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How can the God of the Old testament be described as loving? Part 2

The imprecatory Psalms

How can we match up these curses from the imprecatory Psalms with the God of Love described in the New Testament?

Here are some examples of approaches where apologists have tried to reconcile these two quite different pictures of God’s character. The imprecatory psalms cannot be attributed to a single psalmist but rather the list of such including David, Asaph, and other unidentified authors.

A solution to our conundrum in explaining these difficult psalms is the assertion that they are not invoking a desire for the doom of the wicked but rather are predicting such.

However this is not supported by such psalms that are really prayers such as in Psalm 55:9 Destroy O Lord and divide their tongues. There is a good case that the psalmists were actually praying in the texts of the imprecatory psalms.

So it seems likely that the imprecatory psalms had some measure of the doom of the wicked in view and therefore were not merely predictive of their future doom.

Christian dispensationalists who split history into seven distinct periods want to put the Psalms into the dispensation of the law not to the later dispensation of grace. This allows the Old Testament believers to call down divine judgement on their enemies as in the imprecatory psalms. However this would be unacceptable behaviour by New Testament believers living in the dispensation of grace. The main problem with this point of view is that seems to give scripture contradicting scripture. It is also of note that a number of the imprecatory psalms are referred to in the New Testament (e.g. in Acts 1:20 reference is made to Psalm 69:26 in reference to Judas Iscariot).


C. S. Lewis rightly asserted: ‘The ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness and that . . . is hateful to God [1]. However the suggestion by Lewis that the imprecatory psalms are due to ‘human qualities’ because scripture merely carries the Word of God [2] appears to contradict the New Testament teaching on the doctrine of inspiration [3] and thus cannot give a full explanation of the imprecations.

It should also be noted that the psalmist King David is portrayed as a significantly merciful man who prayed for his enemies and spared Saul’s life when it was in his power to harm him. So it seems likely that David’s imprecatory psalms did not come from a vengeful and violent man.

Frederika Pronk [4] has proposed that most people make two basic wrong assumptions when trying to reconcile the imprecatory psalms with the God of the New Testament. The first assumption is that ‘the welfare of man is the chief end of man’ and the second assumption is that ‘God is only merciful and not also righteous and just to punish the guilty.’

The first assumption is a humanistic view and contrary to the sovereignty of God. As the Shorter Westminster catechism taught…’The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’

The second assumption fails to consider the integrity of God’s character.


[1] Reflections on the Psalms (1958) p. 33 by C S Lewis.

[2] Reflections on the Psalms (1958) pp.87 and 112 by C S Lewis.

[3] See 2 Timothy 3:16.

[4} The Outlook (1981) The imprecatory Psalms: Christian Library by Frederika Pronk.

In Part 3 we find a better answer to our conundrum in considering the character of God.


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