The Imprecatory Psalms

The Imprecatory Psalms

6 The Imprecatory Psalms 

We are going to look at a very different form of Psalm this morning. As we read through the Psalms we note that, now and again, we come across Psalms that have within them calls of serious hostility against the enemies of the Psalmist, calls of retribution and judgment upon the wicked. 

This is not unique in the Bible, we see Ezekiel praying against Israel, we see this also in Jeremiah, 

Paul the apostle calls a curse upon those who preach a false Gospel in the world in Galatians 1:8-9, he desires the death of those who lead the brethren astray in Galatians 5:12, prays that God would Judge Alexander the coppersmith for the evil he did in hindering the Gospel of Christ 2 Tim 4:14, condemns Elymas the sorcerer for “perverting the right ways of the Lord” and sends God’s judgement upon him that he would not be “blind not seeing the sun for a season” in Acts 13:10-11 etc.

We see passages by Peter and even Jesus Christ that are similar, but none so concentrated as to be referred to by their own typology

The Psalms we are speaking of are known as Imprecatory Psalms”.

One commentator defines Imprecation in the Psalms as “those psalms in which the writer prays that God may afflict the evildoer and punish him according to his just deserts.”[1]

Beloved these Psalms are no less inspired than any of the writings in the Bible and there is a very specific purpose for them regardless of how we might initially feel about them.

This morning we will consider the first Psalm identified as an Imprecatory Psalm and bring out at least five purposes points for them.

PSALM 7 Shiggaion of David, which he sang unto the LORD, concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite.

 O LORD my God, in thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me: Lest he tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver. O LORD my God, if I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands; If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me; (yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy:) Let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it; yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust. Selah. 

Arise, O LORD, in thine anger, lift up thyself because of the rage of mine enemies: and awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded. So shall the congregation of the people compass thee about: for their sakes therefore return thou on high. The LORD shall judge the people: judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me. Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins. 

10 My defence is of God, which saveth the upright in heart. 11 God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. 12 If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready. 13 He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors. 14 Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood. 15 He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. 16 His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate. 17 I will praise the LORD according to his righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the LORD most high.

So many are the testimonies of the value of the Psalms throughout history. 

Ambrose, one of the great saints of the church, said, “The Psalms are the voices of the church.” 

Augustine said, “They are the epitome of the whole Scripture.” 

Martin Luther said, “They are a little book for all saints.”

John Calvin said, “They are the anatomy of all parts of the soul.” 

J Vernon MCGee says the book of Psalms “is the only book which contains every experience of a human being.” “ Every thought, every impulse, every emotion that sweeps over the soul is recorded in this book.”

Perhaps that is the reason why the book of Psalms is one book that so perfectly speaks to our own heart.

Another said of the Psalms, “They are the choice and flower of all things profitable in other books.” 

Someone called the Psalms, “A hymnbook for all time.” 

Yet another said, “They are the thousand–voiced heart of the church.”

Perhaps the most important thing that was said was that “The Psalms are full of Christ. There is a more complete picture of Him in the Psalms than in the Gospels.”[2]

That is both a curious statement for those who spend little time in the Old Testament, and yet it is incredibly profound for those who have been blessed by the Psalms many times each year. 

The Psalms demonstrate incredibly the heart of God and the Character of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16), and we see him throughout the Bible. 

The world and those who rarely read their Bibles unwittingly see one type of God in the Old Testament and another in the New Testament, but this is a very superficial view and fails to take into account either the general flow of the Bible, or the context of his grace.

Let me give you just one example; 

We see in the Old testament that God deals perfectly strictly with his people according to his law in the beginning. 

In the first five books of Moses God “rules with a rod of iron”;

Those who break the sabbath day are put to death

Those who dishonour their parents are put to death

The priest who offer strange fire in the temple are put to death

God does so that the people may fear sin and put away ALL UNRIGHTEOUSNESS in Israel, and that they would re-present God and his goodness more perfectly. 

As we read on in the Old Testament God is seen to become more and more long suffering

God seems to deal directly at the first, and then expects his people to deal with sin themselves and according to both his revelation to them and his provision for them.

IT’S THE SAME IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

When the Spirit of God came upon the Church and Ananias and Saphira were confronted for lying to the Holy Ghost they fell down dead, and the Bible says “great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (Acts 5:11).

False prophets where blinded directly, and covetous preachers were cursed, that all may take God seriously.

But as time went on it was the Church who was charged to deal with things according to Gods revelation to them and his provision for them.

I remember growing up how people were shocked to even hear Gods name used in vain. Today Christians barely even wince as they hear it in their favourite TV show or movie.

The point is that the Bible has a structure and a reason for dealing with thingsand we identify it the more we read the Bible.

Jesus is full of Grace and truth and is the very epitome of Love; and when he came he demonstrated it all when he died on the cross for the sinners of the world;

The Psalms also demonstrate incredibly the heart of God and the Character of Jesus Christ.

Jesus came as the “Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), that was the witness of Jesus Christ when he came and that is the witness that we witness every time we share the wonderful joy of the Gospel to all who would hear it.

God had made his Son an offering for sin, JESUS CHRIST became “a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:6).

“The Son of God came….to give his life a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28, Mrk 10:45), that was Jesus own words.

But when he comes the second time it will not be as that Lamb of God but as the Lion, and his judgment does not sleep nor slumber and he will condemn the world for its evil.

We must never be guilty of preaching half a gospel, there is both warning and praise in the Bible, condemnation and grace, judgment and mercy as well as vengeance and love.

Jesus IS identified in the Psalms and just as clearly through the The Imprecatory Psalms. 

God Is Just and The Justifier

PSALM 7 Shiggaion of David, which he sang unto the LORD, concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite.

 O LORD my God, in thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me: Lest he tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver. O LORD my God, if I have done this; if there be iniquity in my handsIf I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me; (yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy:) Let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it; yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust. Selah. 

We see in these forms of Psalms that the psalmist places his life in the hands of the only one who can be truly considered just and good, holy and true and the only one who has the power to deliver the just from among the wicked.

One of the reasons for the Imprecatory Psalms is to reveal the righteousness of God.

God is not ONLY Just, but he is also the justifier;

Turn to Romans 3:23-26

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousnessthat he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

God demonstrated the perfection of his Justice through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Please understand the implication here, God does not simply let sin slide, that is not justice!

A just Judge does not let a criminal go simply because they said they are sorry, all crimes against society has a cost and that cost must be paid for, either it is paid by the victim or it is paid by the criminal, the justice of the Judge will not suffer evil to go unpunished.

So when God sacrificed his Son for the sin of the world, there was a cost to that sin that only the death of ‘God manifest in the flesh’ could pay for. 

Justice was done by the only one who can justify the ungodly through his blood.

But a time will come that God will pour out the fullness of his judgment upon the world that rejects their Salvation in Christ, those who persecute them that have placed their trust in God.

1 O LORD my God, in thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me:

David never thought to take vengeance for himself, each time the opportunity presented itself David refrained and trusted that this is not his job to attend to but God.

The second time David had the opportunity to slay the King that sought his life, David was encouraged by his general to take Saul’s life but;

And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the LORD’S anointed, and be guiltless? 10 David said furthermore, As the LORD liveth, the LORD shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish. 11 The LORD forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the LORD’S anointed: …(1 Sam 26:9-11)

Paul wrote this in Romans 12:19-20 and you all know the passage;

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 

Consider how David speaks in this Psalm: he does not see it to be right to pray for God to avenge him, if there is anything in him that is deserving of the trouble he endures from his enemies, look from Psalm 7:3

 O LORD my God, if I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands; If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me; (yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy:) Let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it; yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust. Selah. 

Beloved, we are often troubled because of our own sin, we often reap the rewardsof our own doings and sometimes those ‘rewards’ are a long time coming.

There are long term natural consequences to some of the things we have done either to ourselves or to others.

Another Imprecatory Psalm is Psalm 139 and consider how David concludes it, turn to Psalm 139:19-24

19 Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men. 20 For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain. 21 Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies. 23 Search me, O God, and know my hearttry me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

David desired the righteousness of God in him and diligently tried his own heart before God. 

Beloved take care always in your anger and desire of justice against another, first see if there be any wicked way in you.

Be sure you are not the first to cast a stone at the sinner if you also retain such sins.

God’s Revelation of His Righteousness

Another reason for the imprecatory Psalms is that God reveals his righteousness to those who have placed their trust in him, by taking vengeance on the wicked.

Arise, O LORD, in thine anger, lift up thyself because of the rage of mine enemies: and awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded. So shall the congregation of the people compass thee about: for their sakes therefore return thou on high. The LORD shall judge the people: judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me. Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins10 My defence is of God, which saveth the upright in heart

God takes pleasure in demonstrating that he is worthy of the trust of all people and he separates the wicked from the just and does so in the most incredible ways.

