Explain your understanding of the “imprecatory psalms.” In what sense did these function as prayers and petition in ancient Israel?

Discussion Imprecatory Psalms

Respond to the following prompts in 250 words each. For prompt you must support your assertions with at least three (3) scholarly citations in current Turabian format. Each reply should also incorporate scholarly citations if appropriate to the context.

The discussion centered on After reading Psalms 35, 109, and 137, answer each of the following question prompts. You are permitted to use the textbook, outside scholarly sources, and the Bible in your responses.

Explain your understanding of the “imprecatory psalms.” In what sense did these function as prayers and petition in ancient Israel? In what manner would they have functioned as “song” within the liturgical context of ancient Israel?

In what manner should Christians approach these “imprecatory psalms”? Do they in some way contradict the “turn the other cheek” ethic taught by Jesus in the Gospels? Be specific in how you respond to this question.

What view do you take on the application of the “imprecatory psalms” for today? In responding to this question, be sure to provide supporting arguments and rationale, including support from the Old and the New Testament.

Prompt 1 (RV)
Imprecatory psalms, broadly speaking, fall into a hermeneutical category of poetry, wherein there exist psalms of prayers and psalms of songs. Within these two categories, psalmists have developed and catalogued individual categories of psalms. One such example is imprecatory psalms. Imprecatory psalms, according to Danial Estes, in his book Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms, are those “psalms that are distinguished by language that invokes divine judgment upon the psalmist’s enemy or the enemy of God.”[1] In their book, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, William Klein et al., correctly observes that imprecatory psalms serve a two-fold function within the context of prayers and petitions for ancient Israel that are met, “to expose the world’s cruel violence and oppression lest it be ignored and continued unopposed; and to give its victims the words in which to express their legitimate despair and outrage.”[2] Estes, categorizes imprecatory psalms as those that use cursing, and states that this form of language is found in nearly thirty psalms.[3] Included in this category of imprecatory psalms are psalms 35, 109, and 137. Estes observes that the ancient Israelites would have interpreted imprecatory (psalms) songs to function as a “liturgical act of obedience to the first commandment,”[4] when Moses wrote, “You shall have no other gods before me (Ex. 20:3).”[5]
In order to properly understand the imprecatory psalms, Estes states that “it is essential to consider the Old Testament conception of justice. Private vengeance was forbidden in the Mosaic law (Lev. 19:18), for vengeance belonged to Yahweh (Deut. 32:35).”[6] Additionally, “These psalms are the expression of a longing that evil, and evil people may not have the last word in history, for this world and its history belongs to God.”[7] Imprecatory psalms afforded the ancient Israelites the chance to vent their feeling of vindictiveness and desire for revenge, for the purposes of righteousness due to their viewing of God Himself as having been insulted.[8] In their book, Grasping God’s Word, Scott Duvall and Daniel Hayes observe that “The psalmist tell God exactly how they feel, and it often does not sound very spiritual or mature. Christians today tend to pressure each other into suppressing any emotional outpouring about God.”[9] As one reads the psalms, there can be no doubt that the ancient Israelites had no such qualms and expressed a multitude of feelings “and provide us with wonderful models of frank, honest communication with God, full of emotion, bubbling up out of good and bad times alike.”[10]
How then should a believer approach imprecatory psalms in light of New Testament Scripture, particularly when Jesus said, “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also (Matt. 5:38-39, NLT).” It would be counterintuitive to presume that Jesus is speaking of physical assault or pacifism when one compares Scripture contextually. The Old and New Testaments both use caricatures in many instances, such as hyperbole, and metaphors to communicate an idea, similar to imprecatory psalms. In this instance, when Jesus is instructing believers to turn the other check, He is simply saying that we should not take personal offence when we are insulted. From the position of an honor/shame culture, for someone to cast an insult and not reply in kind was viewed as shameful. It is important to note that even in the 21st century, we interpret a slap in the face as a metaphor related to that of an offense or insult. As believers, we can express our emotions to God in much the same way as the ancient Israelites did when they expressed their hurt or anger when they wrote the imprecatory psalms. As disciples of Christ, we should set our mind on the things above (Col. 3:2) and not allow the sun to go down on our hurt or anger (Eph. 4:26). Instead, in all our ways we acknowledge Him, (Pro. 3:6), and should cast all our cares on Christ (1 Pet. 5:7). Duvall and Hayes correctly observe that “The function of the psalms, therefore, is to give us inspired models of how to talk and sing to God.”[11] Here is an example of connecting not only our minds with God, but also our hearts (Ps. 103:1).

