Today’s Scripture Lesson: Psalm 83
Please open your Bible or Bible app and read this psalm on your own, allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to you through His Word.
The 83rd Psalm is the final psalm attributed to the psalmist, Asaph. I must admit, I have grown quite fond of Asaph’s psalms and I’m a bit saddened to be moving forward knowing I won’t be encountering more of his writings. I’ve found his writings to be a challenge to my customary mindset and this final psalm of his is no exception.
As you can clearly read in the opening 5 verses, Asaph is praying to God about God’s enemies who are conspiring against His people, Israel. Asaph tells God that His enemies:
- make an uproar
- have exalted themselves
- make shrewd plans against God’s people
- conspire against God’s treasured ones
- desire to wipe Israel out as a nation, wishing that Israel be remembered no more
- have conspired together with one mind
- have made covenant against God.
In the next three verses, Asaph names the tribes and nations who have joined the ranks of the enemies. And, after identifying them, Asaph begins to pray and raise a petition against their actions before God.
It is in this prayer that I become particularly challenged. While I hope you read this prayer in its entirety (verses 9-18), I will focus in on just a few verses which I would like to view through the lens Jesus provides in His Words from the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5).
To Love or Curse Your Enemies
Jesus proclaims, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” in Matthew 5:43-44.
It is such a simple, yet challenging, message, but doesn’t it stand in direct opposition to what Asaph’s psalm teaches? Asaph was praying for destruction and annihilation. He wanted God to “pursue” the enemy with His “tempest” and to “terrify” the enemy with His “storm.” He prayed that God’s enemies would be “humiliated” and “perish.”
Is this “pray for your enemies” thing that Jesus teaches actually for real?
For that matter, isn’t this a blatant contradiction between two places we claim to be the “inspired Word of God”? This doesn’t sound like “loving” and it doesn’t sound like he’s praying for anyone but himself.
How did the omnipotent, infallible God mess this one up?
The Truth in Contradiction
I don’t know about you, but I find myself weary of the standard “Old Testament vs. New Testament” argument in these situations. You know the argument, “Well, Jesus came to show us a new way and the Old Testament often shows you what it was like without Jesus.” And then we walk away until the next contradiction reveals itself. Yes, there is a little bit of truth to this argument, but maybe, if we lean into the Holy Spirit and allow Him to reveal Himself in these moments, we will find that He has as much to show us about the sinful natures we continue to cling to as He has to reveal about the glory and wonder of our beautiful Creator.
When approaching what appears to be a contradiction in Scripture, I have to step back for a moment and redefine what I am seeing. I choose to look at contradictions as contrast. One truly reveals the other. It’s sorta like walking into a room that is almost all blue, and then there is a bright orange vase prominently featured. The orange reveals just how blue the room really is, and the blue reveals just how orange the vase really is. Further, these contrasting colors, which are opposite one another on the color wheel, serve to complement one another. They reveal the subtleties in their complementary color.
I find the two most subtle moments in this 83rd Psalm to fall in verses 16 and 18. As 18 essentially reinforces 16, let’s zero in on verse 16:
“Fill their faces with dishonor, that they may seek Your name, O LORD.”
Read that again through the lens of “loving your enemy” or better yet, “praying for those who persecute you.”
The beauty of this verse is the purpose Asaph reveals in praying this prayer about God’s enemy, Israel’s enemy, his enemy. He reveals the desire of his heart in this prayer, which is a reflection of the heart of God. The purpose behind Asaph’s prayer is so ”that they may seek” God’s name.
Now, granted, Asaph doesn’t really take anything off the table here, including that the enemy “perish.” Asaph reveals it can happen by any means necessary, but he ultimately wants the enemy to seek God’s name.
Asaph’s prayer isn’t revenge-minded, it is recognition- and repentance-minded.
Love for All Types of Enemies
I would be negligent if I failed to visit one point I see revealed in Matthew 5. I find it interesting that Jesus has two commands here. One command is to “love your enemy.” The other command is to “pray for those who persecute you.”
It seems that not all enemies persecute you. In fact, some of your enemies are not in a position to persecute you, rather, you’re possibly in the position to persecute them. What are you supposed to do when you have the power? Love them.
Some of your enemies are actually able and do persecute you. What are you commanded to do regarding your persecutor? Pray for them. What is the purpose of your prayer? Well, it may be in part self-preservation, and also in part that the persecutor may seek the name of God. But Jesus reveals one more thing about loving your enemies and praying for your persecutors.
The purpose is this, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:45)
Asaph named the enemy, but he didn’t exclude them from seeking the name of God.
I want to caution you not to mistake your mission field for an irredeemable enemy. Chances are good that many of the enemies of God are your close personal friends. In a physical sense, they neither seek to destroy you personally, nor do you seek their destruction. Love them. Pray for God to break down the strongholds and barriers keeping them from knowing Him and surrendering to His Lordship. If you have enemies who do seek your destruction and who persecute you, pray for them.
It’s also important to recognize the enemy is oftentimes an internal, habit-structure of thinking. It is time to identify these enemies as well. Though there are certainly more, John Piper gives us a number of names for the enemy in his book Future Grace: Anxiety, Pride, Misplaced Shame, Impatience, Covetousness, Bitterness, Despondency, and Lust. Oftentimes, these are enemies who persecute and ultimately destroy us, and they come from our very own flesh.
So, What’s the Play Call?
Surrender your thoughts and actions toward your enemy(ies) to God Almighty. Ask the Holy Spirit to lovingly reveal the answer to this last question: Do your prayers for your enemies reveal you as a son or daughter of God, reflecting the heart of your Father?