Say What, David? What We Can Learn from the Imprecatory Psalms

Updated: Jun 9

We told you we’d be back to help you get your bearings when we started seeing a type of Psalm called an Imprecatory Psalm. It’s happening!

Today, in Psalm 5, you will read these words from David about his enemies:

“For there is no truth in their mouth;

their inmost self is destruction;

their throat is an open grave;

they flatter with their tongue.

Make them bear their guilt, O God;

let them fall by their own counsels:

because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,

for they have rebelled against you.”

– Psalm 5:9-10

Yikes, right?

Psalm 5 begins as a lament, and then it becomes clear that what is causing David to groan and cry as he says in verses 1-2, is the injustice and unrighteousness of other people.

If you know anything about the life of David, you know that he had real enemies. People who were attacking and hunting him, people who wanted him dead. People who mocked God and threatened Israel.

So he asks God to punish them.

There are a lot of Psalms like this, and they will be even more violent than this at times, Psalms that ask God to punish people who are sinning. And they’re kind of troubling.

How can this be ok?

It feels vindictive and vengeful, but it’s really the opposite of that. Think about it this way: David wasn’t praying that God would make the wicked fall and bear their guilt and then going out to get his own vengeance. He was praying this instead of getting his own vengeance. He was asking God to be sovereign and handle the sins of others.

Don’t we need some help with this?

It feels like Psalm 5 was written for June 3, doesn’t it? Are you burdened under the evil in this world? Gosh, me too.

So what can Imprecatory Psalms teach about how to talk honestly to God about evil in our world?

How do we pray for racists, for those who don’t love and value all people as image-bearers of God? How do we pray for those who have gone beyond peaceful protest and are rioting and destroying? How do we pray for those who mock God by claiming His name and His Word but don’t look anything like Jesus?

Maybe we pray like David. We acknowledge to God that we know He is the only righteous judge, that He alone is just, that He alone can handle the sins of our enemies, of His enemies.

And maybe today we need to be brave enough to ask God what He sees in us that deserves to be justly punished. Where do I fail to value all life? Where do I take God’s name in vain by claiming Him with my lips and failing to live like Him?

And we eventually land where David landed in this Psalm too:

“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;

let them ever sing for joy,

and spread your protection over them,

that those who love your name may exult in you.

For you bless the righteous, O LORD;

you cover them with favor as with a shield.”

– Psalm 5:11-12

Learn more about TCC's Summer in the Psalms series at


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