Volume. XXI, No. 36
Sunday, 04 March 2007

From The Pastors Heart: Justice (Part 4)

The ideas of justice and covenant do justify the divine vengeance.  Before we think about its implications and applications for us, we need to have one more consideration, which is the use of curses in ancient times.  There are a few things we need to know about covenant making practices in ancient times. 


The idea of curses in ancient times


To curse means “to utter against (a person or thing) words intended to consign their object to destruction, divine vengeance, and misery” or “to pour maledictions upon” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary).  Though in the western society, cursing someone is not a common experience, it was not uncommon in ancient life and documents.  Imprecations in the psalms must also be related to the ways of life and philosophy of ancient times, because they were expressions of people living in that age.  God used people and their vocabularies to make records of His revelations.  H. G. L. Peels said, “The curse played a significant role in the daily life of the ancient Middle East.  In all areas of private as well as communal life (social-economic, juridical, cultic, political) the practice of cursing was applied.  The curse was to bring the truth to light (in juridical procedures, e.g., in the ordeal), force obedience (with treaties and regulations), frighten off thieves, plunderers and vandals (with inscriptions on graves, boundary stones and buildings), guarantee honey (in economic transactions), etc.  The oath, which was uttered under a vast number of circumstances, is a form of self-cursing.  The deity could also employ the curse as a preventative measure or in punishment” (“The vengeance of God: the Meaning of the Root of NQM and the function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of divine Revelation in the Old Testament,” Oudtestamentische Studien, ed. A. S. van der Woulde, Leiden:E. J. Brill, 1995, 31:237). 


In order to understand the background of imprecatory psalms, we may need to know about treaty curses in ancient times.  They were ancient Near Eastern suzerain-vassal treaties.  They did have certain elements such as (1) preamble (introduction), 2) historical prologue (past relationship between the parties), (3) stipulations (obligations), (4) arrangements for storage and transmission of the treaty document, (5) list of witnesses, and (7) blessing and curses.  Obviously, the clause of blessings and curses were integral parts of treaty making, and we find the same elements in the biblical covenants.  Both blessings and curses ensured the loyalty to the sovereign and the covenant.  If we study Deuteronomy 28, we shall find quite similar patterns as those listed above.  It is probably out of this understanding that the imprecatory psalms were written.  If we reckon that the psalmists pronounced curses upon those who hated God and His people, they knew that the evil ones were breaking God’s covenants.   God Himself cursed to those who broke His covenants.  Genesis 12:3 says, “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”  This is the foundation of all curses uttered out of the covenant context. 


However, biblical curses do not have any magical power in themselves.  Proverbs 26:2 says, “As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come.”  What is important is a just and sovereign covenantal God.




No amount of explanations of the background of the imprecatory psalms can quench our thirst to know about the applications and implications from them for us today.  Can we pray like those psalmists did against those who seem to be our enemies?  Well, its answer has to be yes and no, dependant on certain conditions.


The first thing that we must recognize is that these imprecations are the expressions of the longing of the Old Testament saint for the vindication of God’s righteousness as Allan Ross said.  Therefore, behind our pleading to the Lord for His justice, there has to be a motive to vindicate the righteousness of God.  Some of you may feel that such an understanding is irrelevant to your way of prayers for His justice.  However, I must remind you that when you pray for the return of Jesus Christ, you are actually praying for His vindication for the causes you have.


Your and my notion of love may have to be changed.  We often hear that we must hate sin but not the sinner.  However, John says it more aptly, “Love the sinner but hate the sinner.”  When we say that we love sinners but hate sin, we say it as if sins are the danger, but sinners are okay.  John L. McKenzie rightly said, “Sin as an abstraction has no existence.  The sin which we hate has its concrete existence in human wills.”  He gives us some practical explanations and suggestions about our response to sinners: “There is a lawful hatred of the sinner; and indeed there must be, since such a hatred is the obverse of the love of God.  The love of God hates all that is opposed to God; and sinners-not merely sin-are opposed to God.  And if such a sentiment is lawful, its expression is lawful; and one may desire that the evil in another receive its corresponding evil-provided that this hatred is restrained within the limits of that which is lawful.  These limits are: 1. Hatred must not be directed at the person of one’s neighbor; he is hated for his evil quality. 2. One may desire that the divine justice be accomplished in the sinner; but in must be a desire for divine justice, not a desire for the personal evil of another out of personal revenge.  3. The infliction of evil may not be desire absolutely, but only under the condition that the sinner remains obdurate and unrepentant.  4. It must be accompanied by that true supernatural charity which efficaciously desires the supreme good-the eternal happiness-of all men in general, not excluding any individual who is capable of attaining it. In a word, the sinner may lawfully be hated only when he is loved” (“The Imprecations of the Psalter,” American Ecclesiastical Review 111, 1944, 91).


Psalm 5:6b says, “the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.” Psalm 11:5-7 say, “The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. 6 Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. 7 For the righteous LORD loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright.”


I’ll continue on this application part next week.  Till then, seek after His righteousness!



Your Pastor

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Shorter Catechism Question 86: What is faith in Jesus Christ? Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.


Please pray for health & God’s healing: Rev George & Sis Nan van Buuren, Rev Peter Clements, Rev David Koo, Rev Timothy Tow, Dr S H Tow, Preacher Zhang, Dn Yaw Chiew Tan; Bros S Dhamarlingam, Makoto Kobayashi, Raphael Ng’s father, & Winston Selvanayagam; Sisters Sheila George, Myung Ki, Alice Lee’s father, Aranka Rejtoe (Norwood Nursing Home at 75-79 Hilltop Drive, Oaken. Phone: 8261 5177), Chrisanthi Selvanayagam, Juanita Tong, Susan Veradi, & Giok Yeo’s sister-in-law; Auntie Oei & others in affliction. "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Pet 5:7).


Please pray for – a) Cambodia Missions - Rev Stephen Choi & Ministry (Phnom Penh); Bro Paul Sokha & Ministry (Battambang); Bro Sam Nang’s Ministry; b) Laos Missions - Bro S Dhamarlingam; c) Pastors & believers in India & Pakistan; Ps Ki’s Ministry in Pakistan; d) Sketch n’ Tell Ministry - Bro H S Lim; e) Journey Mercies - Ps Ki (Pakistan); Dn Ngie Joo Gong (Adl); all those travelling this week; f) Easter Camp & Speaker: Dr Gary Cohen; g) Hope B-P Fellowship, Kuching (Sarawak Missions): encouragement for Bros Jeremy & Lip Kah Teo as they start their Bible Study fellowship.


Praise and Thank God for – a) YAF Seminar by Ps Ki & good attendance; BSAG Bible Study & Prayer Meeting; AFG Prayer & Share; b) Journey mercies -Dn Ngie Joo & Sis Sooi Chin Gong (M’sia); Bro Raymond Ang (Adl); Bro Timothy & Sis Constance Tan; Mr Sim & Mr Lin (S’pore); Sisters Su Sim Toh (Adl) & Rachel Volvricht (London); all those who have arrived safely at their destinations.


Ladies’ Fellowship –Dates for Prayer & Share, & course - Introduction to Biblical Counselling - are on the notice board. Workbook for the course available at US $10 each. Please let Sis Giok Yeo know if you would like one as they have to be ordered from interstate. All encouraged to attend.


Looking ahead: Easter Family Bible Camp 6-9 April 2007. Camp forms available on literature table. All are encouraged to attend to listen to this well known speaker: Dr Gary Cohen.

Looking ahead: Sunday School Teachers’ Training course to start after Easter. Those interested please inform Dn Edwin D’Mello.



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