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Praying for the Destruction of Your Enemies

Have you ever prayed for someone’s complete to ruin? That God would destroy them and wipe them off the face of the earth.

It doesn’t seem very Christian does it?

Armed criminal

Nevertheless these kinds of prayers are recorded in the Bible and especially in the Book of Psalms.

Prayers that call for the death and destruction of others are called imprecatory prayers. You may not have given much thought to this kind of prayer before, and I hope that you never need to.

Before the war started in Ukraine I also had not thought very much about the place of imprecatory prayers in my own life and in my theology. War, however, has a way of shaping your thinking and calling into question certain ideas.

War or not, if you read your Bible seriously you can’t ignore the passionate plea for the violent destruction of enemies. Check out a few of them for yourself in the following Psalms: 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 139, 140.

They Are Inspired

We can’t just write these Psalms out of our Bible, Jesus himself considered them inspired and he never apologized for them, corrected them, or indicated that they do not teach truth.

Jesus quoted from at least two imprecatory psalms; Psa 35 and 69 (Joh 2:17 and 15:25). The Apostle Paul and Peter also quoted from Psalm 69 (Acts 1:20 and Rom 11:9).

An Example

For a good example of what an imprecatory prayer looks like let’s look at Psalm 69.

Psa 69:22-28
(22) Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.
(23) Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually.
(24) Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.
(25) May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents.
(26) For they persecute him whom you have struck down, and they recount the pain of those you have wounded.
(27) Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you.
(28) Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.

There are many texts in the Bible that talk about God’s judgment but an imprecatory prayer does more than just talk about God’s judgment it calls for God to bring judgement on someone.

But Jesus Said Love Your Enemies

One of the biggest problems Christians have with imprecatory prayers is that Jesus’ words seem to contradict the idea of praying for the destruction of your enemy.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Mat 5:43-45

Some claim that imprecatory prayers represent David’s sinful desire for revenge and thus we should not copy him. Others claim that Jesus revoked this type of prayer when he told us to love our enemies in Matthew chapter 5.

I don’t believe that either of these solutions work well. Neither Jesus nor any of the other New Testament writers specifically correct the imprecatory prayers of the Old Testament.  In fact there are some New Testament texts that also seem to be imprecatory in nature.

For instance, in the book of Revelation, those martyred cry out to God and say,

“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?”
(Rev 6:10)

Different Contexts

It’s important to understand the difference in context between the imprecatory prayers of the Psalms and Jesus Sermon on the Mount. It’s clear from the context, Jesus is speaking about personal relationships what he asks us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us or to go the extra mile.

Jesus is not talking about mass genocide or a full military invasion of another country, he is talking about personal offenses and that’s exactly why he uses the example of turning the other cheek (Mat 5:39) there’s nothing inherently dangerous about receiving a slap on the cheek but it is humiliating personally.

On the other hand if we look carefully at the imprecatory Psalms we find a much different situation. They were written by a king, the leader of a nation, a general of an army. Although, sometimes his prayers may look very personal, they are personal in the sense that he represents God’s people, thus an attack on him was an attack on God’s people.

The imprecatory prayers also focus their attention on how evil men have offended a holy God. Thus they call for judgment not simply because these men have killed the innocent but because they have offended the Holy. In this way the imprecatory prayers are also prophetic as they look forward to God’s just punishment on wicked men who will not repent of their evil deeds.

Where Does that Leave Us?

We know we are supposed to love our personal enemies and pray for them as Jesus commands us, but what if we find ourselves in a different context, one that looks more like David’s context?

Can or can’t we pray like David did against our enemies?

Here are some principles that I see in the imprecatory prayers that may help you decide if you should pray for the destruction of your enemies or not.

1. It should not be about personal revenge.

In every instance of an imprecatory prayer in the Bible it’s clear that it’s not simply personal revenge and pride on the line. While the offence takes on a personal nature this is simply because the author is the representative of an entire nation.

You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel. Rouse yourself to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah.
(Psa 59:5)

Imprecatory prayers are never against the neighbor down the street who doesn’t like you and has called you a few bad names. Instead of personal revenge imprecatory prayers are about just retribution against an evil enemy who has come against another nation and against God.

2. It’s about stopping evil.

A common theme you can see in the imprecatory prayers is that of stopping evil short so that it can not continue destroying the lives of the innocent.  These prayers are directed at evil men who have the power to take thousands or even millions of lives.

Here’s and example from Psalm 109

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! For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted, to put them to death.
(Psa 109:14-16)

Let’s face it, war is the handy-work of Satan and he enjoys the death and suffering that it brings. Unfortunately no one suffers more in war than the innocent. Often the quickest and most effective way to end the killing of innocents is by taking out the evil man/men who are in charge.

