The Anatomy of the Enemy: Psalm 64

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Today’s Sunday Psalms entry is written by Timothy Tennent.

Psalm 64 (NIV)

Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
    protect my life from the threat of the enemy.

Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
    from the plots of evildoers.
They sharpen their tongues like swords
    and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
    they shoot suddenly, without fear.

They encourage each other in evil plans,
    they talk about hiding their snares;
    they say, “Who will see it?”
They plot injustice and say,
    “We have devised a perfect plan!”
    Surely the human mind and heart are cunning.

But God will shoot them with his arrows;
    they will suddenly be struck down.
He will turn their own tongues against them
    and bring them to ruin;
    all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
All people will fear;
    they will proclaim the works of God
    and ponder what he has done.

10 The righteous will rejoice in the Lord
    and take refuge in him;
    all the upright in heart will glory in him!

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

CONSIDER THIS

There are many important differences between the historic prayer and worship book of the people of God (Jewish and Christian) and contemporary collections that are typically used in churches in our own day. One of the differences is the absence of the enemy in our hymns and songs. There are a number of important reasons for this.

First, the enemies in the Old Testament are almost always the various non-Jewish nations who are arrayed against the Jews, seeking to extinguish their lives. Since the vast majority of Christians today come from these various Gentile nations who once opposed God, but who are now joyfully worshipping the Lord, then we see ourselves more as those who have been reconciled with God than those who stand in opposition to God.

Second, several important changes took place once the earliest Christians in the New Testament (mostly Jews) began to use and quote the Psalms in the New Testament. There is a subtle, but important, shift that takes place in how many of the verses about enemies are applied in the New Testament. Now, the enemies of God are as likely to be the Jewish leaders who were rejecting and crucifying the Lord as any Gentiles, who, on several occasions, are actually shown to have more faith than the Jews (e.g., Matt. 8:10; 27:54).

Finally, as we read the New Testament more, we gradually come to recognize that we are all the “enemies” of God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21) apart from the reconciling work of the gospel. The bad news is that we, along with the whole earth, are (apart from Christ) enemies of God. The good news is that all peoples (not just Jews) can be redeemed and reconciled. Thus, the division between the righteous and the wicked can no longer be associated with any race or ethnicity. Instead, the searing line that divides the righteous and the wicked cuts through the heart of every man and woman on earth. This transition was anticipated in the Old Testament (see, for example, the meditation on Psalm 87), but was not fully realized until the New Testament.

What are the implications of this for reading or singing Psalm 64? This psalm is a poetic anatomy of the wicked. It carefully analyzes the enemies of God in all their specific treacheries. They threaten (v. 1) and conspire (v. 2) against the people of God. They “aim their words like deadly arrows” (v. 3) and ambush the innocent (v. 4). “They encourage each other in evil plans” and believe that God does not see them (v. 5). In reading this psalm, it could be easy for us to think of the rebellious other who is out there in opposition to God, while we are those insiders who stand safely with the righteous. However, as Christians encountering this psalm, we should see ourselves in this anatomy. We are guilty of all of this treachery against God and his purposes. But through the grace of Jesus Christ, we can say with the apostle Paul, “that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). It is in Christ that we can now truly be a member of that community known as “the righteous.” It is a righteousness that first comes as alien gift (justification) but, through the Spirit, is imparted to us, by grace, into our experience (sanctification). This and this alone is why we can sing the closing words of this psalm: “Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; let all the upright in heart praise him!” (Ps. 64:10).

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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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