We have seen this in the Old Testament, we saw it as early as Genesis when the world was overwhelmed with a flood and God saved just eight people out of it.

We saw it again when Gods angels took Lot and his wife and daughters by the hand and led them out of the City before Fire and Brimstone rained down on Sodom and Gomorah.

We see it in the New Testament, which we looked at the other week, how the rulers of this world are given for the punishment of evil doers but for the praise of them that do well (1 Pet 2:14)

We see it yet future in the book of Revelation when the cry has gone out to the Lord for all those who will be slain for their witness of Christ and the Word of Godduring the coming tribulation, who say;

How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? (Rev 6:10)

Though at times it seems long, God is not slack concerning his promise and he delights in revealing his righteousness to those who trust him.

Another example of this is seen in yet another Imprecatory Psalm, turn to Psalm 58:10;

David speaks of their wickedness and their evil and their lies in all the Earth, and he desires God to take his vengeance on them and to show his goodness, in verse 10 we see that such a show is that revelation of Gods righteousness to those who trust him.

10 The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. 11 So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteousverily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.

God WILL Judge;

All those that stupidly try to test God by saying things like, “If God is real then let a bolt of lightning come and strike me dead now”.

Firstly, God takes no orders from the godless;

Secondly, God deals in his own time. 

He will recompence the wicked.

And he will reveal his righteousness to those who have trusted in him. 

Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins

Through the difficulties and the injustice we endure, we have confidence that “the wickedness of the wicked will come to an end” yet we will be tried in our hearts to trust him

Beloved, don’t let that trust in him fail when you see the wicked prosper and continue to do wickedly.

Know that there is a time for their end if they will not turn (Read Psalm 73 for further study)

What we are seeing in our nation and around the world is the “perilous times” the Bible said would come: 

Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:1 “this know also that in the last days perilous times shall come”: now is NOT the time for your faith to fail, but to be renewed!

It strikes me as quite startling that just as those who do not know the Lord are turning to him, because clearly THEY SEE THE DAY APPROACHING, yet there seems to be a FALLING AWAY of those who should know better!

Why are so many Christians failing in their trust in the Lord at the very time he is revealing HIS righteousness in the punishment of evil?

In only the last few years our nation has endured;

The legalisation of the murder of babies for any reason even to the time of their birth;

The legalisation and actual assistance for those who desire to murder themselves;

The complete distortion of the entire institution of marriage, and the public sanctification of that which God calls an abomination.

The normalisation of all forms of sexual perversion

The exposure and instruction of our smallest children by sexual deviants in our own libraries.

And the worship of the environment taking precedent OVER the worship of God.

We have taken away all forms of absolute morality, and then we wonder why people are lighting bushfires that destroy land and homes during the peak of summer!

80 % of the fires at the beginning of this year were deliberately lit, it is estimated that the balance was accidental. NO EVIDENCE IS GIVEN FOR CLIMATE CHANGE in those bushfires, yet that is the deceitful narrative.

Beloved, it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to see how man will not fall into the pit he has created for himself!

God is revealing his righteousness as DISTINCT from the evil the world is trusting.

God Turns the Wicked To Himself

There is another reason for these imprecatory Psalms and the prayer for judgment that is made in them, and that is that the wicked will turn to God.

11 God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day12 If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready. 13 He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors. 14 Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood. 

There are two ways to look at passages like this, one is the way many people look at it as THREATENING, the other is as the Bible presents it, as WARNING.

  • The signs on the road that tells us the bridge is out are not threats.
  • A sign that says “Danger cliff ahead” is not a threat.
  • The warning labels on dangerous goods that say “POISON” is not a threat;

All of these are warnings of what will occur should you NOT TAKE WARNING.

Christians, in sharing the Gospel, are so concerned about not offending those who may die any moment in their sin, that they completely ignore giving them the warning of the eternal danger they face.

Jesus spoke of hell more clearly and more frequently that any other person in the Bible. It is fitting that the one who came to die for the soul of the sinner, should also warn of the danger of rejecting his sacrifice for them.

