Have you ever prayed for someone’s complete to ruin? That God would destroy them and wipe them off the face of the earth.
It doesn’t seem very Christian does it?
Nevertheless these kinds of prayers are recorded in the Bible and especially in the Book of Psalms.
Prayers that call for the death and destruction of others are called imprecatory prayers. You may not have given much thought to this kind of prayer before, and I hope that you never need to.
Before the war started in Ukraine I also had not thought very much about the place of imprecatory prayers in my own life and in my theology. War, however, has a way of shaping your thinking and calling into question certain ideas.
War or not, if you read your Bible seriously you can’t ignore the passionate plea for the violent destruction of enemies. Check out a few of them for yourself in the following Psalms: 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 139, 140.
They Are Inspired
We can’t just write these Psalms out of our Bible, Jesus himself considered them inspired and he never apologized for them, corrected them, or indicated that they do not teach truth.
Jesus quoted from at least two imprecatory psalms; Psa 35 and 69 (Joh 2:17 and 15:25). The Apostle Paul and Peter also quoted from Psalm 69 (Acts 1:20 and Rom 11:9).
For a good example of what an imprecatory prayer looks like let’s look at Psalm 69.
(22) Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.
(23) Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually.
(24) Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.
(25) May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents.
(26) For they persecute him whom you have struck down, and they recount the pain of those you have wounded.
(27) Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you.
(28) Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
There are many texts in the Bible that talk about God’s judgment but an imprecatory prayer does more than just talk about God’s judgment it calls for God to bring judgement on someone.
But Jesus Said Love Your Enemies
One of the biggest problems Christians have with imprecatory prayers is that Jesus’ words seem to contradict the idea of praying for the destruction of your enemy.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Some claim that imprecatory prayers represent David’s sinful desire for revenge and thus we should not copy him. Others claim that Jesus revoked this type of prayer when he told us to love our enemies in Matthew chapter 5.
I don’t believe that either of these solutions work well. Neither Jesus nor any of the other New Testament writers specifically correct the imprecatory prayers of the Old Testament. In fact there are some New Testament texts that also seem to be imprecatory in nature.
For instance, in the book of Revelation, those martyred cry out to God and say,
“They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
It’s important to understand the difference in context between the imprecatory prayers of the Psalms and Jesus Sermon on the Mount. It’s clear from the context, Jesus is speaking about personal relationships what he asks us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us or to go the extra mile.
Jesus is not talking about mass genocide or a full military invasion of another country, he is talking about personal offenses and that’s exactly why he uses the example of turning the other cheek (Mat 5:39) there’s nothing inherently dangerous about receiving a slap on the cheek but it is humiliating personally.
On the other hand if we look carefully at the imprecatory Psalms we find a much different situation. They were written by a king, the leader of a nation, a general of an army. Although, sometimes his prayers may look very personal, they are personal in the sense that he represents God’s people, thus an attack on him was an attack on God’s people.
The imprecatory prayers also focus their attention on how evil men have offended a holy God. Thus they call for judgment not simply because these men have killed the innocent but because they have offended the Holy. In this way the imprecatory prayers are also prophetic as they look forward to God’s just punishment on wicked men who will not repent of their evil deeds.
Where Does that Leave Us?
We know we are supposed to love our personal enemies and pray for them as Jesus commands us, but what if we find ourselves in a different context, one that looks more like David’s context?
Can or can’t we pray like David did against our enemies?
Here are some principles that I see in the imprecatory prayers that may help you decide if you should pray for the destruction of your enemies or not.
1. It should not be about personal revenge.
In every instance of an imprecatory prayer in the Bible it’s clear that it’s not simply personal revenge and pride on the line. While the offence takes on a personal nature this is simply because the author is the representative of an entire nation.
You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel. Rouse yourself to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah.
Imprecatory prayers are never against the neighbor down the street who doesn’t like you and has called you a few bad names. Instead of personal revenge imprecatory prayers are about just retribution against an evil enemy who has come against another nation and against God.
2. It’s about stopping evil.
A common theme you can see in the imprecatory prayers is that of stopping evil short so that it can not continue destroying the lives of the innocent. These prayers are directed at evil men who have the power to take thousands or even millions of lives.
Here’s and example from Psalm 109
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth! For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted, to put them to death.
Let’s face it, war is the handy-work of Satan and he enjoys the death and suffering that it brings. Unfortunately no one suffers more in war than the innocent. Often the quickest and most effective way to end the killing of innocents is by taking out the evil man/men who are in charge.
That’s what an imprecatory prayer is about!
3. It’s about honoring God.
Above all the imprecatory prayers show a desire to see God honored and glorified. God is called upon to bring justice against men who do not honor him or worship Him. The psalmists call upon God to restore his fame, to defend his name, their deepest desire is not for revenge but for God’s glory and honor.
Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!
Reminders for Us
I believe the imprecatory prayers were the right thing at that time in that situation for those who prayed them, thus they are righteous and inspired prayers. On the other hand I cannot tell you whether or not you should ever pray an imprecatory prayer. My suspicion is that few of us will have the exact circumstances that David had when he prayed these prayers. Nevertheless, imprecatory prayers serve to remind us of two things.
1. Sin is worse that we thought.
First they remind us of the awfulness and terribleness of sin. The reminder us that sin always brings destruction and death, that sin always against God, and that it is often the innocent who suffer because of sin. They remind us that sin causes all of war.
We underestimate sin, we underestimate the consequences of evil, we underestimate its power to destroy, and we underestimate how much is offends our holy God!
2. We aren’t concerned enough about God’s honor.
Second he reminds us of our responsibility to honor God in all circumstances. In individualistic Western cultures is easy to focus only on your personal responsibility to honor God, yet we all live in nations cities societies families who are also called to honor God. Our desire to bring God glory should be set so deep within our hearts that when we see that someone not honoring God it bothers us!
Question: How do you understand the imprecatory prayers? Have you ever prayed one? Would you ever pray one?
This prayer is based on Matthew 5:44 (KJV) “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”
This is something that is quite difficult to do for anyone. Blessing those who are cursing you is not a natural thing for us. The fact that God has pointed this out to us as something we should do shows that there are some blessings that are locked up in this action.
Love is an action word. Therefore, in order for us to love our enemies we have to back it up with action. It is not enough to say “Yes, I love so and so” we have to back up our action by being kind, patient, gentle and blessing our enemies with our words.
Here are some pray for your enemies scripture:
Luke 17:4 (KJV) “And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”
John 15:12 (KJV) “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”
Ephesians 4:31-32 (KJV) “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
Romans 12:19 (KJV) “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
Proverbs 10:12 (KJV) “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.”
What are the benefits of praying for your enemies?
Further in Matthew 5:46 it says “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” So we see that there is a reward for loving our enemies. So your blessings may be held back because you are not following this commandment.
Let’s pray this prayer for our enemies so that we can release the blessings of God upon our lives:
Father God, Your word says bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Lord because you have commanded me to act in this manner when I am being persecuted, I offer to you (name of person) to be blessed in Your name Lord. I pray that you will bless this person with (specifically name everything that you know is a godly desire of this person) bless them when they are coming out or going in, when they are laying down and when they are getting up. Bless their entire family, their husband/wife, their children that their entire family will be saved. I pray that they along with their entire family would fulfill the purpose you created them for on this earth. That they would not be lacking in any good thing. That their barn would be overflowing with Your riches from heaven. That you would bless their ministry and their family causing them to prosper above all they could ask think of imagine. I pray hat you would bless and establish to work of their hands for your glory and honor. I pray that you would keep them in good health to do your work and to be used according to your purpose.
I choose this day not to repay anyone evil for evil and as far as it depends on me to live at peace with everyone. I will not take revenge but I will leave room for you Almighty God for it is Yours to avenge; Instead if (name of person) is hungry, I will feed him/her; if he/she is thirsty, I will give him/her something to drink. Whatever is in my power or control to give or do I will do it Lord. I will not stand in the way of their success even more so if it is related to building your Kingdom. I will not be overcome by evil, but I will overcome evil with good.
Lord I pray for your special grace that when I am cursed, I will bless; when I am persecuted, I will endure it; when I am slandered, I will answer kindly.
Lord Jesus, I do not think of myself more highly than I ought, but rather think of myself with sober judgment. For the same persecution I face this day is the same persecution you faced. Even today there are times when I still persecute You and make you out to be a liar when I know what your word says and still disobey. I ask that you forgive me Lord and make intercession for me as I am reminded daily of your mercy & grace. I pray that as merciful & gracious as you have been to me so I will offer the same to (name of person) and I forgive them this day.
Therefore, in view of Your mercy, transform me by renewing my mind with Your word. Cause me to see __________ as you see them, to have a heart of love for them as you love them to understand them through Your eyes and to have speech seasoned with wisdom when I speak to them.
In blessing (name of person) I acknowledge that I am indeed your daughter/son and I know that my reward is with you for honoring you by obeying your word. In return I ask for nothing more than a release from any evil thoughts, intentions or feelings and a renewed joy and freedom to serve You. In Jesus Name. Amen.
Romans 12:1-3, 14,17-21
1 Corinthians 4:12,13,
Luke 6:27-36, 38,
Matthew 5:3-5, 9-12, 44-48,
Here are other bible verses on spiritual warfare
Here is an article on How Social Media has changed Spiritual Warfare