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Fall 1993    Vol. 22 No. 2    pp. 75–86 

The Imprecations of the Psalmists: A Study of Psalm 54

Gerald Pauls

In the sixteenth century, 1 John Calvin described the Psalms as “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul.” 2 Both implicitly and explicitly, Calvin was identifying the Psalms as a book which testified to life’s emotional and spiritual journey. As he stated, “The Holy Spirit has here drawn to life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, gropes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.” 3 Over the past four centuries, Calvin’s assessment has dominated both homiletical and devotional readings of the Psalms, as preachers and laypeople alike have viewed them as windows into the inner lives of the psalmists.

“Imprecations call us to recognize the role of anger in dealing with suffering.”

Much to our dismay, however, these windows do not always offer picturesque glimpses of lives expressing praise and adoration to our God, but are often dominated by harsh and painful expressions of seeming hatred and vengeance. These passages, commonly referred to as imprecations, petition God for the downfall and destruction of enemies. 4 As such they have been the cause of grave concern within the entire Christian community. Despite our general recognition of the Psalms as an anatomy of all the parts of the soul, there remains a deep resistance towards allowing these emotions of bitter hatred and vengeance their legitimate expression in the {76} Psalms, particularly when viewed against the backdrop of Christ’s injunction that we love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). Indeed it is shocking to find such vehement hatred within a book of Praise (as the Hebrew title of “Psalms” suggests), yet such emotions are there, staring even the most cursory reader of the Psalms squarely in the face and demanding his or her attention.

PROPOSED INTERPRETATIONS

Historically, the imprecations have been handled in one of two way. 5 They have been either handed off pejoratively to the spirit of the Old Testament, or interpreted in some fashion as positive prayers which really have God’s best interests in mind and not the personal motives of the psalmists.

The first approach arises primarily out of a dispensational approach to scripture which draws a sharp distinction between the Old and New Testaments. Under the Old Covenant, it is argued, love for enemies was not commanded nor expected: retaliation was the order of the day. The Old Testament imprecations, thus, do not speak to the New Testament Christian except by their negative example of a heart governed by law and retribution. A. F. Kirkpatrick represents this approach well when he argues that the imprecations “must be viewed as belonging to the dispensation of the Old Testament; they must be estimated from the standpoint of the law, which was based upon the rule of retaliation, and not the Gospel, which is animated by the principle of love.” 6

The dispensational approach, while offering an easy apology for the existence of the imprecations in the Christian Scriptures, fails to deal with the wider testimony of the Old Testament which specifically commands the fair treatment of enemies (cf. Exod. 23:4,5; Prov. 25:21) and condemns any thought of praying for (cf. 1 Kings 3:10-12; Prov. 24:29; Job 31:30) or rejoicing in (cf. Prov. 24:17,18; Job 31:29) their downfall. Indeed, the New Testament teaching on the treatment of enemies (Rom. 12:19,20) is built upon the teachings of the Old Testament (Prov. 25:21,22). Furthermore, many of the enemies who are the object of the imprecations were not merely foreigners, but Israelites themselves (cf. Psalms 35:13; 41:9; 55:12; 69:8,12; 109:5). Toward these enemies, love was a clear command of God (Lev. 19:17,18).

The dispensational approach also fails to offer a satisfactory approach to the Psalms in general. If the piety, or lack thereof, represented in the imprecations falls under the dispensation of law, then so too does the piety represented within the rest of the Psalter. To discard the imprecations in the Psalms, yet cherish the positive praise in the same, establishes an {77} exegetical double standard whose guidelines are not easily drawn or defined. In summary, then, a dispensational approach to the problem of the imprecations offers little more than an erroneous apologetic for their existence, providing nothing in terms of a positive role for the imprecations in Christian theology or spirituality.

