The Imprecatory Psalms -- By: John J. Owen

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 013:51 (Jul 1856)
Article: The Imprecatory Psalms
Author: John J. Owen


The Imprecatory Psalms

John J. Owen

By this designation, we refer to those Psalms in which the writer devotes his enemies to destruction. The terms in which this is done, although of varied form and fulness, and relating to contexts of every shade of devotional sentiment, from humble penitential longings after holiness, to triumphal exclamations of confidence in God, evince the most intense and permanent hatred of the persons doomed, with not a single expression of sympathy or regret for their miserable end. There are no tears, such as were wept over Jerusalem, no yearnings, as were felt for Ephraim, no prayer like that of the Redeemer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” but anthemas, which for depth and

intensity of expresion, almost horrify the reader, and stagger his belief in their divine inspiration.

The enemies of God’s word have seized upon this, as a strong argument against the divinity of the Scriptures. Assuming that these are the denunciations of a malignant heart, and the outbursts of private hatred, they triumphantly ask, how such a spirit is to be reconciled with that, which directs us to love our enemies, and to pray for them which de-spitefully use us, and persecute us. “How,” say they, “can the same spirit which gave this command, and insisted so strongly on its being kept, as an essential element of christian character, have inspired the Psalmist to utter such maledictions upon his enemies?” Chronological difficulties and discrepancies may be removed, harmonized, or attributed to careless copyists. There may be some semblance of apology for the inaccurate and conflicting statements of the sacred writers, their incorrect citations, and the other blunders which they have made. But that one should curse and anathematize his enemies, and yet be impulsively moved thereto by the Being who has commanded us to love our fellow-men as we would ourselves, is too absurd to obtain one grain of belief. If there is any inspiration in cursing one’s enemies, it must be derived from the bottomless pit, and not from the Being who claims to be the God of love.

Good men, too, have been troubled about these Imprecatory Psalms, and have resorted to various expedients to free the subject from the difficulties which invest it. Some consider these anathemas in the light of predictions; and for this they have some license in the use and form of the Hebrew future, which, serving the two-fold use of the future, and of the imperative for the first and third persons to express a command, wish, prohibition, renders some passages necessarily obscure, especially when the context does not clearly define the meaning. But the context, in most if not all the impreca...

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