What do we do with all this talk of enemies and battle and wrath and destroy in the latter verses of Psalm 21 as follows:
8 Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies;
your right hand will seize your foes.
9 When you appear for battle,
you will burn them up as in a blazing furnace.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
and his fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
their posterity from mankind.
11 Though they plot evil against you
and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.
12 You will make them turn their backs
when you aim at them with drawn bow.
13 Be exalted in your strength, Lord;
we will sing and praise your might.
Don’t we have enough of this distressing stuff on the 7 o’clock news without having to deal with it in the Psalms? Or maybe, for some of you reading this, it is not just about images on TV, but it actually exists outside your front door? Every day you can hear it, see it, smell it! Your life is never free of the terrible consequences of ‘the weary repetitions of man’s history’ (as Blaiklock puts it).
But even if you don’t live in a war zone literally, then certainly spiritually we all do. As those of who trust in the Name of the Lord God Almighty, we daily face some sort of opposition to our faith and the truths that God has revealed to us in His Word, the Bible. As I quoted last time from Longman, “It is in the context of spiritual warfare that Psalm 20 [and 21] retains its relevance in the life of God’s people today.” (see references # 30)
I am presently reading “Gunning for God – Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target” by John C Lennox (Lion Books 2011) and he says:
“The New Atheists…are more aggressive…they are no longer content simply to deny God’s existence. For instance, Christopher Hitchens says: ‘I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist…I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief is positively harmful…I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred, and contempt, and I claim that right’… The agenda of the New Atheists has widened, therefore, to include attack on the existence of belief itself…Sam Harris’s intention is ‘to destroy the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms.’” (pages 16-17)
Remember that the initial context of these two psalms was when Israel was surrounded by enemies such as the Philistines and others and the usual reason the king had to lead his armies out to battle was (though not always) because of the nature of an aggressive enemy. As Blaiklock says, responding to the tough language of verses 7-13:
“Victory won is a token and foretaste of triumphs yet to be. The words take flame in envisaging victory, aggressors driven like chaff and treachery recoiling on its inventors (verse 11)…It is hot language, from which a war-ridden world [like today’s] may shrink, but see it in the context of an embattled land, with enemies…[with] an appalling tradition of evil…[and so] verse 10 must be read in that context of ever-breeding agony…[and] a beleaguered people’s fears…” (see references # 37)
I have not lived under oppressive regimes of infamous people such as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin (who by the way, were driven by an atheistic philosophy!), but I have read their history of atrocities against Jews, Gypsies, the disabled, their own people who stood against them and many others and wondered how would I pray, how would I react.
But, in our day, I personally don’t have any trouble understanding, to a degree, the language of this psalm and other Imprecatory Psalms (such as Psalm 109) known for calling out to God for justice against those who act out their evil schemes upon the vulnerable, the poor, children, widows and others. Those who act as if there is no God! Especially when one considers atrocities that occur in our world today such as human trafficking and slavery, abduction of children and young people to be sold as sex-slaves or child soldiers, terrorism such as the very recent senseless killings of innocent victims in the UK and in Australia, even the corporate greed of some organizations, and the list sadly goes on and on. Surely we all desire for such perpetrators of these crimes against humanity to repent, turn from their evil ways and discover the grace and love that is in Jesus, but if not, to at the very least be stopped and called to account for their evil activities, one way or another.
Paul in Galatians 6:7-8 reminds us:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
So Father, I pray concerning those who in our day seem to love sin and injustice for their own profit, with little consideration, it seems, for the terrible impact it all has upon their victims and ignoring the truth that one day there will be a judgement day. In your mercy, bring them to repentance. May Your hand lay hold on all such enemies of yours; may your right hand seize your foes. When they plot evil against you and devise wicked schemes against vulnerable people, may they not succeed. And Father, deliver those who are the victims of such wicked activities. May they experience freedom in Jesus, the One who came to seek and to save the lost, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to set the oppressed free. Be exalted in your strength, Lord and we will sing and praise your might. Amen.