The second approach to the imprecations acknowledges the high ethical standards of the Old Testament and seeks to deal with the imprecations in a completely different manner. Essentially, the path taken here is to unhook the imprecations from the personal interests and motives of the psalmists and to attach them more closely to God’s interests. There is thus a tendency for those who hold this position to speak of the psalmists’ “disinterested hatred,” 7 “magnanimous motives,” 8 and pleas for “the vindication of God’s righteousness.” 9 As one author has argued, the psalmist in these passages “is thinking not of his own triumph over his enemies, but of God’s honor as the Governor of the World.” 10 According to this approach, then, the imprecations should not be read as evil prayers for vengeance, but rather, as righteous prayers for the reality and righteousness of God’s rule to be made plain in the lives of the wicked. It is at this level that the prayers remain free from all accusations of sin. At the same time, however, we must beware of imitating these prayers ourselves, for, as another writer has expressed, “they are too lofty for most of us to imitate them without danger” since “such a vehement hatred is a luxury which can be afforded only by the great lovers of God.” 11

This approach to the imprecations, while working hard at defining them in “pious” categories and therein rescuing them from the accusations of sin that they normally incur, really fails miserably in dealing adequately and meaningfully with the specific concerns and motifs 12 of the Psalms in which they are found. More specifically, as we shall see below in our treatment of Psalm 54, this approach fails to appreciate the real-life situation that stands behind each of these psalms. Turning these prayers into disinterested prayers for God’s righteousness belittles the reality of the psalmists’ own situations (the complaints) which are being brought before God. Furthermore, from even a cursory reading of the Psalter and the Prophets, we see very clearly that Israel’s prayers were anything but disinterested; instead, they were inextricably tied to the realities of life that confronted her. The enemies mentioned in these Psalms did not just threaten God’s righteousness, but indeed the psalmists’ very lives. To deny the involvement of personal motives and interest in such desperate situations is simply too superficial to be given any kind of serious consideration.

It is apparent that neither of these approaches to the imprecations has done justice to either the specific motifs of the Psalms, or to the wider {78} testimony of the Old Testament itself. Even more so, however, as history has shown, neither of these approaches has yielded any meaningful or significant role for the imprecations in the theology or practice of the Church. In both approaches, the imprecations are but interesting reading with very little practical significance to the modern Christian. The fact is, however, that the imprecations are a substantial part of what we confess to be God’s Word, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. As such, they command our attention and hearing, not as an exercise in apologetics, but as a matter of exegetical integrity and faithfulness to the Scriptures as the whole counsel of God.

APPROACHING THE PSALMS

Before approaching the imprecations, it is imperative that we first define a healthy approach to the Psalms as a book and as a specific genre. Here the Psalms stand out in the Bible and demand particular attention, for unlike all other biblical writings, which directly address their readers as the Word of God, the Psalms speak the words of men to God. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer has once noted, in the Psalms we find that the words of men to God have become the Word of God to us. 13 What originally took the shape of prayers directed to God are now redirected and reinterpreted as the Word of God to humanity. Their canonization indeed assures us that the Psalms speak authoritatively to us as a part of God’s inspired Word, but our understanding and zeal for the canonized Bible and its divine inspiration must not cause us to lose sight or touch of the real human element that lies within these prayers. Indeed, it is precisely this human origin that makes these prayers so devotionally rich, allowing us and calling us to relate in an intimate way to the struggles and joys of the psalmists in their own walk with our God.

At the outset then, it is important that we take seriously the human reality that stands behind the prayers we find in the Psalter. This demands granting the Psalms credibility as real, meaningful, and effectual prayers to God, thus paying close attention to the occasion, purpose, and movement of each Psalm in the lives of the psalmists and before God. Indeed, it is these concerns which give life and substance to the poetry in the book of Psalms, and therein also provide the backdrop for approaching the imprecations as parts of real, meaningful prayers of men to God.

PSALM 54

Psalm 54 offers a solid test case for studying the imprecations. Like all of the Psalms containing imprecations, with the exception of one, 14 it {79} is a lament Psalm. It is well suited as a test case here because it is wonderfully typical in its lament form as well as straightforward and brief in its poetic style. As such, it provides an excellent opportunity for a study of the imprecations that is in touch and conversant with both the individual context of a given imprecation, as well as the broader lament context of the imprecations in general.

The Psalms of lament have a fixed and readily recognizable structure. According to Claus Westermann’s widely accepted analysis, this structure consists of Address and Introductory Petition, Complaint, Confession of Trust, Petition, and Vow of Praise. 15 Nearly verbatim, Psalm 54’s outline follows that of the lament genre:

  1. Address and Introductory Petition
  2. Complaint
  3. Confession of Trust
  4. Petition (Imprecation)
  5. Vow of Praise
  6. Confession of Trust
    1-2
3
4
5
6
7

Typical of the genre, the Psalm moves from the general introductory petition, through the complaint, and later into the more specific petition for divine assistance. It is this movement that is paramount in the genre as these two motifs, complaint and petition, establish both the occasion (Complaint) and the purpose (Petition) of the Psalm. The vacillation between them points to the dependence of one upon the other. While these elements generally dominate the Psalm in terms of its fundamental literary purpose (an appeal for God’s intervention), the remaining elements (Address, Vow of Praise, and Confession of Trust) also contribute to this complaint-petition framework by developing and strengthening the psalm as a meaningful and powerful appeal before God.

