By Reuben Archer Torrey
A frequent objection urged against the Bible is founded upon some of the utterances in the so-called imprecatory psalms. Many of these utterances have greatly perplexed earnest-minded Christians who have carefully studied the New Testament teaching regarding the forgiveness of enemies.
Three passages in the Psalms are especially cited as showing that the Bible is not the Word of God. These are Psalm 58:6: "Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth." It is said that this utterance exhibits so much vindictive passion that it could not possibly have been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The second passage objected to is Psalm 109:10: "Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places." The third passage is Psalm 137:8-9: "O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones agains the stones."
What shall we say about these passages?
First, we have already said in chapter 2 that God often simply records what others said--bad men, good men, inspired men and uninspired men. In the Psalms we have sometimes what God said to man, and that is always true; on the other hand we often have what men said to God, and that may or may not be true. All of the passages cited are what men said to God. They are the inspired record of men's prayers to God. To God they breathed out the agony of their hearts and to God they cried for vengeance upon their enemies.
Judged even by Christian standards, this was far better than taking vengeance into their own hands. Indeed, this is exactly what the New Testament commands us to do regarding those who wrong us. Vengeance belongs to God, and He will repay (Romans 12:19). Instead of taking vengeance into our own hands we should put it in His hands.
There is certainly nothing wrong in asking God to break the teeth of wicked men who are using those teeth to tear the upright. This prayer is taken from a psalm that there is every reason to suppose is Davidic, as is also the second passage quoted. But it is a well-known fact that David in his personal dealings with his enemies was most generous, for when he had his bitterest and most dangerous enemy in his hand, an enemy who persistently sought his life, he not only refused to kill him, but refused to let another kill him (1 Samuel 26:5-9). And even when he did so small a thing to Saul as to cut off the skirt of his robe, his heart convicted him even for that slight indignity offered to his bitterest and most implacable enemy (1 Samuel 24:5).
How much better it would be if instead of taking vengeance into our own hands we would breathe out the bitterness of our hearts to God and then treat our enemies as generously as David did! While David prayed to Jehovah in Psalm 109:10: "Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places," in point of fact, when he was in a place of power, he asked, "Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness?" He found a grandson of Saul's and had him eat at the king's table as one of his own sons (2 Samuel 9:1-2, 11).
The utterance in Psalm 137:8-9 does sound very cruel, but the utterance is a prophecy rather than a prayer. It is the declaration of awful judgment that will come upon Babylon because of the way in which Babylon had treated the people of God. Babylon was to reap what it had sown. It was to be treated by others as it had treated the people of God. This was a literal prophecy of what actually occurred afterward in Babylon. We find a similar but even more awful prophecy of the coming doom of Babylon in Isaiah 13:15-18.
When we study these imprecatory psalms in the light that is thrown upon them from other passages of Scripture, all the supposed difficulties disappear, and we find that there is nothing here that is not in perfect harmony with the thought that the whole Bible is God's Word, though in some instances while the record of what is said is correct and exact, that which is recorded as being said may not in itself be right; but it is God's Word that man said it, though what man said was not God's word.