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Should We Pray for God to Judge ISIS Terrorists? Imprecatory Prayers and the Christian

Imprecatory Storm 2


“Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let Your burning anger overtake them…add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from You. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.” Psalm 69:24

“Wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me…they…attack me…let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few…may his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg…let there be none to extend kindness to him…let curses come upon him!” Psalm 109:1-17


Passages like these have long been difficult for me. The first time I read one as a new believer I had to check the cover of my book to make sure I was still reading the Bible. Those prayers seemed so unlike the prayers Jesus taught us to pray.

I was comforted when I learned that Charles Spurgeon voiced similar discomfort in his commentary on Psalm 109 “Truly this is one of the hard places of Scripture, a passage which the soul trembles to read; yet as it is a Psalm unto God, and given by inspiration, it is not ours to sit in judgment upon it, but to bow our ear to what God the Lord would speak to us therein.”

Though these passages are difficult to grapple with, they have seemed more reasonable as we have come face to face with the pure evil of the ISIS militants who are ravaging Christians and non-Christians in and around the world.

These supposed ambassadors of god behead journalists on camera to taunt their families and gain political leverage. They kidnap young girls to rape, torture, and impregnate them for the glory of a false god. They tear young boys from the arms of their parents to brainwash them and force them to join their ranks as merciless killers. They attack peaceful people going about their daily lives. These terrorists are wicked and have no intentions of stopping their bloodthirsty conquest until they have conquered the world.

As I hear again and again of their merciless violence, I am deeply grieved and moved to prayer.


We Must Pray

We must pray for those who are suffering—both Christian and non-Christian. Consider how to here.

We must also pray for God to intervene. “Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end…” (Psalm 7:9).

Few would argue against asking God to stop these violent people. But can we go further in our prayers?

Can we pray the prayer of Asaph in Psalm 74:10–11 “How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile Your name forever? Why do You hold back Your hand, Your right hand? Take it from the fold of Your garment and destroy them!”

Make them stop scoffing? Yes!

Why don’t You do something? Yes.

Pull out Your fist and drive it into their nose? Yes?

Destroy them….?

How far can New Testament Christians go in their prayers against the wicked men who ravage God’s people and their neighbors?


Prayers for Punishment

The “Imprecatory Psalms,” as they are called, are prayers in which imprecations (curses) are called down upon uniquely evil men. The most prominent imprecatory psalms are Psalm 35, 58, 59, 69, 109, but the language of calling for punishment on evil people is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament psalms and prophets (cf. Jeremiah 18:19-23).

Though Old Testament theology of the afterlife is a bit murkier than what we find in the New Testament, we must know that this kind of prayer is not just a prayer for God’s enemies to be stopped. This is a prayer for God to kill them. This is very serious because the Bible is clear that if someone dies as God’s unrepentant enemy, they will forever be under the wrath of God in hell (John 3:36; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; Revelation 14:11).

Can Christians pray for this? Can Christians pray imprecatory prayers against evil people in the same way David and Asaph prayed?

Some answer this question with a “no” by saying that these prayers were only permitted in the Old Testament and in their unique historical contexts. We certainly acknowledge that it is dangerous to jump from King David’s divinely inspired prayers to our personal application. We must look to Christ as the fulfillment of these psalms and then seek to apply them. This does not however mean that there is no application.

One relevant passage is Luke 9:51-56 where we find James and John coming from a city that rejected the Gospel and they asked Jesus “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Jesus “turned and rebuked them.” His rebuke certainly wasn’t because He was opposed to bringing judgment on unrepentant sinners (Luke 19:27), but likely because their first impulse was punishment rather than patient hope for repentance.

But I don’t think that means calls for punishment are always unacceptable.

In the New Testament, we see the imprecatory psalms quoted by Jesus (Psalm 69:9 in John 2:17 and Psalm 35:19 / 69:4 in John 15:25), Luke (Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 in Acts 1:20) and Paul (Psalm 69 in Romans 11:9-10, 15:3). Jesus also makes provision in “The Lord’s Prayer” for us to ask God for His kingdom to come, which includes destroying the godless kingdoms of this world (Matthew 6:10).