The superscription of this psalm, paralleling that of Psalm 52, assigns it to David and situates it historically during David’s discord with Saul (1 Sam. 23:15-19). Despite this specific reference, however, which likely arose from the similar word construction between v.3 (“ruthless men seek my life”) and 1 Sam. 23:15 (“Saul had gone out to seek his life”), we must be cautious in reading too many details from that particular historical situation into the psalm. The Syriac version actually describes a different setting to the psalm, 16 and indeed there is little within the psalm that clearly establishes this as the actual historical occasion. What is clear from both the psalm and the superscription, however, is that the psalmist faces an urgent, life-threatening situation (v. 3). The opening address announces this urgency with a twice-repeated exclamatory address to God which is followed both times immediately by a forthright petition for divine assistance. {80}

Complaint

Several commentators have argued that Psalm 54 is a Royal psalm in which the King is seeking deliverance from enemies in battle. 17 The language here, however, appears atypical of such Royal psalms (cf. Pss. 2, 18, 72) but rather, seems strongly to suggest an individual dilemma. Indeed, there is no mention of war or battle, but rather of the psalmist’s own personal turmoil (v.7a, cf. Ps. 25:17). Indeed, the psalmist’s distress is attributed to the “strangers” who seek after him (v. 3a), but he is not here speaking of foreign armies (i.e., Gentiles), as Birkeland has argued. 18 Instead, there appears good evidence that he is purposefully defining his attackers in relationship to God. At this, verse 3c is key in the development of the psalm. Here the psalmist establishes very pointedly that his attackers are men “without regard for God.” As in Isaiah 1:4, where the Hebrew word for “strangers” speaks of “estrangement from God,” so here “strangers” is a clear reference to the negative relationship of the psalmist’s oppressors to God, rather than as a geo-political description of his enemies.

The psalmist in his complaint has thus given a clear portrayal of the critical and immediate danger that he is in. The words are of one who is being oppressed to the point of death by men who have risen against him and threaten his life. Whether the threat of death in the psalmist’s complaint is to be taken literally or only figuratively, the real and psychological threat of the enemies is evident within the psalm, as well as within the situation that is ascribed to it in the superscription. The immediacy and severity of this distress, therefore, cannot be overlooked or underestimated in terms of its driving force behind the psalm, for it is this very distress that provides the real-life occasion for the psalmist’s prayer.

Petition

Given the nature of the psalmist’s distress as a physical, life-threatening situation, the initial petition of the psalmist is most fitting. Four imperatives combine in verses 1 and 2 to generate the thrust of the psalmist’s appeal as an unmistakable and forceful plea for physical deliverance. The first two, “Save me!” and “Vindicate me!,” set forth the psalmist’s appeal in direct response to the situation described in the complaint, asking for personal deliverance from the threat of his oppressors. We see here very clearly a basic guiding principles of all lament psalms: that which is prayed for (petition) is inextricably tied to that which is prayed about (complaint). The psalmist’s plea arises directly out of the psalmist’s distress.

The general petition is elaborated and its intent specified in the second formal petition (v. 5). Here the psalmist moves from petition for general deliverance into specific imprecations against his enemies. The relationship {81} between the two petitions must be kept in mind. The second petition section (imprecations) cannot be interpreted independently from the earlier general petition. Rather, the specific petition for the destruction of his enemies must be kept in view of the psalmist’s immediate concern for deliverance from the pending distress. The psalmist seeks personal deliverance via the destruction 19 of his oppressors (5b). We must realize that such a prayer is anything but disinterested.

The ideology of a strict retribution or an act-consequence relationship has been suggested by some as providing the backdrop for the imprecations in verse 5, particularly because of the focus upon the evil of the oppressors as the tool for judgment in verse 5a. While the evil of the enemies is indeed the grammatical subject of verse 5, it is by no means the literary subject. The thrust of the imprecations is not the repayment of evil but rather, the removal of the psalmist’s enemies. To miss this point misses the critical connection between the complaint and the petition that has just been argued. The psalmist’s distress is caused by his enemies. Consequently, the psalmist’s appeal to God is focused upon the forceful and physical removal of his enemies.

