Who Is My Enemy?

questions-1151886-640x480Arguably the most famous parable Jesus told was prompted by the question, “Who is my neighbor?” For the psalms, the question seems to be, “Who is my enemy?”

Many of the Psalms have Davidic provenance, either given in the titles or superscriptions to the Psalms (which are inspired and inerrant as much as the verses themselves; the Hebrew text has them as verse 1, so don’t skip them) or by New Testament interpretation (Peter says David wrote Psalm 2, but there’s no author given for Psalm 2).

We know that David had real, flesh-and-blood enemies: Saul had lost his mind and wanted David dead, the Amalekites and Philistines were a constant international threat, and the jealous Benjamites were a regular source of skulduggery (see Psalm 7). When David prays in Psalm 13, for example,

Consider me and answer, LORD my God…My enemy will say, ‘I have triumphed over him,’ and my foes will rejoice because I am shaken” (13:3, 6 HCSB).

it’s easier to narrow down who isn’t an enemy of David.

For the majority of Christians in the world today, it isn’t hard for them to identify enemies, either. It may be ISIS marking your house with the Arabic nun to identify you as one of the Nasara—one of the Nazarenes—or it might be a despotic government outlawing the Way.

For American Christians, it’s not as easy to identify enemies. If you’re a jerk, you’ve probably made some by being yourself (raises hand as guilty); the reality, however, is that the only danger typically faced is one of embarrassment or faux pas rather than literal life-and-death. Does that mean we don’t have Davidic enemies? Are we one (or more) steps removed from the Psalms because we don’t have ready answers to “Who is my enemy?”

Hardly.

Death is our enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26).

The Devil is our adversary (1 Peter 5:8).

Demons are our enemies (Ephesians 6:11).

Deceitful sin is our enemy (Romans 8:12-13, Hebrews 3:13).

For all the saints, regardless where or when we live, these are enemies of us all. The Psalms become immediately relevant to us all, even in America when read in light of these enemies.

We pray for deliverance and judgment and destruction upon our enemies because we deeply and rightly hate them. We hate death. We hate the Devil and what he does to our brothers and sisters. We hate the forces of darkness that spawn so much evil in this world. We hate the reality of yet-indwelling sin that deceives us and leads us astray. We long for the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.

So we pray against our enemies with the same confidence in deliverance that David had:

But I have trusted in Your faithful love;
my heart will rejoice in Your deliverance.
I will sing to the LORD
because He has treated me generously (Psalm 13:5-6 HCSB).

Always Appropriate

Whether in temptation or calm, says Abba Isaac, whether in fear or reassurance, whether in pain or pleasure, joy or sorrow, there are no circumstances in life when it is not supremely proper to pray: “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me.” This prayer, he goes on, should never be absent from our lips. …

After stating that this formula–“O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me”–had been handed down through the Egyptian monastic tradition from its most ancient fathers, with a view to attaining purity of heart and constant prayer, Abba Isaac continues: “Not without reason has this verse [Psalm 70:1] been selected from out of the whole body of Scripture. For it takes up all the emotions that can be applied to human nature and with great correctness and accuracy it adjusts itself to every condition and every attack. It contains an invocation of God in the face of any crisis, the humility of a devout confession, the watchfulness of concern and of constant fear, a consciousness of one’s own frailty, the assurance of being heard, and confidence in a protection that is always present and at hand, for whoever calls unceasingly on his protector is sure that He is always present. It contains a burning love and charity, an awareness of traps, and a fear of enemies.”

— Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, 137-138.

Jonah 2

I called to the LORD in my distress
I cried out for help in the belly of Sheol
All Your breakers and waves crash over me
I said, “There is no help for my soul!”

You threw me in the depths of the sea
The current carried me away from life
When the prison doors slammed shut behind me
To Your temple I lifted my eyes

When hope was just a dimming ember
When life’s light was all but gone
You raised my life out of the Pit
Salvation is Yours, and Yours alone

Those who cling to their worthless idols
Throw away your holy, steadfast love
But I will raise my voice in thanksgiving
I will offer up my praises in a song

When hope was just a dimming ember
When life’s light was all but gone
You raised my life out of the Pit
Salvation is Yours, and Yours alone

3-16-15

Once More, With Feeling

I’m a little more than halfway through my second trip through the Psalms this year, and at times it’s difficult to distinguish one Psalm from another. When several psalms say the same things over and over again, in (sometimes only slightly) different ways, it’s a very present danger to check out and start skimming. I just read this in the last three.

