Wiley Drake made headlines over the last year, not just in national news when he announced that he was praying for the death of the president of the United States. He claimed biblical authority for his prayers, based on David’s imprecatory psalms.
“If he (Obama) does not turn to God and does not turn his life around, I am asking God to enforce imprecatory prayers that are throughout the Scripture that would cause him death, that’s correct.”
“Imprecatory prayer is agreeing with God, and if people don’t like that, they need to talk to God. God said it, I didn’t. I was just agreeing with God.”
So, what about his claim that he is just agreeing with God? Does the Word give justification to those who would pray for the destruction and death of the president. I have a slightly different view of Obama than some do. I think he is a decent, family man who has political ideas with which I disagree strongly. I think his politics are destructive to America. Others, like Wiley (and quite a few friends of mine) believe that Obama is evil.
Drake and others have appealed to the Imprecatory Psalms for scriptural support for their views. Are they right? We conservative Christians need to be careful here. We believe the Bible in all things, even when it does not say what we would like it to say. Right now there seems to be an inalterable push for the normalization of homosexual behavior and those who call that sin will be vilified. But we must call it sin anyway. If Wiley Drake is right, if his use of such scriptures is justified, then we must follow the scriptures even if it takes us to places we might not want to go.
My thesis in this post is that Wiley Drake is using scripture wrongly, that the Imprecatory Psalms, while inspired, do not support his use of them and that we cannot, in this day, use these psalms to justify public prayers for the death of the president or any other political foe.
The Imprecatory Psalms are a sub-class of the most common type of Psalm, the Songs of Lament. Bernard Anderson in his excellent commentary, “Out of the Depths,” identifies three types of laments. There are Community laments, which call out to God on behalf of his people Israel. There are Penitential Laments, such as Psalm 51, which mourn sin and call for repentance. But the most common form of the laments is the personal lament. David had many enemies who tried to destroy him and called out to God for protection, for deliverance and for justice. The laments (like most of the Psalms) are prayers, calling out to God from a place of pain to ask him to act.
The Imprecatory Psalms are personal laments on steroids. In times of deepest pain, David called out to God for his justice, asking God to avenge him and destroy his enemies. Psalms 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137 and 139 are considered at one level or another to be imprecatory.
Here are some choice tidbits from the Imprecatory Psalms.
- Psalm 55:15 – Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the grave.
- Psalm 58:6 – O God, break the teeth in their mouths.
- Psalm 69:28 – May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous.
- Psalm 109:9 – May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
- Psalm 137:9 – How blessed will be the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
Psalm 109 is the king of the imprecatory hill. That a great man such as David would pray these words makes me uncomfortable. That they are included in the inerrant scriptures is even stranger. But do they support Wiley Drake’s prayers? Look at the words.
Psalm 109: 9 May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. 10 May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. 11 May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. 12 May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children. 13 May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation. 14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. 15 May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
The problem is that these words seem to be in conflict with the ethics of the NT, the words of Jesus and the teachings of the Apostles.
Jesus said, in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Instead of calling for our enemies’ children to become wandering beggars, Jesus gave us a different ethic. In Matthew 5:44, he says, “But I say to you, ?Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Paul picked up and expanded upon this ethic in Romans 12:20-21.
“To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
In addition, there are specific NT commands about how we are to treat our leaders. As we read Romans 13, we need to remember that the government that is referenced in that passage was hardly a bastion of righteousness. The letter to the Roman church (amazing insight alert) was written to the church at Rome, the seat of a wicked, corrupt and ungodly government.
Don’t miss my point. No matter how much one dislikes Barack Obama, it is hard to argue that he is more wicked than the rulers of Rome. They were corrupt and vile. And yet, Paul told the Romans this:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2)
We are not authorized to pray for their demise, but are called to be subject to them. Fortunately, in America, being subject to authorities does not require us to renounce dissent. But it certainly does not authorize public pronouncements of imprecation.
I would ask Wiley and his ilk to respond to two statements in these verses. Paul says that those authorities that exist “have been instituted by God.” Barack Obama was elected not only by the votes of Americans but by the decree of God. Sometimes, God raises up a leader to bless a people, sometimes to judge them – I will leave my opinion on that to your imagination. We are called to subject ourselves to the president, to recognize that he serves at the sovereign will of God. One more thing – verse 2 says that those who resist the authorities resist “what God has appointed” and will incur judgment.
