The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wasn't mincing words when it came to God's enemies and what they deserved. There are numerous other places in God's Word (in both the Old and the New Testament) where the curses of God are called down on the wicked. Here are a few examples from the Old Testament:
a. Imprecation against a societal enemy:
Psalm 58:3, 6-8, 10: The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies . . . O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD! Let them vanish like water that runs away; when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted. Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun . . . The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.
b. Imprecation against a national enemy:
Psalm 137:8-9: O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!
c. Imprecation against a personal enemy:
Psalm 109:1-2, 6-15, 21: Be not silent, O God of my praise! For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues . . . Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few; may another take his office! May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit! May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children! May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation! 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! . . . But you, O GOD my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name's sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!
How should we think about these imprecatory wishes, songs, and prayers that are inspired by God and for the glory of King Jesus? Hopefully my notes from those sermons will help you think Biblically about these inspired curse prayers and songs. Two books were extremely helpful in my study:
1. War Psalms Of The Prince Of Peace by James Adams
2. Crying For Justice by John Day
C. S. Lewis used words like this to describe the imprecatory Psalms: devilish, terrible, contemptible, wicked, sinful, ferocious, and dangerous.
We must never speak this way about any part of God's Word!
Why are these Psalms right to pray, and all other so called holy books that encourage curse prayers wrong? Because the Bible is the only Holy Book! And it's the only true holy book of the only true and holy God!
2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
God is right in all that He does and says. These prayers are expressions of His holy, righteous character toward sinners who deserve nothing but cursing and hell. Everything in the Bible is true, righteous, and good - including all the curse Psalms and prayers.
Where was God's holy hatred and indignation toward sin reconciled with His love, mercy, and grace? At the cross!
a. Sin is utterly evil: Sin is God-murder and God-hatred. The brokenness of this world displays how evil sin is!
John Piper: What makes sin sin is not first that it hurts people, but that it blasphemes God. This is the ultimate evil and the ultimate outrage in the universe.The glory of God is not honored.
The holiness of God is not reverenced.
The greatness of God is not admired.
The power of God is not praised.
The truth of God is not sought.
The wisdom of God is not esteemed.
The beauty of God is not treasured.
The goodness of God is not savored.
The faithfulness of God is not trusted.
The promises of God are not relied upon.
The commandments of God are not obeyed.
The justice of God is not respected.
The wrath of God is not feared.
The grace of God is not cherished.
The presence of God is not prized.
The person of God is not loved.
The infinite, all-glorious Creator of the universe, by whom and for whom all things exist (Rom. 11:36) – who holds every person's life in being at every moment (Acts 17:25) – is disregarded, disbelieved, disobeyed, and dishonored by everybody in the world. That is the ultimate outrage of the universe.
Why is it that people can become emotionally and morally indignant over poverty and exploitation and prejudice and the injustice of man against man and yet feel little or no remorse or indignation that God is so belittled?
It's because of sin. That is what sin is. Sin is esteeming and valuing and honoring and enjoying man and his creations above God. So even our man-centered anger at the hurt of sin is part of sin. God is marginal in human life. That is our sin, our condition. (The Greatest Thing In The World)
Because of our sin, we deserve all the curses and destruction found in the imprecatory Psalms.
Thomas Brooks: Every sin strikes at the honor of God, the being of God, the glory of God, the heart of Christ, the joy of the Spirit, and the peace of a man’s conscience. Therefore a soul truly penitent strikes at all sin, hates all sin, conflicts with all sin, and will labor to draw strength from a crucified Christ to crucify all sin.
b. God is holy: God is set apart from us! He is not like us! He is the Creator! He is absolutely perfect!
We deserve all of the curses of the Bible because of our sin and because of the utter holiness of God.
Isaiah 6:1-5: In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
Habakkuk 1:13: You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong . . . .
Where was the exceeding evilness of our sin and the holiness of God shown most clearly? At the cross!
Genesis 18:25: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?
