Deliverance from Enemies
(H) (A psalm) of David. (1) Contend, Yahweh, with those who contend with me. Battle with those who battle with me. (2) Take hold of shield and buckler, and rise up for my help. (3) Draw out the spear and stop those who pursue me. Say to my soul, “I (am) your salvation.” (4) Let those who seek my life be put to shame and humiliated. Let those who devise evil against me be turned back and confounded. (5) Let them be like chaff before the wind with the angel of Yahweh driving them on. (6) Let their way be dark and slippery with the angel of Yahweh pursuing them.
The message of this segment is found not so much in its repetitions and synonyms as in the mood of its verbs. First, David uses seven imperatives in petitioning God earnestly for help (vss. 1-3). Then, he uses six jussives translated by “let” and carrying an imperatival sense (four in vs. 4 and one each in vss. 5 & 6). In this way, he demonstrates how earnest he is in petitioning God to deal with his enemies.
David opens the psalm by repeating the words “contend” and “battle” in an appeal to Yahweh to treat his enemies the same way they had been treating him (vs. 1). Later, he uses four synonyms to describe his desire regarding his enemies, “put to shame...humiliated...turned back...confounded” (vs. 4). Finally, he twice calls on Yahweh to send his angel to deal with his enemies (vss. 5 & 6). At the very heart of this segment stands David’s earnest plea for God’s salvation (vs. 3). Note how David phrases this: “Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation.’” In other words, “I not only need your deliverance, but also the inward assurance that you will save me.”
I. Deliver me: David praying for himself (1-3)
II. Dismay and defeat them: David praying about his enemies (4-6)
Regarding those who seek to destroy us, our prayer should be for Yahweh to deliver us while dismaying and defeating our foes.
All of us have to contend with enemies. Whether the bully in the school playground at recess or the bully in the office at the coffee dispenser, we will inevitably face those who seek to do us harm, destroy our reputations, treat us with contempt, and make our lives miserable. Each of us can immediately think of at least one individual we would happily remove from our lives if we could.
The way we think about and deal with our enemies constitutes an important test of our faith. We normally respond to foes by avoiding them, by figuring out ways to protect ourselves from their attacks, or worse by dreaming up ways to avenge ourselves for the wrongs they have inflicted on us. We can experience a great deal of frustration and expend a significant amount of emotional energy in our preoccupations with evil people.
God has called his children to a much different approach. A few years ago a survey was conducted on several college campuses in which students were asked to recall something Jesus had taught during his earthly ministry. By far, the statement most frequently quoted was, “Love your enemies.” Consider what Jesus actually had to say on this topic in his Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But, I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:43-45).
How should we specifically pray for our enemies? Certainly, we should ask God to change their hearts and deflect their malevolence away from us. We can take David’s approach as he prayed in Psalm 35 for God’s protection from them and for neutralizing their ill will. Paul’s words in Romans 12 are challenging in this regard: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge...If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:18-21).
Does such a response seem beyond our natural capacity? Of course it does, unless we are trusting in the supernatural enablement of God’s Holy Spirit. Our gracious response to the abuse of enemies can become a powerful testimony to those who are seeking our harm as well as to others who are observing us and waiting to see if our actions will actually correspond to our profession of faith in the Prince of Peace.