The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your testimonies. (Ps 119:95)
I’m not a very poetic guy, but I love the psalms. For those of you who aren’t terribly familiar, Psalms is a huge book of poetry in the middle of the Old Testament in the Bible. It contains poems and hymns and prayers written thousands of years ago that call out to God in worship, pain, fear, and rejoicing. Many were written by kings, others by prophets. Many are anonymous. But all speak the heart of those who feared and worshipped God in their day. They form a tapestry of deep richness and vivid color.
But I remember when one aspect of the Psalms used to really frustrate me. In verse after verse, the authors of the psalms (particularly King David) talks about his enemies, asking God to slay them, silence them, protect him from them, overcome them, give victory over them in battle, etc. And that confused me.
I’m not a king. I don’t have an army. I’m not riding out to war next Thursday to defeat an invading enemy army. I don’t need protection from those lying in wait to slay me.
Here are just a few representative psalms that demonstrate what I’m talking about…
Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face. (Psalm 5:8)
Arise, O LORD, in thine anger, lift up thyself because of the rage of mine enemies: and awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded. (Psalm 7:6)
When my enemies are turned back, they shall fall and perish at thy presence. (Psalm 9:3)
God has delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me. (Psalm 18:7)
It goes on and on like this. There are 150 psalms and over 100 references to “enemies” in the psalter (what monks and seminary types call the book of Psalms in Scripture). Wow! So, what’s the deal? How should we read these references?
Well, the truth is that I do have enemies. So do you. The lesser variety is the kid who teases you on the playground or the boss that makes your life difficult, the estranged family member or the neighbor who’s openly hostile to you. I suppose you could consider those “enemies”, but only in a sense. I’m pretty sure God does not consider them someone to be “overcome in battle”. It’s hard to imagine writing a modern poem to God about the kid on the playground or a troublesome coworker “perishing at God’s presence”.
In fact, Jesus is pretty clear that we are to love these “enemies” and pray for them (see Matthew 5:43-48; in fact read all of Matthew 5-7 and you’ll clearly see Jesus’ heart on interacting with people in general). This certainly doesn’t seem to mesh with the kinds of things David (and others) write about in the psalms.
What God has been teaching me is that these aren’t the “enemies” David is talking about. We have another kind of enemy… one who is in fact lying in wait for us, seeking to destroy us. The Apostle Paul explains…
“We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
The truth is that there is a spiritual reality all around us. And in this realm, enemies abound. Demonic enemies. Great and purposeful evil that wants to see you utterly and eternally destroyed. Not the kind of enemies that you love and pray for, but the kind you resist in Christ’s Name, so that they will flee from you (James 4:7). These are in fact the enemies we should be asking God to slay, silence, and overcome. These are our analogy to David’s invading armies. And like David, we humble ourselves before God and submit to His protection from them and victory over them in battle. So the truth is that we too could have written David’s psalms. And the day I realized this was the day my appreciation of the psalms skyrocketed.
Once we’re in the right mindset, it’s pretty straightforward to start identifying the weapons of our enemies (led by The enemy) as well. Their entire arsenal consists of lies. Satan’s pretty much a one-trick pony, but his lies are creative, subtle, powerful and persistent … and he’s quite good at wielding them.
Here are some examples:
- The things we fear or worry about (that occupy our minds instead of prayer and thanksgiving)
- The things we believe we cannot do (even though God’s Word says we can)
- The things we believe will never change (though God’s has assured us that He will finish what He started — Philippians 1:6)
- The things we accept as proof that God is not really good (countless lies center on this mother of all deceptions)
- And I could go on
But God — who commands us not to fear, who never lies, and who has clearly reassured us that He is orchestrating all things for His glory and our good (Romans 8:28) — has instructed us to beware of this enemy and to gird ourselves for Battle.
Thomas à Kempis says, “Cease not to array thyself for battle, for both on the right hand and on the left are enemies that never cease.” (Imitation of Christ, Book 2, Ch 9)
Paul says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11)
Like David, we too are to do battle with the enemy hordes. But not unarmed, and not alone.
The image that God — using C.S. Lewis, Walt Disney, and Andrew Adamson — has given me for this posture before our enemies is depicted in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Lucy (a child with a small dagger) stands on a bridge opposing the entire enemy army. She is outnumbered 1000-to-1 by bigger, stronger, scarier, better armed, better trained, better-equipped soldiers. On the surface, she’s in serious trouble. But she stands firm, pulls out her dagger, and her body language clearly communicates that they don’t stand a chance. It’s ludicrous… except… Behind Lucy stands Aslan, the Lord of Narnia, all-powerful, unstoppable, and representing in C.S. Lewis’ epic tale the Son of God. He is infinite in majesty and power, and the very Creator of all things. Lucy does not stand alone. She is not the vulnerable weakling she appears to be. For her strength is in the mighty arm of God. The ancients knew this too (check out Psalm 89:5-26 and Psalm 28:6-9 just to get started). And so should we. Neither are we alone. Neither are we the vulnerable weaklings we might appear to be.
Our enemies are very real. Some are in this world — whom we love and sacrifice for that they might see Christ in us. Some are in the spiritual world — whom we resist in God’s power and before whom we stand firm in God’s strength. But in all cases, we do not fear, we do not shrink back, we do not ignore them or believe that somehow they are not real, and we certainly do not believe their lies.
It’s my prayer that you will never read the Psalms the same way again.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.