Matthew 10:28 for example is not a threat but a warning by Jesus saying;

28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Mt 10:28)

Jesus goes into detail about exactly what occurs at death between the damned and the saved in Luke 16

But far too many Christians give platitudes such as ‘its ok, God loves the sinner but hates the sin” and they ignore that “God is angry with the wicked every day”. They forget that 1st Corinthians 5 tells us that the sinner is identified BY HIS SIN and God will cast the sinner in hell with his sin.

Friends there is NO separation of the sinner from his sin UNTIL HE TURNS12 If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready.

Turning to Christ is the ONLY option, because ONLY Christ has paid for the sins of the sinner.

When the keeper of the prison sprang in to the cell where Paul and Silas prayed he asked “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” Acts 16:30

This is where you need to turn, this is whom God gave as a propitiation for sin, God desires that the wicked will turn from their sin and live.

Ezekiel 33:11 “As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live

But this imprecatory Psalm goes on to warn further;

13 He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors.

It is God who has prepared the instruments of death and ordained the means by which the wicked die. 

The arrow is on the string, the bow is in the hand and stretched and it is his mercy alone that does not yet let the arrow fly into the heart of those who choose their sin over salvation.

Yesterday a man in the Northern Territory was killed when a fish jumped into his boat hitting him in the chest.

Job wrote; “Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the LORD hath wrought this? 10 In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:9-10)

No person can have confidence they will see tomorrow and yet everyone who dies today will likely have made plans for tomorrow.

Friends, if you have turned to the Lord and the wages of your sins are paid for by Christ who died for that very purpose, then death will no longer be your greatest enemy

But Paul wrote of the blessed state of those who are saved from the penalty of sin saying;

“Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56  The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:54-57)

Friends if there is still breath in you and you are yet in your sins, there is still time. If this message is filling your heart with dread, believe the gospel. Choose now to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

If it is still grieving you, stop what you are doing now, find a solitary place and plead with God to save you,

tell him you believe that Jesus died for your sins and ask him to give you his spirit in exchange for your sin. 

That’s all my friends. The words you choose are your own, but it is believing that wonderful news that Christ died for your sins and will set you free.

That is one of the purposes of these types of Psalms, that the wicked may turn and live.

God’s Demonstration of Sovereignty

15 He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. 16 His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.

There is yet another reason for these Psalms, and that is to demonstrate God’s sovereignty, God is in control.

No matter what devices are in the heart of those who plan to do wickedly, God can turn it about that they will be caught up themselves.

So many are the areas of example in the Bible that speak of those falling into the snares and devices they have set for others. So many are the examples in history and even in modern life that shows the same thing.

He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. 16 His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.

Psalm 9:15 says “The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken”.

Prov 26:27 “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.”

The proverbs say in Prov 22:8 “He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail.”

So we understand it is God who is in control of such things;

Psalm 94:23 says “And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness; yea, the LORD our God shall cut them off.”

Job has the final word for this point saying “Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same. By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.” (Jb 4:8-9)

Recall Haman’s device that he devised in his own house to have Mordechai hung in the book of Esther;

And when the King caught him in his own iniquity he was asked by a servant;

Esther 7:9-10

Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon. 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified.

Christian you sit there stressing over all the evil and the lies that are being told and then filtered through all forms of public broadcasting, and are upset as if God is NOT in control and will NOT recompence the evil that is sown.

You are angered that wrong is being perpetrated against you and against your family and yet have no idea as to what the plan of God is and how he will bring it about to suit his purpose.

Many are turning to Christ, the evil that is being done is identified for what it is, and God will fill the ditches dug with the wicked who dig them.

The nets they set to snare others, they themselves will be ensnared by.

God demonstrates he is sovereign through these Imprecatory Psalms.

God is Worthy of Praise

 17 I will praise the LORD according to his righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the LORD most high.

From all that is done and trusted and believed, God is found always worthy of praise.

There will be none of us who have trusted in the Lord that will be ashamed in that day. 

We will praise the Lord according to HIS righteousness, not our own. We have nothing to boast of you and I, all we have done and all that we are doing now is simply believing God at his word. What a wonderful joy and what a glorious comfort it brings us.

I was having a silly debate with a guy recently who said, “the Bible won’t save you”.

Well I praise God that it already has!

The Gospel that the Bible teaches has already saved me. It told me of my sin and my standing before a holy God, it told me of the Love God has for me but the danger that was in because of my sin, and it told me what was done that I might be saved.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house”!!!


[1] J. Carl Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981): 36.

[2] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary: Poetry (Psalms 1-41), electronic ed., (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 17:viii.

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