IMPRECATORY PRAYERS IN THE BIBLE
IMPRECATIONS IN THE PSALMS
1. The psalmist David prayed, “Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee?” “Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell”
2. Jesus taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
3. The primary difficulties of interpreting imprecatory prayers:
a. How does one reconcile the OT saint’s curses upon his enemies with the OT laws that forbid personal revenge and command love for one’s neighbors?
b. Or with the clear teaching of Jesus that one should love his enemies?
c. What application do these prayers have to believers today?
4. Despite the interpretive challenges that imprecations present, this study contends that imprecatory prayers are in complete harmony with the teachings of Scripture on love, and that one should view these psalms as inspired patterns of prayer applicable to believers of all ages.
The Definition and Identification of Imprecations
1. An imprecation is an invocation of judgment, calamity, or a curse upon one’s enemies or the enemies of God.
2. Such curses span the breadth of Biblical revelation. They form an integral part of the covenant renewal ceremony described in Deuteronomy 27-30.
3. The NT ends with the saints beneath the altar praying, “How long?” till God avenges their blood (Revelation 6:10).
4. Some of the most powerful imprecations of Scripture are found in the Psalms.
5. Imprecations form a prominent or major element of Psalms 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137, and 139.
6. To imprecate means “to invoke evil upon or curse” one’s enemies.
a. Most common in Psalms, but elsewhere in OT and NT.
b. Often used phrases like, “may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them” (Psalm 35:6) and “O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!” (Psalm 58:6).
Specific Verses of Imprecatory Prayer in Psalms
2. 35:1, 6, 17, 19
3. 55:9, 15, 23
4. 58:6-8, 11
5. 59:5, 13
7. 79:6, 10
New Testament Imprecatory Prayers
1. Ananias and Sapphira – Acts 5:7-10
2. Martyred saints – Revelation 6:9-10
3. Paul on Bar-Jesus – Acts 13:6-12
4. Paul on those who pervert the gospel – Galatians 1:8-9
5. Paul – Galatians 5:12
6. Peter to Simon – Acts 8
7. Paul delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander – 1 Timothy 1:20
8. Paul to an adulterer – 1 Corinthians 5:5
9. Final step in church discipline – Matthew 18:17-20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 (See also Matthew 5:23-24)
Incomplete or Unsatisfactory Explanations
1. A prophecy telling of things to come
2. Expressions of personal feelings, anger, frustration, normal reaction to hurt
3. They reflect a low ethical standard in the OT
4. All of these should be rejected
a. They are not written in hasty anger
b. They are inspired of God, quoted by Jesus or NT writers
c. They ignore the personal character of David
d. David is not DOING any harm – but seeking God’s justice
e. Similar statements are also in the New Testament
An Old Testament Curse Theology
1. These prayers did not come from a “curse” theology.
2. They reflect the holiness of God.
a. Abraham – Genesis 12:3
b. See also Genesis 27:29; Numbers 22:12; Numbers 24:9
3. Deuteronomy 27:11-26 and 28:15-68 shows that the curse was part of the covenant between God and Israel.
4. 1 Samuel 26:19
The Purposes of the Imprecations
1. A desire to see God’s justice vindicated – Psalm 58:11
2. A desire to see God’s sovereignty demonstrated – Psalm 59:13
3. A desire to see the wicked turn to God – Psalm 83:16-18
4. A desire for the righteous to be established – Psalm 7:9
5. An abhorrence of sin – Psalm 139:19-22
Interpreting and Applying Imprecatory Prayers
1. When Israel was attacked, God was attacked.
a. Samuel was not rejected, God was rejected.
b. David saw Goliath as an attack against God.
2. At this level, Israel’s national enemies, when she was serving God, were God’s enemies, and prayers could be directed against them as such.
3. On a personal level, David specifically gives testimony as to how he responded to his personal enemies.
a. He mourned and fasted for them (Psalm 35:13-14).
b. He put on sackcloth and ashes (Psalm 69:11).
c. He never took vengeance upon his enemies, and was grateful when Abigail stopped him the one time he intended to (1 Samuel 25:32-34).
d. David’s conduct toward Saul (1 Samuel 24; 26) and Shimei (2 Samuel 16:10-12) clearly illustrates how he treated his enemies.
e. His treatment of those who did take revenge is striking. He killed both the man who killed Saul (2 Samuel 1:14-15) and Ishbosheth’s assassins (2 Samuel 4:9-12).
4. With these factors in mind, it is evident that there is complete harmony between OT and NT revelation on this topic.
5. The kingdom ethic Jesus set forth in Matthew 5-7 brings the OT precepts established in the Law to their fullest expression.
6. All of the principles that motivated imprecations in the OT are still applicable for today.
Conditions That You Have to Meet in Order to Pray This Kind of Prayer
1. You must be a Christian
a. 1 Peter 3:12 – God listens to those who are living right
b. Not a party to the wrong.
2. Use ONLY as a last resort appeal to God for Justice
a. For protection
b. For appropriate punishment
3. You must be totally innocent of involvement or participation
a. You can not be guilty of complicity in any way in the matter at hand
b. Psalm 7:3-5
c. An example of this – Matthew 23:33-36
d. Legal term – clean hands
4. God’s reputation and truth have to be on the line – not your own.
a. Simon – Acts 8:14-24
5. You can not use imprecatory prayer as a manipulation against other.
a. Prayer must not be a form of coercion or bribery
b. You can not demand something from them while threatening them with imprecatory prayer.
6. Remember, Vengeance belongs to God. Don’t ask God to let you punish. You must pray that God will do what is right and just.
The Justice of God
1. An Imprecatory Prayer is only one small part of the Justice of God.
2. According to one Bible dictionary, the Justice of God falls into 4 main categories:
a. His legislative justice is his requiring of his rational creatures conformity in all respects to the moral law.
b. His distributive justice is his dealing with his accountable creatures according to the requirements of the law in punishing them (Psalm 89:14).
c. His remunerative justice. In remunerative justice God distributes rewards.
i. James 1:12
ii. 2 Timothy 4:8
d. His punitive justice. In vindictive or punitive justice, God inflicts punishment on account of transgression.
3. An imprecatory prayer falls under the punitive justice of God.
4. Justice is not an optional product of his will, but an unchangeable principle of his very nature. "...and in his justice he will punish those who persecute you" (2 Thessalonians 1:6).
God Prefers His Love Over His Justice
1. I love my neighbor – do good to them – help them
2. One day they murder a member of my family – I call the police.
3. Why? I have changed from love to justice.
4. Personal vengeance is not mine to mete out.
5. How does God’s grace, mercy and love – correspond to His justice, wrath, and vengeance?
a. While alive on earth – we are under the mercy, grace and love of God.
b. At the end of all things – we will be under the justice of God.
6. Study Luke 9:51-55
7. There is a spiritual law of sowing and reaping.
a. The justice of God is automatic and it's in effect today for pagans and Christians alike.
b. After someone "has done you dirty" you know that God has seen it all and has written it all down.
c. You know that somewhere and sometime that "dirty deed" will come back on the person who did it to you.
d. This law is "written in stone" and can never be changed or thwarted.
1. An imprecatory prayer is scriptural but so is the love of God.
2. Are you willing to walk in love on the higher spiritual road, suffer the wrong, and pray for the salvation of your enemies?
3. In my opinion I believe that is what Jesus is teaching us by His words and by His example in His Word.
4. This must not be personal
a. Personal hatred is wrong
b. Seeking, planning, or doing harm is wrong
5. Vengeance belongs to God
a. Our prayer must be for God to do what is Just.
b. Romans 12:18-21