Imprecatory Prayer/Psalm 28

As the people of God, we must not ever be content with unanswered prayer. We cry out to the Lord, and we do not do this because we merely want to hear ourselves talking in a religious way. We do this because we seek deliverance and salvation.

“Unto thee will I cry, O LORD my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit. Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle. Draw me not away with the wicked, and with the workers of iniquity, which speak peace to their neighbours, but mischief is in their hearts. Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavours: give them after the work of their hands; render to them their desert. Because they regard not the works of the LORD, nor the operation of his hands, he shall destroy them, and not build them up. Blessed be the LORD, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. The LORD is their strength, and he is the saving strength of his anointed. Save thy people, and bless thine inheritance: feed them also, and lift them up for ever” (Ps. 28:1-9).

We cry to the Lord in desperate straits. Our situation is unstable, but He is the rock (v. 1). If God is silent, then we will be like those who go down to the pit. Again, David asks God to hear his supplications, to respond when he lifts up his hands in prayer (v. 2). Considering the fate of the wicked, David does not want to be tied up in that particular bundle (v. 3). In the next verse, we have a prayer for pure justicerequite them, Lord, according to their deeds (v. 4). God will hear this prayer because the wicked do not regard the works of the Lord (v. 5). The mouths of the faithful are constantly full of blessing, but above all, blessing of the Lord, who always answers prayer (v. 6). David praises the Lord because the Lord has answered his prayer — the Lord is his strength and shield (v. 7). David turns to apply this truth to the people of God generally (v. 8). The psalm concludes with a prayer to save the people, bless the inheritance, feed the people, and to lift them up forever (v. 9).

In His glorious submission to the will of the Father, the Lord Jesus prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.” But far too many Christians have taken this and twisted it into a model for unbelieving prayer. “Blessed are those who never ask for anything specific, for they shall not be disappointed.” The psalmist here, and in many other places, teaches us to go out on a limb. Prayer needs to be more than “God bless America. And Aunt Mary.” Our requests need to grow to the point where either yes or no would be a reasonable answer to the request. We see this here. God is asked to not be silent (v. 1). He is asked to hear (v. 9). He is asked to save and feed (v. 9). We are taught in Scripture to be persistent in prayer, but that is not all. Our persistence must be focused — it must have a point. We need to know what we want. And it would be far better to receive a no answer, a thousand times in a row, than to pray constantly in a nebulous fashion.

If we want to separate from the wicked in their approaching miseries, we need to be separate from them in their current pleasures. David wants to be disassociated with them now, and not just later. What are these people like? They speak peace to others, but their hearts are full of mischief. They pretend to friendship, but they have a nest of snakes under their tongue.

But the psalmist’s habit of imprecatory prayer causes problems for many Christians. The fourth verse of this psalm provides us with a good example of an Old Testament sentiment that tends to rub our New Testament fur the wrong way. Some of this is the result of our sentimentalismbut not all of it. There really is a tension here that needs resolution. How are we to reconcile this kind of prayer with the New Testament teaching to “honor all men,” and to “love our enemies,” for just two examples?

Remember first that the Psalms are preeminently the songbook of the Christ. To the extent that we sing and pray these psalms ourselves, we may only do so in Him. This means that the psalter may never be used as a voodoo doll for us to settle scores with our personal enemies.

Second, God has established a glorious way for His enemies to be destroyed. He destroys them in the death of Jesus so that He might raise them to life again. This is what He has done for us, and this is what we desire in the first place for those who oppose themselves to the gospel.

Third, if in the plan of God it is not His purpose to do this, then we want to pray in line with His will. This is not an “Old Testament thing.” Hell is strict justice, and our gospel declares that God will judge all men according to their works (Rom. 2:3-10). Some men have received the grace of performing their works in Christ (by grace through faith), but others are outside Christ. This is the plan of God, and as we labor for His kingdom to come, His will to be done, it includes this. It therefore follows that praying the psalms of imprecation under the new covenant is not contrary to the spirit of the gospel. The apostle requires us to sing psalms (Eph. 5:19), and that includes this one.

When Saul was ravaging the churches, it was fully appropriate for the Christians to pray this way concerning him. But when God destroyed that persecutor on the Damascus road, the response of the Christians to this would identify them either as a Jonah or as a Stephen.

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