A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms -- By: J. Carl Laney

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 138:549 (Jan 1981)
Article: A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms
Author: J. Carl Laney


A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms

J. Carl Laney

[J. Carl Laney, Assistant Professor of Biblical Literature, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, Oregon]

Included in the Psalter are various psalms containing appeals for God to pour out His wrath on the psalmist’s enemies. These psalms are commonly classified “imprecatory psalms” for the imprecation forms a chief element in the psalm. These psalms have been problematic for Bible teachers and preachers because of the difficulty in reconciling them with Christian thought. Barnes comments on this problem.

…perhaps there is no part of the Bible that gives more perplexity and pain to its readers than this; perhaps nothing that constitutes a more plausible objection to the belief that the psalms are the productions of inspired men than the spirit of revenge which they sometimes seem to breathe and the spirit of cherished malice and implacableness which the writers seem to manifest.1

The purposes of this article are to define an “imprecation,” identify the imprecatory psalms, pinpoint the problem that interpreters have with such psalms, recount proposed solutions to the difficulty, and present a suggested solution to this problem.

The Definition of Imprecation

An “imprecation” is an invocation of judgment, calamity, or curse uttered against one’s enemies, or the enemies of God. The morning prayer of Moses was an imprecation that the enemies of Yahweh, who were Moses’ enemies as well, would be scattered and flee from His presence (Num 10:35). The Song of Deborah and Barak

concludes with an imprecation that Yahweh’s enemies might perish (Judg 5:31). Jeremiah the prophet used repeated imprecations against his enemies (Jer 11:20; 15:15; 17:18; 18:21–23; 20:12). Such imprecations are not limited to the Old Testament, but are found in the New Testament as well (Rev 6:9–10). Other portions of the New Testament are considered by some to contain imprecations (Acts 13:10–11; 23:3; 1 Cor 16:22; Gal 1:8–9; 5:12...

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