Have you ever heard someone pray, "Satan, I bind you?" Or perhaps you may have uttered such a thing yourself? I've heard many people use phrases like this in their prayers, and while I don't want to belittle a person's heartfelt cry to God against evil, I can't help but dig into this phrase a little and ask the question, "Is this a biblical way to pray?" Can we really bind Satan or demons or is this a flaw in our theology?
To put it plainly, there is no passage of scripture which tells us that we can bind Satan or a demon from doing harm. Demons can be cast out of a person, but is this the same as binding? What does it mean to bind Satan?
When the various words in the Bible that are translated into bind, bound, or chained (252 instances) are used there is only one instance when it is used about the devil. It is found in Revelation 20:2, which says that an angel, "Seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years." This is a specific reference to a period following the Great Tribulation as the millennial reign of Christ begins. Satan is bound for a thousand years so that he may do no harm during the millennial reign of Christ. But his binding is only temporary. In fact, this language suggests that since Satan is bound at the end of the age, that he has not been previously bound.
What is interesting, however, is how the Bible uses the language of binding about who does the binding. Take a brief look at these examples:
Satan bound a woman for 18 years with a debilitating medical condition (Luke 13:16). In other words, Satan did the binding. Then she was set free by Jesus. But nowhere was Satan bound as part of the response to her healing.
Remember the demon possessed man in the tombs? The scripture says that people tried to bind him with chains, but he just broke them off (Mark 5:1-4). In this case the binding was physical, but it's interesting to note that the demons he was possessed with gave him the strength to break his chains.
There is a reference in the Bible to God binding demons to prevent them from harming people. It's found in II Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6. These demons are bound by God, being held for the day of judgment. In Revelation 9:14-15, however, there are spirits bound to a specific location for a long duration of time until—and get this—God releases them so that they may kill one-third of the people on earth.
What is even more startling is not that we cannot bind Satan or his demons, rather, it is the fact that God intentionally used evil spirits to accomplish his designs. Consider that God intentionally used Satan to test and try Job, David, Zechariah, and Jesus, among others. Satan was never bound from harming them. Rather, he was let loose upon them!
Let's consider some practical common sense about prayers to bind Satan. If it were possible for us to command Satan to be bound, then why would we need the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20? The armor of God is given to us so that we may face demons directly and see them defeated. Remember what James said about resisting the enemy, "Submit therefore to God: resist the Devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). Note that Satan is not bound, but rather flees.
Considering how often Christians around the world pray everyday to bind Satan, if such a thing were possible, then Satan would be continually bound and unable to do anything. Yet we can see from the state of the world and even our own trials that this is not the case. The scripture also tells us this in I John 5:19, "The whole world lies in the power of the evil one."
What Did Jesus Do?
Consider also how Jesus dealt with Satan. Did you know that Jesus NEVER bound Satan during his earthly ministry? During his temptation in Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus never bound Satan. Satan withdrew. When Satan possessed Judas so that Jesus would be betrayed, even though he knew what Satan was doing to him, Jesus never bound him. In fact, he actually told Judas (and thus, Satan) to get the job done quickly (John 13:26-28).
How about when Jesus prayed for Peter? Note in this passage that Jesus didn't bind Satan from harming Peter. Rather, he let him. "Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again…" (Luke 22:31-32). Did you catch that? Jesus didn't bind Satan from Peter, he actually let him at him. Jesus was more concerned with Peter overcoming Satan during a period of testing than he was in protecting him.
What We CAN Do
If we want to do some binding that will have a truly spiritual impact in our lives and strengthen us for our trials, then this is the kind of binding we should engage in, "My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck" (Proverbs 6:20-21). "Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man" (Proverbs 3:3-4). Speaking of the scripture, God instructed the Israelites to, "Lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes" (Deuteronomy 11:18).
True spiritual warfare is not about binding Satan. From the scripture we can see that we are not given such power. But we can endure, remain steadfast in faith, and count God faithful no matter what befalls us. Then we will see victory and the enemy retreat.