O Lord, oppose those who oppose me.
Fight those who fight against me.
Put on your armor, and take up your shield.
Prepare for battle, and come to my aid.
Lift up your spear and javelin
against those who pursue me.
Let me hear you say,
“I will give you victory!”
Bring shame and disgrace on those trying to kill me;
turn them back and humiliate those who want to harm me.
Blow them away like chaff in the wind—
a wind sent by the angel of the Lord.
Make their path dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.
I did them no wrong, but they laid a trap for me.
I did them no wrong, but they dug a pit to catch me.
So let sudden ruin come upon them!
Let them be caught in the trap they set for me!
Let them be destroyed in the pit they dug for me.
Then I will rejoice in the Lord.
I will be glad because he rescues me.
With every bone in my body I will praise him:
“Lord, who can compare with you?
Who else rescues the helpless from the strong?
Who else protects the helpless and poor from those who rob them?” (NLT)
Sometimes, you must tell it like it is. There is a time to do your best in putting up a good face and dealing with people who gossip, slander, and try to get their way. There is also a time to call such behavior “evil” and cry out to God for help.
Psalm 35 is a classic prayer in the category called “imprecatory psalms.” The term “imprecatory” means to call down a curse on a person or group of people. Maybe this surprises you that there is such language in the Bible. In fact, there are eighteen such imprecatory psalms which make a clear petition for God to turn the evil back on the people who inflict it (or try to) on others.
I am a believer in making simple observations about the biblical text. So, here are a few things to observe about this psalm, along with all the imprecatory psalms of David:
1. David asked God to deal with the evil behavior of powerful people.
Unlike most of us, David went through a time in life when there were powerful people literally trying to hunt him down and take his life. As much as we might speculate whether David wanted to take matters into his own hands, the fact remains that he did not do so. Instead, David relied on God to execute judgment.
2. David did not hold his feelings back in describing exactly what he wanted God to do.
There is nothing sanitized about imprecatory psalms. They are as raw and real as it gets. David was understandably upset. He had done nothing wrong, yet he was being chased like an animal. David said it plainly to God: attack the attackers; hunt them like they have hunted; get the angels involved; give them the disaster they try tried to dish out; and let them fall into their own pit. Whatever you might think about how a proper pious person ought to pray, imprecatory curses are likely not your first thought. But here they are, out there for us to read in the Holy Bible.
3. The psalms are the prayer book of the church.
That includes the imprecatory psalms. Yes, they ought to be prayed by us right along with psalms of praise, psalms of thanksgiving, and psalms for public singing. I want you to think a radical thought:
We ought to include imprecatory prayers in our regular rhythms, routines, and rituals of prayer.
Evil will not have the last word. God opposes the proud and the arrogant who step on others to get their way. But he gives grace to the humble, that is, to those who look for Divine justice and righteousness; are open about their feelings of hurt and upsetedness; and lift-up biblical imprecatory prayers.
Consider also that Christ taught us to pray that we would be delivered from evil:
Don’t let us yield to temptation but rescue us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13, NLT)
St. Paul informed us that evil will indeed be turned back onto the wicked:
God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well… He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed… With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-12, NIV)
Ultimately, there are dark spiritual forces behind every evil intent and every wicked machination on this earth:
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, NRSV)
And in the end, along with David and the imprecatory psalms, we leave all judgment to the proper Judge:
Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” (Romans 12:19, MSG)
Saving God, you protect the helpless from those in power and save the poor and needy who cry out to you. Mighty God, turn back on those with slanderous tongues, gossiping words, and sinful actions the evil they intend to inflict on others. Let them fall into a deep black hole for which they cannot get out and harm anyone again, through King Jesus, our Savior, in the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Amen.