Monday, September 14, 2009

Christian Imprecatory Prayer

After the first beating the Apostles took in the name of Jesus, they gathered the church together to pray about it. This corporate prayer opened with these ominous words: "Lord consider their threats." The word "Lord" is a heavy word in Greek, despota, from which we get the English word "despot." It highlights the frightening power of Yahweh to wreak vengeance on his enemies. This prayer is thus a page out of Hezekiah's playbook when he laid Sennacherib's letter before the Lord in the Temple and said, "Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God" (Isa 37:17/2 Kgs 19:16). They were not merely asking God to hear. They were asking him to attend to the problem. This specific kind of prayer is called "imprecatory." It is when you ask God to put the hurt on your enemy so justice will be served and the righteous vindicated. The verbiage is often brutal (e.g., Psa 58:6–11, 59:5, 13; 109:6–15; 137:8–9; 139:19–22).

This prayer, however, ends with a most surprising twist. Instead of asking God to break teeth, smash enemies, or drop firebombs from heaven, the believers ask God to heal. This contrast is not merely seen in Biblical prayers of imprecation but also in the prayers Josephus records: Ant 1.18.6 §272–73 "make him a terror to his foes"; 4.3.2 §40–50, "make manifest thy judgment in no uncertain manner"; 20.4.2 §89–90, "come to my aid to defend me from my enemies…it is thy power they have had the audacity to challenge." That, in fact, was the very activity that brought them this trouble in the first place but it is the very thing that will bring salvation to their countrymen. So they request the boldness to proclaim the gospel in the face of impending persecution. Their imprecation is not against their enemies but in essence against themselves for the benefit of their enemies. There could hardly be a more striking fulfillment of Jesus' unprecedented injunction, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt 5:44).


Blogger Levi and Betsy said...

Thanks for this encouraging post. After talking to a church yesterday and nervously pleading with them to pray for the Taliban, we realize what a tough thing it is ask anyone to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute Christians.

September 21, 2009 5:33 PM  

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