More specifically, we think that the Psalms’ repetitiveness is simply conjugating the verb “praise” 150 times. I praise God. You praise God. He praises God. We praise God. Y’all praise God. They praise God. Now repeat!

Continue reading “Once More, With Feeling”

The Publican’s Prayer, Revised

The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people–greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me–a sinner!’ ” Luke 18:11-13 HCSB

Reading through Matthew 20, I was struck anew by the soul-haunting question at the end of Jesus’ parable: “Are you jealous because I’m generous?” I am thankful for the times when I am struck by how much like the full-day workers I am (“let the righteous one strike me, it is an act of faithful love,” Psalm 141:5). The Holy Spirit shows me in these times how unlike He is I am, and I am always thankful. We sinners make terrible, terrifying gods; He alone is God and He alone is worthy.

Gratitude for not being like another reminded me of the publican’s prayer in Luke 18. There, Jesus contrasts the arrogant self-assuredness of the damned Pharisee with the humble, penitent contrition of the justified publican. What if the Pharisee’s prayer was righteous? What would it have sounded like?

The Pharisee closed the door in his house and fell on his face, praying like this: “God, I thank You that You’re not like me–greedy, unrighteous, lustful, and especially not hateful and arrogant like the black stains of my hypocritical heart. I thank You that You give grace to all–even to that tax collector I saw today.

“You don’t need my fasts or tithes; You own the cattle on the thousand hills, so I can’t pretend to give a gift to You as though You would owe me. You desire mercy, not the empty, heartless ritual of man-pleasing religion.

“I couldn’t help but see the tears of that tax collector and overhear his prayer to You. I can’t think of a better way to come before You. I am such a sinner–much worse than anyone I know! I know I deserve wrath, but please give me mercy instead!”

Prayer

Jesus, our Compassionate Conquering King,

You, Yahweh, are God and cannot lie.
In our oaths, we must swear by that which is greater than us;
there is none greater than You.
So when You take an oath, You swear by Yourself.

Your Father, the Lordswore an oath
that bound the Unchanging God, who does not change His mind:
You, King Jesus, are a priest forever.

In ages past, You established the priests through Aaron’s line
to prepare the way for You to fulfill and finish priesthood.
Aaron’s priesthood was established without an oath
because it would not last forever.

Aaron and his line were priests in the Old Covenant, whose time has come and gone.
Since You have come as a new Priest,
You have become the guarantee of a better covenant, the promised New Covenant.

You are far outnumbered by Aaron and his descendants;
they outnumber you because they were prevented by death from remaining in office.
But death died in You and has no claim;
You remain forever, and hold Your priesthood permanently.

You are the forever King, and You are the forever Priest.
You always live to intercede for us,
so our confidence in You stands upon bedrock.
Since we have a forever Priest, we have no fear of weakness in Your salvation,
for You are always able to save to the uttermost those of us who come to God through You.

Everything we could ask for, hope for, and need in a priest
we have in You:
holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.
As such, You had no need to offer sacrifices for Yourself,
but You offered sacrifice for our sins–You offered Yourself
once for all.

All the Old Covenant could do was appoint weak men captive to sin and death.
You did this, in Your great wisdom, so that we could look for and long for something better.
Better than better, Your Father appointed His Son,
who has been perfected forever.

This is the kind of high priest we need,
and in You, Jesus, this is the high priest we have.

You are reigning at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens,
ministering in the sanctuary which You, the Lord, set up.

You made us to worship, You saved us to worship, You welcome us to worship.

You alone are worthy.

None of this happened [the nullification of the Levitical priesthood by the arrival of Jesus, the Melchizedekean priest] without an oath. For others became priests without an oath, but He with an oath made by the One who said to Him:

The Lord has sworn,
and He will not change His mind,
You are a priest forever.

So Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.

Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office. But because He remains forever, He holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is always able to save [or, able to save completely] those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.

For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do–first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all when He offered Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law, appoints a Son, who has been perfected forever.

Now the main point in what is being said is this: we have this kind of high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle, which the Lord set up, not man.

Hebrews 7:20-8:2 HCSB

Prayer

Holy and holy-making Father,

You have made all things,
and You made them all very good.
In all the vast universe and everything in it that You made,
what is man, that You remember us?
Who are we, that You care for us?

