At the church I attend, we sing and memorize a Psalm each quarter during Sunday school. It’s a great exercise, and I have sweetly benefited from it. Here I am reminded of memorizing Psalm 67. What a joy it is to sing about God’s great missionary plan to save people from all nations. Or what about Psalm 121? Etched onto my tongue are the words, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD.” Or what about Psalm 103, when it compels me to imagine my sins being cast away as far as the east is from the west?
Great are the Psalms. And blessed are those who meditate upon them.
But (and I think you know what I’m going to say) what about a Psalm like Psalm 137? Or Psalm 69? What are we to make of these divinely inspired songs that suddenly flare with the sparks of wrath and burn with the hot glow of intense emotion? How can we take upon our lips, “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones [O daughter of Babylon] and dashes them against the rock.” (Psalm 137:9)? Doesn’t this run contrary to enlightened Western culture? Or even more pointedly, doesn’t this run counter to Christ Jesus’ ethical imperatives? How can a Christian sing this, let alone apply it? Should we shrink back from singing them? Should we feel embarrassed? How should we interpret imprecatory Psalms? And how should we understand them in the sweep of redemptive history? What in the world do they teach us?
I have begun to wrestle with such Psalms more intensely as of late. I guess you could say it’s only natural, given the fact that we are singing Psalm 137 during family worship. How do I explain this to my children? To my wife? To myself?
Over the past week or so I’ve been hunting down lectures and sermons that touch on the subject. So far, I have found three that are worthy of serious digestion. They have helped me think more clearly about this subject. And for that I’m exceedingly thankful.
Along the way, I’ve also jotted down some of my own thoughts on the matter. I’d like to share them here. But first, I need to explore them with my family. Let me just say that while I still have some questions that need to be reflected on more fully, I am amazed at how fitting and theologically coherent these imprecations truly are, even when set next to Christ…correction, especially when set next to Christ.
In the meantime, feast on these messages. If you had to skip one, skip the one by Dr. Philips Long (from Covenant Theological Seminary).
Difficulty: Easy to follow, but the subject matter is weighty.
Must Listen Factor: Moderate to very high. If you haven’t thought through this issue, I would urge you to wrestle with the subject. The messages are arresting, and each speaker adds one or two interesting insights.
Pour Our Your Indignation Upon Them – John Piper Link.
The High Temperature of Faith – Dale Ralph Davis Link.
Imprecatory Psalms – Philips Long Link. (Note: Skip to about the 12 minute mark. The beginning is classroom/school stuff).
Length: 45 minutes to 1 hour and some.