I have been arguing that the cursing psalms are morally problematic. The end in arguing this is to lay the foundation for a rereading of them, one which recognizes the psalmist’s voice as morally problematic within the entire canon.
But before we continue we should address DWilkinson’s point from the last thread:
"At what point does "poetic license" enter in to the picture? When should we take seriously literary form and genre? What about poetic techniques such as metaphor, exaggeration/hyperbole, figurative language, irony, and metonymy? I'm not saying one can simple dismiss the language of the text for literary reasons, but perhaps a more nuanced reading that is informed by these factors is at least part of the "recipe" for properly understanding these texts."
These are excellent points. We should certainly not read many of these statements literally. This is emotive, poetic, highly idiomatic language. Fair enough. But the crucial question is this: does this concession exonerate the moral voice of the imprecatory psalmist? The answer: clearly not. And that’s the point.
Consider a couple examples.
As I noted last time, we read in Psalm 37:13 “the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.” Clearly this is figurative language. God doesn’t literally need to laugh (or even to have a mouth and vocal cords) for the text to amount to a morally problematic portrait of God’s hatred toward sinners.
Now let’s look at Psalm 137:8-9:
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-
he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
This is also figurative language. I agree that it is doubtful that the psalmist literally wants to bash in the brains of Babylonian infants. But so what? How could that possibly serve to baptize his attitude as morally praiseworthy or even permissible?
There is a famous scene in Kubrick’s “The Shining” where Jack Torrance tells his wife Wendy that he wants to bash her brains in. This too is figurative, and perhaps hyperbolic, language. But should Wendy be any less worried after we point that out?
And if one of my students comes back to me angry over a bad grade and tells me he is going to break every bone in my body, he too is clearly speaking hyperbolically. Surely he is not literally intent on ensuring that every metatarsal is cracked. Fracturing my cranium and breaking a few ribs would suffice. But again, that concession to hyperbole hardly exonerates his intentions.
And so we must conclude is the case for the imprecatory psalmist. He expresses a hateful, vindictive, unforgiving attitude toward his enemies which is simply incompatible with Christian discipleship.