Imprecations in the New Testament
Imprecations continue in the New Testament and are expressed as either divine vengeance or judgment on those who ultimately reject Christ (i.e.1 Cor. 16:22; Gal. 1:8-9; Rev. 6:9-10).
In Mark 11:12-14 and 20-26 Jesus himself curses a fig tree that had leaves but no fruit. Jesus in a sense condemned the tree for not producing what it appeared to have. This was to teach and warn his disciples against spiritual fruitlessness and hypocrisy. At the same time it was also a sign as to what would happen to unrepentant people in the last day.
Are imprecations for today?
The other day at work while on the phone a student and I briefly discussed the existence of God. He called to see what kind of Bible he needed for his theology course which lead to discussion on what a Christian is which then lead to the existence of God. During our conversation he told me of a time in Kosovo where he saw men and women being put through a wood cutter. Can you imagine? What of course was the initial response in my heart. Justice!
So we’re finally back to our initial questions: How can Christians with a clear conscious pray for the annihilation of our enemies when Christ has explicitly commanded us to “love your enemies” (Matt 5:44)? Do we have the right as New Testament believers to pray for the desolation and ruin of our enemies?
Peter’s encounter with Simon the Magician in Acts 8:18-24 may be a helpful approach as NT believers for praying imprecations.
18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whoe I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
In this passage Peter announced a curse on Simon the Magician for thinking that he could obtain the “gift of God” through money. Granted Simon’s circumstance and attitude may not be generalized to all enemies of God in exactly the same manner Peter took the right approach in few ways. Peter made Simon aware of his sin, explained the end result of his sin, and provided a solution for his sin namely to repent that he might be forgiven.
In Romans 15:3 Paul references Psalm 69:9 as representative of quoting Christ, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” Paul sees David as a prefiguration of Christ and interprets this as Christ’s final judgment on his enemies.
From this framework I still believe that prayers of imprecation are still permissible for Christians today. We are to pray for mercy and repentance for those who deliberately disobey God and who cause harm to His Gospel and people. At the same time it is appropriate to pray that if these same people continue in their sin, justice must find its end in them through a sort of redemptive execution where the wrath and curses of God are ultimately laid on them forever. As Jesus mentioned to the Pharisees in John 8:24 they would die in their sins unless they, “believe that I am He.”
These lessons must be taken with the highest humility so we do not find ourselves confused with our pride giving us the right that we can pray down imprecations on anyone. Imprecations must be thought of in light of our own sin and rebellion. Our calling is love and mercy with the view that justice will ultimately meet the demand of love in the end.
Reading through the imprecatory Psalms the descriptions have made me feel a measure of horror of what the wrath and judgment of God entails. This has evoked a number of emotions in my heart. One is gratitude that these no longer pertain to my life now that I am in Christ. The imprecations have been in a sense fulfilled in Christ (Gal 3:13-14) for those who place their faith in Him. Oh how these Psalms should humble the human heart!