Are the imprecatory Psalms consistent with Jesus’ command that we love our enemies?

We discussed how we are called to love others, including our enemies, and how that is compatible with the imprecatory psalms of Scripture. An imprecatory psalm is one in which we pray down God’s wrath upon the wicked. Suffice it to say that we went a little late last night investigating the complexity of how we are called to love enemies and are also right in longing for the day when Jesus comes with a sword from His mouth to slay the wicked and make all things right.

We should never dismiss acts of injustice in the name of loving compassion, nor should we sadistically wish harm on everyone with no thought for God’s redeeming mercy. This complexity and tension is one we must not reject. It is too easy to steer into one ditch and neglect the other side of the coin on this issue. One way to asses your heart on this issue is to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Would I be angry if God were to save someone who sinned against me? or would I rejoice? If you are angry, then you are like the elder brother of the prodigal son, or like Jonah. This disposition of heart would never be appropriate.
  2. When I see great acts of evil, am I repulsed and long for the day when Jesus will come and ultimately destroy the works of the devil? If so, then this is an appropriate longing that is actually part of our eschatological hope for Jesus’ to come.

I would also suggest that giving up personal vengeance to God is basically to submit to His sovereignty to meet out His wrath however He chooses. He may meet out such wrath upon His Son on behalf of the sinner, or may inflict that wrath directly upon the sinner on the last day. There is also the gift of the civil magistrate in God’s dealings for the very purpose of punishing evil and rewarding good. I realize that when the civil magistrate fails to bring to justice those things that are evil in the sight of God, the people will grumble, and appropriately so. We should pray that God would establish a legal system that will act justly. When evil is allowed to reign, then we will be praying imprecatory psalms because we desperately need God’s intervention.

John Stott once described the relationship between the imprecatory psalms and our calling to love enemies by suggesting that he would offer a robber a cup of tea while he also phones the police. The desire for justice and love for enemy are mingled together in great complexity.

We see that Jesus did not call fire down on His enemies while enduring the shame of the cross. He actually prays the Father’s forgiveness upon those who are nailing Him to the cross. This is amazing grace!!! We must not forget, however, that Jesus’ return will be very different from His first coming. Judgment day is coming and Jesus will no longer be pleading the Father’s forgiveness for those who are forever separated in a place of wrath. Our prayers for God’s judgment to be accelerated upon evil may be answered prior to His coming in the here and now. God certainly does act in the present. We can’t speak with certainty on the actions of the world today because we don’t have insight into His secret counsels and how He is directly involved with every detail upon the globe, but we shall all be certain that Jesus’ has acted in judgment when He shall return. This should cause us to tremble, to be grateful for the cross as the means whereby God’s wrath upon us was satisfied, to pray for our enemies, while at the same time wishing for God’s hand to come down and restrain the many evils we see in the world today.

You may find the following book to be helpful for further exploration: “War Psalms of the Prince of Peace: Lessons from the Imprecatory Psalms” by James Adams.

Here’s a good sermon clip from John Piper on the imprecatory psalms:

© 2011, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

One comment on “Are the imprecatory Psalms consistent with Jesus’ command that we love our enemies?
  1. And remember, one the ways God _defeats_ his enemies is by converting them. He conquers Islam by converting Muslims. This is hinted at, for example, in the conclusion of Psalm 83.

    Our love for our neighbors – for our perscuted brothers and sisters, for example – demands and requires that we sing the imprecatory psalms on their behalf.

    “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”” (Rev 6:9-10)

    The Genevan Psalm 68 is a gem!

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