And most clearly, we see Christian martyrs pleading for justice to fall on those who took their lives in Revelation 6:9-11 “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 witness they had borne. 10They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?11Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”

How amazing is it that slain saints in heaven are not praying for God to give mercy to their killers, but they are calling for justice? This kind of prayer reminds us that God can be trusted to bring justice on the wicked. This is a good thing, and He will be just as glorified in bringing justice against sinners as He will be in extending mercy to them (Romans 9:13-23). Does this mean we should be excited to pray for wrath to fall on terrorists? No, I don’t think so.


Prayers for Mercy

Jesus taught us many revolutionary truths, one of them being that we are to “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, bless those who cruse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28). He also commanded us to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) and then modeled it when He prayed “Father, forgive them” while hanging on the cross (Luke 23:34).

This call for followers of Jesus to ask God to give mercy to their enemies is echoed in Romans 12:14 where Paul says “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” This of course doesn’t mean Christians don’t care about evil, but rather we choose to “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19; cf. 2 Timothy 4:14).

Does this mean Christians should only pray prayers of mercy and never prayers for judgment? No, I don’t think so.


How Prayers for Punishment and Mercy Meet

How should we pray about extraordinarily violent and wicked people like ISIS terrorists? Should we pray for mercy or for punishment?

1.  Pray first and enduringly for mercy.

Jesus meant what He said when He told us to pray for our enemies. We are to perseveringly ask the Lord to shower mercy on these people. David, who wrote many of the imprecatory prayers, showed mercy to his enemies (Psalm 35:12-14). And Jesus who fulfilled the imprecatory prayers certainly did.

In fact, through His death on the cross, Jesus received the imprecations (curses) that His enemies deserved. As Galatians 3:13 reminds us “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” What a glorious thought! Jesus took on Himself the curse of God’s wrath that sinners deserved so that those who would repent and believe in Him might receive mercy rather than punishment.

This means that as Christians, we must first and foremost pray for violent, evil, brutal barbarians to be awakened from their sin and made alive in Christ. We must plead for savages to know salvation.

Is that difficult for you to ask of the Lord? It is for me. But we must seek grace here. We must plead for God to guard us from falling into the same sin that led Jonah to flee from God when he was asked to proclaim the Gospel to a people just as wicked as modern day ISIS terrorists. Jonah Himself said “O Lord…that is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2).

Let us not despise seeing sinners receive mercy, no matter what they have done. We would do well to remember here that the Apostle Paul was once a terrorist on his way to kill Christians when Jesus intervened and extended him mercy. May He do that to for members of ISIS. May He transform not just one heart, but bring them all to repentance! He is able to do that, just ask ancient Nineveh (Jonah 3).

2.  Be slow to pray prayers for punishment.

While we pray for mercy to come to sinners, we also pray for justice to come. The prayer for punishment should likely be one that is rarely used, and when it is used, used with great caution.

Some of us will be tempted to rush into this prayer without first pleading for mercy for our enemies. I trust Jesus would rebuke us as He did James and John (Luke 9:55). One way to humble our heart is to ask God to help us understand the depths of grace we have received from Christ.

We must remember that we who are in Christ were once blind in our sin. We must remember that the only reason we aren’t ISIS terrorists is because of the mercy of God (cf. Genesis 20:6). Reflect upon God’s mercy to you before you pray for His punishment to fall on others.

Though we should be slow to pray for God to destroy His enemies, there are extreme cases that may call for it. In a brief video titled Should Christians Pray Imprecatory Prayers John Piper said “I think I can imagine circumstances where…some contemporary form of the Gestapo is sweeping through your neighborhood. And is in the most brutal way wiping people out and killing people—I think “God stop them! Do whatever you have to do, stop them!…I want to say there may be a time when you are calling down God’s judgment on someone.”

I feel confident to say that unique events in history, like what we are seeing today in Iraq and Syria, can lead us to say “Lord, save them or stop them…but something has to happen. Convert them or kill them O God.”

I think this kind of prayer is a last resort. We are never to take vengeance into our own hands (Matthew 26:52; Romans 12:19), but plead for mercy (Matthew 5:44) and plead for justice (Revelation 6:9-11) knowing that if they will not repent, they will receive the justice of God’s wrath for eternity in hell. This kind of prayer flows not from a heart of hatred, but from one that knows no other possible way for these warriors to be stopped.

3.  Guard your heart when praying for punishment.

Praying prayers for punishment should never be motivated by vindictiveness. We do not pray as vengeful hatemongers. Rather, we pray as people who need God to move in mercy—or in justice.

