The Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Sensationalizing Prophecy & Imprecatory Praying

As the Director of International Ministry for the Friends of Israel, I have been quite busy with the problems caused by the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine.  We have workers in Ukraine with their families who are in harm’s way.  We also have many Polish workers who are managing two Jewish refugee centers in Poland and other means of taking care of the Jewish people fleeing Ukraine. The specter of a wider war has all of us on edge and probably praying more than we had before.

There are two issues that have come to my mind in light of the reaction to this perilous situation. First, there is the tendency on the part of some lovers of prophecy to go too far and start sensationalizing prophecy.  This is done mostly by mapping current events to prophetic passages in the Bible.  While the current events in the world could be the setup to the end-time events (rapture, tribulation, coming of Christ to earth, kingdom), we won’t know that until we get to the end-time days. We must be cautious and not overstate. As dispensationalists we must always be text-driven and not current-events driven.

Second, I have found myself praying against Putin and the Russian Army in this invasion. It raises the question of whether imprecatory praying is valid for the Christian in this dispensation in light of Christ’s call for us to love our enemies. I believe that it is valid, but I would like to hear from any of you about your rationale one way or the other.

5 comments

  1. Agreed, and well stated. The first concern is very serious given that speaking of false fulfillments is dealt with just as severely in Scripture as false prophecy. The documentation for the affirmative answer to the second issue raised in this post follows. I. Imprecations in the Gospels

    Matthew 23:13 — But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

    Matthew 26:23-24 — 23 And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. 24 The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.

    II. Imprecations in the Epistles

    1 Corinthians 16:22 — If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.

    Galatians 1:8-9 — But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

    Galatians 5:12 — I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
    Note: Is this the most frightening wish or desire in the Bible? This play on words involves an image extending from circumcision to castration, but in covenantal terms the reality signifies severance from the source of life and peace.

    2 Timothy 4:14 — Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:
    Note: Is this the most frightening prayer in the Bible? Would any wish this upon themselves or their loved ones?

    III. Imprecations in the Apocalypse

    Revelation 6:10 — And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

    Revelation 18:6 — Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.

  2. Selected resources on the subject of imprecations and imprecatory prayers:

    John Walter Beardslee, “The Imprecatory Element in the Psalms,” Presbyterian and Reformed Review 8:31 (JUL 1897), pp. 490–505; on Princeton Theological Seminary at https://commons.ptsem.edu/id/presbyterianrefo8311warf-dmd007 [accessed 6 OCT 2021]. Note: The entire issue of the journal is available as a free, downloadable PDF file at https://ia600802.us.archive.org/15/items/presbyterianrefo8311warf/presbyterianrefo8311warf.pdf [accessed 6 OCT 2021].

    W. Gary Crampton, “What about the Imprecatory Psalms,” The Trinity Review 282 (MAR 2009); on The Trinity Foundation at http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=260 [accessed 6 OCT 2021].

    W. W. Davies, “The Imprecatory Psalms,” The Old and New Testament Student 14:3 (MAR 1892), in The Old and New Testament Student, ed. William Rainey Harper, Vol. XIV, January to June, 1892 (Hartford: Student, 1892), pp. 154–159; on Google Books at https://books.google.com/books?id=14fNAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false [accessed 6 OCT 2021].

    John N. Day, “The Imprecatory Psalms and Christian Ethics,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 159 (APR–JUN 2002), pp.166–186; on Ted Hildebrandt’s “Bible eSources” on Gordon Faculty Online at https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/19-psalms/text/articles/day_imprecatoryps_bs.htm [accessed 24 SEP 2020]; and on Academia at https://www.academia.edu/1074871/The_Imprecatory_Psalms_and_Christian_Ethics_Bibliotheca_Sacra_159_Apr-Jun_2002_166-86 [accessed 24 SEP 2020]; Ph.D. dissertation (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, AUG 2001); on Gordon Faculty Online at https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/19-psalms/text/books/day-imprecatorydiss/day-imprecatorypsalms.htm [accessed 24 SEP 2020].

    J. Carl Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981), pp. 35–45; on Ted Hildebrandt’s “Bible eSources” on Gordon Faculty Online at https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/OTeSources/19-Psalms/Text/PsalmsTextsList.htm [accessed 24 SEP 2020].

    John Piper, “Do I Not Hate Those Who Hate You, O Lord?” (3 OCT 2000; on Ps. 139:19–22), on desiring God at http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/2000/1161_Do_I_Not_Hate_Those_Who_Hate_You_O_Lord/ [accessed 6 OCT 2021].

    Frederic Clarke Putnam, “Imprecation and Righteousness in Psalm 35,” Th.M. thesis (Hatfield, PA: Biblical Theological Seminary, 1980); on Ted Hildebrandt’s “Bible eSources” on Gordon Faculty Online at https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/OTeSources/19-Psalms/Text/Books/Putnam-Psalm35/Putnam-Psalm35.htm [accessed 6 OCT 2021].