Elements of the Appeal

To this point, we have noted both the occasion and purpose of Psalm 54 and in doing so, we have placed ourselves in touch with the psalmist’s complaint and petition, recognizing that the psalmist’s prayer for the destruction of his enemies is a part of a larger petition for deliverance from his enemies. What remains are those elements which help to establish the prayer as a legitimate and effectual appeal before God. The psalmist does not simply state his situation and request, but approaches God carefully and somewhat methodically in an effort to secure his attention and response. Several aspects of Psalm 54 indicate the psalmist’s efforts towards this end.

First, the psalmist repeatedly calls on various aspects of God’s character as the basis for his request. Attention is drawn to God’s name (v. 1), God’s might (v. 1), and God’s faithfulness (v. 5). In all three instances, God’s character and reputation are effectually held up to motivate God to action and to justify the psalmist’s request. There is in these instances a mixture of what Walter Brueggemann calls “good theology and self-interested plea.” 20

Secondly, as we noted earlier, the psalmist very intentionally describes his enemies in terms which establish their estrangement from, and opposition to, God (v. 3). By establishing his own enemies as God’s enemies, the psalmist seeks to convince God that God himself has a vested {82} interest in the psalmist’s cause. As Artur Weiser argues, “From their behavior the psalmist derives spiritual justification to ask God to come and help him in his struggle against them.” 21

Thirdly, the confession of trust in v. 4 stands oddly, yet consistently, with the lament genre, between the psalmist’s complaint and the psalmist’s petition. At the moment of seemingly darkest distress, the confession of trust stands out clearly. Here the psalmist, in a striking contrast to the previous verse which marks the enemies off as strangers to God, establishes his own allegiance and trust in God. The confession of trust serves to enhance the forcefulness of the following plea in much the same way as the psalmist’s declaration of his enemies’ opposition to God. By declaring his trust in God, the psalmist’s cause is once again associated with God’s own cause, and God’s response is thus made more obligatory.

Finally, the concluding vow of praise (v. 6) and the assurance of being heard (v. 7) clearly mark the structure and mood of the psalm. Indeed, the presence of the vow of praise in the lament genre continues to pose a curious phenomenon for interpreters. Suggestions have been made that these elements within the laments represent a shift in the confidence and mood of the psalmist. Some attribute this to the mere psychology and faith of the psalmist, while others suggest that the shift in mood was preceded by a priestly oracle and thus represents the psalmist’s cultic assurance of God’s favorable response. These explanations, however, seem poorly suited to the psalm at hand, in that it, like the great majority of psalms, provides no indication of such an oracle, nor does it’s brief and terse character leave much room for such a drastic psychological turn-around. Furthermore, nowhere in the Hebrew Bible do we find such indications of a faith that was so divorced from external circumstances. A purely psychological explanation must not be read into this or any other psalm.

The Vow of Praise

The existence of the concluding vow of praise and assurance of being heard seem to be best understood in relation to the larger thrust and structure of the psalm, thus functioning to strengthen the petition by calling attention to the psalmist’s relationship and trust in God. The praise offering in verse 6 is given under the certainty of the psalmist’s deliverance in verse 7. This vow of praise, then, is withheld or anticipatory, awaiting God’s active response to the psalmist’s complaint and petition. Indeed, in the Hebrew faith, praise and life were intrinsically connected. To live was to praise God, and similarly, to praise God was to live (cf. Ps. 6:4,5; 9:13,14; 30:9,10; 118:17; 119:175). This connection is played out forcefully in the anticipatory vow of praise: the psalmist’s praise will be {83} a sign of his being alive and thus a clear attestation of God’s deliverance from his ensuing distress. Thus, not only does the vow of praise reiterate the psalmist’s plea for deliverance by stating a desire and intention to praise God, which naturally implied life for the psalmist, but it also motivates a response by holding up praise to God as the purpose and promise of this deliverance. In a similar way, the assurance of being heard (v. 7) also does not lack a certain political dimension for strengthening the psalmist’s prayer before God. Here, the psalmist’s assertion of his confidence in God’s response establishes a sense of obligation for God’s faithful response.

