Prayers of Curses
When I see real injustice it both saddens and angers me. If someone were to do something truly awful to my children or my husband, I would want to see them crushed. And when I see some of the horrific things happening around the world and then read these imprecatory prayers, I want to echo David’s words against those who are evil. But I also know I am supposed to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me (Matthew 5:44). I feel conflicted about these feelings. What am I supposed to do with these feelings, and how should I read and interact with such dark Psalms?
It is always helpful to start with a definition. What are imprecatory prayers?
An imprecatory prayer is a calling down of judgement or curse against one’s enemies or those who are enemies of God.
We see these prayers of curses or judgement all throughout Scripture. The ones found in the Psalms are the most famous (Psalms 7; 35; 58; 59; 69; 83; 109;137;139). We also see Moses ask the Lord to scatter his enemies and make them flee in fear (Num. 10:35). Deborah prays that all of God’s enemies would be destroyed (Judges 5:31). Jeremiah gets really hard core and prays for God to destroy those who are evil “with double destruction” (Jer. 17:18).
Some scholars say that even Paul used imprecations against those who did not love God. One example is found in 1 Cor. 16:22:
“If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!”
These imprecatory prayers should not make us shrug our shoulders, saying that they are just strange passages and move on. Instead these verses should cause us to ask some hard questions like, how can it be right to wish harm and destruction on another human? It seems very malicious and vengeful instead of loving and kind.
What about Matthew 5:44 where we are told to love our enemies? And how can glory be brought to God through these kinds of prayers? Let me try and make just a few observations.
- Imprecatory prayers are aimed at great injustice, not small trivial matters.
David and the others did not ask God to destroy people because they were annoying, inconvenient, or hurtful. These prayers were prayed when whole nations were being persecuted, when God’s name was being blasphemed, and when believers were being killed for their faith.
- Imprecatory prayers ask God to intervene when no one else will or can.
Such calls of judgment only came when justice would not be found in this life and the innocent would go on under oppression and violence.
- Imprecatory prayers show us the need for deliverance from evil and therefore the need for a savior.
These imprecations demonstrate the danger and hostility in the world and the need for righteousness to reign. They should make us hungry for God’s will to be done.
- Imprecatory prayers are not driven by vengeance, but a deep desire for justice.
There is a difference between “vindication” and “vindictiveness.” David never prayed that he himself would administer judgement. His prayer was always that God would do it for him, often times using dramatic or even hyperbolic language.
Should we pray this way? Perhaps in some situations we need to ask God to intervene in dramatic ways.
We should all be moved to mercy and grace knowing that God’s just wrath once hung on our heads. We were once the enemy of God, but Jesus showed us mercy and grace and took our punishment so that we might be saved. While we want justice to reign, our ultimate goal should be to see even those who we consider the worst of sinners be saved. This is truly what it means to love our enemies. This was also the goal of the Psalmist in Psalm 83:16-18:
Fill their faces with shame,
that they may seek your name, O Lord.
Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever;
let them perish in disgrace,
that they may know that you alone,
whose name is the Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth.
For me there is still a lot of mystery that surrounds these imprecatory prayers. When we look at Christians being persecuted for their faith, I want to ask God to rain down fire and brimstone on the heads of the wicked. I believe we can thank God that He has promised that in His time He will vindicate all the wrong that has been done to His people. And He will do so perfectly.
Our prayer should be that God will return soon so the evil and pain (in all its various forms) will stop and peace and justice can flood the Earth. But in the meantime, we are also called to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14) and to “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
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