One of the comments on my previous post was: “Bill, We are called to pray for those in authority but I don't find that the scriptures limit how we are to pray. I can pray for the items you have listed but I can also pray with the Psalmist 109:8,’May his days be few; may another take his office.’"
My reply was: “Rod: In Psalm 109, David is praying a prayer of vengeance against some enemy, someone who has done him serious wrong. We don't know who this person is, though some believe it may have been his counselor Ahithophel, who betrayed him. In Acts 1:20, it is applied to Judas. The Psalm was not written, however, to be arbitrarily applied to anyone we happen to dislike. I believe you need to read the story in Luke 9:51-56. As Jesus said in verses.55 and 56, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.’"
As this is not the first time I’ve received or heard comments like this, I feel that I need to say a few more things about what are known as “imprecatory Psalms,” psalms or portions of psalms in which the psalmist calls down curses on his enemies. They’re actually quite common in the Book of Psalms.
“Hold them guilty O God,
By their own transgressions let them fall!
In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out,
For they are rebellious against You!” (5:10)
“Break the arm of the wicked and the evildoer;
Seek out his wickedness until You find none.” (10:15)
“Let the wicked be put to shame;
Let them be silent in Sheol!
Let the lying lips be dumb,
Which speak arrogantly against the righteous,
with pride and contempt.” (31:17b, 18)
“O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth;
break the fangs of the young lions O LORD!” (58:6)
“The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
he will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked!” (58:10)
These are only a few. There are many, many more.
Well then, what are we to do with these? They are Scripture – the Word of God. If we agree with the apostle Paul that “All Scripture is God breathed and profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16), what do we do with this stuff? Can we Christians pray prayers like these? As Uni and I pray for those in the persecuted church around the world, it is very tempting to intercede against their persecutors – to pray that God would “smite them” – men like Kim Jong Il of North Korea or Omar al-Bashir of Sudan or Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, men who are evil by anyone’s definition. But before we just jump in and pray this, I believe we need to consider a few things:
• The Psalmists were living under a different dispensation and a different covenant, the Covenant that God made with the nation of Israel on Mount Sinai through Moses. We live under the New Covenant.
• The Psalms express a desire for the establishment of God’s Kingdom. One of the methods used under the Old Covenant was warfare. Under the New Covenant, God’s methods are clearly given as the preaching of the Gospel. It should be noted, however, that every time we pray what is known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” we too are praying toward that end – “Thy Kingdom come” (Matthew 5:10).
• They express a hatred for sin and a desire for justice by God as well as the Psalmist. See Psalm 101, where David declares “I will sing of lovingkindness and justice” and then proceeds to describe how he will institute justice.
• They express a concern for people to know God and understand His righteousness. Compare Psalm 58:10 quoted above with verse 11. “And men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous. Surely there is a God who judges on earth.’” Or 59:13, “Destroy them in wrath, destroy them, that they may be no more; that man may know that God rules in “Jacob and to the ends of the earth!”
• The Old Testament and the New Testament both forbid personal vengeance:
“You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD!” (Leviticus 19:18)
“Vengeance is Mine and retribution …
For the LORD will vindicate His people …” (Deuteronomy 32:35a, 36a)
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
If he is thirsty give him water to drink;
For you will heap burning coals on his head,
And the LORD will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:21, 22)
Paul quotes from both the Deuteronomy passage and the Proverbs passage in Romans 12:19, 20.
• Jesus “superseded” the laws of vengeance in His Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you, don’t withstand the evil …” (Matthew 5:38, 39a)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:43, 44) (Though the expression “hate your enemy” is not expressly stated in the Old Testament, the idea certainly could have been inferred from the passages in the Psalms quoted above.)
Jesus has called us to a radical new ethic, an ethic that reflects Him. It is an ethic of love and it is instilled in us by His Holy Spirit. He has called us to, as Paul states in Romans 12:2, “Stop being conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind!” Vengeance against our enemies is not permitted us. It’s not our prerogative. It’s God’s!
We will have enemies; we’re not told that we won’t. The New Testament is filled with promises and examples of persecution and conflict. But I don’t believe that we are to choose our enemies, nor to consider those with whom we simply disagree as our enemies. Nor are we to pray for their demise. We can’t prevent some people from being our enemies, but we should leave the choice to them. And we are to love them.
See also: VENGEANCE, THE CHRISTIAN AND WAR and VIOLENCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT.