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Angry words in the Psalms

A collection of texts

Introduction by Ken Sehested

Years ago, in putting together a special issue of Baptist Peacemaker on the topic of anger, I asked two friends (thanks again, Steve & Marion) to do a bit of research. Read through the Psalms, I asked, and compile a list of verses that speak about anger and its various synonyms—expressions of hatred, longing for vengeance, threat of retaliation, etc.

Needless to say, there is a lot there; and it’s actually shocking that the believing community’s prayer book contains such a level of vile and violent accusations and bequests. (This material is formally referred to as the imprecatory psalms.)

In his Praying the Psalms, biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann says this material reveals ancient Israel doing three things. “First, you must voice the rage. Everybody knows that. Everybody in the therapeutic society knows that you must voice it, but therapeutic society stops there. Second, you must submit it to another, meaning God in this context. Third, you then must relinquish it and say, ‘I entrust my rage to you.’”

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How much longer, Lord, will you forget about me? Will it be forever? How long will you hide? How long must I be confused and miserable all day? How long will my enemies keep beating me down? • My God, my God, why have you deserted me? Why are you so far away? Won’t you listen to my groans and come to my rescue? I cry out day and night, but you don’t answer, and I can never rest. • I have no more strength than a few drops of water.  All my bones are out of joint; my heart is like melted wax. My strength has dried up like a broken clay pot, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. • You, God, have left me to die in the dirt. • God despises evil people, and he will wipe them all from the earth, till they are forgotten. • Get angry, Lord God! Do something! • Don’t let those proud and merciless people kick me around or chase me away. Look at those wicked people! They are knocked down, never to get up again. • Fight my enemies, Lord! Attack my attackers! Shield me and help me.  Aim your spear at everyone who hunts me down, but promise to save me. • Chase away and confuse all who plan to harm me. Send your angel after them and let them be like straw in the wind. Make them run in the dark on a slippery road, as your angel chases them. I did them no harm, but they hid a net to trap me, and they dug a deep pit to catch and kill me. • Surprise them with disaster! Trap them in their own nets and let them fall and rot in the pits they have dug.  • I have stumbled, and worthless liars I don’t even know surround me and sneer.  Worthless people make fun and never stop laughing. But all you do is watch! When will you do something? • Disappoint and confuse all who are glad to see me in trouble, but disgrace and embarrass my proud enemies who say to me, “You are nothing!” • Proud and violent enemies, who don’t care about you, have ganged up to attack and kill me.  • Do something, God! Defend yourself.  Remember how those fools sneer at you all day long. Don’t forget the loud shouts of your enemies. • Each of those nations sneered at you Lord. Now let others sneer at them, seven times as much. • You have ignored me! So pay close attention or I will tear you apart. • In his anger, God told them, “You people will never enter my place of rest.” • You have put me in the deepest and darkest grave; your anger rolls over me like ocean waves. You have made my friends turn in horror from me. I am a prisoner who cannot escape, and I am almost blind because of my sorrow. • Your anger is like a flood! And I am shattered by your furious attacks that strike each day and from every side. My friends and neighbors have turned against me because of you, and now darkness is my only companion. • God don’t keep silent! Destructive and deceitful lies are told about me, and hateful things are said for no reason. I had pity and prayed for my enemies, but their words to me were harsh and cruel.  For being friendly and kind, they paid me back with meanness and hatred. My enemies said, “Find some worthless fools to accuse him of a crime. Try him and find him guilty! Consider his prayers a lie. Cut his life short and let someone else have his job. Make orphans of his children and a widow of his wife. • You shot me with your arrows, and you struck me with your hand. My body hurts all over because of your anger. Even my bones are in pain and my sins are so heavy that I am crushed. • My days disappear like smoke, and my bones are burning as though in a furnace. I am wasting away like grass, and my appetite is gone. My groaning never stops, and my bones can be seen through my skin. I am like a lonely owl in the desert or a restless sparrow alone on a roof. My enemies insult me all day, and they use my name for a curse word. Instead of food, I have ashes to eat and tears to drink, because you are furious and have thrown me aside. My life fades like a shadow at the end of day and withers like grass. • Show how much you love me by destroying my enemies. • In heaven the Lord laughs as he sits on his throne, making fun of the nations. The Lord becomes furious and threatens them. His anger terrifies them. • Be smart all you rulers, and pay close attention . . . the Lord might become furious and suddenly destroy you. • Come and save me, Lord God! Break my enemies’ jaws and shatter their teeth. • Make your teaching clear because of your enemies. Nothing they say is true! They just want to destroy. Their words are deceitful like a hidden pit, and their tongues are good only for telling lies. Punish them, God, and let their own plans bring them downfall. Get rid of them! Attack my furious enemies. See that justice is done. • Evil people are trapped by their own evil deeds. The wicked will go down to the world of the dead to be with those nations that forgot about you.  • Make his children beg for food and live in the slums. • Now break the arms of all merciless people. Punish them for doing wrong and make them stop. • The Lord will send fiery coals and flaming sulfur down on the wicked, and they will drink nothing but a scorching wind. • Won’t you chop off all flattering tongues that brag so loudly? • I am innocent, Lord! Won’t you listen as I pray and beg for help? • You made my enemies run, and I killed them. They cried out for help, but no one saved them; they called out to you, but there was no answer. I ground them to dust blown by the wind, and I poured them out like mud in the streets. • May the Lord bless everyone who beats your children against the rocks. • With your mighty arm, Lord, you will strike down all of your hateful enemies. They will be destroyed by fire once you are here, and because of your anger, flames will swallow them. You will wipe their families from the earth, and they will disappear. All their plans to harm you will come to nothing. You will make them run away by shooting your arrows at their faces. • Good people will be glad when they see the wicked getting what they deserve, and they will wash their feet in their enemies’ blood. • The wicked kill with swords and shoot arrows to murder the poor and needy and all who do right, but they will be killed by their own swords, and their arrows will be broken. • Everyone the Lord curses will be destroyed. • Your vicious waves have swept over me like an angry ocean or a roaring waterfall. • Wake up! Do something, Lord! Why are you sleeping? Don’t desert us forever. • Send your sharp arrows through enemy hearts and make all nations fall at your feet. • My enemies are liars! So let them be trapped by their boastful lies. • Make their table a trap for them and their friends. Blind them with darkness and make them tremble. Show them how angry you are! Be furious and catch them. Destroy their camp and don’t let anyone live in their tents. • Do something, God! Judge the nations of the earth; they belong to you. • Our God, don’t just sit there, silently doing nothing! Your hateful enemies are turning against you and rebelling. • Babylon, you are doomed! I pray the Lord’s blessings on anyone who punishes you for what you did to us. • Don’t let the wicked succeed in doing what they want, or else they might never stop planning evil. They have me surrounded, but make them the victims of their own vicious lies. Dump flaming coals on them and throw them into pits where they can’t climb out. Chase those cruel liars away! • My Lord is at your right side, and when he gets angry he will crush the other kings. He will crack their skulls, leaving piles of dead bodies all over the earth. • Let trouble hunt them down. • Praise God with songs on your lips and a sword in your hand. Take revenge and punish the nations. Put chains of iron on their kings and rulers. Punish them as they deserve. • God will destroy you forever! He will grab you and drag you from your home. You will be uprooted and left to die. • Do I not hate them that hate you, O Lord?

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Ken Sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org