Certain psalms are commonly called "imprecatory psalms"
because they invoke the judgments of God against His enemies. The psalms most
generally placed in this category are 7, 35, 58, 59, 69, 83, 109, 137, and 139.
A number of other psalms, as well as other parts of Scripture, contain brief
imprecations; but these nine have imprecation as their chief element.
The basic problem with these psalms, as many Interpreters see
it, is an ethical question: How can it be right to wish or pray for the
destruction of others when the Bible teaches elsewhere and often that one should
love his enemies, and pray for those who persecute him (Mat
To this question, generally stated, there have been numerous
The imprecations were by David's enemies:
It has been suggested that the imprecation in Psa 109:6-20, as
one example, is not the utterance of David against his enemies, but is the
cursing of those enemies against David himself (cp 2Sa 16:5-13). This solution
requires the insertion of the word "saying" at the end of v 5 (WEnj 205,206).
Some would go so far as to consider the suggestion of an insertion as "adding
unto the word" (Deu 4:2; Pro 30:6; Rev 22:18) [CC Walker, "The Vindictive
Psalm", Xd 65, No. 770 (August, 1928), p 354]. However, justification for this
sort of approach may be found in the italicized word "saying" in Psa 2:2 (AV) to
explain the quotation in 2:3 which must obviously be attributed to David's
This proposal has merit in the single case, and could perhaps
apply to some others; but a similar approach to all eight imprecatory psalms
proves very strained indeed.
The imprecations expressed David's own sentiments
This suggestion is that David is, in such psalms, speaking the
sentiments of his own heart and not those of the Holy Spirit. According to this
view, the inspiration of David's curses does not mean that God approved of the
anger in David's heart when he wrote those curse (GT 195).
This view, however, overlooks or perhaps does not give
sufficient weight to the scriptural record of David as a man who did not indulge
in a spirit of personal revenge (1Sa 24:1-7; 26:5). And furthermore, this
view could lead down the treacherous path by which we are faced continually with
the quandary: "Is this verse, or that, inspired and meaningful as an example to
me -- or is it merely David (or Isaiah, or Moses, or Paul) the man expressing
his own sentiments rather than God's?"
The imprecations demonstrate the inferior principle of
spiritual life in the Old Testament:
This view is the favorite of many "orthodox" scholars, being
founded on the doctrine of "progressive revelation". By this is meant that the
Old Testament worthies could not have been expected to show any of the gentler
and more "Christian virtues of character, since they had no Inkling in their day
that such qualities were even desirable!
This approach is, as it should be, totally unacceptable to
Christadelphians, who rightly take Old and New Testaments to be equally inspired
and infallible. Also, such passages as Lev 19:17,18; Pro 20:22; 24:17,18;
25:21,22; and Job 31:29,30 show that, in the matter of personal vengeance, the
Old Testament is every but up to the standard of the New.
The imprecations are prophetic:
According to this view, David was not only a poet but also a
prophet declaring what would happen to the ungodly. His statements, then, were
not private and personal at all, but instead the judgments of God [GH Denney, "
'Cursing' Psalms", The Berean Christadelphian, Vol 38, No 5 (May, 1950), back
cover]. It is pointed out, in defense of this view, that some of the imprecatory
psalms are quoted in the New Testament as being fulfilled then (Psa 69:25; 109:8
in Acts 1:20; Psa 69:22,23 in Rom 11:9,10).
But, linguistically speaking, in both English and Hebrew, the
"imprecations" are not simple declarations of what will happen, but
rather wishes or prayers for what may happen (J. Carl Laney, "A Fresh
Look at the Imprecatory Psalms" Bibliotheca Sacra, January-March 1981, p 40).
Thus, what appears at first sight to be a very satisfactory solution may be seen
as going only half the way to answering the question: "How could David
pray as he did?"
Finally, the imprecations are calls to God to remember His
The fundamental ground of justification for the presence of
the imprecatory psalms is the Abrahamic covenant, specifically Gen 12:1-3: "Now
the Lord had said unto Abram, 'Get thee out of thy country, and from thy
kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I
will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name
great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and
curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be
On the basis of this covenant, David, the seed of Abraham, the
divinely-selected representative of the nation, had every right to pray that God
would do what He had promised -- that is, curse those who cursed Abraham's
What is crucial to appreciating the imprecatory psalms is
this: David never prayed that he might be permitted to avenge himself, but
always that God would rise up to avenge His Anointed (Psa 7:6; 35:1; 58:6;
59:5). Like Jesus later, David was capable of generosity and "turning the other
cheek" when under personal attack (2Sa 16:11; 19:16-23). Yet, like Jesus
again, he loved righteousness and hated iniquity which flaunted itself against
the honor of God, and he could be ruthless in suppressing such iniquity when he
knew the time was right!
Finally, God's judgments are essential if the righteous are
ever to be established and glorified on the earth. To pray "Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth" is, therefore, no different than to pray "Let them
(Thy enemies) be confounded... troubled... put to shame... perish..." -- once it
is understood that there is no personal vindictiveness involved. Therefore, the
imprecations of the Bible are not mere human cries for vengeance, nor the
expression of some inferior Old Testament "righteousness", nor only prophecies.
They are righteous, heartfelt calls upon God to remember His covenant, and to
perform it, come what may. For David and the other "imprecators" recognized that
only then, when God's enemies are finally and completely cursed, will He
be able to get on with the business of glorifying His Name in the
"So let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord: but let them that love Thee be as the
sun when he goeth forth in his might."