Lord, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.” But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. Arise, O Lord; Save me, O my God! For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongs to the Lord. Your blessing is upon Your people. (Psalm 3; A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son.)
The Imprecatory Psalms
The setting of this psalm is declared by the writers of old as a sad time in the life of David when he must flee his own palace hiding himself from the wrath of his son Absalom. 2 Samuel 15 seems to fit the occasion which David finds himself. One of the unique characteristics of this psalm is the language employed by the psalmist in verse seven. This is striking and for many uncomfortable to have such rough language contained within a book of praise. These psalms are in a group called the “Imprecatory Psalms.” These writings bear the resemblance of coarse, hard language vividly seeking a terrible fate to fall upon the wicked.
There are a number of imprecatory psalms. Psalm 10 talks about breaking the arms of the wicked (v15). Psalm 11 seeks the Lord to rain coals, fire and brimstone and a burning wind upon the wicked (v6). Psalm 18 rejoices in David standing on the necks of his enemies in triumph showing their disgrace for being conquered. Psalm 21 speaks of the Lord burning up the enemies and destroying the offspring from the face of the earth with arrows pointed right at their faces (vv8-12). Right after this David says, “Be exalted, O Lord, in Your own strength. We will sing and praise Your power” (v13).
Psalm 55 continues the chorus of vengeance upon the enemies of God when David contemplates death seizing them going down alive into hell. “Break their teeth in their mouth, O God” is how David shows the righteousness of the Lord against evil doers (Psalm 58:6). He also begs for them to be like a snail that melts away as it goes or like a stillborn child of woman who will never see the light of day (v8). Psalm 109 is filled with imprecatory implications against false accusers. Psalm 137 is very vivid: “O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock” (vv8-9; See also Isaiah 13:11-18).
Paul reminds us of the nature of God that He is a God of goodness and a God of vengeance (Romans 11:22). Often we tend to forget the character of scripture when the Lord is bringing forth terrible punishment on those who disobey Him. Every imprecation is rooted in the covenant curses previously announced by God. The psalms are filled with the goodness of God and the vengeance of God.
It should not be surprising there is a lot of imprecation in the New Testament. John 3:16 is a good example as well as Mark 16:16. Matthew describes the judgment scene with the clear language of imprecation in Matthew 25:41. Be impressed with the imprecation of God. It is real.
The God of wrath is the God of love vindicating Himself in the death of those who will not live in love. (Gregory Vlastos, Christian Faith and Democracy, 1939).