Sunday, January 10, 2010

Praying Down Fire From Heaven

A friend asked me to put down some thoughts on imprecatory prayer. At church today I was rebuked by a fellow parishioner for praying an imprecatory prayer. I was told, "It is wrong to pray something bad on someone else."

I had simply asked the Lord to frustrate the plans of the organizers of the Global Atheist Conference to be held in Melbourne this coming March.

What did Jesus teach concerning imprecatory prayer? Did I do the wrong thing in church this morning?

It is my conviction that the heresy of pietism has driven imprecatory prayer out of the intercessions of the church in session, and this is one of the reasons why evil seems to be on the rise in our generation.

We can find many prayers of imprecation in the Old Testament, and there are several Psalms that are dedicated to imprecation. I will come back to those later. However, there is much regarding prayers of imprecation in the New Testament, and Jesus actually commanded His disciples to pray in an inprecatory way. Jesus prayed imprecatory prayers, Paul prayed imprecatory prayers, the Apostles prayed imprecatory prayers, and the congregations of the early church prayed imprecatory prayers, especially as they prayed through the book of Psalms as their guide to praying. Were all these wrong?

Let us explore some of the Scritpures, as they relate to prayers of imprecation:

1. (Matthew 21:18 ff.) Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry, and seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, "Let no fruit grow on you ever again." Immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, "How did the fig tree wither away so soon?" So Jesus answered and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea, whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive. ... Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that he was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.

Both the fig tree (Judges 9:10) and the mountain (Daniel 9:16) are Old Testament pictures of the Jewish nation. Jesus cursed the fig tree because of its fruitlessness, portending the destruction that was to come in AD 70 because apostate Judaism was not producing the fruit of the Kingdom of God. Then, having demonstrated to the disciples what was to come, he then commanded them to pray in that destruction: "... say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea, whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." To say that Jesus was talking about going around cursing trees, and uprooting geographical features and by some trick of levitation, dumping them into the sea is ludicrous. God is not the God of chaos, and He will not ask us to create a chaos of His creation in this way.

However, if we understand what the types were pointing to, then what Jesus was saying to the disciples was this: "The Jewish nation has become fruitless. They have sinned to the point of Judicial blindness, and it is time to place them under the curse of the cherem (to devote to religious uses - especially destruction [see Malachi 4:6]). If you, the disciples, will pray in faith, then you will see the Jewish nation lifted from its place in the land, and drowned in the sea of gentilic dispersion."

The Book of Revelation reveals that the first century Christians actually prayed these imprecatory prayers in the period leading up to the destruction of the city and the temple in AD 70. Revelation 6:9-10 states: "When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Revelation 8:3-6: "Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. ..."

2. Matthew 16:18-19 "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Here, the Lord Jesus commanded Peter, and in Peter all church leaders, to bind and loose. This implies blessing and imprecation. If someone's sins are bound to him (because he refuses to repent of them, for instance), then he has been committed to the judgments of God, and ultimately, if there is no repentance after the judgments of God have been implemented, then eternal damnation. Paul later talks of this process when he writes: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 5:4-5). This is practical imprecation as it relates to members of the church, and it is to be exercised in the context of the assembled congregation, under the direction of properly ordained church leadership.

3. Paul writes: I Corinthians 16:22: "If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema (accursed - set aside for destruction). Maranatha (come Lord - to execute your judgments upon the unbelievers)".

Galatians 1:8: "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema - be set aside for destruction)".

In these passages, and other passages, the Apostle Paul prayed imprecatory prayers against unbelievers in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

4. The Old Testament psalms have been appointed to be read and sung by the church throughout its history. To read the imprecatory psalms, or to to sing them with faith, is to pray their content. Besides the list of Psalms that are dedicated to imprecation (Ps. 5, 7, 35, 58, 68, 69, 73, 83, 109, 137, 140), many of the Psalms have imprecatory portions (e.g., Ps. 1:4-6; 3:7; 6:8-10; 34:16; 37:12-15; 54:7; 104:35; 139:19-22). And according to David Chilton, in his book, the Days of Vengeance, "... all the Psalms are implicitly imprecatory, in that the blessings of the righteous are mentioned with the corollary assumed: The wicked are cursed."

Many modern liturgies have awkward dissections of the Psalms read or sung, removing the imprecatory bits. But this is artificial, is not in the flow of general church history, and has weakened the modern church's resolve against evil in the nation. A church that will not call down God's judgment upon wickedness in the marketplace, will itself, eventually, be over-run by the wicked, and receive God's judgment for liturgical disobedience.

5. The Apostle John writes: "For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an anti-Christ. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but we may receive a full reward. Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 7-11). Jude wrote: "Michael the archangel ... said, 'The Lord rebuke you!"

