Recently Pastor Dan gave us excellent scriptural advice on dealing with our enemies. As part of his sermon, he mentioned the imprecatory Psalms, those Psalms where the psalmist does pray for his enemies, but the prayers aren’t what we expect if we are more familiar with our New Testament than with God’s revelation in the Old Testament.

A particularly disturbing example for many Christians is Psalm 137:8-9 (ESV):

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!

As my students might say, “That’s harsh!” In the Reformed tradition, the Psalms are models for prayer which Christians are supposed to emulate. But how do we pray this? Seriously? Yet we are to pray passages such as this and let me suggest that the answer, not surprisingly is Christ.

What do I mean?

First, in the original Old Testament context, it’s not just anybody who composes and sings these prayers. It is particularly David and other leaders and prophets in Israel, God’s appointed representatives to interpret and execute the laws and will of God in the kingdom of Israel. Their enemies are not simply their personal enemies, but the enemies of God himself. In the Old Testament economy, David prays God’s judgment on the enemies of God.
Second, this works out a little differently in the New Testament. Remember that Christ is the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament (Luke 24:44). When we pray the Psalms, we do so as they have been fulfilled in Christ. We pray God’s judgment on God’s enemies, but what does that mean? I love this Scripture to which Pastor Dan alluded in his sermon, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).
How did Christ judge his enemies? He died for them. He redeemed them. Scripture unpacks this in many ways, but one very important way is that we die in our old life as slaves to sin in order to have our new life in Christ. Joined to Christ in faith, we die with him in order to be raised with him.  

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:3-5).
Therefore, when we pray for God’s enemies -- who is everybody outside of Christ -- we pray God’s judgment on them, that they will be “slain” by joining to Christ in faith, being baptized, and living lives full of joy and grace as they follow as his disciples the Lord who died on their behalf.

And the babies mentioned in the Psalm above? We are asking that they be “dashed” against the rock -- the rock who is Christ -- that their believing parents baptize them to become covenant members of the body of Christ as the first step on their journey to a lifetime of adventure with Christ.

What about those who do not come to Christ? We continue to pray for them, trusting in our sovereign God, remembering Abraham’s appeal “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen 18:25).
That is how we pray the imprecatory Psalms.


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