An imprecation is a “curse,” and an imprecatory Psalm is a prayer that calls for bad things to happen to others – usually because of the bad things they themselves have done. Psalm 3 is the first of a number of such psalms in the Old Testament.
Not all of the psalms have headings, and a few of the headings are questionable, but every manuscript of the psalms we have contains these headings. It’s best to allow them to be informative when we can. The heading of Psalm three says it was written when David fled from Absalom. As you read the story of that event, David expresses, at least publicly, that perhaps his own displacement and the enthronement of his son might be the will of the Lord. He’s rather magnanimous about it. But this psalm reveals the bitterness of David’s heart – how he really feels.
Of course, the psalm might not be aimed at Absalom – or at least, not only at Absalom. There were other enemies of David during that time: Shimei, Ahithophel, and Sheba to name a few. But the real question before us is: “Can we pray prayers like this, prayers that call on God to “break the teeth” of our enemies? After all, didn’t Jesus say: “whatever you would that others do to you, do yourself to others?” Would you want others to ask God to do bad things to you? Then don’t ask God to do this to others!
On the other hand, imprecatory psalms, like all psalms, are deep expressions of the heart. There are times when the feel the pain of injustice and long for balance. The imprecatory psalms teach us to lay those feelings before God rather than act on them ourselves and give us the language to express to God feelings that we might be ashamed of when tensions die down. But in between times, we know there is nothing we can’t take before the Lord.