If we do pray these prayers, I do not recommend naming names in prayers, though calling for groups, like ISIS to be removed from existence is, I think, acceptable.

To help guard our hearts from a dangerous posture of hate, we should allow our prayers to be guided by truths from God’s Word. Here are some examples:

  • Father, honor your Name that it may no longer be mocked by these evil men. Give them mercy or give them justice, but act for Your Name sake (Psalm 10:11, 74:10, 139:19-22; Micah 7:10).
  • Father, let the world see Your justice and do not allow evil to strut around any longer (Psalm 58:10-11).
  • Father, stop these wicked men that worship of You might be unhindered and uncorrupted (Psalm 69:9; John 2:13-17).
  • Father, convert or crush these men that You might be praised for the way You deliver Your people (Psalm 7:17, 35:18, 28).
  • Father, make Your people know that you are faithful to defend them so they will not lose heart (Psalm 69:6).
  • Father, defeat Your enemies so they may see that You alone are worthy of worship (Psalm 83:16–18).


Whether you agree with my conclusions or not, we must all remain vigilant in prayer. We must plead for God to intervene. As we do this, we do not pray hopelessly because we know that one day soon the Lord will return to rescue those who have hoped in Him (2 Timothy 4:8), raise those who have died in faith (1 Corinthians 15:51-55), and crush all those who have opposed Him (Revelation 19:11-21).


Come Lord Jesus, come.


Other resources for your study:

  • John Piper has an excellent message on Psalm 69. In the end, he counsels us not to pray imprecatory prayers, but has excellent Christ-centered application.
  • J. Carl Laney wrote a helpful scholarly article in Bibliotheca Sacra entitled “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms.”
  • Sam Storms gives straight-forward pastoral counsel about these psalms in his article “Those Troubling Psalms of Imprecation.”
  • Bob Deffinbaugh’s exposition of Psalm 109 gives a thorough consideration of imprecatory psalms and is also worth a look. He concludes that we can pray these kinds of prayers.

How Dark Days Taught a Daddy to Pray

dark days

My wife and I met Cliff and Diana several summers ago at a family camp where they were vacationing with their two children. They’re a simple family who radiate contentment in Christ in a way that draws others in and puts them at ease. Cliff’s humility toward his wife and children has always been instructive and a bit convicting. Though we don’t see them often, we’ve grown to love this family as our own.

Over the past two years, Cliff and Diana have faced a heart wrenching situation with their daughter Anna who has endured tremendous suffering at the hand of a mysterious disease. At various times during this trial I’ve been able to speak with Cliff about the pain, fears and countless questions their family has faced.

As part of my preparation for a sermon on Psalm 13, I asked Cliff if he’d share with me his reflections on that passage since he and Diana have recently faced such desperate times. What follows is an excerpt from the email he sent me.


When Anna first started having severe stomach pain in December of 2011, I didn’t have any idea of what the next 16 months would bring.  At first, you think it’s just some virus or infection and that the doctors will be able to quickly diagnose and prescribe some medicine for it. 

When one doctor visit turned into the next, and various specialists were called in, all to no avail, it started getting more concerning.  While I prayed for Anna every day, I didn’t do much else. I was making it through on my own strength for the first 6 months. I still had work and church and other responsibilities—none of which I let “slack” during this time. 

That started to change in August of 2012 when Anna lost the ability to walk.  Let’s be honest, pain is something you can’t see.  You don’t know how much pain your child is in, especially when Anna did almost all her crying with Diana. When she could no longer walk, it became much more real for me.  I could now see that her pain was real. 

It was also during this time that Diana began to show signs of the break down that was just on the horizon. She couldn’t carry the load on her own and even things that were “simple” started becoming a challenge for her.  I began helping out more, praying more, and trying to use the wisdom God had given me in His word. 

During this time, Diana started drifting into despair.  A lot of this was caused by her thoughts about the future. She’d ask questions like “how will this affect Anna’s wedding” and “will she even be able to get married?” Now Anna was 10, so the consideration of things that were 15 years away would seem to many to be ridiculous—at least to people who hadn’t watched their daughter deteriorate so fast. 

It was during this time that scripture started playing a significant part in helping Diana and I through each day. Verses like “don’t worry about tomorrow” from Matthew 6 made more sense and prayers like “Lord, give us today our daily bread” became about all we could muster. 

