What Are We To Do with the Imprecatory Psalms? (Psalm 35)

For without cause they hid their net for me; 
     without cause they dug a pit for my life. 
Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it! 
And let the net that he hid ensnare him; 
     let him fall into it—to his destruction! 

Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD, 
     exulting in his salvation. 
All my bones shall say, 
     “O LORD, who is like you, 
      delivering the poor 
      from him who is too strong for him, 
      the poor and needy from him who robs him?”

—Psalm 35:7–10

What are we to do with the imprecatory psalms? I’m afraid the most common answer is to be embarrassed by them. Hide them in the closet. And should any nosey guest pry, pull them out, hold them up with disgust and ask “What is this?”, then respond with profuse apologies. Excuse them saying “Oh those! Those are Old Testament. We don’t use them anymore.”

I hope you find such embarrassment embarrassing. This may be what many do with the imprecatory psalms, but what should we do with them? Sing them! If that thought makes the modern church uncomfortable I’m certain the reason isn’t because she’s become so loving but because she’s become so soft. As odd as it may seem to some, what a soft church needs is more poetry; more of what James Adams calls the War Psalms of the Prince of Peace (highly recommended).

The problem is that we don’t know how to read poetry anymore. Luckily for us, Hebrew poetry doesn’t major on meter rhyme. God in His wisdom laid down a structure that translates well. It is the thought that rhymes. We call this thought rhyme structure parallelism. Translatable as this is, we still can’t read the stuff. Something more significant than a tire alignment is needed. The ignition timing is off. If you’re uneasy with the imprecatory psalms, your heart is off rhythm with the meter of heaven because your thoughts are inharmonious with the wisdom from above.

So how are we to read God’s poems? Less us. More Him. Poetry is meant to evoke strong emotion. Where we go wrong is that we make it more about expressing our emotion rather than that which is to evoke the emotions. The psalms are meant to train the affections. If there is a rub, your affections are off. You need training. Your heart must be timed. We read the psalms the same way we read modern worship lyrics off the screen. We never get past the warm up. “Do-Re-Me, me, me, me, me, me, me.” Our eyes are on our expression. Theology hasn’t given rise to doxology. We’ve become experience-expression junkies.

To read God’s poetry we must read it covenantally, and the chief covenant in view is the Davidic covenant. When you take up the psalms, think king and kingdom. The second psalm sets you up to understand all the imprecatory psalms.

Why do the nations rage 
and the peoples plot in vain? 
The kings of the earth set themselves, 
	and the rulers take counsel together, 
	against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 

“Let us burst their bonds apart 
	and cast away their cords from us.” 

He who sits in the heavens laughs; 
	the Lord holds them in derision. 
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, 
	and terrify them in his fury, saying, 

“As for me, I have set my King 
on Zion, my holy hill.” —Psalm 2:1–6

If we are embarrassed by the “war psalms of the Prince of Peace” the reason is that we are more concerned for our own name than we are zealous for the Name of our God and His King. The name of Christ is blasphemed, do you not long for this ultimately to be righted? 

When a serial rapist or a molester of children is justly sentenced, and just sentencing would mean the death penalty, would you say it is categorically wrong for the victims to rejoice?

When Nazi leaders involved in the Holocaust were charged guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, was it wrong for survivors to rejoice at justice?

Should the pro-choice movement be exposed for the lie that it is and humiliated, the Democratic party seen to be bowing before the god Molech, and the abortion of fetuses recognized as the murder of the innocent children made in the image of God so that abortionists are charged with multiple counts of first degree premeditated murder—saints, should this be so, and God that it would be, would it not be righteous and holy and good for the saints to rejoice at such a thing?

When God’s King was humble and man was proud, would it have been wrong to long for resurrection and vindication?

With God’s King risen from the grave and now seated in glory, is it wrong to rejoice at the thought of Him returning in majesty to inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” so that “they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away form the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:5)?

Is it wrong for God to be God? Is it wrong for the saints to long for God to be God?

No! May all of our bones say, “O Yahweh, who is like you?” (Psalm 35:10).