F. G. Hibbard: I happened to be reading one of the one imprecatory psalms [in family worship], and as I paused to remark, my little boy, a lad of ten years, asked with some earnestness: "Father, do you think it right for a good man to pray for the destruction of his enemies like that?" and at the same time referred me to Christ as praying for his enemies. I paused a moment to know how to shape the reply so as to fully meet and satisfy his inquiry, and then said, "My son, if an assassin should enter the house by night, and murder your mother, and then escape, and the sheriff and citizens were all out in pursuit, trying to catch him, would you not pray to God that they might succeed and arrest him, and that he might be brought to justice?" "Oh yes!" said he, "but I never saw it so before. I did not know that that was the meaning of these Psalms." "Yes," said I, "my son, the men against whom David prays were bloody men, men of falsehood and crime, enemies to the peace of society, seeking his own life, and unless they were arrested and their wicked devices defeated, many innocent persons must suffer." The explanation perfectly satisfied his mind.
It helps to remember the Church and State distinction with regard to imprecatory prayers. God has ordained the State, (not the Church and not us as individuals on a personal level), to punish criminals and evil. National and local governments are ordained by God to administer the wrath of God on those who do evil:
Romans 13:1-4: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.
Nine African-Americans were shot in a Charleston, SC, church: Afterward, we pray that God would bring the murderer to justice through the arm of the State. Yet, by God's grace, the victim's families extended personal forgiveness to the murderer. This is how imprecatory prayers work.
Where did God show His perfect justice most clearly? At the cross!
Romans 3:24-26: Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
God is faithful, and He will keep all of His promises. Part of His faithful promise keeping will include the perfectly just punishment of the wicked:
Genesis 3:15: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
Exodus 15:1-6: Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, "I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name. Pharaoh's chariots and his host he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy."
Genesis 12:3: I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Galatians 3:29: And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
When we pray the Lord's Prayer or cry for Jesus to return, we are praying imprecatory prayers - that God's Kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven and that Jesus would come destroy all that is opposed to God's rule. For this to come to pass, all God's enemies will have to be subdued. Our longings for all of God's promises to be fulfilled include the judging of God's enemies.
Where are all of God’s promises "Yes and Amen!" - Jesus Christ and Him crucified!
We are never authorized by God to take revenge or avenge ourselves – ever! Never!
Muslim children sang in a Philadelphia Mosque recently: "We will defend the land of divine guidance with our bodies, and we will sacrifice our souls without hesitation. We will chop off their heads, and we will liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque. We will lead the army of Allah fulfilling His promise, and we will subject them to eternal torture."
Christians don't sing this way! Followers of Jesus don't seek revenge but leave all revenge to God:
Romans 12:19-21: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Knowing that God will one day bring full, final, and the fiercest of vengeance in hell for all of His and our enemies frees us now to radically love people who wrong us! Even to pity them!
James Adams: We request not our own personal advancement or victory over our private enemies but rather the advancement of His kingdom - that His enemies be destroyed. When the enemies of God attack us, we deliberately lay down the sword of personal revenge. If we attempt to avenge ourselves we are still seeking our own way, taking things into our own hands. To pray the imprecations of the Psalms is to surrender all rights for vengeance to God. It means being prepared to suffer and to endure without personal revenge or hatred as Christ did. It involves being gentle and loving even when I am reviled and persecuted. It encompasses acknowledging in all my ways that God's cause is more important than I am.
Where did God avenge all manner of evil, sin, and wickedness committed by His people? At the cross!
God's greatest concern and passion is for His own glory and for the honor of His own name! This should be our number one priority as well! The first and greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." (Matthew 22:37-38)
Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Look at the Psalmist. Look at some of those imprecatory psalms. What are they? There is nothing wrong with them. It's just the zeal of the Psalmist. He's grieved and troubled because these people are not honoring God as they should be. That’s his supreme concern.