Over the next month and a half, I started to help a lot more. I had to, as Diana was losing steam quickly. I spent more time with Anna, both to comfort her, and to relieve Diana of that responsibility. In hindsight, I can see that while I was looking to God, I was still trying to make it through in my own strength—I wasn’t desperate yet. 

In September, Anna couldn’t go to school because the pain was so bad.  Diana started wondering if it could possibly get any worse.  We found out it could.  In the first week of October, Anna lost the ability to see.  Her eyes became so sensitive to light (or even the thought of light), that she had to wear a blind fold during all the daylight hours. 

Having a child that can’t walk is hard. Having a child that can’t walk or see was unimaginable for us. Having no diagnosis to any of it was unbearable. Not only was Anna going down in a tail spin, now so was Diana. Nothing I could do or say could make our situation better.  It was during this time that I truly started to become desperate.  The first verses of Psalm 13 didn’t apply to me before this time.  Now I became that man who cried out “how long O Lord?”   

I watched my “average weight” wife lose dozens of pounds. I could count every rib and every vertebrae of her backbone. I watched her tremble constantly as she was unable to sleep and unable to talk coherently. This was coupled with my daughter falling into despair because she could no longer do anything normal children did. There was no running outside or swimming in the pool. Laughter was absent. All she could do was lie in bed in pain. Our world had turned black.

It was during these days and months that I would lie in Anna’s bed for hours with her, watching her crying hysterically in pain, sobbing and asking me to make the pain stop.  I cried and cried—and I prayed.  These were no longer token prayers.  These were now prayers of absolute desperation in which I was pleading and begging God to make this stop. 

These prayers weren’t fancy worded prayers, the type of stuff you hear in church.  They were the prayers of an absolutely powerless man who was helpless to do anything other than hold on to his daughter and pray.  It was also during these times that I started praying out loud with Anna. 

When the pain got so bad, and the crying so loud, and I had prayed silently for what seemed hours, I would say, “let’s pray.” Anna would quiet down some and I would pray out loud.  Since her crying subsided somewhat as she focused on what I was saying, I would pray – and pray and pray. 

It was during those prayers that Anna got to see her dad as he really is. I’m a dad that doesn’t have the strength to make it on his own.  I’m a dad that is utterly dependent upon God.  And hopefully also, a dad that has no doubts whatsoever about the reality and power of God. 

And while God never instantly healed my daughter, as I’d asked a hundred times, there were many times that Anna quieted down, the pain seemed to subside, and she was able to fall asleep. And in all honesty, in those moments of desperation, that is really what I needed, and what Anna needed most. 

Though we were in darkness together, I believe the light of God’s word gave us strength. Our family took comfort from the promises God gave us that one day all this pain will be gone, and that we will be with our Lord.  These promises shaped our prayers and stirred our faith to keep trusting for another day.

Through all this I learned to pray desperate prayers that are guided by God’s word. Many of us might think we can make it fine through life without reading the Bible daily.  That’s just not true. If God’s words hadn’t been “hidden in my heart,” I’m not sure how I would’ve been comforted in those days.  I’m grateful for the years of scripture reading and intentional memorization of God’s word, I believe God used them to sustain our family.

While we should read scripture daily to grow in our relationship with the Lord and grow as His disciple, I want to emphasize the importance of daily scripture reading for help during times of desperation. Combat training doesn’t seem so important during times of peace, but when the fighting starts it saves your life—and maybe someone else’s too. In this case, it was my own daughter.


Cliff shared much more in his email to me, but I hope this snapshot has given you some ideas to consider when it comes to leaning upon God in desperate times. Whether you are in such a time right now or will face them soon, none of us escape these kinds of trials. As the Puritan preacher Jeremiah Burroughs rightly said “If you are in Christ you will never suffer, except in this world.” I have learned more about how to face these afflictions in faith because of the example of my friend.

So you can rejoice with them, I will share that, by God’s grace, the darkness has lifted for their family. Miraculously, Anna has in many ways recovered from her mysterious sickness. Diana has also recovered and she and Cliff’s marriage has never been stronger.

We don’t know why the cloud came, or why the cloud departed, but we do know Who presides over it all. Lord, willing, none of us will face things like they faced, but if those dark days do surround you, draw near to God in faith. Desperate prayers place us in before the God whose power is able to sustain us until we see His face.


2 Corinthians 4:6–15 “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you… knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.”