04 January 2011

Abusing the Imprecatory Psalms

Ever heard of the Obama Prayer?

The Imprecatory Psalms, those which call down curses or Imprecations on God's enemies seemed to experience something of a revival in the 1990's. Theonomic ideology had quietly percolated for a few years and then Bill Clinton became the president of the United States.

I never heard it personally, but I knew some who heard pastors pray for God to strike him dead right in the middle of the Sunday morning service.

I suppose it's not a surprise that sort of thing is making a comeback.
I remember a book titled War Psalms of the Prince of Peace....I can't recall who wrote it. I used to have it but can no longer find it. What a pity. I guess I was so impressed with it, I misplaced it.

The basic idea is that just like in the Old Testament, we can call down God's Judgment and curses on others.

This ignores the fact that the Psalms were written by prophets speaking for God and it's not too difficult to see that the prophets are often vocalizing the words of the Prophet, Christ Himself, the One who was to come. Christ is calling down curses on God's enemies....we ought to pause before we rush into exercising either the prophetic office or the prerogatives of the Messiah.

Even more inappropriate is to tit-for-tat apply this to a contemporary situation. The Psalm cited in the article below deals with Judas and ultimately with Satan. Applying it to an American president shows a real lack of Biblical discernment. This has become almost a tradition among American Christians who seem to love it when their leaders and politicians wrench Bible verses from context and apply them (often sacrilegiously) to the United States. To take verses that speak of Christ's redemptive work and apply them to American struggles, the death of soldiers, and the pioneer spirit is blasphemous.

So how do we understand something like the imprecatory Psalms in light of the New Testament ethic?

Christ is both Redeemer and Judge. The Church proclaims the message of hope and reconciliation, with its demands of repentance and belief....and we warn of the Judgment to come. Christ came first as Redeemer but He will return as Redeemer and Judge. We do not exercise these offices, we proclaim hope while there still is hope.

In the Old Testament, Israel was the type of Christ. Christ's offices were present in both the structure and worship of Israel but also in its deeds and history. As Redeemer he restores Israel to typological Eden, the land of milk and honey, the land of Canaan...a picture of Heaven.

But Christ-Israel is also Judge and though the Judgment does not come until the End, there were times when it suited His purposes to send that Judgment in a typological figure. These were very real fleshed-out warnings for all mankind. Just like the Tower of Siloam, the response shouldn't be....look how wicked they were......look how wicked the Canaanites were........our response should be Repent, else we all likewise perish.

The order of Common Grace, is God's hand of restraint upon wickedness, which is an act of longsuffering mercy since He is not willing that any should perish. But it is also a means of delay.....a withholding of the Judgment to come, the Judgment already guaranteed by the Cross.

At times, when it served Providence or for the purpose of a warning lesson to mankind, the Hand was taken away....and a pre-figuring of the Judgment to come was unleashed.

Typologically, the conquest of Canaan was nothing less than a prefiguring of the 2nd Coming. Christ-Israel the Judge bringing the vengeance of God upon the wicked....none will be spared in the Day of the Lord. The Hebrews weren't just a nation invading another nation, like our situations today. They were the Hand of God, Christ the Executor of God's Wrath, fighting Herem, Holy War. There aren't any parallels today. If there are, they are spiritual in nature, the Church fighting a spiritual Holy War with non-carnal weapons. We wield the Sword of the Spirit, not the sword which sheds blood.

When the prophets would speak of the impending destruction of Jerusalem and the threat of exile....they were speaking of both that time and space reality, but it was also typological of the Day of the Lord (as they indeed call it) and the exile from the holy....to the realms of punitive fire and wrath. Even the prophetic language blends the two ideas so that at times it's hard to tell which the prophet speaks of. The answer is not to parse out which is which....it's comprehensive picture....the two are one. It's the Day of the Lord.

The same is true in the New Testament when Christ speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem which would come a generation after His death. It was AS IF the world had ended. An epoch certainly had. And in one sense....one must careful in how this is explained....all did end. Everything was accomplished. The world so to speak ended and ALL was finished. He said so. We now live in the Last Days, the time between the times, the era between the 1st and 2nd Advent. All is Already in terms of eternity, but Not Yet in terms of time and space.

