How are believers to understand the imprecatory psalms of the Bible? Is it proper for Christians to cry out for vengeance against God’s enemies?
Day, senior pastor of Bellewood Presbyterian Church, Bellevue, Washington, addresses these questions in a masterful way. After discussing several unsatisfactory solutions to this issue, he notes that the use of curses was common in the ancient Near East.
In discussing three rather harsh psalms of imprecation, Day shows that the imprecatory prayers stemmed from the extreme circumstances of societal desperation (Ps. 58), national calamity (Ps. 137), or desperate personal need (Ps. 109). He writes, “Any imprecation in the psalms comes only after the enemy has repeatedly returned evil for good, or after gross, vicious, or sustained injustice. The objects of the psalmists’ imprecations have characteristically abused power, oppressed the helpful, and committed unthinkable and unpunished acts of evil” (p. 110).
In the New Testament, Day observes, Jesus expanded the “love your neighbor” command in Leviticus 19 to “love your enemies.” And yet imprecations in the New Testament, though fewer than those in the Old Testament, are, like them, “a legitimate resort in extreme circumstances, against the hardened, deceitful, violent, immoral, and unjust” (p. 115). Day repeatedly emphasizes that Christians are to seek reconciliation and to practice love, forgiveness, and longsuffering. Yet they can pray for God’s vengeance on unbelievers in extreme instances when they “face sustained injustice, hardened enmity, and gross oppression” (ibid.).
This thoughtful work ably addresses one of the more troubling moral problems in the Scriptures in a biblically balanced way, which readers will appreciate.