endure to the end (22) and to flee to the next city (23), but there is not the slightest hint of any imprecation or retaliation against those who hate us and persecute us. Once again, we have strong evidence that imprecation is a thing of the past and is not available to the disciple of Jesus.

Matt. 12:20. Jesus is said to be fulfilling the words of Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 42:1-3). “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out.” The character of Jesus is diametrically opposed to the spirit of imprecation. He is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29) and feels compassion for the people (Matt. 9:36; 14:14).

Luke 9:54-55. Jesus is not received by the Samaritans because He was traveling toward Jerusalem, so James and John said to Him, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” In 2 Kings 1, Elijah twice calls down fire from heaven to consume the fifty soldiers sent to him. It is a display of God’s power and of His protection of His prophet. James and John want the same respect to be shone to Jesus, so they ask Jesus to give them permission to burn up the Samaritans. But, instead of destroying the Samaritans, Jesus rebukes His apostles and says, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” The picture is clear: Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), not to curse the wicked. Again, there is no room for imprecation.

Matt. 21:33-39. In the telling of this parable, Jesus is clearly aware the chief priests and elders intend to kill Him, yet He does not lift a finger to stop them, nor does He threaten them, so there is no imprecation here.

Matt. 24:9, 13. Jesus is telling of the great tribulation that will come upon the church at the end of the age. “They will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name” (24:9). Jesus offers no defense tactics for the persecuted and He hints at no curses for the persecutors. As in Matthew 10, our Lord declares that “the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (24:13). Endurance, not imprecation, is the Lord’s charge to His disciples.

We have surveyed Jesus’ teaching in the gospels and have seen that, each time Jesus had an opportunity to imprecate his enemies and those who opposed Him, He chose not to retaliate or to offer any curses. Instead, both explicitly and implicitly, Jesus taught that the believer is to receive the hatred and persecution of the world as the expected cost of following Him and being His witness (Acts 1:8).

The next post will look at the supreme example of Jesus’ attitude toward imprecation as we examine His actions and words during His passion and crucifixion. In His crucifixion, the Son of God is subjected to the greatest injustice in human history and is condemned to death by His enemies. Does Jesus cry out to His Father for justice? Does He curse His enemies because of their wicked acts? Does He threaten these evil men with eternal judgment? We will see.

SDG                 rmb                 3/19/2022                   #505

Imprecatory psalms – Are we allowed to curse today?

INTRODUCTION. In my last post (#502 on March 14), I continued to consider the imprecatory psalms. We defined what we meant by “imprecatory,” especially in terms of how these verses function in their contexts. Then we looked in-depth at Psalm 69, one of the best examples of an imprecatory psalm, and examined the psalm’s context and the content of the imprecation in the psalm. Finally, we looked at how the believer can apply the psalm, how he/she can use this psalm in their own life.

In this post, I am delaying further exegesis of the imprecatory psalms until we have wrestled with the critical question of reconciling the New Testament’s consistent teaching to love our enemies with this Old Testament idea of asking the LORD to curse and destroy our enemies. The critical question we need to answer is, “In the New Testament era, are we allowed to call down curses on our enemies?”

WHEN GOD BECAME MAN, EVERYTHING CHANGED

As we know, the central event in human history is the first advent of Jesus Christ. With the Incarnation when God became Man, everything changed, and so it follows that the disciple’s view of the imprecation of enemies (that is, the calling on the Lord to curse his enemies) could also have changed. In the first two posts of this series on the Imprecatory passages in the psalms, I have been examining them in their Old Testament context without adequately considering what the New Testament has to say on the topic. Wanting to find biblical justification for the imprecation of certain evil men who are right now responsible for horrific wickedness, I limited my search of the Scriptures to the imprecatory psalms. By doing this, I unintentionally neglected the Bible’s full message.

IMPRECATION VIEWED THROUGH A NEW TESTAMENT LENS

But now is the time to correct that mistake and examine this topic of the imprecation of enemies through a New Testament lens. For we now live after the first advent of the Son of God. Our age is a New Testament age, and before we call upon the Lord to curse our enemies and punish the wicked, we need to be sure that we are still permitted to do so. That is, before we imprecate, we must examine the Scriptures to determine if the Lord allows us to imprecate. For if we curse when the Lord has not commanded us to curse or even allowed us to curse, then are we not being disobedient? So, this study is serious.

Thus, our study of the imprecatory verses in the Old Testament psalms is taking a significant turn, for now we will be looking for permission and example in the New Testament. This New Testament study will have three parts. First, I will be examining the gospels (and other Bible passages that obviously speak of Jesus, like Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22) to see how Jesus responded when He was threatened by His enemies. Do His words and actions give us a clear precedent for calling down curses on our enemies? Next, I will go through the book of Acts to see how the apostolic church responded to enemies and threats. Did the fledgling church call out to God to destroy their enemies and defend them from threats? In the final part of our study, I will survey the teaching of the epistles and of the book of Revelation to determine what they reveal about our freedom to call on God to punish our enemies and avenge us on the wicked. What we discover in this threefold study will determine what we do with these imprecatory passages in the Old Testament psalms.

The next post in this series will examine the ministry of Jesus during His first advent to determine whether our Lord called curses down on His enemies. What was Jesus’ attitude toward the idea of cursing His enemies in this life? That will be the subject of our next post.

SDG                 rmb                 3/16/2022                   #503

Imprecatory psalms – A definition, then a look at Psalm 69

INTRODUCTION. In post #500 on March 8, I had begun a series of articles discussing 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 post will consider specific imprecatory psalms and think about how the believer is to apply these passages.