Isaiah 48:11: For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
Yes, we must love our enemies. Jesus commanded:
Luke 6:27-28: But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
God loves His enemies, but He will also punish His enemies if they do not repent.
Jesus loved His enemies, but He also pronounced woes toward them (the Pharisees) and called them a brood of vipers (Matthew 23). Jesus also made a whip of cords and drove the money changers from the temple.
John Day: By Christ's own witness and example, this enemy-love is the attitude of readiness to show sustained and indiscriminate kindness. If, however, the enemy's cup of iniquity has become full to overflowing, this love is overtaken by the demands of justice and divine vengeance.
Where do we see both the first and second greatest commandments fulfilled in a most glorious way? - at the cross!
7. Imprecatory Prayers And Desires Are Found In The New Testament
Some may be tempted to say: these prayers were just an Old Testament thing – we are in the New Testament and the New Covenant now! That argument simply doesn't work:
a. Imprecatory desires are in Galatians:
Galatians 5:12: I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
Galatians 1:8: But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
b. Paul cites an imprecatory Psalm against Israel:
Romans 11:7-10: What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day." And David says (Psalm 69:22-23), "Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever."
Commenting on this passage, John Piper says:
Paul does not hear merely emotional words of retaliation in David's voice. He hears sober, prophetic words of judgment that God's anointed wills to bring on his adversaries. That is why he quotes these words in Romans 11 where he is making this very point: the adversaries of Christ, the Messiah of God, are going to be darkened and hardened as part of God's judgment.
c. Peter understands that imprecatory Psalms refer to Judas:
Acts 1:16, 20: Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus . . . "For it is written in the Book of Psalms, "'May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it' (Ps. 69:25); and "'Let another take his office.' (Ps. 109:8).
d. Paul speaks an imprecation (a curse) toward Elymas:
Acts 13:8-12: But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time." Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
e. Peter speaks an imprecation to Simon the Sorcerer:
Acts 8:20: May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!
f. Paul speaks of God's judgment toward Alexander:
2 Timothy 4:14: Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds.
g. The persistent widow's prayer is an imprecation prayer:
Luke 18:7: And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?
h. Shaking the dust off your feet was an act of imprecation:
Matthew 10:13-15: And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
i. The Lord's Prayer includes an imprecatory prayer: "Thy Kingdom Come!"
Johannes Vos commented on this petition in the Lord's Prayer:
God's kingdom cannot come without Satan's kingdom being destroyed. God's will cannot be done in earth without the destruction of evil. Evil cannot be destroyed without the destruction of men who are permanently identified with it. Instead of being influenced by the sickly sentimentalism of the present day, Christian people should realize that the glory of God demands the destruction of evil. Instead of being insistent upon the assumed, but really non-existent, rights of men, they should focus their attention upon the rights of God. Instead of being ashamed of the Imprecatory Psalms, and attempting to apologize for them and explain them away, Christian people should glory in them and not hesitate to use them in the public and private exercises of the worship of God.
James Adams: The petition, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," often, overlooked as merely introductory, is really pivotal. Here Christ teaches us to pray for the victory of His kingdom. Can we truly utter this prayer without perceiving that our request involves the complete overthrow of Satan's kingdom and all his followers? Martin Luther, that great disciple of Christ in prayer, pointed out that when one prays, "Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done," then he must put all the opposition to this in one pile and say: "Curses, maledictions and disgrace upon every other name and every other kingdom. May they be ruined and torn apart and may all their schemes and wisdom and plans run aground."
We must be candid enough to acknowledge that to pray for the extension of God's kingdom is to solicit the destruction of all other kingdoms. This is the unique prayer life of the disciples of Christ. When we pray as Jesus taught us, we cry out to God for His blessings upon His church and for His curses upon the kingdom of the evil one. As Harry Mennega succinctly stated, "Advance and victory for the Church means retreat and defeat for the kingdom of darkness."
