Have you ever been reading in the Psalms, and been caught off guard by a bit of poetry that sounded vindictive, violent, and unforgiving? Chances are you ran into one of the “imprecatory” Psalms, which are so named because they call down retribution on the enemies of the psalmist or God’s people (or both). For instance, grab your bible and read Psalm 109.
See what I mean? What are we to do with these Psalms? Didn’t Jesus tell us to love our enemies? Is this just something from the Old Testament?
Alec Motyer, in his excellent devotional Psalms by the Day, gives us some needed help in this area. First, he puts this long footnote at the beginning of his translation of the Psalm:
Psalm 109 is possibly the most outspoken and ‘violent’ of the imprecatory psalms, and for that reason is condemned by commentators as not only lacking but contradicting the spirit of Christ and the Gospel. This an unthinking reaction. David professes love for his opponents, and his attitude towards them is one of prayer (4). Furthermore, as in all the imprecatory psalms, the response to unmerited (1-3) malignity (16-17) on grand scale, is to take it to the LORD and leave it there (Romans 12:19). No personal counter attack is envisaged–and we are not at liberty even to imagine David harboring vengeful thoughts, for such would be incompatible with the profession of live and the practice of prayer. The nearest we have as a ground for complaint is the vigor with which David words his requests (e.g. verses 9-13). Compared with today’s instruments of revenge–and the spirit in which they are used–this would have to be considered a minor fault (even were it true as stated)! But, in fact, what we find unacceptable is such realism in prayer. Consult Deuteronomy 19:16-19. The LORD required that the false accuser receive what he intended to fall on the one he falsely accused. This is the way divine justice works. David was realistic enough to ask explicitly for it rather than, as we would have done, pray blandly, “Please, LORD, will you deal with this situation.” Some suggest that in verse 6-19 David is quoting what his opponents have said. Verse 20 suggests otherwise, but, in any case, I would suggest the ‘quotation’ theory rests on a misunderstanding of the whole nature if the imprecatory psalms–and it flies in the face of Acts 1:20. (p.310)
Then, in his “Pause for Thought” section for this days reading, he gives more insight and application:
Do you feel more than a bit battered after reading Psalm 109? Of course you do! But let it be for the right reason. It is not (as some commenters on the Psalms would suggest) that every reader is probably horrified at finding such unsatisfied human rage and spite inside the covers of the Bible. No, it is because in Psalm 109 we are listening to the Holy God stating the consequences of sin and pronouncing the terms of his confrontation and judgment. And if we like to imagine that his eyes are full of tears as he does so we are correct. The voice of David and the voice of the Holy Spirit are one voice, just as Acts 4:25 (ESV, correctly) says about Psalm 2. This is the biblical realism of David’s praying. He asks (without rancor, in a truly sinless anger) for what the Word of God affirms is inevitable in the situation of hatred, opposition, false accusation and malignity he was facing. Sin brings us under the domination of the wicked one (6), ruins everything about us (7), extends its infection to those linked with us (9-10), pauperizes (11), leaves us friendless (12), simply because it brings on us fruits of our own choices, attitudes and actions (16-10). And (as you readily see) such a survey does no more than scratch the surface of this terrifying psalm. It is a place into which so many streams of biblical revelation and warning flow–the cardinal seriousness of sins of speech, for example, and (a thing that hits and hurts at the family level), if it is true (as Proverbs 20:7 teaches) that the children of the righteous are blessed, it is equally true that the iniquity of fathers passes through the channels of genetic solidarity to those who we love most dearly – a moral and spiritual entail that is part of the rice of being human. if we recoil on reading the central section of Psalm 109, let us dwell at length and with all our hearts on the great cry to God with which the psalm ends. (p.313)
Helpful, right? Seriously. Go read this book.