That’s what an imprecatory prayer is about!

3. It’s about honoring God.

Above all the imprecatory prayers show a desire to see God honored and glorified.  God is called upon to bring justice against men who do not honor him or worship Him.  The psalmists call upon God to restore his fame, to defend his name,  their deepest desire is not for revenge but for God’s glory and honor.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!
(Psa 79:9)

Reminders for Us

I believe the imprecatory prayers were the right thing at that time in that situation for those who prayed them, thus they are righteous and inspired prayers. On the other hand I cannot tell you whether or not you should ever pray an imprecatory prayer. My suspicion is that few of us will have the exact circumstances that David had when he prayed these prayers. Nevertheless, imprecatory prayers serve to remind us of two things.

1. Sin is worse that we thought.

First they remind us of the awfulness and terribleness of sin. The reminder us that sin always brings destruction and death, that sin always against God, and that it is often the innocent who suffer because of sin. They remind us that sin causes all of war.

We underestimate sin, we underestimate the consequences of evil, we underestimate its power to destroy, and we underestimate how much is offends our holy God!

2. We aren’t concerned enough about God’s honor.

Second he reminds us of our responsibility to honor God in all circumstances. In individualistic Western cultures is easy to focus only on your personal responsibility to honor God, yet we all live in nations cities societies families who are also called to honor God. Our desire to bring God glory should be set so deep within our hearts that when we see that someone not honoring God it bothers us!

Question: How do you understand the imprecatory prayers? Have you ever prayed one? Would you ever pray one?

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I am a pastor, missionary, and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Ukraine since 2007. God blessed me with a wonderful wife and 5 amazing children! My greatest passion is to teach, encourage, and exhort others to turn to Jesus, who is Savior, Lord, and God!

  • This is an amazing post Caleb. I was just reading Ps. 69 this morning and noticing David’s prayer against his enemies.

    I pray imprecatory prayers all the time – I think of it as praying against waves of evil – which seem high and numerous these days. You have explained this practice and proper procedure very well here and I believe we are called to do this in our prayer lives. Thank you for making it clear.

    It strikes me that this is not a commonly understood or practiced form of prayer in the West because we don’t face enemy threats like some do in other parts of the world. Would you agree?

    • Thanks Debi. To me the biggest problem that we often have is apathy, we just don’t care about the fact that there are evil people doing evil things that cause harm to the innocent and defile the name of our God. It’s time to stand against this evil and pray against this evil! Our God is holy and all we must love and promote that holiness at all times and all places!

      • Interesting take, apathy. I agree. I also think people just don’t know. My mother-in-law was in a bible study last year with 10-15 other people all her age (men and women) and she said that many in the study had no idea that spiritual warfare existed. I was stunned. But I think this is probably true. People just don’t know.

        Whatever it is, I’m going to keep praying. Great words Caleb, as usual.

      • Troy Cline

        So right brother. So right.

  • Amanda Cross

    I often read these prayers with my spiritual enemy in mind. In Psalm 41, the enemy says, when will he die and his name perish (NASB). I think of our enemy thinking this about Jesus and that he also thinks this of believers and seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. I think he also wants to me to think these thoughts with personal pronouns and take up worry about it: when will I die?

  • Heather M Stegeman

    Dear Caleb

    Thank you so much for this taking the time to put this information together. I am currently sitting in a place with neighbors on both side that are drilling holes in my walls and when I go out to the store or something they follow me and sometimes rev their cars. It is very intense and there are times my next door neighbor yells at his children when I block the holes. To make things worse two years ago the Pismo Beach police department broke my arm and bullied me when I sang worship songs at the pier. I prayed for my enemies and Praise God He healed me but the situation I am dealing with indicates that my neighbors are involved with some hard core drugs and they are spying on me for a corrupt department. When it happened to me lots of people told me the police in this area were known for being bad.

    So in this situation I know that strong prayers with the psalms are the only solution. Its been two years since my arm was broken and I prayed for my enemies to be blessed. But when do they stop? and I believe evil needs to be stopped. I also believe there is a difference in between someone who continually plots evil and someone who sins. I will be praying to stop the evil plots and destroy their plans. I also believe that God fights my battles but I need to ask to receive this protection to share His great love!!!

    May all your prayers that are good, noble, righteous and true as described in Phil 4:8 manifest quickly in Victorious King Jesus with Holy Spirit power amen.

    • Heather I don’t think I can comment very well on your specific situation, but I can tell you that imprecitory prayers should never be purely personal matters but rather they should be in defense of God’s glory. I pray the Lord will give you wisdom in this situation.

