Use of Imprecatory Psalms in Prayer Today

imprecatory-psalms

The use of Imprecatory Psalms, as a model for prayer, requires proper context. As John Day explains, “These psalms express the desire of God’s vengeance to fall on His [and His people’s] enemies and include the use of actual curses, or imprecations.”[1] At first glance, these psalms seem to stand in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus who called His followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Several implications result from this assumption: the Old Testament only involved cursing enemies, the New Testament only involved loving enemies, and the morality of Scripture evolved over time. Each of these false assumptions are self-refuting because the nature of God cannot change, as Day suggests, “The tension between loving and cursing [must] be harmonized, [since] the character of God does not change, so the essence of God’s ethical requirements does not change. Therefore, as the imprecatory psalms were at times appropriate on the lips of Old Testament believers, so they are at times appropriate on the lips of New Testament believers as well.”[2]

The psalms remain relevant because “They rooted their theology of cursing, of crying out for God’s vengeance, in the Torah – principally in the promise of divine vengeance expressed in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43), the principle of divine justice outlined in the lex talionis,[3] and the assurance of divine cursing as well as blessing in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:2-3).”[4] To fully comprehend the imprecatory psalms, Day demonstrates four crucial truths:

First, the vengeance appealed for is not personally enacted; rather God is called on to execute vengeance. Second, these appeals are based on God’s covenant promises. Third, both testaments record examples of God’s people justly calling down curses or crying for vengeance.[5] Fourth, Scripture further records an instance in which God’s people in heaven, where there is no sin, cry out for divine vengeance and are comforted by the assurance of its near enactment[6] (Rev. 6:9-11).

Day illustrates the Book of Psalms contains nearly one hundred verses with imprecations, each one containing the cries of God’s people for vengeance for unspeakable atrocities against them as God’s people were oppressed, persecuted, and ultimately carried off to exile in Babylon. In Psalm 58, David is appealing to Yahweh to act justly against the unjust rulers. As Frank E. Gaebelein demonstrates, in this Psalm, “It may well be classified as a prophetic type of lament in which David speaks prophetically of God’s judgment on evil.[7] He charges the earthly system of justice with unfairness, commits his case to the Lord’s justice, and is confident of God’s vindication. The psalmist’s prophetic understanding is a comfort to God’s people[8] whenever they are harassed or maligned.”[9] The theological foundations are developed in the Pentateuch, but as Day furthers establishes, “The expression of exultation over the destruction of the enemies of God and His people is seen throughout Scripture. It begins in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:43), finds utterance in the Psalms (58:10), is proclaimed in the prophets (Jer. 51:48), and climaxes in the Book of Revelation (18:20).”[10] Given these precedents, should a Christian follow David’s example? This writer believes David’s passionate cries should be emulated as David continually demonstrated immense faith in his God. Day then reminds the reader what is being voiced here is poetry, which often used vivid imagery and where a concept in narrative form may be described dispassionately; in poetry, it may well be expressed emotively. G. L. Peels perceives that the phraseology of Psalm 58:10b “Employs a powerful image, borrowed from the all too realistic situation of the battlefield following the fight (wading through the blood), to highlight the total destruction of the godless.”[11] Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. illustrate “If God removes the rulers’ power, then they will be like toothless beasts.”[12] This shows David’s first wish was for the rulers to become powerless and ineffective, but ultimately, in the end, David knew the only way to end the suffering of the righteous was “bathing his feet in the blood of the wicked.”

Psalm 109 is an imprecation against a personal enemy and reads much like an individual lament. Day recognizes this psalm as being, above all others, highly criticized in its harsh and explicit appeal to the Lord. With the language found in this psalm, it is initially difficult to see any relation to the New Testament’s commands to love our enemies (Matt 5:44), turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29), and to pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44). However, in this psalm, David’s enemies had continually returned hatred for his sustained love, so David called out to the divine Judge, as Day puts it, “to extend to his enemy the demands of the lex talionis, [but] David did not react in private revenge; instead, he released the retaliatory demands of justice to the One in whose jurisdiction it rightfully lies. He voiced his cry for vengeance to God – a cry that would transform to public praise when divine deliverance was revealed.”[13] David looked to the Abrahamic Covenant and then appealed to God to curse those who had shown him only hatred. Now the question becomes: is this covenant promise of divine cursing relevant to Christians today? In this writer’s opinion it is and (Gal 3:6-29) makes it clear, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants – heirs according to promise.” Here, Day demonstrates “the dual-edged promise blessing was not merely a spiritual abstraction; it applied as well to the physical life of God’s people in their times of extremity… [And] this psalm is the cry of the child of God who has no other recourse for justice…”[14]

Jesus felt the same oppression the psalmist and Israelites faced, but He called for one another to love his or her neighbor. This apparent contradiction in actuality shows the harmony that exists when one understands the character of God further demonstrating, Christians should use imprecatory psalms as a source of strength and honor, in their worship of God.[15]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

Day, John N. “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics.” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (April 2002): 166-186. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2016).

