There are a number of psalms in the Book of Psalms that have been designated as imprecatory.
You may not be familiar with that term, but it typically refers to a prayer against someone. There are even short imprecatory passages in some other books of the Bible. We may well wonder about these passages, but it is worth noting that the one praying is asking God to do the job and is not taking matters into his own hands.
Probably you have not been taught to pray against someone, but rather to always pray for someone in a positive way.
So it is that we arrive at Psalm 83.
Asaph, who wrote the psalm, realized that the enemies of Israel at that time were enemies of God, at least in that they were opposing his plan and his people. (Now, it is good to keep in mind that God sometimes reserved trouble for Israel because they had gone astray, but they were an object of his everlasting love.) And so Asaph prayed.
As you read through the psalm, you discover that God seemed far away.
At least it seemed like he was not acting on behalf of his people. Asaph listed the nations roundabout who were conspiring and threatening Israel.
Then he began to pray against them. He was not simply interested in the enemies’ defeat. In the case of ultimate rejection of God and his people, he prayed at the very end of the psalm that in death they will know who God is. And no doubt in death everyone will know and understand, but then it is too late to reverse the course of personal responsibility.
But I’m interested especially here in verse 16, and we will begin with verse 15 to get a fuller flavor of Asaph’s prayer.
So may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane!
Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O LORD (English Standard Version).
So just before the end of the psalm, this is what he prayed. He prayed some trouble for them, but it was for a good end. Trouble may not help a person come to the Lord, but it certainly can and has in many cases.
He framed the trouble first in terms of weather that damages. The word translated “hurricane” can actually mean that although many translations use other storm words. It made me wonder whether the hurricanes of 2018 helped someone to be frightened into the arms of God, so to speak.
Have you ever prayed for someone to be blessed with bad weather so they might turn to the Lord? I doubt it. Neither have I, as far as I can remember. But that would be a good outcome, if no other stimulus is effective.
Further he prayed that they might know an intense level of shame. When we observe the nature of today’s society, we may wonder whether we still have a sense of shame. On the other hand, some countries in the world operate within a shame culture. Practically the worst that can happen to them is that they are shamed or humiliated, so they go to great lengths to at least outwardly honor those who are deemed worthy of honor in their society.
A sense of shame also can be a great stimulus to push someone toward God, especially if that shame is generated as a result of opposing Him and His people.
But then the verse ends with the desired result: “that they may seek your name, O LORD.” So the prayer is that their fright might lead them to God.
The phrase “that they may seek your name” is unique in all the Bible. It is usually understood to refer to an evangelistic outcome. The name of God refers to all that he is, and to seek it appears to be an attempt to somehow obtain a connection with God (John 14:6). No more detail than that is given right here, but that is enough and can be supplemented elsewhere if necessary.
So in this imprecatory prayer, the psalmist hopes for a good outcome in that Israel’s, and thereby God’s, enemies might because of sent troubles become aware of the existence of the God of Israel and come themselves to trust in him.
If they continue to oppose, however, they will know him in death when it is too late.
We, too, can know him now through faith in Jesus Christ and do not have to wait until too late.
ARLIE RAUCH has retired from 41 years as a pastor, is enjoying fall yard work, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.