Psalms of Cursing

One type of Psalm that we haven’t looked at in our series are the 25 or so Cursing (i.e. “Imprecatory”) Psalms. These Psalms are often prayers in response to the atrocities that have been commited against God’s people. In a sense they’re saying: “Do to them, O Lord, what they did to us.” But they’re troubling, and hard to pray. As the New Bible Commentary on page 488 notes, “[These Psalms have] ever been a source of difficulty. Has the desire for the sudden destruction of foes (35:8), their death (55:15), the breaking of their teeth (58:6), the destitution (109:10) and massacre of their children (137:9) anything in common with the mind of Christ? …Commentators have been quick to dismiss them as ‘Old Testament morality’, condemned and outmoded by the revelation of God in Christ. There are three reasons why this is unsatisfactory: (i) Similar sentiments are expressed in the NT (Gal. 1:8, 9; Rev. 6:10; 18:20; 19:1-3) and by the Lord Jesus (Mt. 11:20-23; 23:13-36)…. (ii) The OT like the NT urges love (Lv. 19:17-18), God’s hatred of violence (Ps. 5:6), the duty of returning good for evil (Pss. 7.3-5; 35:12-14) and the rejection of vengence (Dt.32:35; Pr. 20:22); (iii) In almost every case the imprecation which we find objectionable sits alongside a spirituality we would envy, e.g. Psalm 139….
More positively, we note that they are [almost] all prayers… There is no suggestion that the psalmists planned vengeful action, nor even that they entertained vengeful thoughts. Their reaction to hurt was to commit the matter to the Lord and leave it there…. If we were holier — and certainly if we were less comfortable and knew more of the persecutor’s power – we would more readily identify than condemn.”