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Gaebelein, Frank E. ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

Peel, G. L. The Vengeance of God: The Meaning of the Root NQM and the Function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of Divine Revelation in the Old Testament. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, 1995.

Footnotes

[1] John N. Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (April 2002): 166. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2016).

[2] Ibid., 168.

[3] The principle or law of retaliation that a punishment inflicted should correspond in degree and kind to the offense of the wrongdoer, as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; retributive justice.

[4] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 168.

[5] Mark 11:14; Matthew 21:19; Galatians 1:8-9; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Acts 8:20; and Revelation 6:10

[6] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 169.

[7] Psalm 14

[8] The righteous.

[9] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 405.

[10] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 171.

[11] G. L. Peels, The Vengeance of God: The Meaning of the Root NQM and the Function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of Divine Revelation in the Old Testament (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, 1995), 218.

[12] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 495.

[13] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 178.

[14] Ibid., 179.

[15] Ibid., 186.

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Living Above Your Circumstances

God vs. Satan

When things seem to continually go wrong in life, we must continue to trust God. When the reins of life slip from our fingers and we are no longer in control, we must still continue to trust God.Live a positive lifeYou see our response to adversity has the potential to lift us up above any challenge we may come across. Unfortunately, the natural human response is to turn to negativity and start complaining. This mindset only leads deeper down the rabbit hole to depression by darkening our perspective.

Instead of complaining, we should be crying out to God and we should be thanking Him in all things. I realize this can be hard to do, especially during times of great loss and suffering, but if you are already in the habit of looking to God in the good and the bad, it will be much easier for you to lean on and trust in God’s plan when disaster strikes.start next chapter in lifeRemember that Satan is waiting for the opportunity to inflict the most damage in your life to take you out and that can easily happen the longer life is grand and God gradually takes a back row seat in our priorities. However, with an attitude of praise during times of turmoil, you will experience an unfathomable peace regardless of what is going on in your life.

Many times in life, we have not because we ask not, so what we must never forget is the Spirit of God dwells inside every believer and His power is infinite. As we pray, praise, and trust God, we channel that power to move mountains and do miraculous things.lion-and-lambThe problem arises when we try to do things on our own with our own strength, which is finite, because Jesus tells us the main reason He ascended to heaven was so He could send the Holy Spirit to be our helper and ever-present help in time of need. In life, it is not by might or by power, but by the power of the His Spirit says the Lord Almighty.
CaddyshackOur joy in trials and tribulations is something we must also guard especially in seasons and chapters of life that seem to have no end. Our joy is not dependent on our circumstances; true joy is the by-product of dwelling in God’s presence. The joy of the Lord is our strength, so any adversity we face should not negate joyous living, in fact, we should consider it pure joy! When God is first in our lives, we can find joy even during the most difficult trials and circumstances. Even though we don’t know what tomorrow may bring, God does and our breakthrough or miracle may be right around the corner.

We must walk by faith and not by sight and in II Corinthians; Paul actually says we are to live by faith and not by sight. When we worry about whatever we are walking through or what may happen, we deafen the voice of God in our lives. Where does our help come from? It comes from the Lord and He is waiting for His children to call out to Him and to trust Him in all things. We must entrust God in every area of our lives because His ways are so much higher than our own.
Don't let things bring you downIn all things we should rejoice, for this is the day the Lord has made and we are to be glad in it. If you can wake up and start the day with that as your first thought, I promise your days ahead will be far better than your latter. It does not mean you will no longer face adversity, but it ensures that God is with you in whatever and whenever something or someone may attempt to steal your joy, so always remember to give thanks in all circumstances and God will never forsake you.

