Cursing Our Enemies: Psalm 59

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Psalm 59 (NIV)

Deliver me from my enemies, O God;
    be my fortress against those who are attacking me.
Deliver me from evildoers
    and save me from those who are after my blood.

See how they lie in wait for me!
    Fierce men conspire against me
    for no offense or sin of mine, Lord.
I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me.
    Arise to help me; look on my plight!
You, Lord God Almighty,
    you who are the God of Israel,
rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
    show no mercy to wicked traitors.

You are my strength, I watch for you;
    you, God, are my fortress,
10 my God on whom I can rely.
    God will go before me
    and will let me gloat over those who slander me.
11 But do not kill them, Lord our shield,
    or my people will forget.
In your might uproot them
    and bring them down.
12 For the sins of their mouths,
    for the words of their lips,
    let them be caught in their pride.
For the curses and lies they utter,
13     consume them in your wrath,
    consume them till they are no more.
Then it will be known to the ends of the earth
    that God rules over Jacob.

Sing this psalm with the Seedbed Psalter today! Visit the resource here.

CONSIDER THIS

The superscription for this psalm is quite specific: “Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and kill him in the morning.” The setting for this psalm is 1 Samuel 19:11ff. Saul surrounded David’s house to kill him, but David’s wife, Michal, warned David that Saul’s men were approaching and lowered him out the window with a rope so that he escaped with his life. The opening lines of the psalm confirm this as David prays, “Deliver me from my enemies, O God . . . See how they lie in wait for me!” (Ps. 59:1, 3).

David prays imprecation or cursing over his enemies. We have seen this in several psalms already. Aren’t we told to pray for our enemies, even to bless them? This potential conflict is not easy to ignore, because it occurs in so many different psalms. It is important to remember that these are prayers to God, not actions against an enemy. David transfers his anger and emotion over to God because it is God who must act in these situations. God invites us to openly express our anger because he has reserved judgment for himself: “Vengeance is mine,” declares the Lord (Deut. 32:35 esv; Rom. 12:19).

As Christians, we must understand that although we may face injustices, structural evils, and a host of earthly enemies arrayed against us, this is not our ultimate struggle. There are larger perspectives that we, as Christians, have been given. Paul says that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). When we see these references to enemies in the Psalms, we should be reminded of our real and more profound struggle with the Evil One and his satanic forces. We also should remember that whatever curses are called down upon enemies are all fully borne by Jesus Christ, who became “a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). Therefore, whenever we pray or sing psalms, we always (as with all of Scripture) encounter them as Christians and sing them through the lens of the new covenant. Every psalm becomes a pointer to greater realities that have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This is precisely what enables us, in the end, to love our enemies and pray for them.

In this psalm David prays for deliverance. His language is vivid and raw because he is desperate and fleeing for his life. But, even in the midst of his anguish, David understands and foresees that God is his fortress and final hope (vv. 16–17).

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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