Mennega's . . . master's thesis gives practical instruction on the prayer life of the Christian: It is the peculiarly balanced prayer life that the Christian must foster. He is obligated to pray for the conversion of sinners, of those who are now identified with the kingdom of darkness; this he must do in the interest of God’s glory. At the same time and in the same interest he must pray for the coming of God's kingdom which involves necessarily praying for the destruction of the kingdom of evil and those who are identified with it. It is in this tension that the Christian must live. Since he does not know who are permanently identified with the kingdom of evil he cannot pray for the doom of known individuals in the way the psalmists did and rather must show love to all people, even his enemies. Yet this prayer for their conversion is accompanied by a prayer for the overthrow of Satan's kingdom, a kingdom which cannot be conceived of apart from its concrete embodiment in actual persons in history.
j. The desire and prayer for Jesus to return is an imprecatory prayer:
1 Corinthians 16:22: If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!
Revelation 19:11-16: Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Mennega: The church that is conscious of the life and death struggle between the two kingdoms will not exclude hatred for Satan's kingdom from its love for God's kingdom. The church is compelled to show love unto all men and to pray for their conversion. At the same time, with her eye fixed on the promise of the coming day of the Lord in which all God's enemies will be crushed eternally, the church prays for the hastening of the day of judgment.
Robert Godfrey: Paul talked about how loving your enemies will further increase their punishment. Setting love of enemy radically over against judgment is not Biblical . . . Every time we pray, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!" we're praying an imprecation on God's enemies. When Jesus comes again there will be judgment on God's enemies. (Ask Ligonier Video)
k. Even the saints in heaven are heard praying prayers of imprecation:
Revelation 6:9-11: When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 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?" Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
l. Still, in light of all of these passages, there is a shift of focus in the New Testament:
John Day: Between these Psalms and the New Testament ethic there exists, indeed, a degree of difference in emphasis. In the New Testament, less stress is placed on imprecation and the enactment of temporal judgments, while more frequent and explicit calls are made for kindness in anticipation of the [final] judgment . . . Steadfast endurance under unjust suffering for the sake of Christ and after the pattern of Christ, entrusting both temporal and [final] judgment to God, becomes a more predominant theme in the New Testament.
What happened in the New Testament so that those who deserved everlasting cursing might be saved? The cross!
8. Imprecatory Prayers Are Pleas To God For Justice In Extremely Unjust Situations
These are prayers prayed in horribly wrong or unjust circumstances: rape; murder; years of evil, unjust treatment and tyranny (slavery) (Nazi Germany) (the unthinkable sin of abortion); the sexual abuse of a child; blatant racial discrimination; someone murdering your spouse or children; false teaching that leads others to hell.
a. These prayers are prayers for justice: The people of God will pray prayers of judgment even on themselves demonstrating their love for justice, their love for truth, and their love for God's glory:
Paul before Festus, Governor of Judea: Acts 25:11: If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death.
Psalm 7:3-5: O LORD my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands, if I have repaid my friend with evil or plundered my enemy without cause, let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground and lay my glory in the dust.
b. Beware of your own sinful heart and selfishness in prayers for God's judgment:
Luke 9:51-55: When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them.
