Imprecation-Psalm 58

Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge the people with equity? No, in you heart you devise injustice, and your hands mete out violence on the earth.

Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies. Their venom is like the venom of the cobra that has stopped its ears, that will not heed the tune of the charmer, however skillful the enchanter may be.

Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions! Let them vanish like water that flows away; when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short. May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along, like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.

Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns-whether they be green or dry-the wicked will be swept away. The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked. Then people will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.”

Hermeneutical Categories

Did it work? Did I get you to read my post by using a tricky word like imprecation? I was going to use, “You’ll never believe what happens when this guy calls down God’s Judgment on his neighbors!” but didn’t really feel like I could deliver on that headline. However, I did use imprecation and hermeneutics (see above) so maybe you’re interested, maybe your not, but try to stick around for a minute as I address something that I think that we can all identify with.

'The Sacrifice of Noah', Jacopo Bassano, circa 1574

‘The Sacrifice of Noah’, Jacopo Bassano, circa 1574 Evidence of God’s Judgment

How do you read the Bible? I saw a post recently on Facebook where someone had put up a chart of a particular hermeneutic. Their hermeneutic (interpretation of scripture) was to take an idea or a particular situation in life that they wished were true and then find a way to justify it by what the Bible says, or rather, what they think that the Bible says. The chart concluded that anyone who would read the Bible and still believe that homosexuality is a sin can only fall into the category of bigoted and closed minded.

This person seemed to send the message that they were not open to reading the Bible any differently than the ideas that they had already formulated. From the conclusions that the chart came to, it was evident that if you didn’t agree with them, then you fit into a certain category or type of person. I wanted to respond with, “Wait a minute, is this fair? Where is your evidence? How is this different than the worst of internet memes?” But then I realized that as soon as I say something against this diagram, I fit instantly into the categories that they had created for someone like me. To be fair, I wish that I could talk to this person and find out more before I fit them into a category, which I realize I’m dangerously close to doing.

When we make a practice of fitting people into categories, it’s not surprising that we would do this to God as well. But this isn’t a liberal or conservative problem, it’s a human one. We take what we wish were true about the world based on our desires or the desires of someone close to us and then find a way to put God into a category that agrees with our thinking. This is a terrible hermeneutic, of which I am guilty. God’s word is meant to shape us instead of us shaping God’s word.

But what if it’s a hard passage or what if we disagree with what God is teaching us? Instead of assuming an answer here (since I’ve already assumed the question) it might be helpful to address a posture we ought to pursue before we ever come to the scriptures.

We aren’t God.

You, me, us, we aren’t God. No matter how we feel about the world, no matter how we “wish” things could be (I wish that I could eat a carton of moose tracks without consequence but that’s just not how the universe works) we aren’t God. We don’t get to decide what is right, just, holy, pure, true and what is sinful. God does. The only way that we’re ever to become fully free in our humanity is to become fully bound to our Creator.

Imprecca…what? 

My goal here isn’t to address sexual sin or to debate who is on the right side of the issue of the right to marry. My goal is to help us to see how it is a tragic mistake to make light of God’s word and not take the time or do the homework of understanding what he is communicating to us and how he wants us to live and flourish.

There are passages all over scripture that carry the weight of imprecatory Psalms, or Psalms of judgment. However, it is here in the Psalter that we see explicit sentiments or postures of judgment and cursing. Jesus said to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you. How do we reconcile that with prayers of judgment (imprecatory prayer) in the Psalms?

“Break the teeth in their mouth, O God.”

It is unfair to look at a passage like Psalm 58 and simply pass over it quickly or explain it away by claiming that the Old Testament is different than the New. We don’t get to ignore or explain away the parts of scripture that we disagree with. There’s hard work to do.

Where are you going with this?

The Psalms run the full spectrum of human emotions. They are filled with worship and praise, joy and celebration as well as tears, death, sadness and submission. They are the book of worship that Jesus was intimately familiar with and from which he quoted more than any other. The Psalms are necessary today for Christian worship. They are to be understood communally within the people of God and they teach us all of the beauty of the mercy, love and judgment of our God. As with all of Scripture we don’t get to ignore these prayers, we don’t get to re-translate them, we don’t get to dismiss them as hateful and not from God, we don’t get to deny their inspiration and they’re not to be read in contrast to a New Testament ethic.