THE NATURE OF IMPRECATIONS

Our discussion of Psalm 54 to this point has established some fundamental observations regarding the nature of the imprecations. A wider study of the imprecations verifies the same observations across the range of psalms containing imprecations. 22 First of all, we have seen that the imprecations exist within a context of severe personal distress. A wider survey shows that this distress is occasioned by oppression, false accusation, betrayal, slander, persecution, conspiracy, and threat of death. We must realize, therefore, that the imprecations are not words spoken in the midst of stable, serene reflection, but those spoken by the voice of one suffering. To miss the prominence of the psalmist’s distress in these psalms is to miss their connection with human life. Within these psalms there is no pretense of accepting or approving of this suffering as God’s will, intended for the psalmist’s own good. Instead, the psalmist cries out to God, voicing his contention that something is terribly amiss. Neither is there in these prayers any proliferation of ethical norms or standards, but rather the honest expression of the psalmist’s experience before God with the clear expectation that God will meet him in that distress by responding to his appeal. First and foremost, then, we see that these psalms give voice to the experience of human suffering. They are by no means disinterested, but rather, motivated entirely by the human conditions out of which they arise.

Second, imprecations are most accurately to be viewed as the negative counterpart to the psalmists’ pleas for deliverance from the distress caused by their enemies. In this sense, the imprecations are not wretched pleas for vengeance, but genuine pleas for God’s salvation from physical distress. From their position of helplessness and oppression, deliverance could not be unhooked, particularly in the minds of the psalmists, from the deliberate and specific overthrow of their enemies, as it had indeed occurred in Israel’s foremost deliverance experience at the sea of Reeds (cf. Exod. 14-15) {84}. 23 The psalmist’s liberation and the enemies’ destruction are part of one basic plea for God’s deliverance. Ironically, the psalmist’s situation is perhaps best summarized by the rather facetious statement made by J. W. Beardslee almost a century ago: “The words are simply those wrung from his tortured, bleeding heart, which for the moment can see no relief but in the destruction of his enemies.” 24

As pleas for deliverance, these psalms are built around and move toward that goal. Each psalm is motivated by a concern for the well-being of the psalmist and seeks, in various ways, to achieve that salvation. As we have seen in Psalm 54, in his suffering the psalmist turns to God and in a desperate voice seeks relief through God’s immediate intervention. It is not a casual appeal, but an appeal that, in desperation, not only presents a request but pleads and argues for the one apparent solution to his dilemma.

CONCLUSIONS

The existence of the imprecations in the Book of Psalms stands as a testimony to the faith of Israel rather than as a blemish to her character. Their existence demonstrates a faith that was remarkably in touch with the realities of life, indeed, placing all of life in subjugation to God’s supreme rule. It demonstrates a faith that did not deal superficially with trials and the negative consequences of suffering, but faced them head-on, bringing them before God who could truly bring deliverance from them. The Hebrew did not refrain from worship until his or her emotional and ethical life was in balance, but rather, brought those very imbalances to worship where they could be dealt with by the only one who truly could.

Just as the imprecations stand as a testimony to the faith of Israel, they stand as a challenge to the contemporary Church. In Western culture’s affluent society, suffering has seemingly been pushed to the fringes of the Church. The result is a faith that often seems superficial and somewhat removed from the realities of life around us, and certainly from the vivid realities that continually confront us in the Psalter. The psalms of lament and the imprecations call us to recognize that what occurs in the experience of faith is what may, and must, be brought before our God. Faith and experience are never to be divorced as if faith were some abstract concept. Instead, faith calls us to deal with all the realities of our experience and present them before the Lordship of Christ.

Just as the imprecations call us to legitimize suffering in the Christian experience, they call us to recognize the role of anger in dealing with that very suffering. Indeed, it is in bringing these issues before God that true healing may begin. Israel’s prayers do not attempt to be socially or even ethically polite, but rather, attempt to speak authentically to God about the {85} way life really is. Ironically, it appears that God is much less shocked and offended by the imprecations than we are. Indeed, we do not see God’s hand of judgment upon the psalmist’s for their prayers. Nor should we look for such. Instead, Israel’s prayers legitimize and even embrace their own anger, placing it before God where it rightly belongs. In doing so the psalmists affirmed their continued faith in God’s ability and desire for their healing and deliverance. Likewise, we, as Walter Brueggemann challenges, should be awakened by these prayers “to an opportunity for realism that gives freedom of expression to those raw edges of our life that do not so easily submit to the religious conviction we profess on good days.” 25

