The Imprecatory Psalms

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The book of Psalms in the Old Testament contains 150 separate psalms written by David and various other individuals inspired by the God of the Bible to write them, initially, for the nation of Israel. Critics of the Bible, who question its divine inspiration, insist that the “imprecatory” psalms are proof of the human origin of the Psalms. For example, Psalm 5:10 states: “Pronounce them guilty, O God! Let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions, for they have rebelled against You.” Psalm 18:40-42 declares: “You have also given me the necks of my enemies, so that I destroyed those who hated me…. Then I beat them as fine as the dust before the wind; I cast them out like dirt in the streets.” Psalm 35:1-8 asserts:

Plead my cause, O LORD, with those who strive with me; fight against those who fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for my help. Also draw out the spear, and stop those who pursue me…. Let those be put to shame and brought to dishonor who seek after my life; let those be turned back and brought to confusion who plot my hurt. Let them be like chaff before the wind, and let the angel of the LORD chase them. Let their way be dark and slippery, and let the angel of the LORD pursue them…. Let destruction come upon him unexpectedly, and let his net that he has hidden catch himself; into that very destruction let him fall.

Psalm 58:6-10 is equally graphic:

Break their teeth in their mouth, O God! Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD! Let them flow away as waters which run continually; when he bends his bow, let his arrows be as if cut in pieces. Let them be like a snail which melts away as it goes, like a stillborn child of a woman, that they may not see the sun. Before your pots can feel the burning thorns, He shall take them away as with a whirlwind, as in His living and burning wrath. The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.

And Psalm 55:15 exclaims: “Let death seize them; let them go down alive into hell….”

Critics of the Bible claim that the imprecatory psalms are proof that the Bible is not inspired (e.g., McKinsey, 2000, p. 394; Vjack, 2009). They say that the psalms are hateful, vindictive, and manifest an unchristian spirit. They say such “hate speech” demonstrates that the author(s) of the Psalms could not have been inspired by a divine Being. Atheists say these psalms prove that the Hebrew God is a blood thirsty, tribal deity like all the other pagan deities conjured up by mere men. Of course, the New Testament is not exempt from this same accusation, since Old Testament words of imprecation are quoted in the New Testament approvingly. For example, John 15:25 quotes Psalm 109:3, Acts 1:20 draws from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8, Romans 11:9-10 quotes Psalm 69:22-23, and Romans 15:3 refers to Psalm 69:9.

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