Time to Pray Some Imprecatory Prayers? Part 2

By David Servant

Note to readers: A few weeks ago, I published a short teaching that asked the same question as the title of this article. At the end of that teaching, I asked readers for their thoughts, and some did. This article is a follow-up based, in part, on responses I received.

Who doesn’t love the story of Esther, found in a biblical book by her name? In the end, the bad guy, Haman, is hanging from the gallows he erected to execute Mordecai, and Mordecai enjoys the exaltation Haman was planning for himself. That story, annually celebrated ever since through the Jewish feast of Purim, illustrates that God is a God of justice, and that He can turn the tables on the wicked, inflicting them with what they were attempting to inflict upon the righteous.

Let’s admit it: We all love it when justice triumphs. Think of all the movies you’ve watched in which the primary plot is “good guys versus bad guys.” The story arcs always reach a crisis in which it seems as if the bad guys are going to be the winners. Usually, however, the good guys overcome the odds. And viewers feel good. Justice prevailed.

Conversely, we all hate it when evil triumphs over good—when there is no justice—in both movies and real life. Both leave us battling depressing thoughts.

The love of justice is innate in the hearts of righteous people. Moreover, our Bibles inform us that our God loves justice:

For the Lord loves justice
And does not forsake His godly ones;
They are preserved forever,
But the descendants of the wicked will be cut off (Psalm 37:28, emphasis added).

From that single verse in Psalm 37, we learn the two-fold guaranteed outcome of God’s love for justice: (1) He does not forsake godly people, but rather preserves them forever, and (2) He “cuts off” the descendants of the wicked.

When our experience contradicts those guarantees, however, we find ourselves doubting the Lord’s love of justice. But as we grow spiritually and become more knowledgeable of God’s Word, we begin to realize that His justice is generally not swift, but rather, slow, and much slower than we desire.

We then take some consolation knowing that justice will be perfectly meted out in eternity, while at the same time acknowledging that God is amazingly merciful, and He thus offers sinners time to repent. If they will repent, He forgives them on the merits of Christ’s suffering.

His mercy, however, requires that justice be delayed. (And we are sure thankful for all the time God had mercy on us as He delayed His justice until our repentance!)

For these reasons, Jesus can oddly tell His followers that some of them may be persecuted to death, “Yet not a hair of [their] head will perish” (Luke 21:18). How is that possible? Clearly, the godly are not promised temporal preservation, but rather, eternal preservation. Sometimes they feel that they are forsaken (as did Jesus on the cross), but that feeling is only temporary. No martyr in heaven is feeling forsaken! Rather, they are feeling “preserved forever” (Ps. 37:28).

It is interesting that even heaven’s martyrs inherently long for justice. We read in Revelation:

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also (Rev. 6:9-11).

Clearly, the Revelation martyrs pray for justice and for the end of God’s mercy. Theirs is an “imprecatory prayer” (during the new covenant, no less!) of vengeance upon their enemies. God doesn’t rebuke them for their “un-Christian” attitudes. Neither does He deny their request. Rather, He explains that He is extending His mercy for a little longer, and as He does, there will be even more martyrs made. Eventually, however, their prayer will be answered. His vengeance will fall on the unrepentant.

Should we then, because of that one passage in Revelation that illustrates an imprecatory prayer that results in no immediate justice, not pray any imprecatory prayers?

No, for the simple reason that we have the rest of the Bible, and the rest of the Bible includes plenty of imprecatory prayers that resulted in more immediate results. Think of David’s imprecatory prayers, for example, during his trials. He was delivered and his enemies suffered God’s judgment. Or think of Jesus’ imprecatory prayer concerning Judas. He prayed, according to the apostle Peter: “Let his homestead be made desolate, and let no one dwell in it” and, “Let another man take his office” (Acts 1:20). Both of those things happened to Judas.

Peter was quoting from two of David’s messianic psalms, numbers 69 and 109. Both are prophetic, and both are essentially imprecatory prayers.

It is in Psalm 69 that we find the prophetic words that John attributed to Jesus’ temple cleansing: “For zeal for Thy house has consumed me” (see John 2:17). Also in Psalm 69 we find the prophetic foretelling, “They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink,” something reported about Jesus’ crucifixion by all four authors of the Gospels.