Yes, we should long that every enemy might come to know the salvation of our Lord. Yes, pray that the persecutor may become a Paul. Pray that the abortionist may repent like Manasseh of his worship of Molech. Pray that when the justly executed criminal breathes his last, he, like the thief on the cross, awakes to paradise in the presence of Christ. But let none of this curb your desire for God to be fully God, to manifestly be all who He has revealed Himself to be—“Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6–8). With all your bones say, “O Yahweh, who is like you?”

The Doctor: Taking a Wrong Turn at Albuquerque

“It is just here that we all tend to go astray. Although we have the open Bible before us we still tend to base our ideas of doctrine on our own thoughts instead of on the Bible. The Bible always starts with God the Father; and we must not start anywhere else, or with anyone else. The Bible is, ultimately, the revelation and the record and the explanation of what God has done for the salvation of man. The Bible is the revelation of God’s gracious purpose towards a world of sinful man; it claims to be such, and the revelation is in its every book. This is what accounts for its extraordinary unity. Its controlling theme is what God has done, what God has promised to do, what God began to do, what God has actually done, what He is going to do, and the amazing outcome of it all. And that is precisely what the Apostle is doing in this section of our Epistle. He is not giving expression to his own theories or ideas, but writing about what God has revealed to him.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 40, 41

Swim by Swimming (Psalm 30)

A Psalm of David. A Song at the dedication of the Temple.

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. —Psalm 30.

Perhaps the most overlooked portion of Scripture is the headings to the psalms. Though they are in the manuscripts there is some debate among scholars as to whether or not they are part of the inspired text. Because the New Testament often recognizes the authors ascribed to the psalms by their headings, I believe it is clear that we should consider them as Holy Script.

That being so, the first thing to settle about this Psalm is that the heading isn’t multiple choice. This is both a psalm of David and a psalm written for the dedication of the temple. Further, it is a psalm written by David for the dedication of the temple. It wasn’t posthumously designated as such.

Some want to change “temple” to “house” or “palace.” These are legitimate translations but my beef is that they are too apologetic. Some scholars are thereby trying to get this psalm out of the dock instead of letting it testify. They’re fearful the witness may contradict himself. They’re afraid that the title, as it stands, is something like speaking of Honest Abe’s speech at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. Honestly? So they say that this psalm was perhaps written at the dedication of David’s palace or the tent-house that David had erected for the ark when he brought it to Jerusalem.

Let the heading testify! Is it any stretch of the intellect to think that the same David who prepared a hundred-thousand talents of gold for the building of the temple (1 Chronicles 22) could also prepare twelve verses for its dedication? This was something dear to David’s heart (2 Samuel 7), and poetry is the language of the heart, right?

Besides unapologetic zeal for the inerrancy of the text in every jot and tittle, this has significant implications for your Bible reading and comprehension. There are only a handful of headings in the Psalms that mention a historic setting and when they do I take it that that setting must be significant for meaning. For the specifics in relation to this psalm, check out the sermon linked below. Rather than tease out the details, I want to use the remainder of the post to work out a principle at work underneath all of this. Here it is:

The best way to read your Bible is to have read your Bible. 

Or, the best way to read your Bible is with a whole lot of Bible floating in you noggin.

Just like the best way to swim in the water is by being in the water, so the best way to read your Bible is by reading it. There are far too many Christians who just have their feet in the pool. They’re occasionally dipping into the Bible for some cool refreshment, but they don’t swim in it. Then, there are a few who analyze it from the concrete and run tests telling us whether or not the water is safe. Such are the sort who tell us that David couldn’t have written this psalm.

But if you swim in the Bible, then you can swim the Bible. Got it? Those who swim, can swim. Every time you read the Bible, you’re better equipped to read the Bible. This is because when you come back around to a particular passage, you’re reading it in light of the Bible itself. The stump-water of stagnant thinking is getting diluted by the influx of the fresh waters of the Word. When you remember that part of the Bible while reading this part of the Bible you’re going to read the Bible better than when you’re solely remembering something extra-biblical while reading the Bible.

