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All About Prayer (4) By Babatunde Olugboji

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All About Prayer (4) By Babatunde Olugboji

As we continue our series on prayers, this week, we will examine the basis of prayers of imprecation in the Bible.

As a reminder, to imprecate means “to invoke evil upon or curse” one’s enemies. David, the psalmist most associated with imprecatory verses often used expressions like, “may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them,” (Psalm 35:6) and “O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, o Lord!” (Psalm 58:6). Psalms 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69 79, 83, 109 and 137 are considered imprecatory prayers in the psalms.

Through the ages, there has been a widely held belief that words, especially curses, are powerful and can cause harm to those against whom they are directed. Words were said to have effectuating power. One may regard the curses in these psalms directed at enemies as an outpouring of personal resentment and a means of destroying such enemies.

Some scholars argue that imprecatory psalms express sentiments that originated from men who thought of revenge, and that the imprecation cannot be applied to someone other than the intended person in his or her personal context. Such scholars see the imprecatory psalms as “expressions of vindictiveness” and “unholy,” that  they are merely “refined malice” and borders on being “devilish.” In other words, not the kind of prayer to be cherished in this day and age by followers of Christ. 

However, some other scholars see the imprecations as prophetic predictions, thus implying that they are divine announcements and not personal sentiments. They adhere to the premise that these psalms belong to God’s inspired Word which are specifically directed to God as the champion of the aggrieved. This view implies that the psalmists were more than poets; they were also prophets, pointing out that David, the author of many of the imprecatory psalms, is called a prophet in Acts 2:30 and 4:25. A Psalm like 109 is regarded by such scholars as future predictions. 

Advocates of this viewpoint points at the fact that some of the imprecations in the Psalms are quoted in the New Testament (Psalm 69:25 and Ps 109:8 in Acts 1:20; and Psalm 69:22-23 in Roman 11:9-11) and that these quotations characterize the imprecations as prophetic of the messianic age. And that the prophetic role of the psalmists is recognized by the New Testament. (e.g., Psalm 41:9 in John 13:18 and Matthew 26:23-24; Psalm 35:19 in John 15:25) Such advocates also argue that frequently, the psalmist’s desire is for God’s glory to be manifested because his enemies have ridiculed and reviled God for not protecting His people. (e.g., Psalms 28:5; 64:5; 69:6; 74:10; 79:6-10; 83:2; 109:27; 137:3)

However, there are other scholars who point out the importance of distinguishing between the canonical setting of the psalms and specific statements in the psalms. According to these scholars, the imprecatory psalms still reflect the psalmists’ own sentiments and real intention to harm their personal enemies.

So, should we, or should we not pray imprecatory prayers? The discussion continues next week.

Have a great week.

Kingdom Dynamics, a weekly column written by Dr. Babatunde Olugboji, the President, Kingdom House, a non-profit organization in New Jersey, USA.

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