Psalm 109:1ff—How can the God of love in the NT be reconciled with the vengeful God of these cursing Psalms?
Problem: This psalm, like many others in the OT (e.g., Pss. 35; 69), pronounces curses on one’s enemies. Thus they are called imprecatory (cursing) psalms. David says, “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow” (109:9). By contrast, Jesus said, “Love your enemies ... and pray for those who ... persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). How can the God of vengeance of the OT be the same as the God of love of the NT (1 John 4:16)?
Solution: Several important factors must be kept in mind in understanding these imprecatory or so-called cursing psalms.
First, the judgment called for is based on divine justice and not on human grudges. David said clearly of his enemies in this psalm, “they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love” (v. 5). While David did pray this imprecation (curse) on his enemies, he nonetheless loved them and committed them to the justice of God for a due reward for their wicked deeds. David’s action in sparing Saul’s life is vivid proof that revenge was not a motivation behind this psalm. In spite of the fact that Saul stalked David’s life, David forgave Saul and even spared his life (cf. 1 Sam. 24; 26).
Second, judgment in these psalms is expressed in terms of the culture of the day. Since being fatherless or a widow was considered a tragedy, the curse is expressed in these commonly understood categories.
Third, since the Hebrew culture made no sharp distinction between the sinner and his sin, the judgment is expressed in personal terms rather than abstractly. Furthermore, since the Hebrew family was a solidarity, the whole family was saved (cf. Noah, Gen. 7–8) or judged together (cf. Achan, Josh. 7:24).
Fourth, the phenomenon of imprecation is not unique to the OT. Jesus urged His disciples to curse cities that did not receive the Gospel (Matt. 10:14). Jesus Himself called down judgment on Bethsaida and Capernaum in Matthew 11:21–24. Paul declared anathema any who did not love the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 16:22). Even the saints in heaven cried out to God for vengeance on those who martyred believers (Rev. 6:9–10).
Fifth, imprecations are not a primitive or purely OT phenomenon. Justice executed on evil is just as much a part of God, as is blessing on the righteous. Both are true of God in the OT as well as in the NT. In fact, God is mentioned as being loving more often in the OT than in the NT.
Sixth, because the OT emphasis was on earthly reward, connected with family, prosperity, and the land, the OT curses were expressed in these terms. With the NT revelation expressed more in terms of eternal destiny, there was less need to express imprecations in these earthly terms.
Even in these OT imprecations one can see an anticipation of Christ. God has committed all judgment to the Son (John 5:22). So those who long for justice are not only aspiring to His righteous kingdom, but can wait patiently for Him who comes quickly to execute it justly (Rev. 22:12).
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.