Satan's doom is sealed, Christ has accomplished it. So when he speaks in places like Matthew 24, He's talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, but He's also talking about the End of the world....but there's a sense in which that was done at the cross....and another sense in which that has not yet been completely consummated.

Confused? The Bible is both simple and unfathomable profound. There are layers and symbols which overlap and interact. The answer is not to pick apart a chapter like Matthew 24 and try and say these verses apply to AD70 and these apply to the End. It destroys the picture.....the verses apply to both and even more.

Futurists try and push it all forward...it was all written for our day. Preterists try to apply it exclusively to the past. Partial Preterists try to break apart the imagery and apply some to the past and some to the future.

It's all past and all future...and thus applicable to every age. The same is true in Revelation. Trying to read the Apocalypse in a Preterist (past fulfillment) or Futurist (exclusively future fulfillment) is to misunderstand the Temporal/Eternal, Present/Eschatological mode of Prophetic Scripture.

Everything has been accomplished, we're not waiting for secret raptures, 7 year tribulations, or a Golden Age of worldwide Christianization. The Two-Age structure speaks of This Age and The Age to Come....we're not looking for anything but the return of Christ which could be any moment........soon, just as it has been for almost 2000 years. We live in the time between the times, we live between two worlds. It's done, we're already with Christ seated in the Heavenlies....but not yet.

How simplistic to simply pull Psalms from their context and apply them to a leader in the United States. What an insult to the majesty of Scripture and what a failure to understand the theme and plot, the typology, and development of God's glorious history of Redemption. It's not about calling down curses on Barack Obama. The Bible is from start to finish on every page and in every verse about Christ Jesus the Lord of Glory, our Risen King. Obama is nothing, dust in the wind. He's there because God wants him there. Be content.

The theological term for this breaking in of the End, the premature expression of Divine Judgment is Intrusion. Intrusion does not mean that the norm is simply laid aside temporarily....no, it serves a Divine purpose and it is God who determines this for His purposes. It is the Eternal Reality being suddenly and specifically applied to the present. God exercises the Judgment that we all deserve on a group of people or in a situation.

Like Christ said, we're not to suppose that we are more righteous. Were the Israelites righteous compared to the Canaanites? No....but in Christ and as His Type, and serving that Redemptive-Historical purpose, yes. Though we are the Church, we do not have the ability to interpret Providence that would grant us that kind of clarity and assurance to declare this or that about what God is doing....the very thing Dominionists do as they try and teach history and interpret events from a "Christian Worldview."

We can surmise at best. If patriotic pride fuels our interpretation sprinkled with Scripture verses.....we can be sure we're on the wrong track.

What about something like the Holocaust or 9/11? Are these examples of Intrusion? My opinion? Yes and no.

Certainly they are examples of Judgment that we all deserve. All of us deserve to experience an Auschwitz or to die in the Twin Towers. It's only grace and mercy that keep us from experiencing that. So, as with the Tower of Siloam, we should be humbled (the opposite of the American Christian response) and we should repent of our own deeds. The pronoun 'our' refers to the Church, not the United States. Evangelicals mix their pronouns in a dangerous manner.

But in a sense I would hesitate to label these events as Intrusion because they do not represent Redemptive-Historical lessons pointing to Christ as given to us via Special Revelation in our Authority-source, the Word of God. So Yes, but.....I would be very careful to make the distinction. It's like Intrusion, but I'm not sure we can speak of these matters with the same authority that we could with regard to something like the conquest of Canaan.

The Imprecatory Psalms speak in the voice of Christ, calling down Judgment. They too are an example of Intrusion. Just as we cannot say that we as the Church or even worse as Americans can claim the right to declare ourselves the Agents of God's Judgment....and justify war, or the slaughtering of a nation or an individual.....likewise we cannot claim the voice of Christ the Judge and call down curses on people made in His Image. We are to bless, not curse. We are to treat everyone as potentially elect. We don't know God's secret counsels, we live our lives from His Revealed Will.

Sadly there are many who not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God appeal to these passages to justify war, conquest, and even genocide. These same people wish to employ the imprecatory Psalms and wish for the Sacral state to execute people. They wish to bring the Curse of Judgment in the name of Christ before He has deemed it so. They would cut short His longsuffering and bring the fire. No one has the right to do that. The State will bear the sword as read in Romans, but not as a Holy Agent. The state serves the Providential Rule of God, but its activities are not part of the Holy Realm, they do not build the Kingdom of God through taxes, legislation, war, or building roads. That's part of the temporary Common Grace realm. We live as Christians in it, the Bible telling us how to do so, and we proclaim the Gospel, but we don't look for the non-holy state (I did not say un-holy) to fulfill the role of a Kingdom comprised of those born of the Spirit.

