Preaching Articles

We all have people in life that we don't like, don't get along with or simply wish would go away. They are people with whom we may disagree or find that they get under our skin. And we are all probably guilty of sending little wish prayers up that sound something like: "Lord, I would be most grateful if you would ring so and so's neck." Or we might wish that the Lord "would move them on" to another church, job, town, etc. And while we may feel and even pray this way sometimes, we also know that Jesus calls on us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44).

But what do we do with all of those imprecatory psalms? You know, the ones where the psalmist asks God to come down and stomp out the psalmist's enemies by making their lives hell on earth. I am thinking here of Psalm 109.

6 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand. 7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. 8 May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. 9 May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. 10 May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. 11 May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. 12 May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children. 13 May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation. 14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. 15 May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may blot out their name from the earth.

Pretty harsh stuff from the Bible. You wonder if Jesus had ever read this Psalm when he was giving the Sermon on the Mount. But of course he did. Jesus acknowledges in Matt 5:43-46 that the prevailing wisdom of the day was to love your neighbor but hate your enemy. Jesus calls us instead to love our enemies. So while Psalm 109 may provide us some insights into the way the ancients felt and even expressed themselves to God, it is not necessarily a prayer we should pray. Psalm 109 can help us realize that not everyone in the Bible had feelings of love for everyone, but asking God to kill the children of your enemy does not reflect the cruciform way that we should be viewing all of life.

Which leads me to a recent news article. According to USA Today, there are people who are "praying" Psalm 109 against their enemies. A former Navy chaplain was sued by an atheist organization that discovered that the former chaplain was saying the prayer hoping that God would bring harm to the atheist and his organization. The judge in the case, however, ruled that it is OK to recite an imprecatory Psalm, as long as no one actually gets hurt.

I can't comment on the judge's ruling, but I do wonder about people who are asking God to curse their enemies rather than bless them or, if this chaplain really believes what he preaches, that God would change this man's heart. The article doesn't say, but I wonder how the chaplain reconciles this with the words of Jesus?

Another example of this type of behavior was also exhibited by the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Kansas. Apparently he was emailing Psalm 109 to his colleagues and commenting that "At last—I can honestly voice a biblical prayer for our president!" Whether or not one agrees with the president's politics, I don't think this exhibits the kind of charity that we are supposed to show to others. Does he really wish that Mrs. Obama would be widowed and her daughters fatherless? Again, is this what it means to exhibit love to others, even those we consider to be our enemies?

I admit, imprecatory psalms are a tricky thing for us. They are psalms that call down curses upon an enemy, full stop. But that does not mean that we have to or should use them that way. There is a lot of stuff in the Bible that we don't or shouldn't apply (anyone for stoning rebellious children?). These psalms remind us that the presence of evil in the world is very real and that it causes untold suffering on many. And they remind us that God is not pleased with such wickedness. But the words of Jesus are the other side of the coin for Christians. We recognize the evil that is in the world and may even experience it. But we also know that we are called to do something even harder than asking God for revenge. We are to love our enemies and pray for them. Somehow I am not convinced that is what these other gentlemen are doing.

I am Professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary. I enjoy teaching and researching a variety of topics in Early Judaism and Christianity.

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Pollie Marabe

commented on Aug 8, 2012

Thanks for this article! "Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom 12:16-21)

Scott Dossett

commented on Aug 8, 2012

As a newly appointed Associate Pastor, I once sat in the middle of a church-wide business meeting where our Senior Pastor essentially called the whole church to pray God's vengeance on the company who - 10 years prior - had installed bad shingles on the roof of the church. Not even an exaggeration. I remember thinking how incongruous the whole situation was with Jesus. I hope people pay attention to the article. I hope people pay attention to Jesus.

David Buffaloe

commented on Aug 8, 2012

When praying an imprecatory psalm you are asking God to avenge - nothing wrong with that, and it is scriptural. I do not, however, remember an imprecatory psalm being directed against a specific person, but against evil or godless persons. Even the Apostle Paul spoke against (2 Timothy 4:14) Alexander the Coppersmith, and said "the Lord will repay him for what he has done". The point is the prayer and the attitude put the vengeance in God's hands, not our own.

Myron Heckman

commented on Aug 8, 2012

A helpful article. We have to find a balance between an attitude that in effect takes imprecatory psalms out of the canon, or renders it as an emotionally cathartic exercise, and that which the author cites - using them in contradiction to Jesus' teachings. My solution is to consider them as perfect justice - when in another psalm the prayer that the enemies' infants may be dashed against the rocks, it is because the enemy did that to the Israelites' infants. Such psalms remind us that judgment day is coming. Jesus took us to another place - realizing that we are under God's judgment and are in desperate need of His grace, so we extend it to another. That doesn?t abrogate God's justice, but it leaves it in His hands while we extend the mercy we have received.

David Hodgin

commented on Aug 8, 2012

I always think of the imprecatory psalms as the writter simply writing what he's feeling, as oppposed to what is often done today which is to deny the feelings we feel. If someone harms us and makes us mad we should be mad and it is always okay to talk to God about how mad we are. This is one of the things He uses to remind us that we received grace and that His kingdom is increased when we leave our hurts at the cross for Him to deal with. I have hidden enough anger and bitterness away in my heart to write a book, when I began telling God exactly how I felt and that I wanted Him to avenge me, that's when He taught me I had been avenged through Christ's death. It was through my own imprecatory psalms that I learned the grace He held for me and asked me to extend to others. This is "cursing our enemies God's way."

