At a Table with My Enemies

I have asked the Lord over the years about people who together have served as my antagonists, some even as my enemies. They come in and go out of my life. Their faces change, but the role they play remains the same. Some have caused me deep, vast, personal and family harm.

They are nice people. They pay their taxes and have respectable careers, maybe even esteemed careers. They take care of their houses and are thoughtful neighbors. They give healthy snacks on Halloween. They’re gracious and generous on Thanksgiving and Christmas. They dress well and vote Republican. They love their children and their children love them. Some of them go to church. And I know that many of them disdain the Lord.

I remember one set of enemies . . . and I recall hearing one of them, immediately after enjoying a fine dinner, deny the existence of God. I heard racist and anti-Semitic talk. And, at other times, I heard whispers of sexual lust and veiled adultery. All of that troubled me, even before I became a follower of Christ. But when I received Christ, I felt the sting of their persistent and hateful rejection. They became my firm and consistent enemies and caused my family and me immense pain over quite a few years. And I despised them for it.

On my worst days, I asked the Lord to hurt them and punish their smug satisfaction. (The imprecatory psalms served me well on those days.) But He didn’t hurt them. Instead, they prospered. Money and ease flowed into more money and ease. Even when they were sick, they carried on and bounced back, no problem.

And I was reading Psalm 35. David pleads with the Lord to contend with those who contend with him and fight those who fight against him . . . that was pleasing to me. Actually, the first 12 verses are pleasing, as David complains against those who wrongly seek his life and those who devise evil plans against him. He asks the Lord to Draw your spear and javelin and Let them be put to shame and dishonor and Let their way be dark and slippery and Let destruction come upon them. David says in Psalm 35:9 that his soul will rejoice in the Lord and exult in His salvation when that day comes.

I’m embarrassed that I’ve read that psalm countless times without considering verses 13 and 14. But I, when they were sick—I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest. I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother; as one who laments his mother, I bowed down in mourning.

Before truly pondering this psalm, I had never prayed for my enemies. Not even once. And I had rarely prayed for my antagonists. I was disciplined to plead with the Lord about the never-ending and immense hurt they were causing me and those I love. Year upon year, I asked the Lord why He let it continue, but I didn’t get an answer.

Even after David prayed so fervently for his enemies, he notes in Psalm 35:15-16 that they rejoiced when he stumbled, conspired against him and mocked him. That’s just the way it is with some people. It’s not right. It hurts and it makes me mad. And then I came to my senses.

The Lord will judge rightly. His judgment is certain. It will come, whether in this life or in the next. I must trust Him. I must see my antagonists, even my enemies, as  the Lord’s gift to me to refine my heart, mind and soul. He uses, allows and sometimes causes my pain to make me more useful to Him. Not that I must be a doormat to aggression. But I must set my face like flint to be a man of God in the face of their disdain, whether the disdain is directed toward me or toward the Lord. Sometimes their disdain is a mixture of both.

Those who are the Lord’s enemies are pathetic rebels, as I was before my own conversion to Christ. They face a horrific punishment unless they repent. Even if they do not repent, I must not rejoice in their destruction. I must pray for their repentance.

Still, I see David’s on-going prayer later in Psalm 35:19-22: Let not those rejoice over me who are wrongfully my foes. . . . David’s plea is for his vindication as well as his personal closeness to his Lord. In the end of it all, David asks that the Lord be honored when he is vindicated. David longs not for vindication for his own glory, but for the glory of the Lord. The close—Psalm 35:27-28—reveals David’s more refined heart in his plea: Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore, ‘Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of His servant!’ Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.

Whatever He does with my enemies, I determine to live in the certainty of the Lord's sovereign power and perfect righteousness. Remember David's soft heart in Psalm 73:21-28.

Remove any bitter seed from me, oh Lord, cast out a bitter root. Free me from the bondage that comes when I nurture my flesh and reject your ways. Comfort me. Protect me. Guide me. Teach me. Make me into a man of God.