Category Archives: my thoughts

Imprecatory Psalms

Imprecatory Psalms have as a major element a prayer from the Psalmist to afflict and punish his enemies as they deserve.

Four Views dominate the perspective on how imprecatory Psalms should be handled in the church age. 

  1. Imprecatory Psalms express evil emotions that should be suppressed as sin.
  2. Imprecatory Psalms are utterances consonant with old covenant morality but inconsistent with new covenant ethics particularly because of the distinction between Israel and the church.
  3. Imprecatory Psalms amy be appropriately spoken only by Christ in relation to his work on the cross and only by his followers through him.
  4. Imprecatory Psalms should not be distanced from being legitimate prayers of God’s people today.

Considerations and conclusions for how imprecatory Psalms apply to the church. 

I think that perhaps a “middle-way” combination of the last three views is appropriate.

  1. We must remember that not every imprecatory Psalm is as appropriate for God’s people today to be praying because the language is clearly specific to one particular enemy for one particular time under the old covenant (cf. Ps 137).
  2. We must remember that we are incapable of a sinless hatred like God is. Therefore, we should use the language of the imprecatory Psalms very cautiously in the power and name of Christ with submission to Christ (cf. Ps 69; 139).
  3. We can and should pray for justice recognizing that sometimes justice includes the destruction of the wicked because this is what is deserved for sin (cf 7; 35; 58; 59; 69; 83; 109).
  4. We can pray for God to be known in all his glory either through us or others who see God working (cf 7; 35; 58; 59; 69; 83; 109).

The following resources were invaluable in helping my drawing of these conclusions:

A good summary article by Justin Taylor of Peter Leithart’s book Crying for Justice

An excellent article by James Adams

Another excellent article by J. Carl Laney written from a very dispensational perspective

This is an interview transcript that gets off the topic of imprecatory psalms at times, but addresses some of the most important issues related to them.

John Piper’s thoughts on how we can deal with imprecations in the Psalms

David Powlinson’s thoughts on the imprecatory Psalms

God vs Nations

Life gave David many opportunities to trust God. Perhaps you think back to his times in the field with the sheep when he was called upon to defend them against a lion and a bear. Later, he faced the 9+ foot Goliath, was chased by Saul throughout the Judean wilderness, and was forced to deal with the death of his best friend. Later yet, he became the king of God’s people,  dealt with immorality in his own life and the lives of his kids, and faced a rebellion led by his own son. Certainly, David (who is called a man after God’s own heart by Stephen in Acts 7 by the way) faced many difficulties and circumstances that would require him to trust God. And David voices in this Psalm his recognition of his need for God. Even when the enemies turn their backs and stumble as is mentioned in v3, David “acted wisely . . . when he lifted up the eyes of his mind to God, in order to perceive that victory flowed to him from no other source than from the secret and incomprehensible aid of God.” (John Calvin)

Whether you realize it or not, you also face many circumstances that require you to trust God. I can’t speak to your personal situations, but I can give many examples from my own life where I have struggled to trust God and that I continue to see the need for complete reliance on him.

For me, sports always creates a need to trust God because I am messed-up enough to think that my worth or identity is determined by whether or not my sports teams win. Just recently the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team was down three games to one in their best of seven series against the Detroit Red Wings, and I was constantly fighting the thoughts that crept into my head about how embarrassing this would be if they lost since they had the best record in the regular season, or how they needed to prove how much better they are than the Red Wings. I know; it’s messed up, but it’s what I fight.

Another area where I need to trust God is my finances. Now you might be thinking it’s because I am struggling to get my on a meager associate pastor’s salary, but that is not the case. I have far more than I need, and sometimes I think I still need more. I have to fight the nagging notion that I will be satisfied if I just had a bigger house, a nicer car, or just more stuff in general. I struggle to live in the contentment that Paul voiced in Phil 4:11-13.

Yet another area where I often fail to trust God is in my thoughts about all of you. I stand up here in front of you all, wondering what all of you are thinking, wondering if you are judging me or looking for a way to magnify my trip-ups. I wonder if people like to listen to me preach or are learning anything. I need to trust God and his Word, preach as accurately as I possibly can, and leave the rest to God.

I could spend all day rehearsing my lack of trust, but you didn’t come to hear about all that . . . I don’t think. The truth is that I don’t mention these things to get pity from you or to have you reaffirm me in any way. I am just voicing my struggles; this is who I am. I don’t trust God enough.

Whether or not you can identify with my individual struggles does not really matter, because I know you struggle with the same basic thing. This is a human nature problem. We don’t trust God like we know we should, and when we don’t trust God like we should (which is a sin in itself), we become susceptible to further sin and despair.   

