In the previous post I referred to goofy exegesis of the Psalms. Actually, I wouldn’t be so riled if the preaching were merely goofy. But all too often principles are asserted in the common hermeneutic that if closely examined, and carried to their logical conclusions, would destroy inspiration as we know it. This is nowhere more evident than in the exegesis of the Imprecatory Psalms.
For the uninitiated, the Imprecatory Psalms are those Psalms wherein people are cursed. Psalm 35 is a case in point. There are several songs in which David curses enemies. And then there are statements against enemies scattered throughout many of the other psalms, such as 139: 21, 22, which read: “Do not I hate them, O LORD that hate thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”
Three proposed solutions to the ‘problem’ of the Imprecatory Psalms:
1. David is sinning. His sins are hatred, resentfulness, and vengeance. All God’s people are sinners, even the saints of the Old Testament. Christians are to love their enemies. Any statement of this kind is simply sinful.
This sentiment is clearly based upon the old “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” line. Is this true? Not at all. Before you rush to protest, let me ask: Is it the sin that God casts into Hell or the sinner? Look at these passages:
Psalm 5:4-6 For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.
Psalm11:5 The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.
Proverbs 6:16-19 These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
Romans 9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
So it is clear that at some level God does indeed hate His enemies. Therefore this first solution is a red herring. As children of God we are to mirror His character, which includes His hatred of sin and the sinner. Scripture forbids bitterness, yes; but, this hatred of God’s which we are to reflect is neither vindictiveness nor self-centered resentfulness. It is a holy hatred of anything and anyone who opposes the righteous will of a holy God and is therefore His enemy. This may be confusing at times in practice, but it is nonetheless true.
2. The Old Testament period was one of Law, harshness and vengeance. But the New Testament era is one of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. So the hatred and vengeance David was expressing was perfectly acceptable in the Old Testament era. In the New Testament we follow the Law of Christ, but David the Law of Moses.
This is the approach of Dispensationalism because of its sharp discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. While we acknowledge some things discontinued, these are only those which God has revealed by precept or by necessary inference. There is a better priesthood, a better sacrifice, a redefined covenant people. But these are fuller expressions of the same Covenant of Grace. But when it comes to God’s moral character and the things He has professed hatred of, there can be no discontinuity or change. God is not a God who can change. What He hated in the Old Testament He still hates in the New Testament. In fact the New Testament expresses God’s hatred for sin more clearly than the Old, for He poured out His infinite wrath against sin on His own dear Son. The Sermon on the Mount is not a new Law contrasted with Old Testament ethics. It is an expression of what was intended by the Old Testament all along. Hence there is no discontinuity of ethics between the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, imprecations are not unique to the Old Testament. Peter curses Simon Magus in Acts 8:20. Paul imprecates the High Priest in Acts 23:3, Alexander the coppersmith in 2 Timothy 4:14, and preachers of a false gospel in Galatians 1. Furthermore, the greatest woes pronounced by anyone on anyone anywhere in Scripture are from the lips of Jesus Himself in Matthew 23.
Not only is this true, but the supposed New Testament ethics of forgiveness and mercy are taught in the Old Testament. In fact, many times the VERY WORDS use in New Testament are merely quotations from the Old! When Jesus summarizes part of the Law as loving your neighbor as yourself, He was not creating a new principle. He was quoting Leviticus 19:18. Exodus 23:4-5 give us case laws wherein kindness to enemies is demanded. The familiar “Vengeance is Mine,” is from Deuteronomy. The same David who wrote Psalm, also penned these words RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of an Imprecatory Psalm: False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not. They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother. Psalm 35:11-14. And therefore, this second attempted solution fails.
3. The Liberals approach is unthinkable to any true Christian. They simply say that we have here a blatant contradiction in Scripture. This is such an abhorrent view that no Christian should give it the dignity of a response. It is a God-hating view developed by men who are God-haters. Period.
These are several ways in which these Psalms are handled. But not one of them is correct. The Reformed position, especial as it pertains to the doctrine of Inspiration, is the only way these texts can be treated correctly. If we wish to defend the traditional Reformed doctrine of Inspiration, then we must shun any interpretation which lets David, or the other authors of the Psalms, insert themselves into the text. Too often, much is made of David’s psychology and his emotions as revealed in the Psalms. While this may jump out at us in a shallow, surface reading of the text, it is incredibly dangerous to take this tack. To work, this approach would necessitate David’s having written a nasty song, fuming against his enemies, being vindictive and hateful. Yet we know from 139:23, 24 that this cannot be the case. It reads: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” This approach assumes that God allowed David’s rotten sinful attitude to be inscripturated to teach us how not to act. This overlooks the rather obvious fact that the Imprecatory Psalms have no indications nor hints that there is anything wrong with what David has written. Furthermore, it almost requires assuming that David just wrote what he liked and then God, liking it, said, “Hey, that’s good. I think I’ll inspire it.” That, my friends is NOT inspiration. Allowing the text to be colored even in the slightest way by the author’s personal thoughts, feelings and character effectively destroys and denies the Reformed view of Inspiration.
As was said above, God clearly forbids vindictiveness and bitterness, but nonetheless, we must reconcile this with a faithful mirroring of His Divine character as His image-bearers; therefore, we too must hate what He hates. Furthermore, we must clarify that our hatred is precisely hatred because such are God’s enemies. We should never return evil for evil, nor refuse to extend forgiveness to one who repents. Notwithstanding, zeal for God’s glory should outweigh every other concern.
Admittedly, this is a difficult subject. And this is why, in my estimation, very few preachers expound the Psalms, and many of the few who do, do it poorly.