The historical context in interpreting the impercatory Psalms

Term Paper, 2011

15 Pages, Grade: A-


Table of content


Historical context

The Psalms

The Imprecatory Psalms

Psalm 137

Application for the African church and society




The book of Psalms is one book in the Hebrew Scriptures that is best loved, seen as the most treasured book and the most precious book to many faithful Jewish and Christian believers over several millennia in different languages and countries. The Book of Psalms serves as a medium to these several believers of expressing their hopes and fairs, inspiring their faith, and renewing their trust in God. Through the Psalms, the spiritual insight and religious heritage of a small number of ancient Israelites has had a profound and lasting impact on humanity.[1]

The Psalms is the book that the Christian community found the easiest to approach in a direct and personal way[2] in the reformation period, writers of Christian hymns and songs drew up hymns and songs directly from the Psalms. The Psalms, since from the reformation period to date has formed part of the liturgies of many denominations, they are also used by gospel singers, artist, ministers and choirs, and are widely used in public worship just as did the worshipping congregation of the Psalms. The Psalms through the ages have been used and applied for comfort, prayers, and guide in times of joy and affliction by individuals, families and congregations.

The Psalms are frequently being misapplied, precisely because they are often so poorly understood,[3] most of which is as the result of neglecting and relegating the historical context of the Psalms.

Historical context

The historical context of a biblical book has to do with the historical background/setting which includes the time, culture/custom, geography and political/economic/religious and social factors relevant to both the author and recipients/readers of such a biblical book. The historical context of every biblical book plays a vital role in the interpretation of the Bible. This is because the Bible was written within a context, making the interpreters biggest task to be travelling back to the cultural and ancient settings/times to explore and discover the background information and then travel back to the contemporary times and apply the message to the contemporary readers/listeners without distorting the original meaning and intention of the writer. This travelling to then and to now is very important in interpretation, because the setting, customs, and cultural practices of the original authors and readers shape the content of the writing. These settings and the modes of expressions are different from ours today, so in order to make any sense and meaning of a passage of scripture, the original settings have to be studied and understood which will aid in the interpretation and application to contemporary life, it will also be of immense help to Bible translators in their choice of dynamic equivalent. In order to effectively interpret the Psalms and apply the messages to contemporary life, the historical context of the Psalms should not be neglected, but effectively studied and explored.

The Psalms

The book of Psalms is the collection of inspired Hebrew prayer and hymns, they are words directly spoken and addressed to and about God in songs. The Psalms in a sense present to us today the diary of meditation- the innermost thoughts, feelings, frustrations, questions, and blessings of the Old Testament child of God.[4] Through the Psalms, the religion of Israel is appreciated in its richness. The Psalms are poetic expressions of men of God in the old testament, they clearly and greatly portrays the varied responses of human faith in time, from (at least) the early monarchy to the late post exilic era; in social setting, from rulers to temple personnel to ordinary people; and in religious outlook from exuberant celebration to uncertain trust to hopeless despair.[5]

Dennis Bratcher commented concerning what the Psalms are in his article- “introducing the Psalms” when he said that

The Psalms are not doctrinal statements, creeds, or history but that they are both poetry and prayer; poetry intended to be set to music and prayed in worship. In ancient Israel, no less than in the modern world, poetry and music were the means which people expressed the deepest of human feelings and emotions, the most profound insights, and the most tragic and joyous of human experiences… they were used by the Israelites in the context of worship to provide a structure in which they could bring their praises, thanks, hurts and grief honestly and openly before God. The Psalms were not thundered from Sinai or received in a vision. They are the prayers and praises of God’s people preserved by the community of faith. As such, they have become authoritative for us: a guide for worship, and example of honesty before God, and a demonstration of the importance of prayer and meditation.[6]

The Psalms will be more appreciated and its beauty more revealed if they are interpreted and applied as poetry and prayer comprising human feelings, emotions and experiences.

The Psalms have four basic collections which includes the Davidic collections, the Asaph Psalms, the Korah Psalms and the songs of ascent. Psalm 1 is believed to have been written by Moses. David is the author of most of the Psalms but it is better to understand the Psalter, not primarily in terms of individual authorship, but as the product of this community of faith who composed, collected, and passed on their prayers, hymns, songs, and liturgy as a witness to their experience as the people of God.[7]

The Psalms are categorized as outlined by McCain and Keener into many types which include the lament, thanksgiving, wisdom, didactic, blessing, imprecatory, hymns, liturgical, royal or messianic, songs of trust and salvation history Psalms. The knowledge and understanding of these nature and categories of Psalms will help the interpreter immensely in interpreting the Psalms effectively and applying them to contemporary life, this is because the situations and circumstances of some of the categories of the Psalms such as the royalty in the royal Psalms are no longer in use in many places as most nations of the world are no longer under monarchy. The meanings of some of the Psalms are not yet yielded at first glance, the type of the Psalms and their historical backgrounds have to be explored before the meaning is sought.

The Imprecatory Psalms

The book of Psalms deals with the expressions of feelings and emotions, even extreme feelings and emotions are expressed in the Psalms. There are some levels of sadness and gladness that a person might attain to that it sometimes sounds as if it is difficult to express, sometimes words cannot express such levels of either sadness or gladness, the Psalms provides the avenue to express sadness or gladness to God no matter their levels.

The feelings of anger, bitterness and hatred hurt the feeler the most and sometimes lead to sinful thoughts/actions that may result in harming others. Instead of condoning anger and bitterness, they could be expressed verbally in words to God.


[1] Philip D. Johnston and David G. Firth. Interpreting the Psalms, Leicester, England, IVP, 2005: 17

[2] Arthur Weiser. The Psalms: A Commentary. London, England, SCM Press, 1986: 19.

[3] Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. How to read the Bible for all its worth, second edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House, 2003:205.

[4] Danny McCain and Creg Keener, Understanding and Applying the Scriptures. Bukuru, Nigeria, ACTS Publishers, 2008: 260.

[5] Johnston and Firth, Interpreting the Psalms, 2005:17.

[6] Dennis Bratcher, “introducing the Psalms,”

[7] Bratcher, “introducing the Psalms,”

Excerpt out of 15 pages


The historical context in interpreting the impercatory Psalms
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psalms, book of psalms, bible, historical context
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Longji Ayuba Dachal (Author), 2011, The historical context in interpreting the impercatory Psalms, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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