Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Holy Hatred: What Should We Think of the Psalms of Imprecation?

The Psalms of imprecation are notoriously difficult for any interpreter. How should they be understood and applied today? It intuitively feels wrong to ask God to harm our enemy. Is this not contrary to the New Testament's command to love and pray for those who hate us and wish to harm us? Once again, Bruce Waltke has been helpful to me. In the following quote he shows that there is not easy, fast answer, but if one understands the issue from various angles, they are able to understand what is going on and finally, to see how these passages of Holy Scripture apply and do not apply today...
"Thirty-five of the petition psalms ask God to punish the enemy. These psalms also trouble many. Lewis speaks of them as 'terrible or (dare we say?) contemptible Psalms.' Here he joins hands with those who deny that all Scripture is inspired. Dispensationalists traditionally averred that they are part of the ethical inferiority of the Old Testament. In fact, however, upon reflection they teach sound doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16) and are most holy.  a. These petitions are by saints (especially the innocently suffering king) who have suffered gross injustices. Few commentators have experienced the agony of utterly unprovoked, naked aggression and gross exploitation.  b. The petitioners are righteous and just: they ask for strict retribution... c. The petitioners are faithful. The pious recognize that vengeance is God's, not theirs (Deut. 32:35). They trust God, not themselves, to avenge the gross injustices against them. d. The psalmist is not vindictive (Ps. 109:5). 'There have been few men,' says Derek Kidner, 'more capable of generosity under personal attack than David, as he proved by his attitudes toward Saul and Absalom, to say nothing of Shemei.' The wicked, by contrast, avenge themselves (cf. Rom. 12:17-21). e. These prayers are ethical - that is, the petitioners ask God to distinguish between right and wrong (cf. Ps. 7:8-9; 2 Tim. 4:14-18). f. They are also theocratic, looking for establishment of a kingdom of righteousness by the moral administrator of the universe (cf. Pss. 72, 82). The earthly king asks no more of the heavenlly King than the latter asked of him (cf. Deut. 13:5; 17:7, 12; 19:13, 19; 21:9, 22; 22:22, 24). g. The prayers are theocentric, aiming to see God praised for manifesting his righteousness and justice in the eyes of all (cf. Pss. 35:27-28; 58:10-11). Calvin wrote, 'It was a holy zeal for the divine glory which impelled [the psalmist] to summon the wicked to God's judgment seat.' h. These prayers are evangelistic, aiming for conversion of earth by letting all people see that the Lord is Most High over all the earth (Ps. 83:17-18). i. They are 'covenantal'; a wrong against a saint is seen as a wrong against God (Psss. 69:7-9, 22-28; 139:19-22)... j. The prayers are oriental and full of figures, especially hyperbole... k. The prayers are political. If we may presume the enemy heard the prayer, he would be publicly exposed as one who opposed the kingdom of God. Moreover, the righteous identify with the psalmist and rally around him (Ps. 142:7; cf. the complaint of Ps. 38:11). Indeed, the enemy and potential evildoer may be instructed and converted through prayer (cf. Pss. 51:13; 94:8-11). l. These prayers are consistent with the central message of the Bible: 'Thy kingdom come'...The Lord's Prayer entails that saints pray for the overthrow of Satan's kingdom. Though theologically sound, these petitions for retribution are nevertheless inappropriate for the church in the present dispensation for the following reasons. (1) Ultimate justice occurs in the eschaton...(2) Sin and sinner are now more distinctly differentiated (cf. Eph. 6:11-18), allowing the saint both to hate sin and love the sinner. (3) The saint's strugggle is against spiritual powers of darkness. He conquers by turning the other cheek and by praying for the forgiveness of enemies (Matt. 5:39-48; 6:14; Luke 6:28, 35; Acts 7:60)" (878-880).

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