You will find all sorts of explanations for these psalms, including the assertion that they are not inspired. Considering the fact that they are quoted by approved men in the New Testament (the apostles and even Jesus himself), I think we should take a careful step back and completely ignore that one before the lightning strikes. Look at a few of those psalms yourself without preconceived notions and read carefully. Psalms 35, 55, 59, 69, 79, 109, and 137 will explain themselves if you let them.
The psalmist in each case has his relationship with God in good order. He is under attack, but not for anything evil he has done. His cause is the Lord’s cause. He asks God to act “for thy name’s sake.” His own personal faith has not been affected, but he is concerned that what the weak see will turn them away from God and destroy their faith. In short, this is not about personal vengeance. It is about justice. It is about God keeping His covenant. Remember when the people stood on Mt Gerizim and recited the blessings of the covenant? The other half of them stood on Mt Ebal and recited the curses—that’s what an imprecation is—a prayer to curse. Curses are every bit as much a part of the covenant as blessings are. These psalmists are asking God to keep the covenant for His sake, not theirs. (I must make a quick thank you to Tom Hamilton for showing me this.)
And there is this obvious point: inasmuch as I cannot become indignant at evil and injustice in the world, I cannot rejoice at the good in the world. They are two sides of the same coin, a coin that points inevitably to my own moral compass.
Do not for a minute think imprecations are only an Old Testament concept. Besides quoting the psalms themselves, the New Testament has a few imprecations of its own. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. Gal 1:8. That is as obvious an imprecation (curse) as you can find anywhere, and then for good measure, Paul repeats it in the next verse. Flip over to chapter 5 and read verse 12. I wish that those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves. Whoa! Sounds “pretty severe” as one of my students quietly understated. Want some more? Try 2 Tim 4:14,15. In fact, hang around that book for a good while. Have a look at Rev 6:9,10. There is a place for judgment in the New Testament just as much as in the Old. We would do well to remember that.
And please notice this: in many cases the plea comes because of injustice, but in the New Testament nearly all of them are directed at people who are hindering the gospel. What they are doing keeps new people from listening or undermines the faith of the babes. This is not about personal vengeance any more than the psalms—it’s about spreading the gospel, about sharing the message of salvation to a lost world, and those who try to keep that from happening.
So let’s turn this around. Would it be possible for someone to pray these prayers (curses) about me? What do I do or say that will impede the spread of the gospel? Do I complain about my brethren to my neighbors, effectively turning them away from the church? Do I stand in the parking lot and provoke strife between brothers and sisters with my gossip? Do I incite rebellious attitudes toward the leadership? Do my words and actions, and the world’s knowledge of where I hang my spiritual hat, cause people to look down on and turn away from the church and their opportunities to hear the gospel? Anything that hurts the reputation of the Lord’s body in the community or causes dissension and conflict within makes me a worthy target for an imprecatory prayer.
The psalmist always left his request in the hands of God to do His own will, and God very often said yes to those imprecatory prayers. Read some of those psalms listed above today. Do you want God to even consider saying yes to those things about you?