Christ in the imprecatory Psalms

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a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
I have wanted to understand better about the imprecatory Psalms in their fundamental relation to Christ, but am unsure quite how to express the main question. I was thinking over again what C. S. Lewis wrote about the imprecatory Psalms which seemed when I read it a few years ago very tragic, and very insightful. For without seeing them as fundamentally related to Christ (so many Christians do not) what he said about self righteousness and petty self vindication seems accurate -- it was an accurate description of many in Christ's day, and I'm afraid I find enough evidence in my own heart to believe it's a common enough symptom still. Rev. Winzer mentioned in another thread that Christ is the plaintiff in these Psalms, which is what Lewis failed to see. Lewis points out that he is the judge -- but on a totally 'Hebrew' model: a hero judge who effects the justice he adjudicates.

What I am struck by is that the Jews who were praying these Psalms against the nations around them but failed to see themselves in any relation to Christ were the ones, when Christ came, who were judged. And the judgment on the nations was that Christ suffered so that they also might be received with God.

I am sure I am expressing all of this very poorly because it is all very confusing to me still. Is Israel not typical of Christ in the Psalms in a way the NT church is not? It is not that we do not share in His experience (and the Psalms are the heartbeat of that); but would these imprecations have to be viewed through something of a typical lens, as prayed by Israel? For when Christ takes up praying for your enemies, he hands it back to us in a totally different fashion than we find it there -- of praying for mercy on them -- and this would seem to be actually the fulfillment of so much of the judgment that is prayed for in those Psalms?

I'm hesitant to say so much where I'm unsure of my own thoughts, but would appreciate understanding some of these things in a clearer light.


Puritan Board Professor
The command to pray for our enemies is not inconsistent with a prayer for the destruction of God's and our enemies. There is a time to kill and a time to make alive. Anabaptist nonsense has been so beaten into our souls that we seem to think we have to choose between God's justice or His mercy. We don't.

Paul commands "imprecatory acts" by telling the saints to do good to our enemies so that they may suffer all the more. If you just wanted to show "mercy, mercy" why would you want to put burning hot coals on someone's head? You would only want such to come upon them if you want God's vindicating justice to fall on them.

Some typology arguments are helpful; others are meant to emasculate the Scriptures. I think the typology argument about Israel/Christ Imprecations is such an emasculating use of "typology."

Now, let me tell you how I really feeeeeel :)
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Puritanboard Amanuensis
Calvin certainly did not emasculate the Scriptures. With respect to the apostle Peter's use of the imprecatory Psalms, Calvin comments on Acts 1:20, "In that Psalm (I say) is contained the common image of the whole Church, which is the body of the Son of God. Therefore, the things which are there set down must needs have been fulfilled in the head, which are indeed fulfilled, as the evangelists do testify. Now, if any man object that those things which there were spoken against the enemies of David do not fitly agree unto Judas, we may easily gather that they do so much the rather agree with him, because David doth not respect himself as being separated from the body of the Church; but rather as he was one of the members of Christ, and so taking upon him his image, he steppeth forth in his name.
Whosoever shall mark that this singular person was attributed to David, that he should be a figure of Christ, will not marvel if all these things be applied unto him which were prefigured in David. Although, therefore, he doth comprehend the whole Church, yet he beginneth at the head thereof, and doth especially describe what things Christ should suffer by the hands of the wicked. For we learn out of Paul’s doctrine, that whatsoever afflictions the godly suffer, they are part of the afflictions of Christ, and serve to the fulfilling of the same, (Col. i. 14.) This order and connection did David observe, or rather the Spirit of God, who meant by the mouth of David to instruct the whole Church. But as touching the persecutors of Christ, all that which is commonly spoken of them is by good right referred unto their standard-bearer; whose impiety and wickedness, as it is most famous, so his punishment ought to be made known unto all men."


Staff member
To what degree, I wonder, did David understand his own typology?

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
To what degree, I wonder, did David understand his own typology?

I thought of his prayer at the end of his life:

Now these be the last words of David.
David the son of Jesse said,
and the man who was raised up on high,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said,
The Spirit of the LORD spake by me,
and his word was in my tongue.
The God of Israel said,
the Rock of Israel spake to me,
He that ruleth over men must be just,
ruling in the fear of God.
And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth,
even a morning without clouds;
as the tender grass springing out of the earth
by clear shining after rain.
Although my house be not so with God;
yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant,
ordered in all things, and sure:
for this is all my salvation, and all my desire,
although he make it not to grow.
But the sons of Be'li-al shall be all of them as thorns thrust away,
because they cannot be taken with hands:
but the man that shall touch them
must be fenced with iron and the staff of a spear;
and they shall be utterly burned with fire in the same place.

