This psalm is what the smart theology guys call an imprecatory psalm–a psalm calling on God to judge one’s enemies. It’s pretty hard core. The author calls upon God to judge his enemy, to kill him, to let his children be fatherless beggars and his wife a widow, for his line to be cut off. And that’s just for starters.
Should we pray like this?
Let’s recognize a few things. First, the author of many of the imprecatory psalms is David, who was the anointed king of Israel. An attack on the king was the same as an attack on God. Secondly, this psalm was inspired by God–it is in the Bible for a reason. David is calling upon God to defend His own name. So… unless we’re the anointed king (which we’re not) and unless we’re inspired by God (which we’re not), we should probably stay away from prayers like this. Can we pray for justice? Absolutely–and we should. But should we pray that God strikes down our enemies with a terminal disease?
Probably not… and here’s why. Look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-47,
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Love and pray for your enemies. Not exactly on the top of our to-do lists.
Yet, have you ever prayed for an enemy, for someone who’s done you wrong, for someone who has destroyed a relationship with you or hurt someone you love? You cannot continue to pray for them and remain angry and bitter against them. Should justice still occur? Yes. But our hearts do not have to remain hard to our enemies. We can pray for justice, but ask God to remember mercy. As we pray like that, our hearts beat more in tune with God’s. It’s a tough thing to do–it goes against ever fiber of our being. But if we want to be sons of God, it is something we must do.
But isn’t there a conflict between the way David prayed and the way Jesus commands us to pray? No. Remember, David was God’s anointed king and was inspired by God. He was calling on God to defend His own name. We’re not inspired, nor are we God’s anointed king. Jesus is our king. We can be sure that justice will be carried out (whether now, or at the end of all things). Our task is to be like Jesus–to love our enemies in spite of what they may do and say against us.
Is this a tough thing for you to do? I know it is for me…