Imprecatory Psalms and Christian Ethics Research Paper

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Christians pray the imprecatory psalms

Imprecatory refers to invocation of judgment, calamity, or curses on God's enemies, and one's enemies. In the Bible, many people chanted imprecatory, for example, Moses, Deborah, and Jeremiah.[footnoteRef:2] The morning prayer of Moses qualifies as an imprecatory, which aimed to scatter the enemies of God, and Moses. Deborah's song and Barak ends with an imprecation that God's enemies will perish. In regards to prophet Jeremiah, the prophet, in the Bible uses repeated imprecations against his enemies. The imprecations are not only evident in the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament. [2: Laney, J Carl. "A fresh look at the imprecatory Psalms." Bibliotheca Sacra 138, no. 549 (1981): 35-45]

However, some other portions of the New Testament are considered as imprecations, even though, some of these verses do not have particular prayers to the lord that there would be a possible judgment. Nonetheless, in several books, such as Acts, and Psalms to a greater degree, are quoted in the New Testament as having imprecations. In this context, vital to the definition of imprecations, the imprecatory, therefore, must be an invocation, prayer to address God. In addition, it must have a request whereby one's enemies or God's enemies will receive judgment and punishment. The imprecations found in the book of Psalms comprise the most complex theological issue.[footnoteRef:3] [3: Ellsworth, Roger. Opening up Psalms. Opening Up Commentary. (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2006)]

Notably, unlike other books of the Bible, the book of Psalm, in whole or part, comprise of the intercessory prayers, which the Psalmist wrote.[footnoteRef:4] However, the book is unique, and many users have continued to sing the Psalms. Moreover, the condemnations, curses, and imprecations for enemies have created many issues for scholars, pastors, theology students, and theologians. The main issue is the evident incitation of God's vengeance and the wrath supposedly will behold His enemies. The imprecatory induce revulsion, moral and ethical dilemmas for Christians, mainly because they are disciplined in the law of Christ.[footnoteRef:5] [4: Carl. "A fresh look at the imprecatory Psalms."] [5: Surburg, Raymond F. "Interpretation of the imprecatory Psalms." Springfielder 39, no. 3 (1975): 88-102]

In addition, the anger and rage shown in the imprecatory Psalms are crucial parts of human beings since the fall of Adam and Eve. On the other hand, when Christians read the Bible, especially the New Testament, particularly on the issue of blessings and curses, or love for enemies, and prayer for persecutors, has made Christians perceive imprecations differently.[footnoteRef:6] Therefore, some of them have rejected the concept of praying the imprecations. However, praying imprecations, as shown in the Bible, is under the same moral and ethical principles put forward by the New Testament. [6: Day, John N. "The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics." Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (2002): 166-186.]

In this context, referencing New Testament accounts of imprecations, and appreciating that God knows it all, then, it is conclusive that the imprecatory Psalms are important aspects of prayer life, which need revitalization.[footnoteRef:7] There are several studies on this issue, and some have reported that the New Testament appears to have contradictions on the same. This is mainly because of the tension created by two aspects, which appear formerly; loving and cursing. In response, some studies have commented that the tension between these two aspects can be harmonized, and God's people can deal with them adequately, in respect to the dispensation at which they occur.[footnoteRef:8] [7: Shedd, William Greenough Thayer. Dogmatic Theology. Edited by Alan W. Gomes. 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R. Pub., 2003)] [8: Raymond F. "Interpretation of the imprecatory Psalms."]

In this regard, the character of God remains the same; therefore, the importance of God's ethical principles remains intact. In addition, referencing to this, when the Old testament believers felt that the imprecatory was not appropriate, the New testament believers were bound to feel the same in due time. While loving and blessing are attributes of believers in the two Testaments, cursing and calling for God's vengeance are considered ethical, and justified for hardened, deceitful, violent, immoral, and unjust sinners.[footnoteRef:9] Therefore, even if Christians are to seek reconciliation and endurance, forgiveness, and kindness, there comes a time when there is a need to impose justice, regardless of the source; God or Christians. [9: John N. "The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics."]

