For many there is a genuine conflict between what is seen as ‘Old Testament’ values of appealing to God for victory in war and Jesus’ ‘New Testament’ statement to love your enemies. Mathew 5.44 The appeals to God for the destruction of one’s enemies, ‘Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.’ v1are know as curses. Curses are not limited to the Old Testament. They are rephrased as ‘woes’ when Jesus criticizes scribes and Pharisees. Matt 23 Passages such as Psalm 35.4-10 have been so uncomfortable that the Church of England marked them as not suitable to be read aloud in services between 1980 and 2000. Do we share that problem?
How then can we understand a psalm like Psalm 35? It can be read literally or metaphorically in its original setting. Can it then be applied to modern life? How do we understand it spiritually? I am sure it was written from the experience of life threatening and life taking conflict. This psalm reflects the truth about Israel’s internal conflict during David’s life time when Saul sought to unjustly kill David and during civil war with the forces backing Absalom. Internal malicious plotting was rife. ‘They do not speak peaceably, but devise false accusations against those who live quietly in the land.’ v20 David is not claiming to be faultless but he was chosen by God to fulfil his will and in that sense was living in his will. He could therefore justifiably pray, ‘Vindicate me in your righteousness, Lord my God; do not let them gloat over me.’ v24 He appeals to God that his enemies would fall into their own trap. v8
David was right to first of all appeal to God rather than his own prowess and then give thanks to him when he was rescued. ‘Who is like you, Lord? You rescue the poor and needy from those who rob them.’ v10 As disciples our first appeal is to God, ‘may they always say, “The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well being of his servant.” v27 Where there are those who persistently remain enemies of the Lord the New Testament does teach that there will be judgement and the forces against God will be appropriately punished. Revelation shows us worship of the Lamb for his ultimate victory over evil.
Is there a place now for this literal understanding of praying for physical victory over the political, military, criminal and religious forces of evil? I would say yes in this week of remembering V.E. day. The nation prayed at Dunkirk. The forces of fascist evil attacked not only the Christian church but the whole of society. Such oppressive forces are still very active in the world and through the life experiences of refugees within the church there is ample evidence that Christian opposition to such forces is not only justified it is part of our obedience to God.
There is also a spiritual battle that Christians are expected to engage in. Paul informs us, ‘We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. Ephesians 6.12 He then echoes David’s call to put on God’s armour and weaponry. ‘Take up shield and armour; arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. Say to me, I am your salvation.’ vv 2,3
Great in Power –