We often forget that God knows what is in our hearts. He knows the desired vengeance, the anger, or any other festering emotion. When we come to the throne of God, we can be sincere, because of God’s knowledge of our heart, mind, and soul. He is the one we turn toward and before whom we lay all of our vileness – God is the only one that can handle it. He is the only one who brings the remedy for such heinous thoughts through the atonement of Christ.
When we read Psalms, there are times sections when we struggle with the content. Imprecatory Psalms are those that invoke judgment, desire calamity or pronounce a curse on someone. They are often vengeful and appear void of grace and mercy. One example of these challenging sections is Psalm 137:8-9:
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!
How do we understand these passages, and what do we learn from them?
Psalms as Prayers
We must first understand the nature of the Psalms. Each one is a response to God. As the psalmist experiences things in life, he responds to God in different ways. There are psalms of lament, psalms of praise, and psalms that cover a wide range of experiences and emotions.
Consider the first part of Psalm 137. The people of Judah are in captivity after the Babylonian invasion. Zion is Jerusalem – their capital – a place where the glory of God was displayed among God’s people as a testimony to the nations around. Falling into the hands of the Babylonians was more than just a military failure, their identity and hope were lost. This event was God’s judgment on his people.
For the Babylonians, the mighty God of Israel had fallen to their gods. They boast in verse 3 as they request songs from their captives about the glory of Zion.