The Therapeutic and Preaching Value of the Imprecatory Psalms

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Public reading of the psalms facilitates corporate worship, but it can also create a degree of awkwardness as a number of passages in the psalter contain imprecations. The presence of vengeful speech may generate some cognitive dissonance for Christians: Jesus' Sermon on the Mount seems antithetical to the imprecatory psalms. What are these psalms really about? This dissertation recovers the value of imprecatory speech in scripture, arguing that such passages continue to be relevant for today, both in preaching and therapy.

Variegated hermeneutics of the imprecatory psalms have been proposed, and in this study I critique twelve of these models. Most approaches attempt to indemnify God for vengeful speech in one way or another, such as by arguing that the psalms are a product of ancient Near Eastern culture rather than God's revelation, or by positing that such speech is unacceptable today. The interpretive model I suggest is that of dependence: these psalms transfer the burden of one's enemies to God, and affirm that it is God's prerogative alone to avenge. I conclude that "imprecatory psalms" is a misnomer—all psalms, including those with imprecations, are directed to God and are primarily about God. The authors of the imprecatory psalms were victims of violence, so this study looks to contemporary victims of violence for their interpretation and application of these psalms.

Here, I have employed Groome's programme for practical theology in order to articulate the contemporary status of the imprecatory psalms in church life, as well as the influences that shape the current practice. I also examine the steps required to lead a congregation in reconsidering these psalms and the type of prayer they employ.

This study is decidedly practical, with attention to therapy and preaching. I examine the nature of anger and hatred, and highlight some of the redemptive aspects of these emotions. I conclude that the imprecatory psalms offer several positive aspects for dealing with hatred. Use of these passages fosters in us a passion for God's reputation, and can also aid us in surrendering our problems to God's control. They remind us to take responsibility for our own sin, and to realign our passions and concerns with the things that God cares about.

Finally, I include five sermons which can help congregations understand the theology and value of the imprecatory psalms. These sermons offer application for how to pray imprecatory prayers that are faithful to biblical theology.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Theology (PhD in Theology)

First Advisor

Augsburger, David

Document Type





Blessing and cursing in the Bible, Bible, Psalms, Psychology, Preaching


Missions and World Christianity


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