April 24, 2013

How do we handle Psalms that talk about destroying our enemies?

You have some things that are difficult to deal with in the Psalms in which the psalmist is actually calling down bad things on his enemies. There are wonderful praise psalms like Psalm 19. But look at Psalm 18 just for a minute. And we are told at the beginning of this Psalm that this is a thanksgiving for deliverance by God, a psalm of David, the servant of the Lord. That's given in the introduction, not in the psalm itself but in something that was attached to this psalm along the way. And in verses 37 through 40, it says this, "I chase my enemies and caught them. I did not stop until they were conquered. I struck them down so they could not get up. They fell beneath my feet. You have armed me with strength for the battle. You have subdued my enemies under my feet. You made them turn and run. I have destroyed all who hated me."

Now what are you going to do with that? You know, you're reading this in your devotional time and you're saying, "Wow, this is great. Those people have been giving me a hard time at work. They are toast. I'm going to go after them. God is going to give me the strength to crush them under my feet." Is that how we're going to respond to this?

Well, it needs to be read in its context. First of all, we need to understand that this is David's response to a historical situation as he is coming out of a battle. The traditions attached to this says that this is after Saul was pursuing him and persecuting him. We need to read it within that historical context and understand what was going on with him. This is not blanket permission for every believer through the ages to go out and destroy their enemies. But what I want to do is I want to say what were the emotions David was expressing here in his worship of God? What were the confessions? I think some of the confessions might be things like, you know, the success that God gives me in difficult situations really comes from God. I mean those are from God and I need to thank God when things turn out well.

All of us have felt emotions when someone is treating us unfairly, unjustly. They're coming after us to do us harm. And we know those kinds of emotions so it might be that a psalm like this can help us enter into saying, "Lord, this was a difficult situation in my life, and yet you helped me come through this and we're on the other side of it now and I want to praise you just as David praised you for help in his difficult situation. I want to praise you for help in this difficult situation in my life, and I want to worship you." Our enemies would be different than David's enemies. Our response to it has to be read in the broader context of the Bible itself. We'd have to read this in light of Jesus' words about loving our enemies as Christians, and it would have to be interpreted in light of Christ's words there. But there are parallels to the experience that we can draw from.

So the Psalms are expressing worship to God. I don't want to just read through them and say, "Well, what can I learn today?" I want to enter into worship. I want to enter into the emotion of celebrating what God has done in my life or being honest with God about the difficulties that I'm having. I think God can handle our honesty according to the Psalms.