Triumphing over Enemies
(37) I pursued my enemies and overtook them, and I did not turn back until they were destroyed. (38) I shattered them so that they were not able to rise. They fell under my feet, (39) for you girded me with strength for battle. You subdued under me those who rose against me. (40) You gave me my enemies’ necks, and those who hated me I destroyed. (41) They cried out for help, but there was no one to deliver them. (They cried out) to Yahweh, but he did not respond. (42) I pulverized them like dust borne on the wind. I emptied them out like mire in the streets.
This segment of Psalm 18 sets forth a theme found throughout the Old Testament to which many New Testament believers have difficulty relating: a warrior exulting over the defeat of his enemies. In Exodus 15 Israel’s deliverer, Moses, and his sister, Miriam, together celebrated God’s great victory over the enemy when Israel was threatened by the army of the Egyptians. Their song of triumph may well have been the first psalm ever written in Hebrew (Ex. 15:1-21).
Should God’s covenant people exult over the defeat of their enemies? Scripture indicates that we should, especially when God grants us a great victory. The middle two verses of today’s six verse stanza help us see why. Note the use of the second person singular: “You girded me…you subdued under me…you gave me” (vss. 39 & 40). This stands in contrast to the first two verses (vss. 37 & 38) and the last (vs. 42) which employ the first person singular: “I pursued…I did not turn back…I shattered them…I pulverized…I emptied.” In any battle we face, it is God who gives the victory. He deserves the glory for our triumphs, and we have every reason to exult in him.
I. Recounting the victory over my enemies, Part I (37 & 38)
II. Rejoicing in God’s enablement (39 & 40)
III. Recounting the victory over my enemies, Part II (41 & 42)
When we battle in God’s strength and he gives us the victory over our enemies, we should exult in his triumph.
Is there such a thing as a just war? Many Christians struggle with this issue, particularly when our own country is involved in a conflict we may not support. On one side of the issue we find pacifists or conscientious objectors who feel that any use of military force is unjustified for those who follow Jesus. They base their position on passages such as Jesus’ words, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mt. 5:39). Those who are not persuaded to be pacifists point to the number of soldiers who came to faith in Christ and passages such as Romans 13 where Paul calls the one who bears arms “God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4).
While our passage does not directly answer questions about just war, it assures us that God promises the victory to those who fight whatever battle we face under his authority and in his strength. This was true for David as the leader of Israel’s armies facing a host of godless enemies. It is also true for us, facing whatever battles, physical, emotional, or spiritual, we may be responsible to undertake in the present day. Professional soldiers, who happen to be Christians and who are engaged in literal warfare in service to their country, can find great comfort in the words of this psalm. Believers engaged in spiritual warfare with the forces of evil deployed against us (Eph. 6:10-18) can likewise find great solace in these verses. No matter what kind of battle we face, we can only be assured of victory if we fight with the courage and strength that God alone provides.