Have you ever read a psalm like, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks,” (Ps 137:9) and wondered how in the world to apply that? (Or wondered when it was appropriate to mentally apply it to your own screaming child who just created their umpteenth disaster for the day which started at 3 AM?)
One of the first things we need to do with scriptures like this is look at the broader context. This psalm is about Babylon, a world power that brutally oppressed smaller nations. The concept of children being smashed reflects the language of war. What is happening conceptually through this passage is that the enemy is made impotent to perpetuate evil.
Babylon eventually became a symbol of oppressive world power like Rome, aligned with a demonic agenda opposed to God’s kingdom. The spiritual realm is recognized in Psalms: “Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge the children of man uprightly?” (Ps 58:1). A New Testament counterpart to this is: “For 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 the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12).
In this context we can learn to pray a psalm like “dash their infants,” but with great care, because we want to do it wisely and out of God’s true heart.
What about the repeated outcry regarding enemies in the Psalms?
We walk in the revelation of the cross. Our weapons are different than David’s sling and sword. Even our words are different. We live in a confession of grace. We can still read, “You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed.” (Ps 18:40). But we place it in the context of, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’” (Ro 12:19, 21). We chase our enemies with a different heart.
The Psalms frequently acknowledge that God is the actual deliverer from our enemies. The most decisive act of deliverance is God’s cross. The world’s sin was judged in Jesus’ death on the cross and we should trust that any following outworking of divine judgment on evil will remain in that same vein.
Pray through the Psalms for deliverance from enemies, both spiritual powers and human. And pray that God gives us ways to overcome them with good. When we read a psalm like “May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust!” (Ps 72:9). Look for the clues, like “lick the dust” and recall this is a reference to the serpent in Eden’s garden. There is a deeper story here about spiritual authority.
Let’s look at really emotional, challenging psalm:
“Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies” (Ps 139:19–22).
How do we pray this?!
Recognize that the dual spiritual powers of Sin and Death that Paul often speaks of in Romans fit here. Paul sees these as powerful entities that are used by the demonic realm and are anti-christ. There is some truth to the catchy phrase, “hate the sin and love the sinner” that can apply here but it’s better to arrive at who the Bible sees our real enemies are. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. (1John 3:8).
Pay attention to Jesus’ tactic here, “that through death he [Jesus] might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). The picture of God’s love through the cross is incredibly important. It shows us the ultimate way that God defeats a truly evil enemy.
This leads my heart to cry out with the Psalmist as he moves on from counting enemies, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Ps 139:23–24).
Only Jesus can hate an enemy yet greater still, ferociously love them through the laid down love of his cross. I can mature in this path but only within the grace of Jesus’ life. If I am to say anything against an enemy, I should invite God’s Spirit to search me and know my depths. This deep searching by the Spirit will prepare my heart to love an enemy beyond my hatred. Only from Jesus’ perspective can I see an enemy’s value in heaven more than I despise their potential for hell.
This inner-depth search will root out bitterness, unforgiveness and self-deception hidden in the dusty corners of our hearts. It will bring us into freedom—an everlasting way of triumph.
I encourage you to go on the Love Your Enemy, A 30-Day Guide journey. It is time for us to learn to be a different kind of people and express the heart of God.