Undoubtedly it was part of God's overall plan that the Iraqi people should suffer at the hands of the United States. Who can dispute that? But in no way does it mean that the United States was right to do it or had God's blessings in the matter. Assyria was God's servant in Isaiah 10 bringing Judgment on Israel, and He then punished them for their pride and bloody aspirations. America is not Israel....if anything she's far more like Assyria. She is a grasshopper in a field a drop in a bucket....part of His Holy Rule, but has no claim to the Holy Realm.

So how can this be? Can you be outside of God's will? Yes and no. God gives His commands, when you transgress, when you sin, you're outside of His Will........but in another sense, all is done according to His will. When you sin, you do it. No one forced you to do so and you are responsible. But somehow, mystery of mysteries, our actions, even our very sins are all part of God's overall plan for the universe. He being Holy is not the author of sin, but He is the Lord, the Potter and we are the clay. And yet as we read in Romans 9, the clay is responsible.

As with Judas whom the Psalm is about....and ultimately Satan himself....he goes forward as it was written. As God planned before the foundation of the world, that Christ would be betrayed. But woe to that man, it would have been better if he had not been born. The prophecy of Psalm 41 written centuries before Christ's Incarnation had to be fulfilled. He would be betrayed, that was part of the plan. But God did not force Judas. He did it willingly and woe to him as Christ says in Matthew 26.24.

This is not an image of God that many are comfortable with. The God of Scripture isn't approached with jokes and casualness....we fall on our faces trembling with fear and joy and we need to submit to His Word. It's about submitting and accepting what the Scriptures teach, not forming our own understanding, and not trying to use the Word as a means of power.

America like Assyria may fulfill God's purposes but can still be wicked in its fulfilling of them. We served a Mighty God. We ought to tremble in His presence and I tremble at the thought, the audacity of presuming to call down His Judgment on other people.


As far as this employee in the article below. Whatever. The man is a fool who brings shame to Christ. I care not what his supervisors do. I'm more concerned with what his Church does. I would hope they would sternly admonish him for embracing a theology of Imprecation, but sadly, that's probably where he got it from.

Here's the article and the link:

Obama prayer leads to sergeant being suspended

Palmetto, Florida - Something called "The Obama Prayer" has landed a Manatee County corrections sergeant in hot water. According to an internal affairs report, Sergeant Matthew Neu highlighted a verse in a bible that reads, "Let his days be few - and let another take his office."

Sgt. Neu's co-workers at the Manatee County Central Jail facility in Palmetto say it's a well known fact that Neu is not a fan of President Barack Obama.

Many of them explained that in a 16-page internal affairs report, saying he made that clear in casual conversation before. But one of his co-workers, Sergeant Martha Nash, told investigators he went too far recently. She says what he admitted to doing was shocking.

Sgt. Nash says a copy of her bible was on her desk and inside that bible was a handwritten note that said "Obama Prayer." She says at first she thought it was probably something positive until she took a closer look.

The verse that Sgt. Neu admits to circling in that bible is from the book of Psalm: Chapter 109 Verse 8 which reads, "Let his days be few; and let another take his office."

Nash said "she felt whoever left the note wanted the president dead and that the supporting verses after that verse support that." The following verse reads, "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

But Sgt. Neu told investigators it was not a threat on the president. In the report, he admits, "Maybe it was not in good taste." He says it was never intended for Nash.

He adds that the desk where he left the bible is shared by several co-workers and that there was a stack of bibles on the desk. A stack of bibles that the chaplain hands out to inmates and other employees.

Neu says he planned to show the bible verse to others since he'd received an email about the bible verse because "he thought it was funny."

The sheriff of Manatee County, Brad Steube, was out of the office on Monday and 10 News was told no one else within the department would talk about the incident. We were told that the internal affairs report speaks for itself.

Meanwhile, Sgt. Neu has been suspended without pay for about 26 hours. That's about three 8-hour shifts.

