If Not Imprecatory Psalms, What About the Lord’s Prayer?

Even Psalms that don’t register on the list of imprecatory ones can be a challenge to use if only because of their depiction of the death of God’s enemies. Some advise against their use and this was one of the reasons for not producing, as the OPC and URC did, a complete Psalter:

The psalmist was praying against those who persecuted him. The theocracy, God’s reign in Israel from the time of Moses to the time of Christ, was a shadow of future events (Heb. 10:1). One of those events is the final judgment of God. The destruction of the Canaanites in the days of Joshua was a shadow of the final judgment and not, therefore, normative for how we are to deal with our neighbors who do not believe in Jesus. The imprecations against the wicked in the book of Psalms were also shadows of the final judgment—appropriate for the era of the theocracy, but not for this present age. The gospel era is one of kindness, tolerance, and patience—intended to bring people to repentance and faith (Rom. 2:4). This is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). And this is why Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to pray for them, not against them. This is why Paul taught us to pray that God would bless our enemies (Rom. 12:14; 1 Cor. 4:12). Like the psalmist we leave vengeance to God, but unlike the psalmist we pray that God would bless those who bring pain into our lives. (Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Psalms and Proverbs, pp. 348–49)

Others, though, notice that Christians still pray for God’s judgment upon his enemies even in the New Testament:

We need to be very conscious of trying—that part of what we’re called to be as the light of the world is people who love our enemies. Paul talks about how loving your enemies will further increase their punishment. So setting love of enemy radically over against judgment is not biblical.

I think it is not illegitimate to use the imprecations of the psalter to pray for judgment on God’s enemies. Every time we pray, “Come quickly Lord Jesus,” we’re praying an imprecation on God’s enemies. When Jesus comes again, there will be judgment for God’s enemies.

In other words, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he included the petition, “Thy kingdom come,” which as the Larger Catechism explains involves praying for the “hastening” of the kingdom of glory:

that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever

Not to be missed is the nature of the office that Christ executes as king:

Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, … restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.

In which case, the anti-imprecatory Psalm position implies editing the Lord’s Prayer.

That does not mean that prayers for judgment day are easy to pray. The image of that great separation of the saved and the lost is haunting. At the same time, the thought of the end of the world is never absent from Christian devotion and worship.

On the upside, at least Protestants debate something that Roman Catholics don’t anymore thanks to an effort to manage less than good acts and desires with procedural standards and practices.


8 thoughts on “If Not Imprecatory Psalms, What About the Lord’s Prayer?

  1. Here’s where Vos picked up his Gideon Bible in the hotel room and wrote a book on the Psalter! From his intro to the “Eschatology of the Psalter”: Here’s where the Gideons inspired Vos! “There are certain editions of the New Testament which by way of appendix contain the Psalter, an arrangement obviously intended to serve the convenience of devotion. It has, however, the curious result of bringing the Apocalypse and the Psalms into immediate proximity. On first thought it might seem that scarcely two more diverse things could be put together. The storm-ridden landscape of the Apocalypse has little enough in common with the green pastures and still waters of which the Psalmist sings. For us the Psalter largely ministers to the needs of the devotional life withdrawn into its privacy with God. Such a life is not
    usually promotive of the tone and temper characteristic of the eschatological reaction. This will explain why the ear
    of both reader and interpreter has so often remained closed to strains of a quite different nature in this favorite book. It requires something more strenuous than the even tenor of our devotional life to shake us out of this habit and force
    us to take a look at the Psalter’s second face. It has happened more than once in the history of the Church, that
    some great conflict has carried the use of the Psalms out from the prayer-closet into the open places of a tumultuous
    world. The period of the Reformation affords a striking example of this. We ourselves, who are just emerging
    from a time of great world-upheaval, have perhaps discovered, that the Psalter adapted itself to still other situations than we were accustomed to imagine. To be sure, these last tremendous years have not detracted in the least
    from its familiar usefulness as an instrument of devotion. But we have also found that voices from the Psalter accompanied us, when forced into the open to face the world-tempest, and that they sprang to our lips on occasions when otherwise we should have had to remain dumb in the presence of God’s judgments. This experience sufficiently
    proves that there is material in the Psalms which it requires the large impact of history to bring to our consciousness in
    its full significance. It goes without saying that what can be prayed and sung now in theatro mundi was never meant
    for exclusive use in the oratory of the pious soul. This other aspect of the Psalter has not been produced by liturgical accommodation; it was in its very origin a part of the life and prayer and song of the writers themselves.”


  2. “Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” In this case, both hands are holding the tome that is Psalter+hymnal+Continental Reformed standards+American Presbyterian Confessions and catechisms. That’s the revival service I’m attending tomorrow!


  3. I’m thinking ought we not pray even now against predators – lions and vicious beasts (Isa 35:9). We do not have because we do not ask.


  4. And HC 123 – What is the second petition?

    Your kingdom come.
    That is: So rule us by your Word and Spirit that more and more we submit to you. Preserve and increase your church. Destroy the works of the devil, every power that raises itself against you, and every conspiracy against your holy Word.
    Do all this until the fullness of your kingdom comes, wherein you shall be all in all.


  5. Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, … restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.

    Does anyone read their Bible and confessional standards anymore? Here is Dennis Johnson’s commentary on Revelation 8:4 from “Triumph of the Lamb” (pg 142):

    From the same alter the angel fills the censer with fire, and he throws it to the earth. The imagery is powerful: Christians’ prayers are integral to the downfall of the gospel’s enemies.

    We do not have because we do not ask.



  6. Walt, does that mean then that we topple the U.S. govt. because it hasn’t been a friend of the gospel since 1789. It’s been a neutral stand by.


  7. Darryl,

    I don’t understand the relevance of your question to what you or I have written. Where are you headed with this?


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