J. C. Ryle commented wisely on this passage:
Let us notice, secondly, in these verses, the extraordinary conduct of two of the apostles, James and John. We are told that a certain Samaritan village refused to show hospitality to our Lord. "They did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem." And then we read of a strange proposal which James and John made. "They said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did?" Here was zeal indeed, and zeal of a most plausible kind, – zeal for the honor of Christ! Here was zeal, justified and supported by a scriptural example, and that the example of no less a prophet than Elijah! But it was not a zeal according to knowledge. The two disciples, in their heat, forgot that circumstances alter cases, and that the same action which may be right and justifiable at one time, may be wrong and unjustifiable at another. They forgot that punishments should always be proportioned to offenses, and that to destroy a whole village of ignorant people for a single act of discourtesy, would have been both unjust and cruel. In short, the proposal of James and John was a wrong and inconsiderate one. They meant well, but they greatly erred. Facts like this in the Gospels are carefully recorded for our learning. Let us see to it that we mark them well, and treasure them up in our minds. It is possible to have much zeal for Christ, and yet to exhibit it in most unholy and unchristian ways. It is possible to mean well and have good intentions, and yet to make most grievous mistakes in our actions. It is possible to imagine that we have Scripture on our side, and to support our conduct by scriptural quotations, and yet to commit serious errors. It is as clear as daylight, from this and other cases related in the Bible, that it is not enough to be zealous and well-meaning. Very grave faults are frequently committed with good intentions. From no quarter perhaps has the Church received so much injury as from ignorant but well-meaning men. We must seek to have knowledge as well as zeal. Zeal without knowledge is an army without a general, and a ship without a rudder. We must pray that we may understand how to make a right application of Scripture. The word is no doubt "a light to our feet, and a lantern to our path." But it must be the word rightly handled, and properly applied.
James 1:19: Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger
Where did God act on the most extremely unjust situation in the universe (the belittling of His own glory) in order to save sinners? He acted at the cross!
Romans 3:24-26: Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
9. Imprecatory Prayers Display Compassion For The Victims Of Unspeakable Sins
Sometimes I read statements like, "How can pro-life people support the death penalty?" Pro-life people support the death penalty because life is so precious and valuable in God's sight. And when you take life, God has said that because He made men and women in His own image, life is so precious and valuable that those who take life must die:
Genesis 9:6: Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
Sadly, many people think they are being loving and compassionate by failing to punish evil. But the mercy of the wicked is cruel:
Proverbs 12:10: Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
When we cry out for God's justice toward the wicked, we are loving and showing compassion for the victims of that evil.
Where was the greatest Man Who ever lived made a victim of the wrath of God because of our unspeakable sins so that we might be saved? At the cross!
10. Imprecatory Prayers Are The Prayers Of Jesus – The War Psalms Of The Prince Of Peace
a. Who is speaking in the Psalms? Jesus Christ!
Psalm 22:16-18: For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
Matthew 27:35, 39-41: And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots . . . And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him . . . .
Psalm 69:21: for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink
John 19:28-29: After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.
James Adams: He gave up His life with the words of the Psalms on His lips: "Into your hands I commit my spirit" (Psalm 31:5); "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1). His words of anguish, "I am thirsty," echo Psalms 69:21 and 22:15, and His cry of triumph, "It is finished!" reminds us of Psalm 22:31 "He has done it!" (same verb in the LXX). In His death Jesus quoted the Psalms, not as some ancient authority that He adapted for His own use, but as His very own words – the words of the Lord's Anointed which, as David's Son, He truly was.
Hebrews 10:5-7: Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'"
Jesus never said this quotation in Hebrews 10 in the Gospels – it's a direct quotation from Psalm 40:6-8! Jesus is speaking in the Psalms!
Jesus cursed fig tree! Jesus cursed unrepentant cities! Jesus pronounced woe's on the Pharisees! Jesus cleansed the temple with a whip and turned over tables!
James Adams: What a difference it makes in our preaching when we know that these psalms are not the emotional prayers of angry men, but the very war cries of our Prince of Peace! The Lord Jesus Christ is praying these prayers of vengeance. The prayers that cry out for the utter destruction of the psalmist's enemies can only be grasped when heard from the loving lips of our Lord Jesus. These prayers signal an alarm to all who are still enemies of King Jesus. His prayers will be answered! God's wrath is revealed upon all who oppose Christ.
Where did the Lord Jesus Christ cry many of these words from the Psalms? On the cross where He suffered God's curses for sinners so that we might never suffer God's curses!