Anthony Burrell

commented on Aug 8, 2012

I don't believe that there are coincidences and accidents with God. This is a rhema ("right now") word for me. I need the love of God in dealing with those who oppose me. Thanks to Mr. Byron for directing our thoughts and attitudes heavenward. All who love the Lord ought to desire to live in accordance with His Word.

Jimmie Tempano

commented on Aug 8, 2012

This seems to me a very creampuff article with supporting comments. I agree with Scott that we don't ask God to call down fire because a contractor did a poor job but that is not what Ps 109 is talking about. Are we not to stand up for the right and righteous things and take a stand against evil? There is true evil. If you don't think so, look at some of the atrocities the Nazis performed. And, if you think this is not happening today you are out of the loop. There are those bent on evil, I believe even driven by evil spiritual forces. We have the child molesters that ruin children's lives. We have murderers who care nothing about the people they kill or the ones left behind to deal with the loss, children, spouses, moms and dads. We can pray for their repentance and pray for God to deal with them severely if they do not repent. That we ahould not pray against evil is a blindness in the church and we are reaping the consequences.

Dixon N. Wlehbo

commented on Aug 8, 2012

Pastor, thanks for that wonderful sermon. The Bible tells us that For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in pulling down strongholds (2cor, 10:3-4). The Bible further stressed that we are not fighting agaist flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers,wickedness in high places, and rulers and princes of the power of darkness. I live right in West Africa, we see these things daily and at nightfall. Evil people exist. They will do all they can to keep you down and take your life . The only weapon we have is the Words of God. In the time of war, you enemy will either kill you or you kill them. I see nothing wrong with us releasing our spiritual missiles against the forces of darkness. We need to pray against them to ensure that they are powerless and if possible that we pray to cause them their lives. Pastor, you may not understand what I am talking. These evil people can cast curses, suffering and death in families. These evil people can manifest themselves spiritually and physically to engage you, but with the Grace of God and the power of prayer in Jesus Name they can and will always bow. I do not see anything wrong with praying the way David did. It is necessary in these time to stand against evil spiritually as the Holy Bible instruct us to do.

Zachary Bartels

commented on Aug 9, 2012

This Sunday, I'm preaching on Revelation 8, in which prayers come up from the church militant and pleas for vindication from the martyrs under the altar, and fire goes down in the form of earthly punishments. Part of forgiving our enemies is realizing that God's justice and vengeance is inescapable (therefore, we need not substitute our own flawed vengeance). Praying for it to be swift is in no way at odds with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

Jimmie Tempano

commented on Aug 9, 2012

Dixon, thank you for your comment. It moves the discussion from the theoretical realm to the realm of reality. The article and the comments have occasioned me to think through this topic. One thing that is important to understand is though we are warring against rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, these entities sometimes use human beings as tools to accomplish their purposes. Another thing I realized is that it is important to talk about applying how you direct your prayers/curses in terms of three different groups of people. The first group comprises those who do not have evil intentions but are deceived. For example, when Peter tried to resist Jesus from going to Jerusalem where He would die, Jesus told Satan to get behind Him. Peter had good intentions but Satan was trying to manipulate those good intentions. Jesus just needed to get Satan out of His way. I don't think Jesus was confronting Peter, He was revealing to him what was going on. The second group is comprised of people who are very self-focused and care little about others or doing the right thing. An example is the man in Corinth who was sleeping with his father's wife. Paul told them to turn him over to Satan. The last group is comprised of those people Dixon refers to, who intentionally call on, worship and invoke evil powers and gladly join in the purposes of those evil spiritual beings. In scripture, the nation of Israel was forbidden to take on worshipping foreign gods, many of whom believed in sacrificing children in the fire to benefit themselves. We have groups today that do worse than that and they do it purposefully and intentionally. We should earnestly pray that God would intervene and that prayer may take on some elements of a curse.

Charles Dundas

commented on Aug 9, 2012

We are at war with the forces of darkness, who uses human beings to do their bidding, Jesus tells us to love our enemies (humans that are used) and pray for them. our prayer should be that the blinders that the devil is using on them to be removed, and we as Christians should continue to pray blessings on them, one day they may invite Jesus into their lives, and we cannot hinder that. Those who oppose us in this world are good candidates for Salvation when we call on God to intervine. He does it with love.

Sumeet Mj

commented on Aug 10, 2012

Old Testament is not clear about the true identity of the Devil whereas the New Testament brings about a clear definition of Satan and the evil he employs. As Believers of the New Covenant, we realize that it is not flesh and blood that we are warring at but the hosts of wickedness in heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, going by this revelation, it is not in the Christian spirit to curse people who are not actually the reason for evil. However, I believe we must war against the spiritual evil, demonic forces of darkness that have blinded mankind and are perpetrating innocent minds.

Andrew Shields

commented on Aug 20, 2012

Strong point David, thank you. Prayer is a powerful thing. A privilage not to be misunderstood or misused.

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