I recently devoted a post to the harsh language used in Psalm 137. However, as one commentator privately pointed out, this psalm is one of several known as the "Imprecatory Psalms." These psalms invoke curses upon (or pray to God for the punishment of) certain people(s). Theopedia (http://www.theopedia.com/Imprecatory_Psalms) includes the following psalms in its list: 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137 and 139. Let's look at a few quotes (New Living Translation) from the other psalms listed in this category:
"Arise, O Lord, in anger! Stand up against the fury of my enemies! Wake up, my God, and bring justice!" 7:6
"O Lord, oppose those who oppose me. Fight those who fight against me...Bring shame and disgrace on those trying to kill me; turn them back and humiliate those who want to harm me. Blow them away like chaff in the wind - a wind sent by the angel of the Lord. Make their path dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them." 35:1-6
"Let death stalk my enemies; let the grave swallow them alive, for evil makes its home within them." 55:15
"Break off their fangs, O God! Smash the jaws of these lions, O Lord! May they disappear like water into thirsty ground. Make their weapons useless in their hands. May they be like snails that dissolve into slime, like a stillborn child who will never see the sun. God will sweep them away, both young and old, faster than a pot heats over burning thorns." 58:6-9
"Destroy them in your anger! Wipe them out completely! Then the whole world will know that God reigns in Israel." 59:13
"Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see, and make their bodies shake continually. Pour out your fury on them; consume them with your burning anger. Let their homes become desolate and their tents be crushed..Pile their sins up high, and don't let them go free. Erase their names from the Book of Life; don't let them be counted among the righteous." 69:23-28
"Pour out your wrath on the nations that refuse to acknowledge you - on kingdoms that do not call upon your name." 79:6
"When his case comes up for judgment, let him be pronounced guilty. Count his prayers as sins. Let his years be few; let someone else take his position. May his children become fatherless, and his wife a widow. May his children wander as beggars and be driven from their ruined homes. May creditors seize his entire estate, and strangers take all he has earned. Let no one be kind to him; let no one pity his fatherless children. May all his offspring die. May his family name be blotted out in a single generation." 109:7-13
"O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!...O Lord, shouldn't I hate those who hate you? Shouldn't I despise those who oppose you? Yes, I hate them with total hatred, for your enemies are my enemies." 139:19-22
That's some pretty strong language, but is it God's language?
Jesus Christ said: "You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:43-48
Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that these psalmists were not acting in the capacity of true children of God when they wrote these passages. "But why would God allow them to write those things and have them included in Scripture?" we ask.
These passages are yet another proof that the writing of Scripture was indeed a joint product of the human and the Divine. They are also demonstrative of a principle about the Lord's character that many Christians overlook: God wants us to be honest with "Him" about our feelings - God doesn't want us to pretend to be more righteous than we really are - God will not ZAP you for being honest with him!
I heard a sermon on Pentecost that made me realize that the book of Jonah has a direct bearing on the subject at hand. Like these psalmists, Jonah was mad at his enemies - the Ninevites. He wanted to see them be punished and suffer at the hands of God.
However, when Jonah finally preached God's warning message to them, Scripture informs us that the people of Nineveh repented (Jonah 3:5-9). As a consequence, God decided not to bring to pass the bad things that Jonah had prophesied against them (verse 10).
Now, notice Jonah's reaction to this series of events: "This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: 'Didn't I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now Lord! I'd rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen." Jonah 4:1-3
Did you catch that? Jonah already knew that the Lord was loving and merciful. He simply didn't approve of that attitude - he didn't think that mercy and compassion were fair in this instance.
Did the Lord ZAP Jonah for expressing how he felt about what had happened? NO! God already knew what Jonah was feeling in his heart. Although God knew that Jonah's feelings were wrong, God did not destroy him for his lack of love, compassion and mercy. Instead, God asked him if he was justified to feel the way that he did(verse 4).
Next, we are told that God caused a leafy plant to spring up in the desert to shade Jonah from the sun (Jonah 4:6). Jonah loved the tree and the shade that it provided. Nevertheless, God was not finished with Jonah. God was trying to teach Jonah to be more like him. So God caused a cutting worm to destroy Jonah's shade, and then sent a "scorching east wind to blow on Jonah." (verses 7-8)
Jonah was angry again. In the concluding verses of the book, we read: "Then God said to Jonah, 'Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?' 'Yes,' Jonah retorted, 'even angry enough to die!' Then the Lord said, 'You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn't I feel sorry for such a great city?" (verses 9-11)
My take on the "Imprecatory Psalms" is this: God allowed these psalmists to vent their anger and frustration, because that is what they were honestly feeling when they wrote those passages (and God doesn't zap people for being honest about their feelings). Nevertheless, allowing them to express themselves and have those expressions appear in Scripture, does not mean that God approves of (or shares) the sentiments behind them! What do you think?