Praying for God’s Vengeance?

Is it all right for a Christian to pray God would destroy his enemies? Read what the prophet Jeremiah wrote (Jer 17:14-18):

14 Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
    save me, and I shall be saved;
    for thou art my praise.
15 Behold, they say to me,
    “Where is the word of the Lord?
    Let it come!”
16 I have not pressed thee to send evil,
    nor have I desired the day of disaster,
    thou knowest;
that which came out of my lips
    was before thy face.
17 Be not a terror to me;
    thou art my refuge in the day of evil.
18 Let those be put to shame who persecute me,
    but let me not be put to shame;
let them be dismayed,
    but let me not be dismayed;
bring upon them the day of evil;
    destroy them with double destruction!

Jeremiah asked God to destroy his enemies “with double destruction.” This is a lot of destruction! Is it ever ok for a Christian to do this? There are dozens of imprecatory prayers throughout the Bible. This one is hardly unique. Here are some brief thoughts to help us understand the context before we start praying for people to die:

Jeremiah was specifically, directly and unmistakably appointed by God to command the Israelites to repent and return to covenant faithfulness. You have not been.

The Israelites who opposed Jeremiah and sought to discredit and kill him were enemies of God. Those who oppose you may not be:

And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, says the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law (Jeremiah 16:10-11) 

Jeremiah was not upset because these people opposed him per se. He was upset because, by opposing him, they were rebelling against God in the face of clear commands to repent and be faithful to their covenant (cf. Ex 19:8ff). In short, he was filled with truly righteous indignation for holy reasons:

O Lord, thou knowest; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In thy forbearance take me not away; know that for thy sake I bear reproach. Thy words were found, and I ate them, and thy words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by thy name, O Lord, God of hosts (Jeremiah 15:15-16).

You, on the other hand, may simply be upset because you are being persecuted. Jeremiah is upset because, by rejecting him, they are rejecting God who commissioned and sent him (cf. Jer 1:1-12). By rejecting Jeremiah, they reject God. The Lord is dishonored and disgraced by His own people.

Last, I will simply say there is a time and place to be brutally honest with our Heavenly Father and express what we’re feeling. This honesty must always be expressed with a humble and pleading spirit; never in a spiteful and angry manner. We get confused. We get upset. We get sad. We often don’t understand. Are we supposed to put on a mask of stoicism and fraudulent piety and come boldly to the throne of grace, pretending we understand what the Lord is doing in our lives? Do we actually believe God doesn’t know how torn up we are inside?

There is a place for honesty with God, even if we know what we pray or ask isn’t always the “right” thing to say. Like confused, simple and often spoiled children, sometimes we must come before God and ask “why?” You cannot read any of the imprecatory prayers or psalms without confronting this reality. To be more blunt, you cannot be a human being and not understand that.

And now, I’ll let Jeremiah wrap this up. Note what he asks God to do, and why he asks it (Jer 18:18-23):

18 Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not heed any of his words.”

19 Give heed to me, O Lord,
    and hearken to my plea.
20 Is evil a recompense for good?
    Yet they have dug a pit for my life.
Remember how I stood before thee
    to speak good for them,
    to turn away thy wrath from them.
21 Therefore deliver up their children to famine;
    give them over to the power of the sword,
let their wives become childless and widowed.
    May their men meet death by pestilence,
    their youths be slain by the sword in battle.
22 May a cry be heard from their houses,
    when thou bringest the marauder suddenly upon them!
For they have dug a pit to take me,
    and laid snares for my feet.
23 Yet, thou, O Lord, knowest
    all their plotting to slay me.
Forgive not their iniquity,
    nor blot out their sin from thy sight.
Let them be overthrown before thee;
    deal with them in the time of thine anger.

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