Conversely, some Christians have questioned whether it is right to lament for divine vengeance and violence, this is in reference to the book of Psalms. Owing to this question, many scholars have come out to try answering this, which has further led to the scrutiny of Book of Psalms. Regardless of the nature of questions that may appear, the Bible is very clear, and owing to the fact that God inspired the writers of the Bible, then when Christians pray the imprecatory, they stand justified.[footnoteRef:10] [10: Kelley, Page H. "Prayers of troubled saints." Review & Expositor 81, no. 3 (June 1, 1984): 377-383.]

The Imprecatory

In the Book of Psalms, imprecatory psalms are particular literary genre, and they have distinguishing aspects; they must invoke judgment, and have elements of curses, and condemnations. The language used in the book is central to invocation of divine judgment on enemies of the psalmist and those of God. In addition, the psalmist's distress appears in highly figurative language, which obscures the typical nature of the suffering. The most frequent complaint voiced in the imprecatory is central to the plotting of enemies, including machinations of the ungodly. In addition, the imprecatory show focus on identifying ungodly enemies from whom the psalmist laments God for deliverance.[footnoteRef:11] [11: Thayer. Dogmatic Theology. Edited by Alan W. Gomes]

In the Book of Psalm, the enemies identified include sorcerers, including practitioners of black magic, and the curses spoken against them are powerful, which may cause harm to targeted people in the society.[footnoteRef:12] Moreover, finding verses with imprecatory is easy mainly because it appears in eighteen Psalms; however, that does not comprise labeling, but one that there are elements of the imprecatory. For example, the books of Psalms 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; and 107-150 have shown elements of imprecations, maledictions, and curses. Even if students often refer to prior studies, and other literatures to grasp the imprecatory language, it is imperative to comprehend the theological background of the Old Testament.[footnoteRef:13] [12: Page H. "Prayers of troubled saints."] [13: Page H. "Prayers of troubled saints."]

This is because, although there are instances of imprecatory in the New Testament it is evident that imprecatory begun in the Old Testament, and understanding the language used will help in identifying possible imprecatory, even in other books of the Bible. This is because it is possible that there are Christians who may pray imprecatory to their personal enemies. In this regard, the imprecatory has been misused. In such a case, some theological studies have stated that central to the enemy, Christians should always attempt to seek reconciliation, prior to prayers of vengeance against them.[footnoteRef:14] [14: Raymond F. "Interpretation of the imprecatory Psalms."]

Underlying Issues

From the Christian perspective, the issue of imprecation involves considerations of ethics outlined in the Bible, and perceived as Christians as right or wrong. In addition, the issue has slowly induced debates, particularly in relation to the languages used in both the New and Old Testaments. As indicated, the issue of loving and cursing, which has created immense tension further contributes to the issue of imprecatory prayers. In this regard, Christians tend to argue based on how the essence of God's ethical principles remain the same, even after outlining curses, which appear to be compromising the nature of God's principles.[footnoteRef:15] [15: Page H. "Prayers of troubled saints."]

Nonetheless, because it was proper for the Old Testament believers to pray the imprecatory psalms, then, it should be permissible for the New Testament believers to pray them. In reference to the Pentateuch, which presents God, it is then permissive for Christians to pray the imprecatory.[footnoteRef:16] This is because the Torah lays the approach unto which Christians should refer when it comes to praying the imprecatory. However, it is apparent that Christians will always question the ethics and morality behind the crying out of vengeance, and the use of such language contained in the imprecatory prayers. [16: John N. "The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics."]

In attempts to address the issue, it is important to understand that the appeals made by the psalmist are for the justification of God's righteousness, but not appeals for defense of the persecuted psalmist. Subsequently, the language does not show retaliation or seeking of vengeance, but it shows a cry, whereby there is an attempt to protect God's glory, including His righteousness. In addition, the appeals made by the psalmist comply with the covenant promises made by God. Moreover, it is also important to note that the appeals made by the psalmist are not central to personal issues, but rather they are central to true enemies of God and the psalmist in relation to righteousness, and unfairness.[footnoteRef:17] [17: John…[continue]

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