What are the imprecatory Psalms?

by Matt Slick

A Psalm is a musical accompaniment to a poem.  Imprecatory Psalms are musical poems where the Psalmist requests that God bring judgment upon his adversaries.  Not all imprecatory psalms are completely filled with maledictions.  Some contain elements of imprecation and other material such as blessings, appeal, adoration, worship, and more.

A list of the imprecatory Psalms are 5, 17, 28, 35, 40, 55, 59, 70, 71, 79, 80, 94, 129, 137, 139, 140. 

Following is a sample of imprecations in the Psalms.  Notice the negativity and judgment advocated upon evil doers.

  • Psalm 5:5, "The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes. You hate all who do iniquity."
  • Psalm 17:13-14, "Arise, O LORD, confront him, bring him low. Deliver my soul from the wicked with Your sword, 14 From men with Your hand, O LORD, From men of the world, whose portion is in this life, And whose belly You fill with Your treasure; They are satisfied with children, And leave their abundance to their babes.
  • Psalm 40:14, "Let those be ashamed and humiliated together who seek my life to destroy it. Let those be turned back and dishonored who delight in my hurt."
  • Psalm 71:13, "Let those who are adversaries of my soul be ashamed and consumed. Let them be covered with reproach and dishonor, who seek to injure me."
  • Psalm 94:1-2, "O LORD, God of vengeance, God of vengeance, shine forth! 2 Rise up, O Judge of the earth, render recompense to the proud."
  •  Psalm 129:4-7, "The LORD is righteous. He has cut in two the cords of the wicked. 5 May all who hate Zion
    Be put to shame and turned backward. 6 Let them be like grass upon the housetops, which withers before it grows up. 7 With which the reaper does not fill his hand, or the binder of sheaves his bosom."
  • Psalm 139:19-22, " 19 O that You would slay the wicked, O God. Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed. 20 For they speak against You wickedly, and Your enemies take Your name in vain. 21 Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? 22 I hate them with the utmost hatred. They have become my enemies."

Some might say that the imprecatory Psalms stand and contradiction to the words of Christ who tells us to love our enemies.

 "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either," (Luke 6:27-29).

But, this is not a contradiction.   

"It is important to recall the theological principles that underlie such psalms. These include: (1) the principle that vengeance belongs to God (Deut. 32:35; Ps. 94:1) that excludes personal retaliation and necessitates appeal to God to punish the wicked (cp. Rom. 12:19); (2) the principle that God’s righteousness demands judgment on the wicked (Pss. 5:6; 11:5–6); (3) the principle that God’s covenant love for the people of God necessitates intervention on their part (Pss. 5:7; 59:10, 16–17); and (4) the principle of prayer that believers trust God with all their thoughts and desires."1

The imprecations of the psalmists stand in agreement with the judgment of God upon evil doers. But when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he speaking of what we, as Christians, are supposed to do. The psalmists spoke of God's righteous judgment in the old testament context. But in the New Testament context, it is not the time of God's judgment. Instead, it is the time a redemption and in that redemption we are to love our enemies.

  • 1. Brand, Chad, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, E. Ray Clendenen, Trent C. Butler, and Bill Latta, eds. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.