I feel like I also need to make one more point on this. Perhaps this is an issue that you will try to excuse as a problem everyone has so it isn’t that bad. Let me take a moment and address this common and sad problem with Christianity, maybe particularly American Christianity. If you are willing to say that any particular sin you struggle with or are living in is not a big deal, you have a drastically misshapen view of the gospel and sin. Let me remind you that Jesus had to die for all of your sin. Paul reminds us in 2 Cor 5:21 that God made Jesus to be sin for you. If I understand that correctly, that means that Jesus was made to be pride, selfishness, lying, lust, and failure to trust God for you. For you to diminish any sin in your life as unimportant is to diminish the sacrifice and propitiation of Christ, and I question the salvation of anyone who fails to repent of any sin in their lives no matter how small.

That said, I borrow the words of W. Graham Scroggie to emphasize my point, “The people of God must firmly believe what this Psalm teaches, namely, that God is Sovereign and will vindicate [that] fact in the world by the defeat of his enemies.”

Psalm 9 draws a contrast for us. A contrast between God and the nations or peoples (they are also called David’s enemies at one point). I believe all these of terms are synonymous in this Psalm as representative of an anti-God worldview that has pervaded nearly every society since the dawn of Creation, what Scroggie calls “a conflict between good and evil that is being waged all the time.” From this we can understand that God is always against those who make themselves to be enemies of him and his people; that is he considers them his enemies.

Specifically, Psalm 9 draws out three contrasts between God and the nations that vindicate God’s sovereignty in this world and drive us to trust him regardless of the circumstances. 

  • God’s eternal throne contrasts with the utter destruction of the nations – God is sovereign.

The first contrast is that of God’s eternal throne contrasting with the utter destruction of the nations. This emphasizes that God is sovereign. This concept of the throne of God and God’s being enthroned is a concept repeated several times in this Psalm. In v4 God sits on the throne, in v7 he is enthroned with an established throne, in v8 God judges (related to his throne), in v11 he sits enthroned, in v16 again we see the judgment as well as in v19. But I think the contrast is seen most pointedly in v5-7, where David says, “You [God] have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever”; then “But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice.” V6 creates some slight problems as the ESV and NIV (at least) interpret the verse with the idea that God is doing the destroying and rooting out of the cities and memory of the enemies, while the KJV and NKJV see the idea that the enemy is doing that destroying and rooting out of cities and memories. I have very little in the way of Hebrew knowledge so I am in no position to make a judgment other than I like the flow of the ESV/NIV translation. Although even having said so, perhaps the KJV/NKJV reading draws the sharper contrast. However, neither interpretation does anything to diminish the point especially with the verse sandwiched between v5-7, the contrast is great between the unsureness of the enemies’ ultimate existence and the established forever throne of God.

Speaking of forever, we must consider this length of time that God sits enthroned. Calvin notes that this means “however high the violence of men may be carried, and although their fury may burst forth without measure, the can never drag God from his seat.” Also, “it is impossible for God to abdicate the office and authority of judge” because that throne has been prepared or established for judgment. So there is nothing that mere men can do in relation to the sovereign rulership of God’s throne other than submit; this concept makes us aware that God is in charge, and it emphasizes also that we can/should trust him.

  • God’s righteous judgment contrasts with oppression of the nations – God is just.

I think that it is important to note how these contrasts build on each other. When we see God’s eternal throne emphasizing his sovereignty first, it naturally flows in to the idea of judgment. As you will notice in the Psalm itself, the transition between eternal throne and just judgment is seamless in v7-8, and we naturally think of those who are enthroned to have the authority to judge matters leading us to our second contrast that God’s righteous judgment contrasts with the oppression of the nations. This emphasizes that God is just.

This Psalm talks much of the oppressed, needy, and afflicted. We see them mentioned in v9, v12, v13 (speaking of David himself), and v18. Based on the message of the Psalm, C John Collins believes we can blame the oppression, neediness, and affliction on the nations and enemies of God’s people when he says, “This psalm grew out of an occasion in which the Gentile rulers sought to oppress them.” And several commentators pointed out the fact that the oppressed in this Psalm have a close connection to God himself as the people of God. So we see the contrast/conflict between God and the nations further emphasized here not only in the language of the Psalm but the concept of oppression vs justice.

Now we need to consider this idea of justice as it applies to life in general because we might read a passage like this one and consider the realities of life and determine that things don’t match up. Does this justice of God mean that God’s people will live lives free of injustice from the enemies of God? That was a rhetorical question of course, because reality tells us that justice isn’t always served and often the recipients of injustice are God’s own people. Just this week I read the story of Stephen in Acts 7; consider the way the Jewish religious leaders treated Stephen and not because of anything he had done but only because their consciences were confronted with the truth of their sinful condition. Stephen isn’t the only example of injustice suffered at the hands of those seeking to thwart God’s plan in this world. So what do we do with these facts?

