Q. Jesus taught us that we should love and pray for our enemy. Mt 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Why is it that in Ps 109 David curses his enemies before God?
A. Imprecatory psalms and prayers invoking curses on ones’ enemies are a problem to many Bible readers, who find it difficult to reconcile these passages with Jesus’ command to love your enemies. And it’s not just David being vindictive, but involves other people such as prophets as well, who are God’s spokesmen and ought to know better e.g.
• Jer 18:21 Therefore, give their children over to famine
And deliver them up to the power of the sword;
And let their wives become childless and widowed.
Let their men also be smitten to death,
Their young men struck down by the sword in battle.
It is especially problematic in view of God saying, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30) What were these people thinking? Don’t they know what God said? Some therefore consider such passages as sub-Christian and shouldn’t be in the Bible. How do we reconcile them as they are indeed part of Scripture?
Rather than consider those who call upon God to judge their enemies as being mean-spirited and beneath what a Christian should do, my opinion is that it is us who are not as close to God as the imprecatory psalmists were, who were more concerned about God’s name being profaned by their enemies than seeking revenge for themselves. David did evil in the sight of the LORD when he committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:27, 12:9) and when he ordered a census of Israel’s army (1 Chron. 21:7), but God never faulted him for his imprecatory prayers. That should alert the critics that they overlooked something.
The LORD called David a man after His own heart (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). David knew “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully (Ps 24:3-4). He was not afraid to call upon God to “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me,” (Ps 139:23-24a). I would not dare to do so unless my heart was totally free from personal motives and 100% pure before God.
And his actions vindicated his thoughts. David had the opportunity to get back at those who wronged him, but he did not take matters into his own hands, instead leaving it to the LORD to exonerate him e.g. sparing Saul’s life twice (1 Sam 24; 1 Sam 26).
My conclusion is that unlike us who often view things through jaundiced eyes tainted by self-interest, David saw things in sharper contrast of right vs. wrong, conformity to God’s character or against it, positive or negative impact on God’s name etc. He therefore called upon God to deal justly with His enemies and give them the punishment they rightly deserved. Notice that in v 6-20 all the righteous judgment are taught elsewhere in the Bible, including doing unto his enemies what they did to him, and David had not gone overboard in retaliation against his enemies. He left the “settling the scores” entirely in God’s hands.
My last comment is that biblical ethics is a progressive revelation. While there is continuity between OT and NT ethics, with the coming of Christ in the age of grace, people receive a fuller understanding of what God requires of us than in OT times. We should therefore not read back NT standards into the OT and expect full compliance.