We are not to entertain those who are of the spirit of ant-Christ; we are not to receive them into our homes, and in fact we are to pray over them: "The Lord rebuke you!" an imprecatory prayer.

I would like to sum up with a large quote from David Chilton. His book, The Days of Vengeance, is a commentary on the Book of Revelation, and for me, is the only commentary that comes any where near resolving some of the very difficult passages in the book:

"... the breaking of the Fifth Seal reveals a scene in heaven, where the souls of those who had been slain are underneath, or around the base of, the altar. The image is taken from the Old Testament sacrifices, in which the blood of the slain victim would stream down the sides of the altar and form into a pool around its base ("the soul [Heb. nephesh] of the flesh is in the blood," Lev. 17:11). The blood of the martyrs has been poured out (cf. 2 Tim. 4:6), and as it fills the trench below the altar it cries out from the ground with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood upon those who dwell on the Land? The Church in heaven agrees with the cherubim in calling forth God's judgments: How Long? is a standard phrase throughout Scripture for invoking divine justice for the oppressed (cf. Ps. 6:3; 13:1-2; 35:17; 74:10; 79:5; 80:4; 89:46; 90:13; 94:3-4; Hab. 1:2; 2:6). The particular background for its use here, however, is again in the prophecy of Zecharaiah (1:2): After the Four Horsemen have patrolled through the earth, the angel asks, "O LORD of Hosts, how long wilt Thou have no compassion for Jerusalem?" St. John reverses this. After his Four Horsemen have been sent on their mission, he shows the martyrs asking how long God will continue to put up with Jerusalem. St. John's readers would not have failed to notice another subtle point: If the martyr's blood is flowing around the base of the altar, it must be the priests of Jerusalem who have spilled it. The officers of the Covenant have slain the righteous. As Jesus and the apostles testified, Jerusalem was the murderer of the prophets (Matt. 23:34-37; Luke 13:33; Acts 7:51-52). The connection with "the blood of Abel" crying out from the ground near the altar (Gen. 4:10) is another indication that the passage as a whole refers to judgment upon Jerusalem (cf. Matt. 23:35-37). Like Cain, the "older brothers" of the Old Covenant envied and murdered their righteous "younger brothers" of the New Covenant (cf. I John 3:11-12). And so the blood of the righteous cries out: The saints pray that Christ's prophecy of "the days of vengeance" (Luke 21:22) will be fulfilled.

That this blunt cry for vengeance strikes us as strange just show how far our pietistic age has degenerated from the Biblical worldview. If our churches were more acquainted with the foundational hymnbook of the Church, the Psalms, instead of the sugary, syrupy, sweetness-and-light choruses that characterize modern evangelical hymnals, we would understand this much easier. But we have fallen under a pagan delusion that it is somehow "unchristian" to pray for God's wrath to be poured out upon the enemies and persecutors of the Church. Yet that is what we see God's people doing, with God's approval, in both Testaments of the Holy Scriptures. It is, in fact, a characteristic of the godly man that he despises the reprobate (Ps. 15:4). The spirit expressed in the imprecatory prayers of Scripture is a necessary aspect of the Christian's attitude (cf. 2 Timothy 4:14). Much of the impotence of the churches today is directly attributable to the fact that they have become emasculated and effeminate. Such churches, unable even to confront evil--much less "overcome" it--will eventually be captured and dominated by their enemies." (pp.193-195)

Conquer, or be conquered! Overcome, or be overcome! This is the battle cry of the Bible-believing Church. But the weapons of our warfare are not carnal (they are not to be guns, riots, rebellion, and such like). The weapons of our warfare are mighty through God; they are strong to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. The weapons of our warfare include, as one of a range of weapons, imprecatory prayer.


Steve from the Alice said...

Excellent blog--like the numerous linkages which help provide background.

However, I think you need to address what will be common objections to your position. These I list in no particular order:

1 References to 'turning the other cheek', blessing and not cursing, etc.

2 The Lord's prayer statement 'Forgive us our debts as we forgive others'.

3 Jesus words, "You have heard it said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth' but I say...'

4 What about modern day examples of extremely serious forgiveness such as the off-referenced Corrie Ten Boom forgiving the SS agent who had a direct hand in the death of her sister in a Nazi death camp.

Might it also be useful to blog (or reference previous blogs) where you have discussed the overall goal and purpose of God. Is it man's salvation or is it His Kingdom?


Steve from the Alice said...

An additional query. What about the Parable of the Wheat and Tares which could be used to argue that it is never our business to be going around uprooting evil, but just to keep sowing and growing good, leaving the uprooting to Christ at that Final Judgment.