I don't want to emasculate Scripture. I understand that Christ is not only my loving shepherd, but the terrible judge. What I am asking about is how we pray for judgment in such a way as to keep Christ's commands to love our enemies, to pray for mercy, to bless when we are cursed; and how we are to understand the reconciliation of that with the imprecatory Psalms. For it seems possible as those who believe in the inspiration of the Psalms to make the basic error Lewis made (not seeing Christ here) and go in the other direction with God's word -- simply of using it to justify the self righteous vengeful hatred of our own hearts.

It seems that it has to be reconciled in Christ Himself, and His coming as not only plaintiff but judge? Now we are in the period between His advents. When we pray these Psalms we are praying (as OT Israel did) not just for some random acts of judgment here and there, but for His own coming -- 'Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.'

But it seems too possible to pray with a blindness as to the prayers already answered, and the judgment already effected in the first advent, and the time we are now in with regard to God's work in history -- and it seems like that is very important to reconciling these imprecatory prayers with how Christ taught us to pray for our enemies in this time?

and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.

Saul of Tarsus was destroyed, but not in the way anyone expected.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Saul of Tarsus was destroyed, but not in the way anyone expected.

I realize this diverts us a bit from the essence of the thread, but this statement led me to think of the associated topic.

So I thought I might post the lyrics to one of my favorites,

"We Sing the Glorious Conquest"

We sing the glorious conquest
Before Damascus’ gate,
When Saul, the church’s spoiler,
Came breathing threats and hate;
The rav’ning wolf rushed forward
Full early to the prey;
But lo! the Shepherd met him,
And bound him fast today.

O glory most excelling
That smote across his path!
O light that pierced and blinded
The zealot in his wrath!
O voice that spake unto him
The calm, reproving word!
O love that sought and held him
The bondman of his Lord!

O Wisdom ord’ring all things
In order strong and sweet,
What nobler spoil was ever
Cast at the Victor’s feet?
What wiser master builder
E’er wrought at Thine employ
Than he, till now so furious
Thy building to destroy?

Lord, teach thy church the lesson,
Still in her darkest hour
Of weakness and of danger,
To trust Thy hidden power:
Thy grace by ways mysterious
The wrath of man can bind,
And in Thy boldest foeman
Thy chosen saint can find.​

(original TrinityHymnal, 404; also revised TH 483; I like the archaic English of the original more, but more the tune "Woodbird" of the revised)

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
Paul commands "imprecatory acts" by telling the saints to do good to our enemies so that they may suffer all the more. If you just wanted to show "mercy, mercy" why would you want to put burning hot coals on someone's head? You would only want such to come upon them if you want God's vindicating justice to fall on them.

I have to add, after that beautiful hymn, that it would be strange indeed if Paul the apostle, once persecutor of the church, were to be read as you have suggested. Matthew Henry confirms the reading of that passage I had previously been taught -- that the picture is not of seeking their destruction in hell, but of seeking to spare them such by the process of melting away their hardness now. The context of vengeance not belonging to us, of laying it entirely aside, and not repaying evil for evil should clue us in that these acts are not about trying to do good deeds as a subtle means of avenging ourselves and making our enemies burn (which is in context only a more subtle way of being overcome of evil, rather than overcoming evil with good).
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Puritan Board Doctor
I think we're glad if God's enemies are overthrown and God is glorified..

In many ways - and for many/most of them - we would wish they would be overthrown by the Sword of the Spirit, which kills and brings to life again spiritually.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb 4:11-13, ESV)

But if that does not happen we would wish to see them brought to nought in other ways, a few more than others.

In the Old Covenant period, there was a particular place for temporal events and judgements overthrowing God's enemies. That is not completely lacking in the New testament period, but there is more of an emphasis now - with the fuller teaching on the world to come - on God's enemies being overthrown in eternity.

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
Thanks, Richard. That is something to think about, and I will think about it.

I wonder if there is not only a greater emphasis on eternity in our consciousness of judgment now that Christ has come and fulfilled everything that was a type; but also a greater underscoring of the consciousness that His own people equally, perhaps even especially (as being in covenant with Him), deserve judgment? So when we pray or think or speak about God's enemies, our consciousness is not simply of 'them' as over against a consciousness of 'us', but begins with, and never quite gets beyond, ourselves and the surprising mercy we have received.


Puritan Board Doctor
I wonder if there is not only a greater emphasis on eternity in our consciousness of judgment now that Christ has come and fulfilled everything that was a type;

There has been a fulfilment of eschatalogical types, among all the others, in Christ which means that Heaven and Hell are portrayed to us without the shadows of the Old Testament.

Prosperity and peace in the Land of Israel was a type of Heaven.

Casting out of the Land as a nation, cutting-off through death of individuals and families by God's direct judgment or by the death penalty, pointed to the ultimate in God's curse for breaking His law, and to exclusion from God's Kingdom in Hell.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"--(Gal 3:13, ESV)

We learn from the OT types, while not being bound to follow them literally/physically.
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