“O my God, save me from my enemies. Protect me from these who have come to destroy me… stagger them with your power and bring them to their knees. Bring them to the dust, O Lord our shield. They are proud, cursing liars. Angrily destroy them. Wipe them out. (And let the nations find out, too, that God rules in Israel and will reign throughout the world.)” (Psalm 59:1, 11-13 LB)
Frankly, there are times it is difficult to reconcile in my mind that the man who wrote the angry prayer above was the “sweet psalmist of Israel.” Some of the words he wrote elsewhere were so full of love for God and compassion for the needy that we have to remind ourselves that he was also the same man who carried around the severed head of one of his vanquished foes.
But there was a deeper meaning in the “Imprecatory Psalms” than the petty vindictiveness they seem to convey.
God’s grace and love were not fully revealed until Christ came to this earth. In David’s day, the greatest need in the world was to get a sight of God’s holy character. This godly man did not desire divine retribution simply for the sake of vengeance, but so that the pagan nations surrounding Israel would come to realize “that God rules in Israel and will reign throughout the world.” People needed to know—and in that day and age it was best communicated through a show of force—that the God of Israel was almighty.
David’s hope was that the judgment of openly wicked men would solicit an interest in knowing more about this powerful Deity. Israel was supposed to be a beacon of Light to a world entrapped in spiritual darkness. In his mind, he believed that this sort of judgment would awaken people to the reality of Jehovah.
In the previous psalm, David offered another purpose in the death of the ungodly. He wrote, “The godly shall… walk the blood-stained fields of slaughtered, wicked men. Then at last everyone will know that good is rewarded, and that there is a God who judges justly here on earth.” (Psalm 58:10-11 LB) He was very motivated to see God vindicated; for people to see God in the proper light. If evil men were destroyed in such a way as to leave no doubt that it was divine judgment, not only would it encourage the godly to keep pressing on, but it would also reveal God’s righteousness and equity to the rest of mankind.
Whatever the case may have been, Jesus Christ showed us a better way to win the lost. He was not only willing to see decent people saved, but just as willing to see the worst of sinners come into a saving relationship. He said, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28) Paul added, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
We can certainly utilize David’s prayers regarding the destruction of demonic enemies, but when it comes to human beings, it is much better to lavish them with loving prayers.
And how about you? Are there people in your life who treat you as if you were their enemy? If so, have you matured in your faith to the point to be able to ask God to extend His mercy to them? It is that sort of prayer that best reflects and glorifies the character of God.