Praying Down Justice

1 O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! 2 For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads. 3 They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones.

Psalm 83:1-3 (ESV)

In August 2006, Syrian authorities, with no explanation, locked up Samer, a Jordanian convert to Christianity. He was no stranger to the inside of a jail cell. Months before, Samer had been imprisoned and questioned about his conversion. Islamic judges, baffled and incensed over his repudiation of Islam, threatened to annul his marriage and declare him insane. They even told Samer that if he did not recant, they would give his son to a Muslim family. Samer’s story ends happily; he was finally released and fled to America.[1] For other Christian converts around the globe the story is not so cheery. Slavery, rape, forced marriages, even murder are realities faced in a world where the gospel is opposed. In the midst of such violence, how should Christians pray?

Throughout the Psalms, one finds glorious words of praise, “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’” (66:3), as well as intense pleas for tenderness, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (51:12). Christians return to these verses again and again to be guided in worship publicly and privately. There is, however, another collection of Psalms that are often overlooked because their theme is not so tender. They are psalms calling for the vindication of God against His enemies (12; 35; 58; 59; 69; 70; 83; 109; 137; and 140).

According to Psalm 83, Israel faced annihilation from her neighbors, “They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more” (83:4)! The psalmist observed that waging war against God’s people was equivalent to waging war against God, “against you they make a covenant” (83:5), or as it says in verse 3, though they hate God, they “lay crafty plans” against God’s people.

An Israelite, owning this Psalm as part of his worship, would have been led to pray against his (and God’s) enemies: “O God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane” (vv. 13-14)! But that is not the whole story, because as the psalm continues, God’s people would have pled that even as God’s wrath crushed His foes, their redemption would somehow follow: “Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O LORD” (v. 16).

This psalm could either be ignored by Christians—viewed as an important piece of Israelite history and considered irrelevant to a Church under the guidance of Christ—or they could take the opposite approach and, filled with righteous indignation against enemies of the faith today, they may pray God’s judgment against opponents of the gospel lurking in every shadow: from movie producers, to advertising executives, to politicians and judges constantly on the wrong side of important issues. Neither of these approaches seems wise. The balance of Psalm 83 and its place in worship should not be ignored; while prayers of judgment should never be prayed indiscriminately, if they are prayed, then the Christian needs to take seriously the psalmist’s prayer for redemption as well as punishment for God’s enemies.

There are Christians today who are under physical attack. A believer may be imprisoned in Eritrea, have his church burned in Laos, or be killed in Iran. When God’s people are in this kind of danger, His people should pray that God would not keep silent, that He would bring justice, that His enemies would be stopped. The goal is not vengeance. It is, rather, the vindication of God’s name and the protection of God’s children. For this, the Church should pray boldly.


[1] Lynn Vincent, “Free at Last,” World Magazine, November 11, 2006, 22-23, http://www.worldmag.com/articles/12405 (accessed December 21, 2006).