Prompt 2 (KC)
Explain your understanding of the “imprecatory psalms.” In what sense did these function as prayers and petition in ancient Israel?
The imprecatory psalms must be understood within the context of Old Testament theology. Specifically, the idea of justice should be considered. There was no personal vengeance in the OT (Leviticus 19:18), just as there is no personal vengeance in the New Testament, but it is always the Lord who is to avenge wrongdoings (Deuteronomy 32:35).1 However, the difference is that the OT writers had yet to know Christ, and his role in the ultimate judgement of all things. Furthermore, there was no real concept of ultimate judgment after death in the Old Testament. Therefore, the petitions of the psalmists may be considered to be a plea with God to uphold his character of ultimate justice in the present circumstances, so that the wicked do not triumph over the righteous.1
In what manner would they have functioned as “song” within the liturgical context of ancient Israel?
The imprecatory psalms also were to function as song. In a similar way to modern day poetry, one’s deepest emotions are most commonly expressed through exaggeration or extravagance. The harsh statements of the psalmists could be the exaggerated effects of songwriting as compared to the actual desires of the psalmists.1
In what manner should Christians approach these “imprecatory psalms”? Do they in some way contradict the “turn the other cheek” ethic taught by Jesus in the Gospels?
The imprecatory Psalms should be considered as descriptive language and not necessarily prescriptive language when one regards the authority of Scripture. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (1 Timothy 3:16, ESV). While I affirm the statement in 1 Timothy, I do not think one can regard every verse in the Bible as absolute truth in the prescriptive sense of truth, but rather that God incorporated the idea in Scripture for the reader to benefit in some way. If one were to uphold the belief that every verse in the Bible were prescriptively true, then they would find themselves in a logical predicament. There are many verses, and even entire passages or chapters of Scripture, that are mutually contradictive.2 For example, the language Jesus uses in the Sermon on the Mount about loving your neighbors (Matthew 5:44) does not correlate well with David’s declaration of blessing over those who murder the Babylonian children (Psalm 137:9). Therefore, it places the burden of interpreting the Scripture in a more appropriate and comprehensive manner. It is best to understand the imprecatory Psalms as the prayers and petitions of a person pouring their hearts out to God in the midst of deep emotion, often in times of great frustration or lament.
What view do you take on the application of the “imprecatory psalms” for today?
How then, might a Christian interpret and apply the imprecatory Psalms today? It is a good question, given their inherent contradiction to the teachings of Christ. However, I think most people, and certainly I myself, can relate to the psalmist in some way. As human beings, everyone goes through times of experiencing deep frustrations, heartbreak, and pain. Oftentimes, people wonder why they should endure suffering, while those who have wronged them experience blessings (at least as they perceive them to be). The imprecatory Psalms provide many benefits including a warning against casual indifference to sin, a model to release personal indignation to God, and an increased appreciation for God’s work of the cross.1 The Christian is allowed to see the fruits of how God vindicates the righteous through Christ, a privilege that those living in the Old Covenant were unable to see as clearly. More so, the imprecatory Psalms give Christians today comfort in knowing that the people of God have always dealt with hard felt emotions and are shown that they took these emotions to God through prayer and petition.3

Explain your understanding of the “imprecatory psalms.” In what sense did these function as prayers and petition in ancient Israel?

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