/ Barry York

Imprecatory Praising

Yesterday, I preached from Isaiah 14 and addressed verse 29, which reads,

Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you,
    that the rod that struck you is broken,
for from the serpent's root will come forth an adder,
    and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.

This article is not about the difficulty in interpreting the imagery here of the serpent, adder, and flying fiery serpent. (For that, I followed Keil-Delitsch's insight in seeing, given the context, a surprising but Biblically-based reference to the Messiah. Listen here if you want to hear more.)

Rather, in this post, I'm addressing (with the help of a friend!) God's command to the nation of Philistia not to rejoice because King Ahaz had died, meaning their old nemesis, the Davidic kingdom, had taken a blow.

In the message, I developed the Biblical principle that we should not rejoice over our enemies when they fall. As Proverbs 24:17-18 says, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him." I then applied this principle to the church, urging them not to develop a spirit of gloating when we see judgment fall on our enemies.

I'm always glad when people interact with me about a sermon, so this morning, I was encouraged to see the following email in my inbox. With his permission, I want to share Deacon Gib McCracken's insightful question and my response to him. I trust this interchange will encourage you.

Good morning Pastor,

Here is what you said (in bold), as accurately as I can represent:

The scriptures warn against rejoicing over the downfall of others, even your enemies. Proverbs 24:17-18 says, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him." We can't be that way. Remember when David's great enemy, King Saul, was put to death? Remember what David did in his godliness before the Lord? He wept, and sang a lament over the one who had taken so much away from him. That should be our posture. 

You then gave the example of the abortion doctor who died in a skydiving accident: in our response it's tempting to be gleeful, to mock, and ridicule. When we do that, we have more in common with Westboro Baptist Church. What happened when the abortionist fell from the sky? His time to repent was over. He faced judgment, eternity away from God. So we're not to be gleeful over the death and punishment of the wicked, but rather we are to call them and warn them of their pride and arrogance, really to plead with them with tears in our eyes to repent, even as they rejoice in their wickedness. That's to be our posture. 

While it is very clear that the Proverbs passage says that we are not to "rejoice when our enemy falls" nor "let your heart be glad when he stumbles", I don't understand how we can sing Psalms like Psalm 9 & 10 where we ask God to judge the wicked and we praise him for doing so. I praise God that he would, in his providence, cause an abortionist to be killed in an accident. I would thank God for his justice and that wickedness is suppressed, but I wouldn't do that untethered from the constant remembrance of my righteous standing only through Christ. Is there no sense that we would rejoice that Tommy's shooter was served a just sentence, though we dread for his soul and plead for his repentance? 

My question/confusion may be an overreaction to something that I'm seeing, and that's that the constant motif of "enemy/righteous God" distinction seems very lost in the Church today. Christ's redemption is brought about alongside the destruction of his enemies, and though we shouldn't be gleeful, we nevertheless pray that God's enemies would be conquered by conversion or destruction. 


Here is my letter in response to Gib.

Good afternoon Deacon,

Great question! Thanks for asking.

You captured well what I preached, so it was good listening on your part. You made the proper distinction and essentially answered your own question in what you further wrote. The key is in the direction of our speech. We are not to gloat, make fun of, ridicule, rejoice over, etc., our enemy. In other words, we do not go to them or others to gleefully mock them for their downfall. But, as you show, we can go to the Lord and rejoice in His victory over His enemies.

This is very closely linked to imprecatory praying, and is actually the other side of it. We might call it "imprecatory praising." I am not to take vengeance on my enemies (Rom. 12:18-21), but I can pray to the Lord to do so. Similarly, I cannot go and rejoice over my enemies when they fall, but I can thank the Lord who made them do so.

This spirit is what we see in Christ, who asked His Father on the cross to forgive His persecutors. This prayer resulted in some being saved, such as the centurion and the thief on the cross, but He also praised God upon His deliverance that His enemies were ultimately thwarted by His resurrection and ascension.

Your question about Tommy is exactly how we felt and sought to act. We rejoiced greatly in the Lord revealing the lies and folly of this man and in the manner in which He brought forth justice. But we did grieve over the darkness of his heart, realizing that apart from the grace of God, we would still be living the lie of self-justification.

Thanks for your thought-provoking question. I was so focused on the text’s command not to rejoice that I was not thinking about the other side of this issue. I appreciate you meditating further on it with me.

In Christ,


P.S. Would you mind if I used our letters for a GenRef post? I think people would benefit from this interaction, but I do not want to put it out there if that would make you uncomfortable for any reason.

Gib's final reply adds some more insight into this subject.


Thanks for your thoughtful reply. In the moment, I wondered to myself: if we're not to be gleeful and gloating, what righteous response can we have that would square with God answering an imprecatory prayer? In other words, isn't there a righteous response that, in a way, delights in God's glory being displayed by restraining and conquering his and our enemies? (WSC Q.26)

I suppose we have both extremes always present among believers: some will gloat over fallen enemies with little to no "sober-minded trembling", if you will. Others don't even speak in terms of "his and our enemies" anymore, don't pray imprecatory prayers because that's "not the gospel", and tend to not interpret temporal and eternal calamities as the work of God's wrath.

It helps me to type out thoughts to keep them organized. 

I would not mind at all if you used these for a GenRef post.


I end this post grateful for a congregation that listens carefully to God's Word and for our Lord, who provides us with the outlet for our imprecatory prayers and praises.

Barry York

Barry York

Sinner by Nature - Saved by Grace. Husband of Miriam - Grateful for Privilege. Father of Six - Blessed by God. President of RPTS - Serve with Thankfulness. Author - Hitting the Marks.

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