Strange Praise, Imprecatory Psalms, and the Lord’s Prayer

Because of poetic license and theological confusion songs sung on Sunday morning can, at times, be strange. What I consider to be one of the strangest songs is “Come, Now is the Time to Worship” written by Brian Doerksen. The chorus goes like this:

One day every tongue will confess you are God
One day every knee will bow
Still the greatest treasure remains for those
Who gladly choose you now

You can listen to the song here. I’m not particularly musically minded so maybe I’m getting the wrong impression from the music but it sure seems upbeat and happy-ish. The first half of the chorus comes from Philippians 2:10-11 at the end of one of the greatest  presentations of what Jesus did for mankind and how mankind should respond (Philippians 2:1-11). “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 [ESV]). 

In the song it says “the greatest treasure remains for” those who choose Jesus now. The upbeat music that accompanies this line seems to suggest things are okay for people who do not choose Jesus now but greater for those who do; this is not true. There is no treasure for those who do not choose Jesus now. The verse is drawn from Isaiah 45:23, which comes after: “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (v. 22). Paul is connecting Jesus with the God of the Old Testament and making the case that there is salvation only through Him. Believers in the Lord Jesus should act a certain way in light of Who Jesus is and what Jesus did (Phlippians 2:3-8), but, apart from what believers should and should not do, the God-man Jesus Christ has been exalted for what He did and everyone, believer and non, will one day recognize this. “The extent of Christ’s sovereign authority is delineated in the three-fold phrase, ‘in heaven and on earth and under the earth.’ No intelligent being–whether angels and saints in heaven; people living on the earth; or Satan, demons, and the unsaved in hell–in all of God’s universe will escape. All will bow either willingly or they will be made to do so” (Robert P. Lightner, “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 654). Lightner goes on to explain what the confession will be: “Jesus Christ is Yahweh-God. One day all will be made to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is all He claimed to be-very God of very God” (p. 654-5). 

There is no treasure for those who do not gladly choose Jesus now, there is condemnation. Obviously as a believer I want Jesus to return but I am also thankful that God is “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  I find the music to be entirely incongruous with the lyrics and quite sobering. 

Singing the song reminds me of the imprecatory psalms. “Imprecatory psalms are those psalms that contain curses or prayers for the punishment of the psalmist’s enemies.” My favorite of the imprecatory psalms is 137, mainly because I liked this song in church growing up and I wrote a paper in my History of the English Language on it in college. The psalm finishes like this:

Recall, O Lord, the Edomites,
On the day of Jerusalem, saying:
“Raze it, raze it,
To its foundation!”
Daughter of Babylon the despoiler,
Happy who pays you back in kind,
For what you did to us.
Happy who seizes and smashes
Your infants against the rock.
(Psalm 137:7-9 [Robert Alter translation]). 

I’m not aware of any praise and worship song that sets that sets those lyrics to upbeat music; however, for something close listen to Handel’s “Israel in Egypt”. In these lines in Psalm 137 the captive Israelites are praying for terrible tragedy to strike their captors. “This is perhaps the most painful imprecation in the Book of Psalms” (Allen P. Ross, “Psalms” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 890). One might justify it as a strong emotional reaction from the Israelites against their ridiculing captors who had razed their beloved Jerusalem but that doesn’t completely excuse the fact that this is canonized text and the cry of vengeance from the people of God. To be fair it was cried against national enemies so could be viewed as something appropriate for the time and place in which it was uttered and not so much for today’s era of grace. 

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28)

are the commands more appropriate for this dispensation than, “Happy who seizes and smashes your infants against the rock.” 2 Peter also demonstrates God’s heart toward the unbeliever. Elsewhere He says: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his ways and live? … For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (Ezekiel 18:29, 32). If God were so hell-bent on punishing the evil doers, we’d all have been punished by now. Instead, “God demonstrates His own love for us this way: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). See the aforementioned Philippians 2 for a glimpse of what it means that Christ died for us. 

Because we live in a more enlightened time it would be inappropriate for believers to pray that the babies of our enemies be smashed against rocks. There would be some that would say that such a cry is not the mark of a true believer and that there was never an age in which this type of imprecation would be appropriate. Other verses like those from Ezekiel and the example of Jesus demonstrates that judgment is not the Creator God’s first choice, but this doesn’t explain away the fact that, eventually, judgment is determined. And while upstanding Christians can hold their heads high being proud that they’ve never prayed for the death of babies, any Christian that has ever prayed the Lord’s prayer has prayed for judgment.

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:9-12 [ESV]). 

What the kingdom is is explained throughout the Bible, perhaps summed up best here: “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,” says the Lord” (Isaiah 65:25). Notice particularly that the serpent is still cursed during this period as it is not the death-free eternal state, but as I’ve heard attributed to John Walvoord, “the kingdom is the front porch to eternity.” Still it will be markedly different from the period in which we currently live and to get from here to there involves judgment. For one when Jesus came as Israel’s Messiah in the gospels He came on a donkey, “a symbol of peace” (Louis A. Baribieri, Jr., “Matthew,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 67). When Jesus returns He does so on an animal of war: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war” (Revelation 19:11). This chapter of Revelation goes on to record a great feast of human flesh to be had by the birds. This is because the establishment of the kingdom is the establishment of a reign of righteousness and justice, it can’t come peacefully unless all humans “gladly choose” Jesus now. God desires it. The church prays for it, but many men are not willing

Sin has wreaked horrible havoc on God’s good creation. Jesus Christ solved this problem and offers this solution freely to all who will receive it. “To as many as received Him, to them God gave the right to be called sons of God” (John 1:12). The Holy Spirit working through the church has transformed human society over the past 2000 years largely in spite of many individuals that make up the body of Christ. Heck, we even sing songs that suggest that there is a treasure for those who do not choose Jesus. There is not, but there is the opportunity for all now while they still have breath. All want a just and righteous world but there’s only one way for that to happen; by the establishment of a kingdom ruled by the Just One. In the meantime: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

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