Get in the Race

finish line
Moses never stepped foot in the promise land… To come so far, but not be able to cross into the promise land must have crushed him. He led the Israelites for 40 years through the desert watching God do amazing things in and through him, but when he gazed upon the finish line, he could go no further. By today’s standards, this would have been the most insane ultra-marathon to attempt! He would gaze upon God’s promise, but never step foot into it.
I enjoy endurance events and there is one term no competitor ever likes to see next to their name: “DNF” which means Did Not Finish. By most accounts, this term is associated with failing, but in some cases, I totally disagree. You see, to have this term next to your name means you at least had the courage to get in the race. There are many reasons why some are not able to finish, but the point is that they tried to accomplish their goal. In all of us, God has birthed some sort of passion or dream and it is up to us to allow God to speak into our life so we can move toward accomplishing it. In Thomas Edison’s quest to make an incandescent electric light, he was a very empirical man who remained positive as he literally tested thousands of different substances as suitable filaments. In each unsuccessful attempt, he would simply state, “I have found one more way not to make a light bulb.”
You can run, swim, or ride as fast as you want, but if you aren’t going in the right direction it doesn’t matter how fast or far you are going. Listening to God is the only way we know for sure if we are going in the right direction. For me the only thing better than crossing the finish line is seeing it. There is something so empowering about seeing the goal you set out to conquer within your sights. God promises us so many wonderful things at the finish line and if we could just keep those mental images ingrained in our minds instead of past failures or fear of future ones, I believe our drive to keep fighting would be significantly improved. If there is no goal, no dream, or no vision, then having a purpose in life is nonexistent.
Martin Luther King Jr., steps away from accomplishing his dream, spook of seeing the promise land the night before he was shot. Even though he would not live to see what he fought so hard to achieve, it did not make his dream coming true any less real. Moses, in the same way accomplished a monumental task leading the Israelites out of captivity. What is God calling you to do? Have you just prayed and then remained silent? It is in these times that the still small voice of God stirs in us. Then it is up to us to allow that seed to take root and begin moving us toward our God-given destiny. In a world full of constant distractions and endless noise, we must be diligent in spending time alone with God. When you do, get ready to see God do some amazing things in your life because He is waiting for us to slow down enough and just listen to Him.

Shaken

The opposite of up is down and the opposite of wet is dry, but what is the opposite of God? Many of us would quickly say Satan and that would ultimately be wrong because God has no opposite and God has no equal; this is something we must never forget. When times are so bad that it feels like all the powers that oppose God have been focused on you and the Eye of Sauron has you in its sights, as one attack comes on the heels of the last, it can feel like the only option left is to just give up. As each trial of adversity confronts us, it feels like we are besieged on all sides and there is no way out. In these times, it is very easy to be shaken to the core and feel like a fraction of who and what you used to be. Our confidence and ability to be a father, husband, mother, or wife can be stolen from us. If you have felt this way, you are not alone.
The moment I recognized the call God placed on my life and I decided to advance the kingdom of God, I was bombarded in every possible way. The enemy had thrown every fiery dart in his arsenal in an attempt to take me out but I love Psalm 55:22, “Cast your burden and cares upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” I claimed this scripture over my life and I trusted God to plant my feet firmly! I chose to put my faith and trust in Him and believed that He had already set the time for my victory and I pray the same prayer over your life as you read this!
When we are insecure, we can feel so empty, but at the same time feel like we are going to explode. We may lay in bed at night hoping, wishing, and praying God will take our burdens. Sometimes we are even left asking, “Where is my God in all this?” In these times, clarity, strength, and peace can feel beyond our grasp, but even when our confidence in ourselves has been stolen, our confidence in our God must remain. He loves each one of us and He has a plan for each one of our lives. Sometimes I wish He would just write those plans on the wall, but even though He doesn’t, I know His plans are to prosper us and to give us a hope and a future.
Being shaken is like being invaded, so when we are we must not just pray that God gives us back what was stolen, but that He would give us the strength to take back what is rightfully ours. If you are walking through this season, I pray what the enemy meant for harm in your life God will use it for good and I pray God will be your rear guard so that when the enemy attacks again, He will send them fleeing in seven different directions. C.S. Lewis wrote, “God gives gifts where He finds the vessel empty enough to receive them.” Be that empty vessel and pray that He fills you till you are overflowing with His love, mercy, and grace and that He grabs hold of you and never lets you go.

Stay Rooted

Years ago, a seed was planted in my life that grew into a call to ministry.  I knew at an early age that God was calling me to help reach and save that which was lost and hurting.  Seeds are supposed to grow into things with the proper environmental factors and when God was the center of my life I grew strong into a tree full of foliage that bore much fruit.  Unfortunately, the story does not end there because over time God played a smaller and smaller role in my life until He was non-existent and this once beautiful tree was stripped down to nothing more than a sad Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  When I arrived there, you would think the light bulb would have gone off, but I still chose to do my own thing and deny the call God had placed on my life.  God literally had to cut me down to nothing more than a stump for me to see what He was calling me to.  I had to lose everything and be humbled to the point where God was all I had to realize He was all I needed.  In Daniel chapter 4 we read how King Nebuchadnezzar became so prideful that he said,”Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” As the words were still on his lips, he was stripped of everything he had and he lost all of his power and this was what happened to me.  I had become so prideful in myself and thought that my success was my own doing.  Being cut down was extremely humbling but even as a stump like in Daniel 4, God encircled me with an iron and bronze ring to protect me as he restored me to a better state than I was previously in.  This is where my metamorphosis began and this is where my care and compassion was birthed.  In my brokenness, God gave me such a heart for people who were suffering. Not one tear I shed was wasted and not one moment of anguish failed to serve a higher purpose in His eternal plan.

