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Imprecatory Prayer
© 07.12.21 By David Eric Williams

This article appeared in the July 15 edition of the Cottonwood Chronicle

Then someone told David, saying, "Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom." And David said, "O LORD, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness!" (2 Samuel 15:31).

Imprecatory Psalms are songs and prayers invoking God's judgement upon the wicked. They are sometimes bloodthirsty and normally filled with requests for calamity, destruction, punishment and disaster. Many Christians simply ignore them. Others say the imprecatory Psalms are a part of the Old Covenant abrogated by the New. Bible believing Christians cannot bring themselves to toss out the imprecatory Psalms altogether but struggle to fit them in to the Christ like life.

The passage quoted at the beginning of this article is not a Psalm, but is an example of an imprecatory prayer. In later articles in this series, we will examine some of the Psalms, but this "mild" imprecatory appeal is a good introduction to the genre.

As with any biblically sound prayer, the supplication begins with an acknowledgement of God's status. God's name "Yahweh," translated as "LORD" in the prayer is the covenant name of God. Using it recalls all the covenant promises. It is a reminder to God and the supplicant that there is a special relationship between God and his people. It is also an address expressing humility and respect.

Jesus' instructions concerning prayer retain these principles. In the "Lord's prayer," Jesus taught us to begin by saying, "Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy" (Matthew 6:9). In so doing we acknowledge the covenant, the promises of God and our special relationship to God in Jesus Christ. The truth is every prayer of the Christian should exhibit these traits. It is the next two principles that are particular to imprecatory prayer.

The second characteristic of imprecatory prayer is its narrow focus. In other words, the prayer concerns a specific person who is a known enemy of Yahweh and his intent. It is not enough if someone initiates a personal attack against a follower of God; the crucial criteria is that the offender is attacking Yahweh's covenant purpose. Personal slights, likes and dislikes, legal harassment etc.; none of these are legitimate reasons for imprecatory prayer. Unless we are sure a person is actively seeking to overthrow God's covenant plan, there is no need for imprecatory prayer.

Finally, the request made by the supplicant must be targeted and appropriate to the circumstance. David did not ask for Ahithophel's death, just that God would thwart his good advice. Indeed, Yahweh did not cause Ahithophel to provided foolish advice; he caused Absolom and his supporters to reject the good advice in favor of Hushai's purposefully contrary counsel.

Now that we have looked at the basic structure of the imprecatory prayer, we will turn our attention to something more challenging: Psalms 137. (Continued next week.)

Go here for the second article in this series.


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