    David S. Schrock, “What Should We Think About the Imprecatory Psalms?” (28 JUL 2014), on Via Emmaus at http://viaemmaus.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/what-should-we-think-about-the-imprecatory-psalms/ [accessed 6 OCT 2021].

    P. J. Wenzel, “Imprecatory Prayers?” (4 JUL 2015), on Disciples For Life at http://disciplesforlife.org/2015/07/04/imprecatory-prayers/ [accessed 6 OCT 2021].

  3. One problem with trying to justify imprecatory prayer against Putin by NT examples, is that the NT examples all seem to deal with heretics. In the case of Putin, the problem is a political one, not a theological one. Of course, the OT examples involve political issues, since they are tied in with God’s national/messianic promises to Israel and the Davidic throne. But for a Christian today to pray an imprecatory prayer against a Gentile political power that has nothing to do with Israeli/Messianic issues involves a different approach, IMO. I agree that such a prayer in the case of Putin may be justified, but as a dispensationalist I would not use the NT examples for evidence, as explained above. Rather, arguing dispensationally, I think I would say that God certainly has non-soteriological programs in the world – one of which involves His program for the nations. Human government is established by God, and government officials are appointed by God to punish evil doers and reward those who do good. Government officials like Putin, who unjustly invade a neighboring, autonomous nation are culpable and guilty before the creator-God, guilty of violating God-established borders, and guilty, in this case, of multiple lies and shedding of innocent, civilian blood. When we pray that Putin be judged by God (by whatever means He chooses), we are clearly praying in God’s will.

  4. Hello Mike.

    Great questions and comments. I have pasted in a section of a handout I have used in some introductory type classes. I think we can and should pray for God intervention in any matter though I am hesitant to use some of the specificity that the Psalmist use simply due to the different covenant relationship.

    1) These prayers are never prayers of personal vengeance, nor do they simply function as a type of emotional and psychological release.

    2) The prayers themselves were never considered by the Psalmist to carry a type of magical power as spell or incantation.

    3) The prayers are always related to pronouncing curses on what God’s has already specifically cursed and judged. The specificity of the prayer then is directly related to what the Biblical writers have promised or specifically cursed within the historical time-frame of progressive revelation. In the Psalms and OT these curses were rooted in the Mosaic and Abrahamic promise and curse motif (see Gen 12 and Deut 27-30). This is key if we practice these prayers of judgment.

    4). It is also noteworthy that the OT saints did not have a sophisticated understanding of the afterlife though they did have some understanding (See Daniel 12 and Isa 65-66) hence they placed much emphasis upon God’s judgment within a temporal, earthly setting given their theocracy.

    5) The Psalmist penned their thoughts in careful manner as they reflected upon life incidents within their covenant with God and one purpose was to help the OT believers more properly frame their own experiences and express their own views about God within their covenant relationship. It is noteworthy that Old Covenant framework (especially Israel as a theocracy) is different than the New Covenant relationship (for fuller discussion here see the book, “Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testament” ed., John Feinberg).

    6) In most cases these imprecatory prayers are simply part of a larger Psalm so if we choose to use these prayers of imprecation, I think we should allow other dimensions and other prayers to provide a balance within our corporate and private worship. And times the Psalmist and certainly the Old Covenant did indeed leave time for repentance and broken heartedness so these prayers may have carried a function to remind people and Israel’s enemies of God’s impending judgment unless repentance occurred. So these prayers do not omit repentance.

    7) These prayers of imprecation were never a single dominating theme; And certainly the Biblical authors never sought to be the sole person to implement the action of judgment in the Psalms.
    Regarding their personal use today I am hesitant given the nature of the church (and its difference from Israel which was a theocracy) and the church’s calling to put forth the gospel. I even more hesitant regarding their use in corporate worship setting. However, this is a debatable issue.

    In my opinion, if we do use these prayers today, they need to be couched in the redemptive message of the gospel-pray first that God would turn the heart of our advisory and that He would strengthen us to persevere knowing that final judgment does not occur in this temporal life but rather in the 2nd coming of Christ. Much more to say though these are a few of my on thoughts on the matter.

  5. You said.
    “Second, I have found myself praying against Putin and the Russian Army”

    How about praying against the Ukrainian regular and paramilitary forces many of whom have more than a little right wing leaning philosophy driving them on. If they manage to take power in Ukraine then life will be even more unpleasant for your Jewish friends.

    You also point out that.
    “As dispensationalists we must always be text-driven and not current-events driven.”

    To be honest I find that just a little ironic. Maybe if you were truly text driven, you would not be getting your doctrine from some preachers fantasies nearly 200 years ago and instead from God’s word written 2000 instead.

    But I do agree the crazies are out in force. I have not heard Gog mentioned as much as I have in these past few weeks. Not for a long time.

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