What are the Imprecatory Psalms?

The Daily Omer. Bible Commentary. Imprecatory Psalms. OmerDylanRedden

Have you ever wanted to call down a curse on someone?

Have you ever been so mad at someone that you wished bad things upon them?

Yeah, it’s a natural thing. It’s part of our human condition. People offend us, annoy us, or harm us, and we get upset. Rightfully so.

In this article, I want to answer three common questions about the imprecatory Psalms:

What does imprecatory mean?

Merriam-Webster defines “imprecate” in this way: to invoke evil upon; to curse.

Other synonyms might be:

  • Ban
  • Afflict
  • Maledict
  • Anathematize
  • Vigorous denunciation

I love words, but those sound pretty rough, right? Who would ever wish those things upon someone?

I can almost hear the spelling be judges now…you’ve spelled it, you’ve defined it, now could you use it in a sentence please?

Sure! Let me give you a quick example of how you could use imprecatory in a sentence and where it would make sense:

If you’re a parent and someone purposefully harmed your kid, would that get you fired up?

What if that person sexually abused your kid, would that get you fired up?

What if that person was someone in your own family, or someone that you had trusted, would that get you fired up?

It would get me fired up.

I would, for sure, pray imprecatory Psalms on that person!

So there’s a definition and example of where an imprecation would be feasible.

If you’re calling upon a power (or God) to send injury to another, it better be for a darn good reason.

What are the imprecatory Psalms?

The Psalms have a few different flavors, and they can be divided in a myriad of categories, depending upon who you ask. I’ll divide them up in this way:

  • Imprecatory Psalms
  • Celebration / Praise Psalms
  • Lament Psalms
  • Wisdom Psalms
  • Remembrance / History Psalms

The imprecatory Psalms are actually quite abundant. All of these Psalms include prayers against an enemy, and the lines in them aren’t exactly the type of things we’d expect a “saint” to say:

  • Psalm 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137, 139

Now, you have some Old Testament proof that imprecatory Psalms are ok to pray. But I can already hear the dissenters, “But that was the Old Testament, and in the New Testament, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who spitefully use us.”

And here’s my reply:

Yes, Jesus did say that. But Jesus also called the Pharisees to the carpet in Matthew 23. That whole chapter sounds like imprecations to me: “Woe to you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites!”

And Jesus also flipped over the tables (and made a whip to drive out people and animals) in the temple courts, because they had made it a den of thieves instead of a house of prayer.

And Peter and Paul invoked some curses upon folks in the book of Acts. And Paul invoked some curses in Galatians and 2 Timothy.

For many centuries, the test of doctrine has been:

  1. Was it taught or demonstrated by Jesus?
  2. Did the apostles do it in Acts?
  3. And is there teaching or examples of it in the epistles / letters?

If the answer is “yes” to all three, then it’s good to be accepted. It sure looks like imprecations upon the enemy are still acceptable.

Now, should we work to forgive the transgressor? Absolutely. But forgiving is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we accept what they did as right. It doesn’t mean we have to have a good relationship with the person. As Mike Foster has said:

“Sometimes continuing the relationship is both impossible and inadvisable.”

Mike Foster

Now that you know what the imprecatory Psalms are, where you can find them and other imprecations in the Old and New Testament, it’s now time to answer the question:

Can I pray imprecatory Psalms? Should I pray imprecatory Psalms?

I think you know where I’m going with this. It’s true: people offend us, annoy us, or harm us, and we get upset. Rightfully so. That’s our sense of justice kicking in. If you weren’t getting fired up at the example I shared in the first section of this post, then I’d check your pulse.

But we also know our own limitations, and we know we shouldn’t take revenge, so we have to ask for help from above. Perhaps God will see fit to handle that person for us.

There is nothing wrong with praying imprecatory Psalms. We can be honest with God in our hurt, our pain, our grief. He’s big enough; He can handle it.

In fact, we should be honest with God in our hurt, pain, and grief. If we can’t be honest in our private prayers to God, who can we be honest with?

So yes, you can pray imprecatory Psalms. Yes, you should pray imprecatory Psalms. If David, Jesus, Peter, and Paul did it, you can do it too.

Just be careful you don’t do something to be on the receiving end of someone else’s!

If you have experience praying the imprecatory Psalms, let me know in the comments.

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Published by omerdylanredden

I write.

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