It is in Psalm 109 that we find the words Peter quoted regarding Judas, “Let another man take his office” (see Ps. 109:8b). It can be debated if only those six words of Psalm 109 are a prophetic prayer of Jesus, or if all 31 verses of Psalm 109 are. But the sentence directly before the words “Let another man take his office” is “Let his days be few.” Psalm 109:8 reads, “Let his days be few; let another take his office,” and Peter indicated that the second statement prophetically applied to Judas. So why wouldn’t the first statement also apply prophetically to Judas? Judas’ days were certainly few after His betrayal of Jesus.

“But isn’t it possible that Peter was miss-assigning passages from the Psalms, applying them to Judas without warrant?” some ask. Personally, I would be hesitant to think so in light of the fact that the Bible tells us that Jesus opened Peter’s mind to “understand the Scriptures” concerning “all thing which were written about Him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44, emphasis added).

“But didn’t Jesus pray for mercy for the Roman soldiers who crucified Him? So should not that be our example of how to pray for evil people?”

Jesus prayed for mercy for the Roman soldiers because of their innocence/ignorance in the matter: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, emphasis added). He prayed no such prayers for other culpable individuals, such as Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin, or Judas. Among all of those folks, Judas bore the greatest guilt for his act in light of all he had experienced during the previous three years. He was not ignorant in the least, and there was thus no justification for any mercy.

Still others object, saying, “But who are we to be praying for God’s judgment and vengeance? God is God, and He will do whatever seems right to Him!”

Then why are there so many imprecatory prayers in the Bible that were uttered by godly people? Were they all inappropriate and ineffective?

And can we pray for God’s mercy upon those who deserve His judgment, as did Abraham for Sodom and Gomorrah? (Gen. 18:16-33). Obviously yes. Of course, such prayers may not be favorably answered, as was the case in Abraham’s prayer for those wicked cities. On the other hand, such prayers may be answered favorably according to what God said in Ezekiel 23:

The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,” declares the Lord God (Ezek. 23:29-31).

All of this is to say that we can pray for God’s mercy upon those who deserve judgment, knowing that our prayers may or may not influence God. But if we don’t pray at all, there is zero chance of our prayers being answered, as is proven by Ezek. 23:29-31. By the same token, why can’t we pray for God’s judgment to fall on the deserving wicked for whom God is currently restraining His judgment, knowing that our prayers may or may not influence God? If we don’t pray at all, there is zero chance of our prayers being answered.

The implication of what I am suggesting is that we, God’s people, could have something to do with the current triumph of the wicked because of our lack of imprecatory prayers, and all based on an unbalanced understanding of what God expects. And as I stated in my previous article, prayers for God’s judgment upon the wicked can be considered to be prayers of love for those who are suffering because of the wicked. Is it wrong, for example, to pray that God would judge those who kidnap, abuse and traffic children? Or should we pray that God will extend His mercy towards them? So where do we draw the line? How wicked do people have to become before God’s people entreat Him to act in judgment? You can answer that question for yourself. But I confess that I’m praying imprecatory prayers against quite a few people these days!

In conclusion, let’s return to the story of Esther and the deliverance of the Jews at that time in history, who were otherwise destined for annihilation by those who hated them. When King Ahasuerus’ irrevocable degree for a Jewish genocide reached the ears of the Jews living throughout his empire, we read that, “In each and every province where the command and decree of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing; and many lay on sackcloth and ashes” (Esther 4:3).

Do you supposed those Jews were praying for God to be merciful to their enemies? That would seem very unlikely. No, they were praying, at minimum, for deliverance, and at most for God’s judgment upon their enemies which would, of course, result in their deliverance. I suspect that latter of the two is the most likely. Regardless, if you’ve read the end of the story, the Jews all survived, and all their enemies ended up dead. Did their prayers have anything to do with it? I don’t know. But their prayers were answered!

I am not implying that followers of Jesus are facing a national threat of annihilation. But wicked people are certainly scheming against the righteous. We are facing a critical moment. I think it’s time to pray some imprecatory prayers. — David