Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Theology (ThD)


Exegetical Theology

First Advisor

Paul Raabe

Scripture References in this Resource (separated by semi-colons)

1 Chronicles 15:21; 1 Samuel 2:5; 2 Samuel 22:6; 2 Samuel 23:3; Genesis 21:25; Habakkuk 2:5; Habakkuk 3:19; Hosea 12:6; Hosea 4:3; Jeremiah 15:15; Jeremiah 45:3; Job 13:3; Job 21:13; Job 28:22; Job 30:23; Job 30:9; Job 34:20; Lamentations 2:8; Lamentations 3:14; Nahum 1:4; Nehemiah 2:6; Numbers 16:21; Proverbs 15-12; Proverbs 19:18; Proverbs 29:17; Proverbs 3:12; Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 9:7; Psalm 111:4; Psalm 119:38.; Psalm 129:5; Psalm 135:1-14; Psalm 14:4; Psalm 145:7; Psalm 18:6; Psalm 28:3; Psalm 30:5; Psalm 31:10, 11; Psalm 31:18; Psalm 32:3; Psalm 34:17; Psalm 38:2; Psalm 38:2; Psalm 49:15; Psalm 6:2; Psalm 61:1; Psalm 69:13; Psalm 73:19; Psalm 9:14; Psalm 94:10; Psalm 12:1; Psalm 5:6; Psalm 74:12; Psalm 1:134; Psalm 1:37; Ruth 2:10,13; Ruth 2:2;


The experience of being forgotten, rejected or even attacked by God has been very real for people of all times. An untimely death in the family, prolonged sickness, unfair treatment in the community or in court, or on the larger scale, natural disasters, war and persecution, these and other catastrophes may make individuals or whole communities experience God as an enemy. Readers of the Bible recognize that income psalms the psalmists share these experiences. They complain to God that he has abandoned them or that he is angry with them. The present dissertation is an investigation into the theology of precisely these psalms. We will approach them with the question: What does a faithful in ancient Israel do when he experiences God as an enemy? What are the theological assumptions underlying these psalms?

This aim also puts some limitations on the scope and focus of this study. It is first of all a study of the theology in a particular group of psalms within the Hebrew Psalter. We do not claim to write a theology of the book of Psalms. Nor do we presume to cover all the literature in the Hebrew Bible where God is viewed as hostile. The relationship between the book of Job,' the book of Lamentations, and several complaints in the book of Jeremiah to the complaint psalms, would certainly be a most interesting and valuable study. But it would exceed the limits of what it is possible to do in this dissertation. Therefore the target for the study is limited to the complaint psalms. This is a study of Hebrew psalms and not a comparative study. Mesopotamia has a very ancient and rich lament literature, some items of which show distinct similarities to the body investigated here. Also Egypt has handed down to us some lament psalms. It is our conviction, however, that we have to work with the psalms in their own context first and evaluate their precise function in the religious system where they belong before a meaningful comparison across ethnic and religious borders can be made. This has not always been observed in comparative studies, with the result that superficial parallels have been highlighted while possible differences in function have been ignored. Our aim is to study the theological assumptions of ancient Israelite believers. The use of these psalms in the New Testament, by the church fathers, or by the reformers, will therefore not be dealt with. We will work merely within an Old Testamental framework and aim to answer the question mentioned above. Though the books on Psalms are legion, as far as we know, no one has approached the complaint psalms specifically to investigate how the believers of ancient Israel handled God's anger.

We have selected five psalms as subjects for in depth study: Psalms 6, 44, 74,88, and 90. These psalms are representative for the body of psalms where God is experienced as an enemy. Psalms 6 and 88 are individual psalms where a near-death experience, probably associated with severe sickness, is central. Examples of similar psalms are Psalms 13, 22, and to some extent Psalm 42-43. Psalm 44 is occasioned by military defeat, as are Psalms 60, 80, and 89. Psalm 74 looks back on the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. This feature is shared by Psalm 79. Finally Psalm 90 is a psalm where no external disaster is described but where the problem is life under God's wrath. Psalm 39 has some similarity with this psalm. Psalm 90further shows a certain "wisdom"-character, as does Psalm 9-10.

This dissertation consists of three chapters. In the first we present the issues, explain our method, and survey some of the background in contemporary scholarship. The second chapter presents the texts, translation, translation notes, structure and progression in content and mood of the psalms. In this chapter we will further ask what are the problems, the content of the prayers, and the appeals presented in the five psalms investigated here. In chapter 3 we will look for the theological assumptions in these psalms, particularly with reference to the description of the problems, the nature and content of the prayers, and the appeals employed in order to persuade Yahweh to change his course of action concerning them. In this chapter we will also make use of evidence from the complaint psalms which were not included in chapter 2. From this we will try to answer the question: what did the faithful in ancient Israel do when they experienced God as against them.

It is our hope that this investigation also may be of some help for those who struggle with these kinds of questions themselves in their life situation. May the psalmists' prayer become their prayer.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.