Break the Teeth of the Wicked (Part 3)

May 22, 2013

My take on the ferocious prayers of the Psalms is that Christians shouldn’t skip over them, nor should we pray them exactly as they stand.  My reasoning is summed up in one word: Jesus.  The gospel of Jesus is the supreme fact of the universe, and so we must learn to interpret all things in light of the gospel.  And by all things I mean all things, including the world around us, the Bible, that big book called Psalms in the middle of the Bible, and all the imprecations therein.

So, you find yourself on the receiving end of terrible evil.  Or you’re grieved and angered upon seeing how others are oppressed.  You turn to the Psalms to find a voice for your anguish.  And there they are—a short outburst here, sustained smoldering there—cries to God to do violence to his enemies.  I gave examples of these prayers here, and I argued that it’s okay to pray these prayers, provided we pray them in light of the gospel, here.  So what does that look like?  How are you, as a Christian, to pray these prayers?

When you bring the gospel to bear upon the imprecatory prayers of the Psalms, I believe you will find yourself asking God to do three things: (1) to thwart the plans of the wicked; (2) to save the souls of the wicked; and (3) to bring his justice to the world.  To put it another way, you will pray:

Stop them.  Save them.  Show the world your justice.

I’ll take these three requests one day at a time.

Stop the Wicked

Not all of the imprecations in the Psalms are pleas for God to kill his enemies or even necessarily to do physical harm to them.  For example, consider the memorable prayer after which I’ve titled this series of posts: “Break the teeth of the wicked.”  David makes this request twice in the Psalms (3:7; 58:6).  Is David asking God literally to knock out the incisors of the wicked?  Is he hoping that God will deliver a blow to the jaw of the wicked, literally shattering their canines and crushing their molars?  The answer seems obvious.

We must remember that the book of Psalms is poetry.  David is praying in metaphor.  And what does the metaphor of God breaking the teeth of the wicked mean?  It means, God, take away the power of the wicked to bite and devour.  Keep them from harming me and others.  Thwart their plans to do violence.  The second instance in which David prays this prayer makes the point particularly clear:

O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord! (58:6)

David envisions his enemies as young lions seeking to devour God’s people.  His request is that God would defang these wicked men.  In short, David is appealing to God to stop the wicked.

So here are two takeaways to help you in praying the imprecatory psalms.  First, be mindful that these prayers are full of images.  Ponder the poetry; explore the metaphor; mine the meaning.  You will find this practice to be enlightening when praying the ferocious prayers of the Psalms.  Some of these images are more appropriate for you to pray than you might first have thought.

Second, if “break the teeth of the wicked” means what I’ve said it means, then don’t hesitate to pray it.  Don’t stutter when you pray for the sex traffickers, the abortionists, the abusers, the terrorists, the oppressive governments, “God, break the teeth in their mouths, tear out their fangs, take away their power to harm.”  The gospel in no way precludes us from asking God to stop the wicked from doing violence.  Rather, we might pause to consider whether it would be wicked of us not to ask God to stop them.

Still, some of the imprecations are clear requests not merely for God to stop the wicked but to kill them.  I’ll address those tomorrow.

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