Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah’s wife to be your own. [2 Samuel 12:9-10 (NLT)]
Psalm 139 is one of my favorites among the psalms. As I read it this morning, however, I got annoyed with David. Near the end of this beautiful song praising God for His omniscience, omnipresence, and intensely personal involvement in his life, David throws in a curse on his enemies. Granted, they’re God’s enemies, too, but sometimes David seems incredibly angry and vengeful. After comparing his enemies to deadly snakes, hungry lions, and vicious dogs, among others things, he wants them to dissolve into slime like snails, be cast into the fire, become palsied and blind, and for their wives to become widows and their children fatherless beggars. One Bible commentary said David had a “particularly vigorous attitude toward the enemy,” but wanting to wash his feet in the blood of the wicked sounds merciless and vindictive to me.
The NLT Bible has 143 occurrences of “enemy” or “enemies” in Psalms and even the beautiful 23rd Psalm mentions enemies! Indeed, David had his share of enemies including Goliath, King Saul, Absalom (the son who tried to overthrow the kingdom), Ahithophel (the counselor who defected to Absalom), and Adonijah (who tried to wrest the crown from Solomon), along with the enemy nations of the Philistines, Moabites, Geshurites, Girzites, Amalekites, and Ammonites. Looking at his history, I understand why he wrote about enemies but what do these angry Psalms mean to me? I’d never think, let alone say, some of the cruel things David does.
When trying to list our enemies, my husband and I agreed that deep in the dark web lurks someone who wants to steal our identities or hold our computers for ransom but we don’t want to wash our feet in his blood. We know that radical Islamic terrorists probably count as enemies and we’re not comfortable with North Korea, Russia, China, Iran, Syria or Iraq, but we certainly don’t want them destroyed. As for individuals, we could think of none who qualify as enemies. We’ve had competitors, rivals, opponents, and some very annoying and exasperating people in our lives, but we’ve never thought of them as enemies. So again, what do these Psalms mean to us?
Looking again at David’s history, I see a far greater enemy than Saul or the Philistines: David himself. Although courageous, he could be afraid and it was fear that made him lie to Ahimelech and pretend to be insane to King Achish. By allying himself with the Philistines, he was both deceitful and a traitor. In spite of seven wives (and numerous concubines), the lustful man took another man’s wife as his own and killed her husband. At best, David was an inattentive father; he failed to punish his son Amnon for raping Tamar and ignored Absalom. A reckless man of pride and ambition, he failed to follow God’s directions concerning the Ark and census. While loyal to his friends, David was ruthless to his enemies. Considered a man after God’s heart, we like to think of David as the ideal man but, like any man or woman, he had his dark side. Nathan’s words in 2 Samuel tell us that most of David’s calamities were the result of his own sins.
My enemies, like David’s real enemies, are not flesh and blood. They are pride, fear, anger, hate, doubt, insecurity, unforgiveness, thoughtlessness, impatience, jealousy, arrogance, materialism, pretense, and lack of faith. Like David, I want God to smash their jaws, break off their fangs, and make them disappear like water into thirsty ground! ”We have met the enemy and he is us!” are the words cartoonist Walt Kelly put in Pogo’s mouth. How right he was!