  • Troy Cline

    I have studied imprecatory prayer for years, Al Houghton has a great book on this, “Jesus and Justice” that gives a great balance on this subject. I would like to interject that ALL scripture is inspired by God and profitable for DOCTRINE, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”

    When people are forcing vaccines that have human dna (aborted fetal tissue), aluminum and more infectious disease causing agents in them (if you don’t believe me, just look up Merck’s ingredients on the MMR vaccine), we should pray. When our leaders push for innocent babies to be killed through abortion we should pray, remember God “hates the hands that shed innocent blood” Proverbs 6:17C and, “let their days be few and let another take his office” Psalm 109:8 and there are many more much stronger prayers that should be prayed like the one in this great article.

    And if you think Jesus had a problem with this type of praying read Matthew 23 and His pronounced judgments that came to pass in AD70. Romans 1 is another new testament chapter that will help us in our politically correct church.

    We have been nuetered, our minds have been colonized by P.C., we need to repent of the feel good message, Hell is real, people should be told this in love and even with tears in our eyes, but it is real.

    We do need to check our hearts and not be vindictive and this requires an ongoing repentative act to keep out own hearts clean.

    I loved your article Caleb. Blessings, Troy (tdeancline@gmail.com

    • I agree, with you Troy, those statements Jesus made in Mat 23 are pretty clear and pretty imprecatory!

      • Troy Cline

        Caleb, call me sometime, anytime, I will get back if not at my phone, don’t keep a cell phone on me. My home is 949-291-0952 God bless you abundantly. Troy

  • Ryan Heath

    I am a believer. My ex girlfriend is not. She destroyed me emotionally and was cruel about it. No remorse. It led me to almost commit suicide and weep to the Lord because of how broken my heart was. I have asked God for divine justice for what she did to me. Am I wrong for this?

    • Ryan I think we have to be very careful about applying these prayers to personal relationship context. There is a very real danger that this type of prayer could be really more about our personal desire for revenge. What I see in David’s prayers is that they were Godward focused and they were about bringing God glory. I think that in your situation it will be much more wise to pray for the repentance and salvation of this former girlfriend then for her judgment.

      • Ryan Heath

        Thank you for your response. While I do believe there must be a price to pay when someone mistreats another, I fully agree that I should pray for her to come to know Jesus. Thanks again

  • CitizenJane

    I believe as you do, that imprecatory prayers should be used to work to remove evil from the earth and not as personal revenge. But they do not seem to work…
    If there is a God and he wants a good a loving earth, it seems to me he would help those people trying to bring it about. But instead God allows that “From (evil) their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits.” And leaves the good among us to suffer the plagues of Job. So “What then are we to do?”
    Please tell me.
    I am not perfect but I have been as good as a person can be all my life and have been left to suffer all the torments evil people can dream up… and it has forced me to change my belief.
    I now believe we are an experiment of some cosmic creatures far above us in skill and intelligence and nothing we can do will change this. We could wear our knees bloody praying to a “God” who refuses to get involved with our “petty” grievances and lets us suffer it out until we die.
    Why?
    I cannot live a meaningless existence and that seems that’s all there is.
    If the earth were to be destroyed, then the cosmic scientists — for who this is nothing more than a lab used to see what we will do with free will — could start over and give us guide posts in our DNA to bring us toward the GOOD and the LIGHT and make us become the images of God we are supposed to be.
    Thank you.

  • JOHN David

    I’m certain that David’s prayer was answered by God and even though Jesus Christ said to love your enemies he said it without contradiction, remember that the way of the wicked is death. “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?
    Its not good to pray for a evil persons destruction because that is guaranteed instead pray for that persons salvation because that is not guaranteed.
    No contradiction../

    • Yes, most certainly the best thing is if the wicked person turns from his ways and we should pray for that. I think that in David’s case he prayed against those who were against God and who had been given opportunity to turn from their ways but violently refused. Their destruction could save many lives and give opportunity for many people to turn to God.

  • Mike Lacy

    Corporate pacifism, as being essential to Christianity is a heresy. Love is action, not an emotion. We love our enemies as they, and their torments bring us closer to God. We pray for our enemies to become illimuned. Treat them properly and with compassion when they are prisoners, kill them without bloodlust if needed to stop them from killing us, see they are properly burried, and care for their widows and orphans.

    English-speakers suffer from a poorly translated Holy Bible, where God commands us not to “Kill”, rather than the more accurate, “not to murder”…not to mention the omission of the word “Eucharist” that appears 38 times in the original Koine Greek of the New Testament. Unicorns in the Old Testament, etc.

    “When the enemy comes to kill you in the night, rise up and kill them first.” – Numbers