11. Imprecatory Prayers Should Be Preceded By Prayers For Salvation And Mercy
John 3:16-17: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
James Hamilton: If you have ever wondered whether you should pray the imprecatory prayers of the Psalms, let me encourage you to look again at the way the martyrs pray for God to "avenge" their blood in [Revelation] 6:9-11. You bet you should pray those imprecatory prayers. Pray that God would either save His enemies, those who oppose the gospel and the people of God, that He would bring them to repentance, or if He is not going to do that, that He would thwart all their efforts to keep people from worshiping God by faith in Christ. Pray that God would either save those who destroy families and hurt little children or thwart all their efforts and keep them from doing further harm. Those prayers will be heard. Pray that God would either redeem people who are right now identifying with the seed of the serpent, or if he is not going to redeem them, that he would crush them and all their evil designs. God will answer those prayers. (Revelation Commentary)
Robert Godfrey: . . . in every section of the Psalter there is first a call to the ungodly to repent and only then prayers for judgment upon the ungodly. (Ask Ligonier Video)
Psalm 83:13-16: O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane! Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O LORD.
Martin Luther: We should pray that our enemies be converted and become our friends, and if not, that their doing and designing be bound to fail and have no success and that their persons perish rather than the Gospel and the Kingdom of Christ. Thus the saintly martyr Anastasia, a wealthy, noble Roman matron, prayed against her husband, an idolatrous and terrible ravager of Christians, who had flung her into a horrible prison, in which she had to stay and die. There she lay and wrote to the saintly Chrysogonus diligently to pray for her husband that, if possible, he be converted and believe; but if not, that he be unable to carry out his plans and that he soon make an end of his ravaging. Thus she prayed him to death, for he went to war and did not return home. So we, too, pray for our angry enemies, not that God protect and strengthen them in their ways, as we pray for Christians, or that He help them, but that they be converted, if they can be; or, if they refuse, that God oppose them, stop them and end the game to their harm and misfortune. (Luther's Works)
12. Imprecatory Prayers Remind Us Of What Jesus Suffered In Our Place So That We Might Never Suffer Again
On that cross, Jesus Christ became a curse for us - He took all of God's imprecations that we deserve because of our sins upon Himself on that cross:
Galatians 3:13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"
John Calvin: Not only the body of Christ was given as the price of our redemption, but there was another, greater, and more excellent ransom, for He suffered in his soul the dreadful torments of a damned and lost man.
Dr. Ligon Duncan explains penal substitution through the lens of the imprecatory Psalms. Preaching on Psalm 109, he says:
Have you ever thought that Jesus stood under this curse? That He bore this curse from His Father? And He bore it on our behalf that we might not bear it ourselves . . . Just remember that He alone, of all the people who will dwell in the presence of God forever, knows what it is like to receive this curse, and He took that in your place so that you might never receive it.
Halleluiah! What a Savior!Jesus' Crucifixion Was The Greatest Sin Unspeakable
He Bore The Wrath Of God That's A Burden So Unbearable
Then Rose Up From The Grave To Give A Joy Indescribable
And Now We'll Be With Him With A Life That's Indestructible
Because The Prince Of Peace Took Our Curse So We're Acceptable
In Christ Our Joy Forever We Find All Things Most Desirable!
Jesus Christ Shall Come Again
To Judge And Punish All Who Sin
Thy Kingdom Come Among All Men
Is Prayer For Judgment To Begin
So Flee To Christ Who Died For Sin
Then Rose Again Victory To Win
Pray God Would Save And Bring All In
And Plead With Christ To Come Again!
The Cross Of Jesus Christ Is The Greatest Imprecation
Where The Sinless Son Of God Was Our Full Propitiation
And Every Curse Of God Fell On Him In Cruel Damnation
There He Was Made Sin Which God Hates With Indignation
And Took All God's Full Anger So That We Might Have Salvation
Yet He’s God's Beloved Son Who's Named LORD In Exaltation
The Holy Perfect God-Man Was Raised For Our Justification
He Took Our Imprecation
Withstood Every Temptation
Condemned Our Condemnation
Conquered Death For Every Nation
And Now There's Only Celebration
In Him Who Is Our Preoccupation, Infatuation, and Holy Fascination!