It is hard for me to see how public, imprecatory prayers meet with this ethic. Titus 3:1 reminds us to “be submissive to rulers and authorities.” 1 Peter 2:13-15 could hardly be more clear.
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
The early church was often accused of rebellion, since they refused to acknowledge any lord but Jesus. So, Peter wanted them to be sure to be subject to the rulers as much as possible, except where that required disloyalty to Christ. This would silence the ignorance of the foolish.
Wiley Drake does just the opposite. By ignoring the NT ethic of submission to governmental authorities, he gives skeptics and the opponents of the gospel the opportunity to ridicule and belittle the church.
Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:1-3, told us that we should pray for our rulers, those in authority over us.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…
So, concerning ungodly, evil rulers, the clear testimony of the NT is that we are to be subject to them, pray for them, and seek their blessing. There is absolutely no justification in the NT for imprecatory prayers.
So, we have two facts that are in evidence here.
1) In the Psalms, David prayed imprecatory prayers against those who persecuted and attempted to destroy him.
2) There is no evidence in the NT of any kind of imprecation against rulers. In fact, the opposite is true. While they were evil men, the rulers of the day were to be prayed for, submitted to and shown respect.
Is this a contradiction? Does the NT negate the Old? What is going on here? I would make the following observations about imprecatory prayers.
1) The imprecatory prayers of David arose out of a deep sense of hurt and bitterness. I love the prayers of the OT. They were not someone affecting a “godly voice” and praying impressive rhetoric. They are often raw and unfiltered as a man pours out his heart before God. Job. Jeremiah. Habakkuk. And, of course, David. They went to God and said, “I don’t get it.” “It is unfair.” “You have tricked me.” And God never zapped any of them. He allowed them to pour out their hurt and anger to him, and he brought them perspective and healing.
2) David’s raw prayers were, in essence, an appeal to El-Naqam, the God of Justice and Vengeance – clearly an attribute of God. He was practicing the principle, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” David did not seek vengeance against his enemies, he called out to God for it.
The imprecatory prayers of Psalms demonstrate a God-honoring disdain for evil and wickedness. In Proverbs 8:13 Solomon makes it clear that the fear of the Lord requires us to hate evil.
3) Here is the main point. The imprecatory prayers of David are pretty much uniformly personal laments. David was injured and assaulted by these evil people and he called out to God to protect him and to punish his enemies. They are personal prayers not political tactics. They are prayers, not public or political pronouncements. Even if a imprecatory prayer is justified (and here, I don’t think it is), it is a private act, not a public statement.
4) So, this is not a case of the NT negating the OT. Certainly, as Jesus told us, the Christian ethic, both builds on and expands on the OT ethic. “You have heard it said…but I say unto you.” Yes, Jesus fulfilled and built upon the OT law.
But this is not a case of the NT negating the Old. These are two different situations entirely. In the Psalms, David is pouring out his heart to God, asking God to act to protect him and to take vengeance against those who would destroy him. He is not talking about how we treat rulers or authorities, but how we deal with our enemies.
If someone in my church was sowing discord and causing trouble, I would be perfectly justified in pouring out my pain to God. “Lord, protect me from this evil man.” But Jesus did expand on this response in the verses I quoted above. I would be responsible to pray for this man and seek to love and bless him. I could call out to God, but I would also be responsible to love my enemy.
This has nothing to do with politics. The scripture is clear on how I should treat Barack Obama. Fortunately, as Americans, we have the right to oppose our leaders. But while he is president, I must be in submission to him, I must pray for him (and not for his death – that seems pretty clear) and I must demonstrate respect for his office.
Fortunately, in 2012, I will have the opportunity to support someone who hopefully will render Barack a one-term president. That is a blessing. But in the meantime, I believe it is a sin against God for me to publicly pray for his death.
So, Wiley Drake and his supporters are violating scripture, not upholding it, when they pray for the death of the president.
NOTE: This is a volatile subject. I may regret that I published this. But one commenter on the immigration post began to advocate imprecatory prayers against Obama and even to say that those who did not pray such were sinful, compromising against God and the Word. I recently preached Psalms on Sunday Night and reworked my sermon notes when I dealt with the Imprecatory Psalms.
I will probably moderate the comments on this more carefully than usual.