When you come to this text with Ichabod, the ark being brought to Jerusalem, the Davidic covenant, David’s sin in taking the census, the threshing floor of Obed-Edom, and David’s preparations for building the temple all floating in your head rather than a bunch of textual-critical sewage, your going to read this Psalm having no problems with the fact that this is a psalm of David written for the dedication of the Temple.

Nicely Packed (1 Peter 5:5–14)

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed… Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ —1 Peter 5:1, 5 (ESV)

Do not make the mistake of thinking that the authors of the Bible are as bad of Scripture-writers as we are Scripture-readers. We often read the Bible as if it were a buffet, looking for what we like, picking a bit here and there. So it is that lo mien comes to sit alongside mac and cheese.

The Bible’s authors planned feasts. There is a theme to the meal. Things are tied together. There is a logical order to the courses.

As you come to the end of this letter, you may think Peter is just filling the empty space on his plate with the victuals he’d like. You theorize that Peter had some extra space on this parchment and means to fill it up like the poor preacher who looks at his watch and thinks, “Hey, I’ve got twenty more minutes!” and conjures up the favorite bits he returns to again and again.

Peter began a new section in 5:1 addressing the elders, but that section starts with “so” linking it back to the previous one where Peter was again expounding the theme of the letter, nicely summarized in 4:19, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” Elders are to do the good work of shepherding the flock of God among them, despite present suffering in hope of eternal glory. Peter then ends his exhortation to elders holding forth this promise of glory (5:4)

In 5:5 Peter turns to address the saints as a whole. He begins with the word “likewise.” He is now exhorting the church for the same reason he exhorted elders, because of present suffering, and future glory, and the good they are called to do. Peter ends his exhortation to the church holding forth the same hope of glory (5:10).

Peter has not neatly packed his suitcase up to this point only to randomly cram the remaining empty space with whatever else he thinks might be handy. Even in every element of his closing (5:12–14) Peter relentlessly returns to his theme. I would unpack this for you, but my exhortation here is simply for you to notice that things are exquisitely packed. Let’s endeavor to be as tenacious in our reading as Peter was in his writing.

Moody Bible Literacy (1 Peter 1:13–17)

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The Bible is moody, in a perfect way, and you need to know what sets off the mood swing. Sentences have moods. In the original language 1 Peter 1:3–12 is a single elephantine sentence. Some sentences really should run on. Clarity, brevity, and simplicity are virtues, but sometimes the subject is too grand to distill. Sometimes the matter really is that complex, deep, and wondrous. When we enter into salvation in all it’s fullness, I believe such run-on sentences of praise will be commonplace.

This whopping sentence is in the indicative mood. It indicates. It simply states the facts. But this is no stoic, “just the facts, ma’am.” This is good news. This is the gospel.

Following this hefty sentence are three lightweight ones in vv. 13–17. These sentences are in the imperative mood. They command. But the mood of this mood is still joyful.

When the Bible changes moods, you shouldn’t. For this to happen, it is essential that you see how the imperative and the indicative relate. A “therefore” lies between them. One mood produces the other, and it should always be the indicative first. The imperatives follow the indicative.

This is always the case for God’s people. Covenant, promise, and redemption came before Sinai. When God gave the law he prefaced it saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Here you have the same two kinds of sentences and the same “therefore” is implicitly understood to lie between them.

As the commands of God are planted in the soil of God’s grace, they are a tree of life. Try to plant them somewhere else, and you’ll only get poison apples.

Sinner, if your life has been nothing but one long stuttering incomplete imperative sentence, hear this gospel exclamation. What you cannot do, Christ did. He kept the law and bore the wrath of God for sinners so that all who trust in Him might have their sins removed and His righteousness imputed to them. If the Spirit takes that sentence deep into your soul and causes you to be born again, then you’ll find that your mood has changed, a mood that loves all the moods of the Scriptures.

The Pilgrim: Take Heart, Press On

I have sometimes seen more in a line of the Bible than I could well tell how to stand under, and yet at another time the whole Bible hath been to me as dry as a stick. —John Bunyan, Grace Abounding