You honored Adam so highly when You made him,
making him just lower than the angels for a short time.
You loved him beyond any other creature,
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You even gave him dominion and rule over all You had made,
subjecting everything under his feet.

Adam sinned against You, and we all suffer the reign of sin.
We know what we should see, but we do not yet see everything subjected to man.
But You did not abandon us to the curse of sin and the fury of judgment,
because we do see Your Son Jesus.

Jesus too was made lower than the angels for a short time,
but instead of sinning He tasted death for everyone;
dying for sinners to be forgiven,
He received a crown of glory and honor
because of the reward of His suffering of death.

It was perfectly fitting in Your plan to bring many sons to glory,
that the One who saves us would be made perfect for us through suffering for us.
You are His Father, and You have adopted us to become our Father;
Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers.

In fact, Jesus gladly leads us to worship You, Father.
He proclaims Your name to us brothers,
and leads us in singing hymns to You when we gather.
He shows us by His perfect life what it is to say,
“I will trust in You, Father.”
He is even proud of us, gladly associating with us:
“Look, Abba! Look at all the children You gave Me!”

Look at how great a love the Father has given us,
that we should be called God’s children.

And we are!

Hallelujah! Oh, hallelujah!

‘What is man, that You remember him,
or the son of man, that You care for him?
You made him lower than the angels for a short time;
You crowned him with glory and honor
and subjected everything under his feet.’

For in subjecting everything to him, He left nothing not subject to him. As it is, we do not yet see everything subjected to him. But we do see Jesus–made lower than the angels for a short time so that by God’s grace He might taste death for everyone–crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.

For it was fitting, in bringing many sons to glory, that He, for whom and through whom all things exist, should make the source of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the One who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying:

‘I will proclaim Your name to my brothers;
I will sing hymns to You in the congregation.’

Again, ‘I will trust in Him.’ And again, ‘Here I am with the children God gave Me.’

Hebrews 2:b-13 HCSB

 

Look at how great a love the Father has given us, that we should be called God’s children. And we are! 1 John 3:1 HCSB

Prayer

I will praise You, Yahweh;
Your kindness is beyond words.

Like a fool, I sinned against You,
and I deserved it when You were angry with me.

You are worthy of praise, and I am glad to give it,
for Your anger has turned away,
and You have had compassion on me.

Indeed, You are my salvation;
You have rescued me from myself.
The Evil One seeks to destroy me,
but You keep me safe.

I will trust You and not be afraid,
for You, Yahweh, are my strength and my song.
You hold me up by Your power;
You give me hope and joy.
You are my treasure,
and You have become my salvation.

It is a pleasure to ask You for help,
like drawing water from the springs of salvation.
It makes me want to tell the world:
“Give thanks to Yahweh; proclaim His name!”

Remind me of all that You have done;
speak to me by Your Spirit in Your word.
May I be so overwhelmed by it all
that my excitement spreads among the peoples:
“Raise your voices! Start the music!
Let’s sing songs to Yahweh
look at the glorious things He has done!

You never leave us on our own;
You have never abandoned any of Your beloved ones.
O Holy One of Israel, You are among us
in Your greatness.

“I will praise You, Yahweh,
although You were angry with me.
Your anger has turned away,
and You have had compassion on me.
Indeed, God is my salvation;
I will trust Him and not be afraid,
for Yah, Yahweh,
is my strength and my song.
He has become my salvation.”

You will joyfully draw water
from the springs of salvation,
and on that day you will say:
“Give thanks to Yahweh; proclaim His name!
Celebrate His works among the peoples.
Declare that His name is exalted.
Sing to Yahweh, for He has done glorious things.
Let this be known throughout the earth.
Cry out and sing, citizen of • Zion ,
for the Holy One of Israel is among you
in His greatness.”

Isaiah 12 HCSB

Anselm’s Prayer

HT: James K.A. Smith

Lord Jesus Christ; Let me seek You by desiring You,
and let me desire You by seeking You;
let me find You by loving You,
and love You in finding You.
I confess, Lord, with thanksgiving
that You have made me in Your image,
so that I can remember You, think of You, and love You.
But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults,
and darkened by the smoke of sin,
that it cannot do that for which it was made,
unless You renew and refashion it.
Lord, I am not trying to make my way to Your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of Your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I can believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe, I shall not understand.

— Anselm of Canterbury