I believe that to understand this concept of justice we must establish two facts. First, justice isn’t always what we think it is. For example in v4 David mentions that God maintained my just cause. According to C. John Collins, “When an Israelite sings of his just cause (v. 4), he should think beyond the simple right to live unmolested by foreigners, to the very purpose of the call of Israel, namely, to be a light to the Gentiles through living faithfully in the covenant (cf. v. 11).” So this isn’t just about having life without interference from those who have an opposing world view, but rather, it is also tied to what God wants me to do in this world. Collins points out the telling of God’s deeds in v11, but even Paul echoes this concept in 1 Tim 2, when we pray for those in authority so that we might live a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. But this peaceful and quiet life isn’t merely for our enjoyment; Paul goes on to say, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Our peaceful and quiet life ought to give us opportunity to share the gospel unmolested from those who oppose our worldview.

But what about when even that isn’t the case; what if the enemy is so against us that they are able to eliminate the peaceful and quiet life as well? What do we do when it seems our just cause is not being maintained? This brings us to the second fact, justice doesn’t always occur when and how we want it to. I believe John Calvin provides us with some sound insight in this regard. He says this, “The true doctrine on this subject is . . . to place [God] on the throne of power and equity, so that we may be fully persuaded, that although he does not immediately [help] those who are unrighteously oppressed, yet there is not a moment in which he ceases to take a deep interest in them. And when he seems for a time to take no notice of things, the conclusion to which we should come most assuredly is, not that he deserts his office, but that he wishes hereby to exercise the patience of his people, and that, therefore, we should wait the issue in patience, and with tranquility of mind.”

With this in mind, we can trust God. If God’s Word is true (and it is) and if God is on the throne (and he is), then he must be a just judge and he must see the oppression and affliction that we bear. He sees our need and he will help us (according to Calvin, “in order at length to [help us] at a more convenient season, according to the greatness of [our] necessity and affliction.”

  • God’s delivering refuge contrasts with the self-destruction of the nations – God is a stronghold.

So if God is sovereign and therefore judge, he must be a stronghold, a refuge to run to when we facing the difficulty of our own lives, which brings us to the third contrast, that God’s delivering refuge contrasts with the self-destruction of the nations. This emphasizes that God is a stronghold.

This idea of stronghold (it’s the same word twice in v9, by the way) points to a high refuge. Spurgeon used this colorful language to describe it for us, “He is a high tower so impregnable that the hosts of hell cannot carry it by storm, and from its lofty heights faith looks down with scorn upon her enemies.” Scroggie adds, “He is your protection from the precipice [in the extremity of trouble in which all hope of deliverance is cut off].” This greatly contrasts with the self-destruction that the nations bring upon themselves talked about in v15-16.

Can we not attest to many instances in history when these facts that David relates here have come to pass? The wonder in all of it is seen in the phrase that fits between the repetition of the idea that they are caught in their own trap; that is that the Lord has made himself known in this execution of judgment. To this fact Calvin observes, “Whenever God turns back upon themselves whatever schemes of mischief they devise, David declares that in this case the divine judgment is so evident, that what happens can be ascribed neither to nature nor to fortune.” So it is God who brings these things back upon the heads of those who have contrived them, and this to Calvin is sure evidence of divine intervention.

So if we can remember stories like those of Haman in the book of Esther, or, as pointed out by Barton Bouchier the use of the guillotine on those who murdered Marie Antoinette, we can see the hand of justice from an incensed God against the work of oppression. Should this not drive us to trust him? Every time we see these evidences our faith should be affirmed and strengthened.

So what does this faith look, is there anything a bit more practical I can do that “merely” trust, or will this trust become evident in some way? Let us remember that in Scripture faith always results in action, and in Psalm 9 the action that results is obvious to us. 

First, we will praise him both individually and corporately. That is how David starts off this Psalm with words of praise from his “whole heart” in contrast with those who offer mere lip service. When we are trusting God in ever circumstance of our lives we will be glad and exult in God for the work he has done and the confidence we can have that he will continue to work because he is the eternally enthroned sovereign of the universe.

Secondly, we will seek him. V10 reminds us that those who know him will trust him because he doesn’t forsake the ones who seek him. So seek him to know him and you will know why you trust him. As you get to know God more, you will see how trustworthy he is and this will serve to strengthen your faith in the future.

Third, we will ask for his help. Those who trust God never forget that they need him. David prays for grace for himself and judgment for his foes. God must help me by lifting me up from the gates of death so I can stand in Zion’s gates. God must judge my enemies so they are reminded that they are mere men and must fear God.

This is a transcript of a sermon preached June 2, 2013 at Trinity Baptist Church, Fond du Lac, WI. You can listen to the audio here