What are the imprecatory psalms? How are they applicable to Christians today?

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What are the imprecatory psalms? How are they applicable to Christians today?

The imprecatory psalms are those that imprecate. They invoke judgment, calamity, or curses upon those perceived as the enemies of God and His people. The major imprecatory psalms are 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, and 140.

Understanding how they apply to Christians today, with New Testament ethics about loving one’s enemy, requires spiritual maturity. Most important is that Christians never curse their enemies. They call for the curse upon God’s enemies. Christians today do this sometimes when they pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” In doing so, we are calling for an end to the unrighteousness of this world, even at the expense of cursing all those who are unrighteous.

Obviously, this prayer is biblical. It calls for Christ’s return and deliverance of God’s people from all enemies’ wickedness and for God’s judgment to be invoked upon the wicked.

In a Ligonier Ministries podcast, Dr. W. Robert Godfrey commented:

The imprecations of the Psalter are directed against the enemies of God and His purposes, and of His people. Still, that doesn’t entirely remove the problem. Should we be cursing enemies? And I think part of the answer is, well, not all the time. Not a lot of the time. We need to kind of follow the balance of the Psalter. The Psalter doesn’t curse enemies all the time either. Nonetheless, I think we mustn’t sentimentalize Christian ethics. Paul says in Romans, after all, that we love our enemies so that in the final judgment, more coals will be heaped on their heads. So, the loving of the enemy is not the elimination of judgment to come.

Jesus bore God’s vengeance for the sins of the whole world from start to finish, for those who accept His judgment in place of their own. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “The imprecatory psalm leads to the cross of Jesus and to the love of God which forgives enemies.... In this way the crucified Jesus teaches us to pray the imprecatory psalms correctly.”

Paul used imprecation: “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!” (1Corinthians 16:22). “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9). We are not taking matters into our own hands but rather expressing trust in “The Lord [who] executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (Psalm 103:6).

So, yes, believers may pray for severe temporal judgments upon the enemies of God. But they must leave it to God for the outworking of such petitions. Finally, the Christian can use the imprecatory psalms to pray against those things that hinder the advancement of God’s kingdom in this world.

— Elder Chip Hinds

Editor’s note: For more insight on this topic, see “22 Reasons to Pray the Cursing (Imprecatory) Psalms” at https://praypsalms.org/22-reasons-to-pray-the-cursing-psalms-b4a85ae40aa9.

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    Chip Hinds

    Chip Hinds is the Southwest District Superintendent of the General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day).