Imprecatory Prayers?

With all of the study that takes place each week in the lead up to teaching a section of scripture, I often stumble across really good teaching by theologians and pastors whose mind is far more developed than my own. I greatly admire men like G.K. Beale, James Hamilton, Tom Schreiner, and D.A. Carson to name a few. I may not agree with them on every point, but often their wisdom and insight into passages of Scripture is very edifying.

The past few weeks/months I’ve been reading and studying closely the book of Revelation. In my notes on this site I’ve shown how the prayers of the saints in chapter six (the 5th “Seal”) actually serve as a catalyst for the judgments that God sends upon the earth. The power of prayer, and God’s ordination of it as a means through which He works, is plainly seen in these verses. But it leads to an interesting question: should we pray these kinds of imprecatory prayers? And if so, how ought we to think about and go about this?

In his commentary on Revelation, James Hamilton provides some wonderful insight that has been profitable for me, and perhaps would be worth your time to consider:

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 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.




2 thoughts on “Imprecatory Prayers?

  1. FYI: “Imprecatory Psalms, contained within the Ketuvim (wisdom literature) of the Hebrew Bible (תנ”ך), are those that invoke judgment, calamity, or curses, upon one’s enemies or those perceived as the enemies of God. Major Imprecatory Psalms include Psalm 69 and Psalm 109, while Psalms 5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40, 52, 54, 56, 58, 69, 79, 83, 137, 139, and 143 are also considered imprecatory. As a sample, Psalm 69:24 states toward God, “Pour out Your indignation on them, and let Your burning anger overtake them” and Psalm 137:9, which declares “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones””

    Source: Wikipedia at [accessed 4 JUL 2015]. References cited in this Wikipedia article in addition to some of those cited below include the following:
    Daniel M Nehrbass, Praying Curses; The Therapeutic and Preaching Value of the Imprecatory Psalms (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2013).
    Samuel J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks: A Complete Survey of Old Testament History, 5th ed. (New York: HarperOne, 1999).

    Imprecations in the Gospels

    Matthew 23:13 — But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

    Matthew 26:23-24 — 23 And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. 24 The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.

    Imprecations in the Epistles

    1 Corinthians 16:22 — If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.

    Galatians 1:8-9 — 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

    Galatians 5:12 — I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
    [Note: The most frightening wish or desire in the Bible? This play on words involves an image extending from circumcision to castration, but in covenantal terms the reality signifies severance from the source of life and peace.]

    2 Timothy 4:14 — Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:
    [Note: The most frightening prayer in the Bible? Would any wish this upon themselves or their loved ones?]

    Imprecations in the Apocalypse

    Revelation 6:10 — And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

    See also:

    John Walter Beardslee, “The Imprecatory Element in the Psalms,” Presbyterian and Reformed Review 8 (1987), pp. 490-505; on Princeton Theological Seminary at [accessed 4 JUL 2015]; as a downloadable PDF file at [accessed 4 JUL 2015].

    Chad Richard Bresson, “Preaching the Psalms in the New Covenant” (Ps. 69), presented to The 2012 John Bunyan Conference held April 23-25, 2012 at Reformed Baptist Church in Lewisburg, PA; on Scribd at [accessed 4 JUL 2015].

    W. Gary Crampton, “What about the Imprecatory Psalms,” The Trinity Review 282 (MAR 2009); on The Trinity Foundation at [accessed 4 JUL 2015].

    W. W. Davies, “The Imprecatory Psalms,” The Old and New Testament Student 14:3 (MAR 1892), in The Old and New Testament Student, ed. William Rainey Harper, Vol. XIV, January to June, 1892 (Hartford: The Student Publishing Company, 1892), pp. 154-159; on Google Books at [accessed 4 JUL 2015].

    John N. Day, “The Imprecatory Psalms and Christian Ethics,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 159 (APR–JUN 2002), pp.166-186; available online or as downloadable DOC or PDF files on Gordon Faculty Online at [accessed 4 JUL 2015].

    J. Carl Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981), pp. 35-45; available online or as downloadable DOC or PDF files on Gordon Faculty Online at [accessed 4 JUL 2015].

    John Piper, “Do I Not Hate Those Who Hate You, O Lord?” (3 OCT 2000; on Ps. 139:19-22), on desiring God at [accessed 4 JUL 2015].

    Frederic Clarke Putnam, “Imprecation and Righteousness in Psalm 35,” Th.M. thesis (Hatfield, PA: Biblical Theological Seminary, 1980); available online or as downloadable DOC or PDF files on Gordon Faculty Online at [accessed 4 JUL 2015].

    David S. Schrock, “What Should We Think About the Imprecatory Psalms?” (28 JUL 2014), on Via Emmaus at [accessed 28 JUL 2014].

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