Look on my affliction and deliver me,
for I do not forget your law.
Plead my cause and redeem me;
give me life according to your promise!
Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek your statutes.
Great is your mercy, O Lord;
give me life according to your rules.
Many are my persecutors and my adversaries,
but I do not swerve from your testimonies.
I look at the faithless with disgust,
because they do not keep your commands.
Consider how I love your precepts!
Give me life according to your steadfast love.
The sum of your word is truth,
and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
~Psalm 119:153-160 ESV
If you’ve been following this little journey/series through Psalm 119 this year, you’ve noticed it’s been a while since I posted the last part. I’ve sat down to write this post several times, but was always stopped by something. In this section, the psalmist speaks of his adversaries, his enemies. What has stopped me each time is that I have trouble fully relating to the “enemy talk” of not just Psalm, but many others as well. If you ask me what people I’d consider my enemies, I just don’t know how to make that list. I suspect I’m not really alone in that.
Now, don’t that the wrong way. I’m not claiming there aren’t people who’ve hurt me, or people that annoy me, or people that just plain get under my skin. There are. But, there are people I’ve hurt, people I’ve annoyed, and people whose skin I’ve gotten under, too. I’m not perfect and never claimed to be. There are people that I think are just dufuses (that sent the spell check into a tizzy). There are people who think I’m a dufus (which, on some days at some moments may simply mean they’re well-informed). But would that, should that, make us enemies? Nah. I’m just not a grudge holder. No time. Life’s too short and ulcers are too painful. Eventually, you’ve just got to let stuff go.
Sometimes, though, there is no choice about whether or not you have enemies. Sometimes people make an enemy of you, and no matter how much you protest their being your enemy, and enemy they are….or you are to them, to be more precise. I find that to be the most frustrating of all — when you don’t want to be “at war” but the “other side” simply refuses to stop firing salvos. David experienced it with Saul, Jesus with the Pharisees, Paul with his former co-religionists that followed him from city to city making trouble.
Yet, each responded in similar fashion. David refused to kill Saul because he was the Lord’s anointed king. Jesus laid down his life even for the salvation of his executioners. Paul stated in his letter to the church at Rome that he’d gladly go to hell if it meant his fellow Israelites who’d rejected the Messiah would be saved. Jesus said:
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28 NIV)
So even if you could make a list of personal enemies, it would become a to-do list of people to love, bless and pray for. We do have those people, don’t we? Those that hate or dislike us, those that mistreat us? In those cases, we have two bits of wisdom from these passages. The psalmist reminds us to stick to our guns and not turn from doing what is right in God’s eyes and to keep looking to Him for deliverance and mercy. Jesus reminds us to love, do good to, pray for, and bless every dufus that may cross your path in life, er, I mean your enemies and those that curse and mistreat you.
What a contrast that is to car-bombings, hate mail, murder, slander, gossip, campaign-ads, racism, revenge, and bitterness! Just hold on tight to your Father in heaven and love the dufus.
There is just one more aspect of this I want to touch on, though. The psalmist uses some very strong language about the people that he says are his adversaries, those who are wicked. He says, “I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands.” I believe when reading the Psalms one has to keep in mind that they are poetry, and express the true feelings of the psalmist, good or bad. It would be easy to simply say, “We should be disgusted with people who don’t live by God’s word.” But I don’t think it’s really that simple, though I think his emotion was obviously that blunt. Jesus set the example of how we should react when he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Stephen then followed that example in Acts 7 saying as he was pelted with stones until he died, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” It’s too easy to think that our battle in this world is against our neighbor. It is not. We are commanded to love our neighbor. One might object and say that those who actively set themselves up against God and His people are most certainly our enemies. And, in a sense that is true. James says those who love the world (the fleshly, sinful, spiritually bankrupt aspect of our existence, not the earth) make themselves enemies of God (James 4:4). That they are (and we are, should we take that route…the warning was given to Christians not non-believers, after all). But again, that simply means you now know whom to love, pray for and bless, hoping they will drop their “swords” and embrace the grace of God.
Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV) Peter also points us to our true enemy and says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1st Peter 5:8 NIV)
Our one greatest enemy is the one causing strife behind the scenes, not the guy who stole your girlfriend in the 8th grade, or the lady who cursed you out last week. He’s the great disruptor, the schemer and liar who has been wreaking havoc since the beginning. He’s the one who destroys marriages by whispering encouragement to greater selfishness, who entices men to war over bits of land, and who deceives billions through his lies. And if you don’t think he’s not real, he’s got you right where he wants you.
There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet the enemy.