Can we live a dedicated Christian life of love and mercy and prayer for our enemies AND pray the Psalms with understanding that God has judged and will judge sin? Over the next few posts I want to explore the beauty of worship found in imprecations against the wicked, what kind of posture the Christian should have when we pray these prayers and how imprecatory Psalms fit beautifully into God’s story of love for his people.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Taste and See-Psalm 34:8

Psalms and God’s Presence562563_10150775597772962_1566758683_n

As I continue to mediate and think through what the Psalms have to offer us today in our worship practices, I have been reading this book by Tremper Longman. Here are a few thoughts on what it looks like to soak in these wonderful liturgical reminders of the character and nature of God.

God is present in every corner of his creation. He is with us whether or not we are at work or at home, shopping or studying, in the city or the country, at sea or on land. He is everywhere and with us no matter what we do.

Nonetheless, the Scriptures make it clear that though God’s presence permeates the world, he chooses to dwell in a special way in certain places and to make his presence known at certain times. For instance, the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-20) in a special way at the time that Moses received the law. His presence was manifested and experienced in a way that was not repeated on any other mountain until he chose to dwell on Mount Zion in the time of Solomon.

These special places of God’s presence are places of intimate and at times fearful encounters with the God of the universe. The are places which demand human response; they demand worshipful prayer. 

As we read the Psalms, we are entering into the sanctuary, the place where God meets men and women in a special way. We will see that the conversation between God and his people is direct, intense, intimate and, above all else honest. 

Thus the Psalms are a kind of literary sanctuary in the Scripture. The place where God meets his people in a special way, where his people may address him with their praise and lament.

Who’s in Charge?

The Psalms challenge us to think through who is in charge. When our children demand something from us because of discomfort, boredom or hunger (among other reasons) we remind them that they have forgotten who is in charge. The Psalms make us pause, and back up for a minute to consider how our presumptuous living lacks sobriety. We are reminded in the Psalms that all of our existence comes from God. All of creation is sustained by his hand and all or our steps are directed by the Creator of the Universe.

This ought to affect our hearts and remind us of who we are. The Psalms encourage us to dig deep into the humanity of our spirituality and work us over in such a way that we either fall to our knees in adoration and worship of God or we fall to or knees in repentance and lament. Either way, we cannot walk away from them unchanged.

A thought from John Calvin on the Psalms.

What various and resplendent riches are contained in this treasury (Psalms), it were difficult to find words to describe…I have been wont to call this book not inappropriately, an anatomy of all parts of the soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.

Incarnational Intersection

Calvin paints a wonderful picture of how the Psalms speak to every part of our soul. They hold up a mirror and incite in our hearts the eager longing to connect where we once thought we were isolated. Consider Psalm 35:22-23 where the Psalmist pleads for God’s intervention in his life in the midst of suffering at the hands of others, “Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent. Do not be far from me, Lord. Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord!”

The prayers offered in these verses reflect a desire for the incarnation of God. “Do not be far from me!” Draw near to me, the Psalmist cries out! As these words pour from the lips of the poet, who among us has not felt this same way? This mirror that Calvin speaks of is impossible to ignore once we see how physical these spiritual prayers are.

Not only do these Psalms speak of how God and man intersect they unceasingly point to the realized incarnation in Christ. For the Christian we not only read the Psalms with eyes to see the worship of God and ears to hear of his mighty hand, we also see the beauty of Christ and the redemption that we, by faith, eat and drink in his incarnation.

Consider the words of N.T. Wright here on Christ and the Psalms.

I am suggesting that the entire worldview that the Psalms are inculcating was to do with that intersection of our time, space, and matter with God’s, (time, space and matter) which Christians believe happen uniquely and dramatically in Jesus.

Taste and See…

When Time, Space and Matter collide the witnesses to this event are never the same. God came down. We see this incarnation played out fully in the Gospels but this incarnation was foreshadowed in the Psalms. Not only was Christ foreshadowed in the Psalms but It was through these practices, prayers and postures presented in the Psalms that [was] the “hymnbook that Jesus and his followers would have known by heart.” (N.T. Wright).

Allow the beauty of these Scriptural treasures to wash over you and your family. Take a moment and chew on the incarnational truth that the Psalms have to offer. Practicing this daily, for the believer who does so in faith, changes, shapes and moulds our hearts to be more like Christ’s.

Psalm 34:8 “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

The command to taste and see is an incarnational call to know God in our humanity. This call to taste and see points us to the incarnational meal that God himself, in Christ shared with his disciples and with us with these words, “This is my body, given for you” and “This is the blood of the covenant, poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins.” Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Soli Deo Gloria