Praying the Imprecatory Psalms (Psalm 83)

The Psalms have always been considered a great source for encouraging us how to pray. But what happens when we come to a psalm where the author makes a plea for God to judge others? Should we skip over those psalms assuming, as did C.S. Lewis, that they are beneath the ethics of Jesus Christ? I don’t think so.

The following prayer is based on Psalm 83, one of the imprecatory Psalms with the recognition that we are now under the new covenant. There is not much to add to clarify how it relates to us today. Both justice and mercy are found within its verses and they are just as applicable to those of us in the new covenant as they were for those under the old covenant.

The imprecatory Psalms carry with them a weight of emotion that pastors must express from their pulpits today. The church shies away from this language all too often, as if it no longer fits God’s character in the new covenant. But to have a problem with the imprecatory Psalms is to have a problem with God’s justice. Removing the language of justice from our pulpits does irreparable damage to the mercy of God. And in the end, it makes light of the cross of our Savior.

“O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!” (1). We long to see your will carried out; both in mercy and in justice. We pray that you will carry out your righteous judgment upon your enemies. “For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads” (2). They shout their ignorance from the safety of the homes you have provided for them. They have tasted of your grace yet refused to acknowledge its source in you.

“They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones,” (3). Father, you know how the wicked plot against your people. They long to expand their influence by silencing those who would proclaim your Word. When they are unable to shut up your people, they malign our motives and call us hypocrites!

“They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!’” (4). And they would succeed in their mission were we left to defend ourselves. “For they conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant” (5). Today’s enemies stand opposed to your people just like “the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; Asshur also has joined them; they are the strong arm of the children of Lot,” (6-8). Their names have changed, but their goals have always been the same, because their captain is the same.

Satan has deceived humans from the beginning. Since the Garden of Eden he has led people to disobey your commands. He strives against your will and longs to drag as many down to his destruction with him. Your enemies have multiplied in number and fortified their positions. They have increased the size of their armies and they have adjusted their strategies. They use all the latest weaponry that they might strike fear into the hearts of all who hope in you.

But you have made an everlasting covenant with us! You have promised to be our shield, our exceedingly great reward (Gen 15:1)! You have promised to rescue us from destruction. And you have ensured that promise by sending your Son to endure the blows of our enemies in our place. As a shield takes the blows in place of the warrior, so your Son extinguished the fiery darts of the evil one as he hung upon the cross defeating death for all who place their faith in him (Eph 6:16). Our safety and protection is in “the rock that is higher than I,” (Ps 61:2).

In your mercy to us, you have bound Satan for his appointed destruction. Those who fight for him will be thrown into ruin along with him. Not even kings can thwart the plans you have for us. They are pawns in your hand Lord. “Do to them as you did to Midian, as to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon, who were destroyed at En-dor, who became dung for the ground. Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, ‘Let us take possession for ourselves of the pastures of God,’” (9-12). The land of Canaan was yours to give and you were faithful to keep every one of your promises to give that land to your people (Josh 23:14). The mission of their enemies was impossible because they had set their plans against yours.

Those who despise you today and make a mockery of your people await the same fate. “O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind,” (13). May we recognize their weakness and insignificance in light of having the Commander of the Lord’s Army fighting for us. “As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane!” (14-15). We do not dare take vengeance into our own hands, we do not carry out our personal vendettas, but we wait with patience for your just judgment.

“Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O Lord,” (16). That is our hope Lord! That in your judgment, your enemies would feel their shame and turn from their sin in true repentance! We pray that they would realize the filthiness of their wickedness in the sight of your righteousness. May their shame lead them to you God. But ultimately, our Heavenly Father, we pray that you would magnify your glory. “Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace, that they may know that you alone, whose name is the Lord, are the Most High over all the earth,” (18). Amen.