How Do We Apply the Psalms about Killing Enemies?
When we read of the incessant desire of the Psalmist’s adversaries, we should think of our own constant temptation to Sin. We should read these poems of war as our poems of war. We should be encouraged not just to sit through hard times but to fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil with our only weapon—the sword of the Spirit.
John Calvin called the Psalms the heart of the Bible—not only do they occur toward the middle of our Bibles, but they express the heartbeat of Christianity. Pain, grief, joy, and the desire for victory over enemies are Christian emotions infallibly set down in God’s Word. That last emotion, however, is one that many Christians struggle to apply from the book of Psalms. The enemies (oyiev), foes (tsar), and adversaries (shoreir) of Israel litter the Psalms over a hundred times. What are we, as 21st-century (American) Christians, supposed to do with that? I don’t have any enemies who “trample my life to the ground” (Ps 7:6). I can’t say “my deadly enemies … surround me” (Ps 17:9). Do these Psalms only apply to persecuted Israelites but not Christians?
No, they apply to all Christians. Every believer in Christ is in a struggle more significant than mortal life. We are in the battle of eternal life (Eph 6:12). We must fight against “the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11) because he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). We have an adversary who is more powerful and who seeks to do more damage than all the nations the Psalmist wrote about. The Amorites, Babylonians, and Egyptians are nothing compared to the schemes of the devil. They can take lives, but the devil wants your soul.
Throughout history, Christians have understood themselves to be in a three-part war. They have seen themselves in a fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. If we apply the Psalms to that fight, we see that, indeed, they do apply to our battle against worldly powers. That is the context of most of the Psalms. But, we must consider the reason the Israelites were in that earthly fight. It was not for gold or glory or national gain. The fight was always theological. God commanded the Israelites to fight because He knew that if they lost and the nations ruled over them, they would forsake Him. The physical fight was always just the servant to the spiritual battle.