Do you think the punishment is justified?


David said...

Unfortunately, it's not just the psalms which are abused. It seems that many churches/leaders are encouraging their congregation to read the scriptures, but no one is providing the tools for them to interpret it responsibly. Therefore, some people are dusting off their Bibles and cracking them open, which is ostensibly a positive development, but then their understanding and application of the texts are so awful that it becomes a tragedy. Churches really need to teach their people some basic hermeneutical principles, an outline of the unfolding of Biblical history (i.e. the history of Redemption), the relationship of the Old Covenant to the New, etc., because apart from these things their time spent in the word has made them believe that they are full of spiritual wisdom and maturity while in reality they bringing shame to Christ and his Church and making a mockery of God's word.

Petra said...

My gosh, your post needs to be shouted from the roof tops!

Anonymous said...

This is another good explanation of another error of theonomy.
I had always felt that cursing anyone in any way is ipso facto antithetical to the faith, to redemption, to New Testament. I felt that people were arrogantly taking on the role of Christ the Judge--here in this time before Christ comes again to Judge. Yes, later, His saints rule and reign with Him, but at this time it is arrogance and almost blasphemy. Jesus said that even He Himself did not come in His first advent to judge, but to save. How can we think we are qualified to judge (I mean the passing of sentencing kind of judging, not the discerning kind of judging), if we have not shed blood and poured out our lives and desceded into hell like He has in redemption? It's like the temptation of Luke 4: gain the kingdoms and glory of this world but without having to go to the cross first.

In the late 80's, the spiritual warfare fad gained a place in American christianity, with the popular "rah-rah kick-butt" "worship" music, and I saw with the Operation Rescue stuff, how militant and belligerent the rhetoric became. We felt something was not right in it, the spirit of it was nothing of the nature of the Lamb, and we distanced ourselves from it. Now I begin to understand how over the decades of my christian life, the american church has veered, as one error is built upon or from a previous one. At the beginning, if a wall is off just a tiny bit, you cannot notice it. If you do not use the proper plumb line, you will not discern it. But as more and more is built, it becomes evident that the thing is out of plumb. Then the builders have to choose: keep on because you have invested so much already, maybe add some scaffolding or whatever to try to prop the thing from collapse; or abandon the work, tear it down, start over at the foundation and build true and plumb. Are many of the "new" movements and "new" revelations really just scaffolding to prop up an unsound work because men are too invested to scrap it all and go back to the Foundation?

I guess I'm trying to say that sacralism is one of those critical root errors which has spawned successive and ever more dangerous errors. Or sacralism is a false plumb-line that causes one to build something unsound, which will not look like the true Building?


Anonymous said...

"Churches really need to teach their people some basic hermeneutical principle"

I would say the first problem is that the people are not born again and therfore do not have the Holy Spirit leading them in all truth. If they did, it would be a much easier task to teach them how to read their Bibles.


thereformedtraveler said...

Thanks for this, John. Just reposted.

Protoprotestant said...

Hey thanks as always.

I'm not sure how much my posts are appreciated. No one seems to comment much...my stuffs probably a little strange to most of them. But hey, if it gets them thinking, even if they disagree...then that's good.

Keep up the good work. I visit your site often. You've got a lot of good materials there.

God bless

Protoprotestant said...

wow. This interview was stunning. I've followed the whole Weinstein thing for several years. The guy is lost, but Klingenschmitt completely misrepresents him.

What a disgraceful abuse of the truth and then to top it off he completely abuses the imprecatory psalm meant for Judas and then even worse plays little fast and loose games with Scripture.

In the end I must conclude he and the host (this is one of the worst radio shows out there in Christian circles) are far more harmful to the Kingdom of God then someone like M. Weinstein could ever be.

This 'chaplain' (whatever that is) is sham a phoney. He's a pseudo-martyr who's cashing in on the people of God. If you look him up you'll find he's even misrepresenting why he got into trouble while in the military. He wasn't persecuted. He's confused, corrupted, doesn't understand the abc's of the Bible and got into trouble because he doesn't understand what the uniform means. He doesn't get the fact that when you wear it and appear at political events...praying at political events in public wearing the thing...that's a bit of a PR problem for the military.

If you don't like it, then you shouldn't have sold your soul, said the oath and enslaved yourself to the Beast in the first place.