In the last post about this topic, we had taken time to get the proper mindset for these imprecatory passages. While the Bible does give us these psalms as a means of calling upon the Lord for justice, the calling down of God’s curses and God’s vengeance upon someone is an exceptional act. This is done rarely in cases of unusual cruelty or when the injustice is blatant and heinous. A believer is usually to endure the evil in the world and to persevere through the evil using the ordinary means given to us in the Scriptures. So, the believer is not to call down heaven’s curses and woes on every personal enemy at the first sign of conflict but is rather to bear with the conflict and the difficulty while pressing on in obedience. There comes a time, however, when the injustice is too evil merely to be endured. The time has come for God to stop the evil and to stop the evildoer. “Rise up, O Judge of the earth. Render recompense to the proud” (Psalm 94:2). This is when the believer calls upon the Lord and imprecates the wicked.

DEFINITION

We need to establish a definition for what we mean by “imprecatory.” The Webster’s Dictionary definition for “imprecate” is “to call down evil upon” or “to curse.” When we are referring to imprecatory psalms (verses, really) in the Bible, we mean “when the believer calls upon God to render punishment on perpetrators of evil, cruelty, or destruction.” The evildoer’s crimes and cruelty can no longer go unpunished, but the one committing these heinous, sinful acts is too powerful to be restrained by human means. Therefore, the believer cries out to the Lord, the One who is all-powerful, to observe the shocking injustice and to stop or to destroy or to punish the wicked one.

THE IMPRECATORY PASSAGES

We have talked about these imprecatory passages long enough, and now it is time to take a look at some of them. As we look at these, I want to consider the context of the verses; that is, what prompts the psalmist’s cry to the Lord, as well as the content of the cry.

Two passages stand out as the most obvious of imprecatory psalms, Psalm 69 and 109.

Psalm 69:22-28

22 May their table before them become a snare;
And when they are in peace, may it become a trap.
23 May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see,
And make their loins shake continually.
24 Pour out Your indignation on them,
And may Your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be desolate;
May none dwell in their tents.
26 For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten,
And they tell of the pain of those whom You have wounded.
27 Add iniquity to their iniquity,
And may they not come into Your righteousness.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
And may they not be recorded with the righteous.

CONTEXT. In this psalm of David, the author is lamenting his oppression by his enemies. The literal context, then, is one of distress from attack and affliction by David’s enemies, and David is pouring out his complaint before the Lord and asking for His intercession.

But this psalm is much deeper than that. This is an overtly Messianic psalm and is about the suffering of the Lord Jesus during His passion in Gethsemane and then His agony on the cross. The foreshadows of Calvary are obvious, for in this psalm we can hear the groans of our Savior as He prepared to bear the wrath of God on our behalf. The psalmist prophetically laments the greatest injustice in human history as by Jesus’ wounds we are healed.  

But there is even more than that because this psalm is also about the persecuted church that, as the body of Christ, suffers the world’s hatred as the witnesses of Christ on the earth. Faithful believers are “hated without cause” (69:4; John 15:25). They are reproached for Jesus’ sake (“reproach” – 69:7, 9, 10, 19, 20). Dishonor, pain, shame, distress, and affliction (“afflicted”) are the words of the psalmist, again picturing the suffering church as they endure the reviling of the world. So, the context of the psalm is suffering, and the lamentations of Christ and then of His church as they fill up His sufferings (Colossians 1:24).

Although these sufferings are God-ordained, they are, nevertheless, evil and deserve to be punished by God. These are wicked acts of injustice, and they demand a just recompense. Therefore, the psalmist calls on the LORD to act and to punish the wicked NOW.

CONTENT. David calls on the LORD to bring specific curses on these wicked men. First, he asks for physical punishment. Let their food be poison and let all peace be taken from them (22). Cause them to go blind and make their legs lose their strength and shake (23). “God, pour out Your indignation and anger upon them for their evil (24).” Let there be strife in their house and may they have no children (25). In the midst of the imprecation, the psalmist speaks explicitly of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (~300 years before Isaiah wrote his prophecy) and reminds the LORD of the crimes of the wicked (26). The curses conclude with spiritual, condemnatory judgments upon these evil men. May their iniquities be multiplied and never forgiven (27) and may they be blotted out of the book of life (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 20:15) so that they will never be recorded as righteous. The effect of David’s imprecation is to ask the LORD to condemn these evil men to eternal punishment.

APPLICATION. The psalms are given to us as poetic theology and describe for the believer how they can speak to and pray to their God. How, then, is the believer to apply this psalm? It seems to me that the nature of Psalm 69 limits its application to those situations where the believer, as a member of the body of Christ, is suffering or enduring affliction because they are a follower of Jesus. In other words, the injustice being experienced comes only because a person identifies with Jesus. (See Matt. 5:10-12; 10:16-22; 24:9; John 15:18-21; 1 Pet. 4:12-14, 16, 19.) So, the believer would turn to this psalm when they are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Then the believer would cry out with the psalmist for justice from the Lord. Persecution of the righteous is still wrong, and it is still appropriate to cry out to the Lord that He would bring justice to His people and recompence to the evildoer.

But also, the suffering believer would pray through this psalm for perseverance through the suffering, that he would endure as his Savior endured His hour of suffering. The believer would remember that the Lord has ordained all things and that his attitude should be, “Not my will, but Your will be done,” whatever that will is.

Psalm 69 would encourage the believer that part of the calling to Jesus is a call to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41; Phil. 1:29-30). The psalm, then, reminds the believer of the privilege it is to suffer for Jesus’ name and, therefore, to suffer well, to suffer as a Christian should suffer.

ONE QUESTION. One of the issues with these imprecatory psalms, these passages that invoke cursing upon the evildoer, is that they seem to conflict with specific teaching in the New Testament about how the believer is to view their enemies. This is the topic that I want to address in the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 3/14/2022                   #502

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