Gerald T. Sheppard has insightfully defined our current relationship to the imprecations in the psalms: “A theological challenge for us today is to rediscover the role of anger in these prayers . . . and the opportunity they provide for reparation, repentance, and restoration within the family, church, and society.” 26 Indeed, the family, with its horrific increase in child abuse; the Church, with its increasing struggles in pastoral leadership; and society, with its rampant racial issues, must all recognize the realities and consequences of suffering and therein work to provide a context in which genuine healing and restoration are facilitated rather than hindered. All of these issues, to name but a few, plague our contemporary Christian experience and give rise to expressions of suffering and anger to which the Church in general has been resistant, and with which it has been ill-equipped to deal in a constructive manner. The Church might be far better served if she would seek to relate her own struggles and experiences to those found in the imprecations rather than seeking to distance herself from them under the guise of “ethical purity.” Ironically, the imprecations, that part of Israel’s prayers which the Church finds so troublesome to deal with, may be the very parts of Israel’s prayers that speak the loudest to many of these issues that confront the Church today.

ENDNOTES

  1. This essay is a summary presentation of a 1992 Masters’ Thesis (“The Imprecations of the Psalmists: A Form-Critical Study”) presented to the faculty of the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California.
  2. John Calvin, Psalms, vol. 1, xxxvii.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Imprecations occur in 26 different psalms and total 73 verses in the Psalter (e.g. Ps. 55:15; 58:10; 59:13; 69:23,27; 109:6-21; 137:8,9; 143:12.)
  5. This is not to suggest that there have been only two substantial proposals for interpreting the imprecations, but merely that, at the risk of being over-simplistic, they all follow one of two basic paths.
  6. A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982), lxxxix. {86}
  7. John L. McKenzie, “The Imprecations of the Psalter,” American Ecclesiastical Review 11 1, no. 2, (1944): 96.
  8. Roy B. Zuck, The Problem of the Imprecatory Psalms, Master’s Thesis (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1957), 77.
  9. Chalmers Martin, “The Imprecations in the Psalms,” Princeton Theological Review 1 (1903): 544.
  10. J. W. Beardslee, “The Imprecatory Element in the Psalms,” The Presbyterian and Reformed Review 9 (July 1897): 503.
  11. McKenzie, “The Imprecations,” 96.
  12. By this I refer to the literary features or themes used in any given psalm.
  13. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, trans. by James M. Burtness (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1970), 13.
  14. Psalm 68 is unique among these psalms in its hymnic form. Given the long history of difficulty in interpreting this psalm and its textual history, along with the remarkably consistent occurrence of imprecations within the lament genre, the existence of the imprecations in vv. 1-2 of this hymn must be considered on the basis of their own uniqueness and not necessarily imposed upon the remaining occurrences which are exclusively within the lament genre.
  15. Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, trans. by Keith R. Crimm and Richard R. Soulen (Atlanta, John Knox Press, 1981), 52, 64.
  16. Cf. Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, The Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 415.
  17. Cf. among others: John H. Eaton, Kingship and the Psalms, Studies in Biblical Theology, Second Series 32 (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson Inc., 1976), 73; and Mitchell Dahood, Psalms 11, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1966), 23.
  18. Harris Birkeland, The Evildoers in the Book of Psalms (Oslo: I Kommisjon Hos Jacob Dybwad, 1955), 12.
  19. The Hebrew here speaks of extermination or, literally, annihilation.
  20. Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms (Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press, 1982), 76.
  21. Weiser, Psalms, 416.
  22. For such a wider study, the reader is directed to the author’s Masters’ Thesis which treats in similar fashion all 26 of these psalms.
  23. The significance of Israel’s deliverance at the sea of Reeds for her faith and theology cannot be overstated. This event was paradigmatic in Israel’s experience and theology of deliverance. With this said, the parallels between the exodus deliverance and the deliverance requested in the imprecations must be noted, and careful attention paid to the movement towards praise (Moses’ Song) in both and the nature of Israel’s deliverance as dependent upon the destruction of her enemies.
  24. Beardslee, “The Imprecatory Element,” 492.
  25. Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984), 85.
  26. Gerald T. Sheppard, “Theology and the Book of Psalms,” Interpretation 46 (April 1992): 146-7.
Gerald Pauls, a graduate of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, is on the pastoral staff at the Chilliwack Central Church, Chilliwack, British Columbia.

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