But my enemies are vigorous and powerful
Ps. 38:19a (HCSB)
I’m on a journey of learning how to read the Bible not so much from the rationalistic perspectives of Western Christendom where the meaning of the passage is found only in what the writers literally meant. The Psalms are a great place to practice this skill. Here’s an example from a reading this morning.
The author of this Psalm is David. There’s a lot going on in this Psalm that is worthy of comment, but this reflection is principally on verse 19. David describes enemies who are vigorous and powerful. I am inclined to believe he is referring to the many physical enemies he made during his life. Remember, he was hunted by Saul, at war with various people groups, and one of his sons even initiated a coup to take the throne from him. He did not lead a peaceful life. Chronicles will say about David that he was a man with “bloody hands.”
If I read this passage literally, I get insight into the troubles of a man many years ago. I see the anxiety and challenges faced by a king who has enemies on every border. I’m grateful to read about a man with such problems who also remained steadfast in his faith. On that level I am edified, but not necessarily personally spoken to. However, continuing on reading the text beyond the physical level allows opportunities for further encouragement.
“My enemies” for David might have been physical enemies who sought his life, but reading this Psalm today causes me to read “my enemies” as the world, the flesh, and the devil. These are my enemies, and they too are vigorous and powerful. The world with all its’ glitz and glamour is a mightily tempting place. Everywhere you look there is an anti-kingdom worldview being promoted. Sometimes the anti-kingdom message is subtle, other times it is obviously opposed to Christ. Either way, the world is a powerful enemy.
We all know about the flesh, too. Our flesh and passions wage war against us. Paul once said in Romans 7 that the good he longs to do he does not do, and the evil he does not want to do, he practices. This is Paul we are talking about. He wrote a third of the New Testament. And, he confesses the power of the flesh. The flesh and it’s passions are a major are of war for me. Whether it is pride, gluttony, selfishness, or any other of the vices of the flesh, this enemy isn’t just strong, but it is ever present.
Then there is the devil. Peter tells us he walks about the earth like a roaring lion seeking those whom he may devour. The devil not only can appear as a ferocious enemy, Paul tells us he can even appear as an angel of light deceiving those who walk the way of death thinking they are walking to glory. The devil need not try to scare his prey, only lead them passively into a false, pseudo-truth.
Here’s the good news, though. I am fully aware my enemies are too powerful for me alone. My enemies are vigorous and powerful, but let us not forget our enemies are defeated enemies, made powerless by the Cross of Christ. According to Paul, Christ at the cross made our enemies a laughing stock, a public spectacle by disarming them not with force, but with love. Praise God! Furthermore, we need not fight this battle alone. We could not win this battle if we fought alone, but by your grace I am not alone. God the Holy Spirit dwells within believers and He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.