An article in Readers Digest says that roots of trees share nutrients with each other. If one tree gets water and sunlight, and another gets none, the tree with nutrients shares with ones that desperately need it. Among the petitions Jesus made to His Father in His high priestly prayer was this one. He prayed that we would be one, and love one another and show it by the way we care for each other. In this way, unbelievers would take notice and believe in Him. Life has a way of sucking the life out of us and without other healthy trees to aid; many trees would simply wither away.  I thank God for the mighty trees in my life and I pray that one day I too will be a tree that other trees can count on to provide help in their seasons of drought.

Through a Child’s Eyes

There is something so marvelous about seeing the world through a child’s eyes.  As I went in to wake Syd up this morning, she had the biggest smile on her face and I as looked into her beautiful blue eyes, every thought escaped my mind and all I could do was smile back at her.  After I picked her up, I began to realize that she was not only happy to see me, but that she solely trusted me and cast all of her cares upon me and I began to wonder how better our lives would be if we did the same with our heavenly Father.

Due to the nature of our history with the NICU, I feel a tremendous bond with my little angel and I realize that she is more than I could ever have hoped for.  God knew exactly what my heart longed for and he blessed me with a miracle that gives me such joy.  During this painful chapter of our life, God showed up in a big way; He provided in ways not possible for me to and He interceded for me in a time where my own strength was not enough.  Being a fixer, this was a very hard time, but in it I learned to trust God despite of all my inadequacies.

Every time the doctors would tell us something else was wrong, every time they told us we would have to stay another week, every time we had to sign another consent form to run more tests, I learned to trust God even more.  The choice was up to me if I wanted to fight alone or if I was going to allow God to reach into my life.  When we choose to give our situation to Him and we trust in Him alone, there is no limit to what He can do in and through us.  Then it is up to us to give God all the praise and all the glory and to share with others the miraculous things that God has done.  It doesn’t matter so much when this happens, but that it happens.  Many of us fail to complete this last step and it is one that is vital to bringing glory to God and accomplishing His will.  Recording what God has done is a great way to look back and see where God has brought us and is a testament of His goodness and faithfulness, but it is also a way to give hope to others walking through similar circumstances.

While we will never know exactly what someone else is walking through, we can encourage them and be an extension of God’s loving arms.  It’s when we give our problems to God and help others do the same that we will emerge from our fiery trials without even smelling like smoke.  Today, I praise God for what He has brought our family through and when I look back in the sand and only see one set of footprints, I know that it was God carrying me through it.  God heard my cries and my little princess is living proof that God answers prayers.  It truly humbles me to know that the love I have for her is a mere fraction of the love her heavenly Father has for her.

Dealing With Change

This entire journey with our daughter being in the NICU has taught me a lot, but one of the biggest take-aways has been adapting to change.  We are currently scheduled to be discharged tomorrow, if she has another good night and being in this same spot two times before has me so excited I can barely contain myself!  Even though change in inevitable, it is one of the hardest things for most people to cope with.  Growing up in a military family, moving all the time and traveling all over the world regularly introduced me to change at an early age, so as a result, change is something that I have become accustomed to, but something that is still hard to deal with.

When we can learn to trust God, even in change, He can use us in a mighty way to reach those who are paralyzed by it.  Mark Twain once said that, “The only people who like change are wet babies” and even they don’t like it all the time, especially if the wipes are cold!  In times of change, God is doing a new thing and when we are open to it, we will thrive because when there seems to be no way, He will make a way.  Isaiah 43:19 says, “He will make a way in the dessert and streams in the wasteland.”

Even though every day is different, these past 26 days have begun to run together and there has been a constant battle with emotions, heartache and pain.  Dealing with fear and anxiety daily while having our world turned upside down has truly shown me that my God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  Some days we were praising God, while others we were crying out to Him to spare our daughters life, but we never lost faith that she was in His loving hands.  God’s greatest opportunity to shine is when there seems to be no way; the problem is we often wait until there is no way before we will turn to God.

Even in change, especially when it is painful, we must look for God’s goodness because He will take our weakness and pain and use them to strengthen us.  Psalm 28:7 says, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him.”  Not being in control has been hard for me, partly because of the unknown, but mostly because I like to be in the driver’s seat.  The problem with God being in the driver’s seat doesn’t happen until there is a bump in the road or a sharp turn where we must trust in Him alone.  I have learned along the way that roads traveled where God seems to be in the way or where He is nowhere to be found are not the roads I want to be on.  It ultimately comes down to trust and whether we are going to rely on God at all times.  We must surrender to His will and allow Him to be in control of everything we do because when Jesus takes the wheel we won’t be disappointed!