One way to read the imprecatory psalms, and even pray them, is, as scholar Derek Kidner suggests of Psalm 58, as a “mirror” rather than as a microscope with which to examine the flaws of the wicked. In fact, as you read Psalm 58 it is hard to escape the conclusion that this is precisely what David had in mind for those worshippers gathered together who would sing and implore God to “break the teeth” in the mouths of the wicked. After David’s sweeping examination of the ethical anatomy of these so called “gods”-—finding amazingly that they were sinners from the womb-—in the final verses of the psalm, we are led to envision a day that should not sound strange or far off to any true Christian. David writes of a day future when the “the righteous will rejoice when he sees (God’s) vengeance…bath(ing) his feet in the blood of the wicked”. He writes of a day future when all “mankind will say…surely there is reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges the earth”. (Vs. 10-11). All of which begs the question: who then is righteous? Who will experience this glorious future when David’s prayer to be effectively free completely of the power and presence of the wicked will be fully answered? Who is truly righteous? Such a glorious ending demands that those who sing it fully examine themselves. A cry for justice in the earth must be accompanied by a cry for justice in righteousness in one’s own soul. And at the end of all of this soul searching hopefully is the conclusion that I am also a “sinner from birth” in need of repentance, in need of God’s gracious intervention, in need of Jesus.

The imprecatory psalms, or psalms that seem to have us actively praying for the destruction of enemies and the wicked, are also an invitation to ask, “Am I among the wicked? How do I escape this end? How can I see this very much preferred future?” And to ask such questions is to do what the New Testament implores us to do: to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5), to be thankful that we have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28), and not least of all to recognize that we too were swindlers, idolaters, adulterers—-and so much more—-but now because of Jesus have been washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Cor 6:9-11). And above all asking such questions should drive us to labor in love with all we have to “go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)

by Craig Lester, Pastor of Worship & Music

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