What are we to make of this SoCal Southern Baptist pastor? Earlier this month, this pastor endorsed Mike Huckabee (who I think is a great candidate, too, by the way), and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State went immediately running to the IRS bulldogs, seeking an investigation into possible violations of tax-exempt status. The pastor, Wiley Drake, reports that he made an effort to reconcile with the group, but they would not. Thus, he felt he had no option but to call his church to pray the imprecatory psalms against these “enemies of God.” A couple of Fuller faculty members have weighed in (helpful or not?) and spoken against his use of the psalms, saying these psalms are “more of a window into the sinfulness of human beings” and “contrary to the way of Jesus.” You can read the article below to see how all the other spiritualists and religionists have responded to Pastor Drake. The Muslims, of course, have no such vindictive prayer in their religion. (Maybe they have found other means to cope with injustice). At any rate, what do we make of David’s crying out that God would make the children of his enemies “wander about and beg” [Psalm 109:10]? Should we be praying such prayers against the AUSCS? The ACLU? Activist judges? Anyone? Or, have we perhaps misunderstood both the meaning and the proper application of imprecatory psalms?
There are several ways that I would like to respond. First, the imprecatory Psalms (ImPs) are as much God’s word as the Gospels and should be given that accord by Christians. They do not fall short of Jesus’ ethic in any manner. There is certainly a hermeneutical issue at play here in a Christian reading of these texts, as well as some prophets (Nahum for instance). This issue of interpretation is what grants the reader the correct sense of how the OT still abides as a theological witness for the church. I will come back to this below.
Second, the subject of the ImPs, particularly in Psalm 109 is genuinely innocent. This courtroom scenario is a travesty of divine and human justice. Often these types of prayerful responses are accompanied by oaths of innocence (Walton cites Job 31 as an example). such an oath, if there were guilt, would be reason for divine, not human punishment. 109 carries with it this tone.
Psalm 109:3-7 (ESV)
They encircle me with words of hate,
and attack me without cause.
 In return for my love they accuse me,
but I give myself to prayer.
 So they reward me evil for good,
and hatred for my love.
 Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
 When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin!
The mention of fasting further corroborates the speaker’s innocence. The practice is rarely if ever found in the ancient Near East outside of the OT. It is found in severe moments of stress and seems to be the result of counting physical needs as unnecessary compared to the issues at hand.
Third, and to circle back around to the latter part of my first point, the speaker in the OT was as “shadow-conditioned” as his priestly counterparts. The tabernacle yielded a taangable but limited expression of God’s presence. The cult of Israel, while effecting holiness, purity, atonement, and forgiveness, still shadowed an eternally more potent reality. The ImPs provide insight into the hostile “world” (kosmos) that John mentions. Their pursuit of the innocent and righteous servant of God is their condemnation. Furthermore, the enemies of God do not get forgiven without cost. As the Psalmist levels severe imprecations toward the “enemies of God,” the Gospel writers contend that God answers those prayers and crushes those enemies in His son.
The ImPs demonstrate that the OT readers would have never understood the God of modern Christianity ( . . .who has “the whole world in his hands”). They understood that God was untamed, unmanageable, and absolutely just as much as they understood that He was “slow to anger and full of steadfast love.”
The attempt to use the ImPs as if the NT never occurred seems to miss their biblical theological trajectory. It further, and perhaps more severely, distorts the real nature of the Old Testament as an eternally abiding theological witness to God’s great justice and mercy, which ultimately kiss at the cross.
Thanks so much for the post. I never thought of how Christ crushes the enemies of God mentioned in the ImPs. Yet, all enemies even now are a footstool for his feet. The last enemy, death, is defeated and one day will be cast off forever. Thanks for taking the time to offer a helpful word. The temptation we face is to simply gloss over the ImPs and “get to the gospel.” Yet, as Piper says, God is the gospel. Surely, the OT speaks of Him still.