Brian W. Davidson

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Enemies in the Psalms

One problem you face in regularly reading prayerfully through the Psalms is all the enemy language you encounter. One approach that I have turned to is praying the enemy language with respect to my own personal struggles and sin. I recognize that many in this world do have very real, physical enemies and this is a sort of first-world problem, but I nevertheless think it is important.

Enemy Language

Hans-Joachim Kraus, in his Theology of the Psalms, divides the enemy language into three categories: enemies of the nation, enemies of the individual, and mythic powers. Here is an example of each type:

Enemies of the nation — Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you. (Psalm 45:5)

Enemies of the individual — Rise up, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. (Psalm 3:7)

Enemies of mythic powers — You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters. (Psalm 74:13)

For many, like myself, it isn’t clear how to read and pray these words.

The Enemy Within

I think John 8:31–34 offers some support for reading these Psalms with respect to personal struggles.

John 8:31–34 – So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.

It is easy to see how someone or something that enslaves another person is a clear and present enemy. In this passage sin is portrayed as something that enslaves.

Surely, we can then pray the enemy language of the Psalms with respect to the sin of our nation and the sin we struggle with personally, remembering that Scripture also speaks of sin as a sort of mythic power that the Christian must not submit to (cf. Romans 6).