It is Time for Imprecatory Prayers!
All true Christians believe that the LORD hears and answers prayer. This article is not about prayer generally; rather, it is a detailed presentation of what is typically called imprecatory prayer. This is the type of prayer the Lord Christ Himself referred to here:
now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.
[I’ll return to this verse in the Closing Remarks.]
Let’s begin with this stunning example from the last book of the Bible:
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.
This is the first known expression—a prayer, actually—of those saints who will die in the coming global tribulation. It goes without saying that they will be permanently beyond any moral pettiness or desire for personal revenge. in a word, they are completely and forever free from sin—they are redeemed! Their prayer, and the LORD’s answer to that prayer, proves beyond any doubt that imprecatory prayers are not only valid in all ages, but also that imprecatory prayer is the natural and expected disposition of those who have attained the resurrection.
I make this obvious claim based on the LORD’s own words:
‘Is it not laid up in store with Me,
Sealed up in My treasuries?
‘Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
In due time their foot will slip;
For the day of their calamity is near,
And the impending things are hastening upon them.’
“For the Lord will vindicate His people,
And will have compassion on His servants,
When He sees that their strength is gone,
And there is none remaining, bond or free.
There are two prominent and powerful promises here:
- The LORD will take the ultimate and final vengeance on evil, and
- The LORD will vindicate His people for the evil executed upon them.
When the resurrected saints of Rev 6 pray, we note that their prayer—an imprecatory prayer!—is based upon and validated by the promises of Deu 32; it can’t be otherwise. They will be mercilessly murdered by unrelentingly evil people of the future earth; that is, they will go to their death without seeing the vengeance of the LORD upon their murderers. The text shows us that without hesitation they will ask the LORD to fulfill His promise to take vengeance in their behalf and punish the evildoers who murdered them.
It is a very bold prayer:
“How long, O Lord…”
They are not content merely to have achieved that state of “being forever with the LORD” (2 Cor 5.6-8); they righteously expect to be satisfied with the knowledge that the LORD will keep His promise to punish the evildoers, and in so doing, vindicate the lives they lived to serve Him.
It is also a very personal prayer:
“How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
It is Deu 32 set in a prayer to the LORD Himself by the LORD's own people.
The topic of this article, imprecatory prayer, tends to divide the so-called Christian community into those who emphasize exclusively either
- the love of the LORD, or
- the wrath of the LORD.
This fact should surprise no one because, with few exceptions (and as maintained by much documentation on this site), much of what claims to be “Christian” is not.
[Those who emphasize the love of the LORD tend to treat imprecatory prayer as outmoded, an aspect of OT theology that is completely invalid for our age. They, in effect, emasculate the LORD into a passive, senile grandfather figure capable of nothing really useful as it applies to punishing evil—basically, a morally useless and feckless “god”.
Many/Some(?) of those who believe that imprecatory prayer is still valid today tend to do so with considerable equivocation, responding in such a manner as to suggest that to hold such a position strongly impugns them and the LORD; in a word, they are embarrassed to admit that imprecatory prayer exists in the Canon of Scripture. They tend to conflate what they foolishly perceive to be personal vengeance with the pure and wholly spiritual desire to see Divine Justice executed upon evil.]
The result of this theological disconnect (that is, the “God-of-love-of-the-NT” vs. the “God-of-wrath-of-the-OT”) creates an “unbalanced god” (lower case intentional). In such a view, evil must simply be endured—like a bad virus—until such time as it finally just disappears on its own or, conversely, destroys everything (including itself).
It should be obvious that this defective view is also just as powerless for the LORD’s professing people, who are rendered just as helpless as their pathetic “god”, when they ask for divine help to stand against the sin which surrounds them.
[There are several articles on this site which show the utter absurdity of such a helpless “god”:
The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics: the early chapters provide a good summary of Theology 101.
The Final Sequence: details the sequence of the final global judgment.
The Day of the LORD: details the coming global judgment and the return of the Lord Christ.
The LORD: the Author of Calamity: details the LORD’s treatment of national and individual sin.
Dead or Alive: The Order of Salvation: details the fact that until the sinner is “born from above”, his/her repentance is impossible without the LORD’s direct working in and for them.
I strongly urge you to read these articles if you haven’t already. If the doctrine presented to you in these articles seems new or unusual, then either you are a new believer, or an old “believer” (quotes deliberate) who has ignored the Word of God far too long and, probably, attends a useless “church” (if you attend at all).]
As you read this article, pay attention to the context of the texts cited; you must take careful note of who is offering the imprecatory prayer! In all cases they are powerful prayers by faithful believers, devoted not to personal vengeance but to Divine Justice.
It is also vital to understand that imprecatory prayers are not just part of the OT Canon! They are throughout the Scripture as I will show in detail in subsequent chapters. The LORD of the OT is the also LORD of the NT. He can respond both in wrath as well as grace, as the need is; neither contradicts the other.
For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.
From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Here are a few additional introductory examples to help set the context for this article:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!”
[The Lord Christ Himself pronounced this imprecation against the Jews of His day for their hardness of heart, and unmitigated and unrelenting obstinance.]
What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.”
And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.
Let their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs forever.”
[The Apostle Paul’s use of Psa 69.]
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
[Consider carefully what this Scripture says—and what it does not say! The true believer does not take, nor has the authority to take, vengeance directly.
It is just as true that this passage does not say “True believer: you are helpless before evil and should just capitulate and endure. After all, you are not to take your own revenge on the evil person.”
Instead, did you notice that little phrase in the citation above “… for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head”? The true believer who obeys this admonition actually brings the initial form of the LORD’s retribution upon the evil man!
Someone is likely to ask, “Well, then. Why should I feed him or give him a drink of water, etc.? That doesn’t make any sense! Why should I show kindness when the evil man deserves judgment?” The answer is simple: because vengeance and wrath belong to the LORD, not to the true believer. The LORD will deal with the evil man in His own way and time. You are to be faithful and obedient.]
Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”
[Note how the LORD’s altar—obviously sentient!—concurs with the expressions of the saints.]
I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her. To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning;
"Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.”
[Here, it is not only the redeemed saints who are commanded to rejoice, but all those of other “heaven-dwellers” (angelic beings?).]
After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.” And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”
[Very near the end of the age, after all saints have been gathered into heaven and are fully and forever delivered from all sin and its effects, they, with one voice, shout forth one of the greatest praises recorded in the Word. Only the ignorant, so-called “Christians” of our age would impugn them to claim that such rejoicing over the wrath poured out on evil should not take place!]
As we have seen here, and will see throughout this article, examples of imprecatory prayers are throughout the entire Canon, not merely just the OT or just the NT. Imprecatory prayers are not a side-point, an after-thought or something which had its purpose in ancient times but which has now become outmoded.
The purpose of this article is to show that imprecatory prayers are as much a part of the true Christian’s life—especially today!—as are prayers for grace and mercy.
This series is presented in 4 chapters: