“I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
We know what it looks like to be saved from our enemies, right? David sure did. It meant they were completely defeated and destroyed. It meant achieving military victory. It meant putting down any and every rebellion. It meant no one was standing in his way. He had experienced these kinds of victories all his life. But, as followers of Jesus, is this still the kind of victory we should expect to experience?
What does it look like for us to be saved from our enemies? Well, to answer that, we first need to understand who our enemies really are. Are our enemies merely those people who oppose us? Are they the people with whom we simply don’t get along? If someone doesn’t fit in the category of “friend,” does that automatically make them an enemy? Or, is there a much higher threshold that must be cleared to warrant such a distinction? How narrowly or broadly should we understand the concept of “enemy?”
Unfortunately, that’s not a question the Scriptures really give us a whole lot of help to answer. What’s more, we can’t really look to any passages from the Hebrew Bible for help in understanding how to approach them. God operated toward the people then using a different set of operating principles than He does with us. We have to look to the New Testament for our answer.
Now, this doesn’t make the Hebrew Bible irrelevant in our efforts to answer questions like this. It gives us some great inspiration and motivation as people rose above what their culture expected to pursue the righteousness of God in their relationships. David is often a great example of this. But, more often, what we see is God taking a people who lived in times that were entirely more violent than any we’ve ever known and couldn’t imagine anything else, and moving them forward toward His higher standards one step at a time. It was a long process.
This is why we see so many celebrations of God-given victories over enemies. For them, if they won, it was because God helped them win (an assumption that was true). But there was never any question that enemies were to be opposed with an eye toward elimination. Even if they were occasionally turned into friends, that was the exception to the rule of victory through destruction. Again, though, this doesn’t mean that God was somehow different then. It means He was moving the people along toward righteousness at a pace they could handle.
When the time was finally right, Jesus came to reveal a totally new way of operating toward the people around us. He revealed that God’s standards were entirely more stringent than we had ever imagined—even as it concerned our enemies. They were stringent to the point that we didn’t have any hope of keeping them on our own. Jesus and later apostles revealed and helped us understand for the first time that the sacrificial system never bought us the salvation we had begun assuming it did. After all, if it had, why did we keep offering the same sacrifices over and over and over again? Instead, salvation—which came through perfectly keeping all of God’s standards—was possible only with help; specifically His help.
And, one of the standards Jesus actually spelled out for us was how we should approach our enemies. Namely, in the Sermon on the Mount, He told us that we should pray for them. Not pray at them. Not pray against them (some apparent examples of which even made it into the book of Hebrew worship songs called Psalms). We are to pray for them.
Well, what on earth should we pray for our enemies? Popular country songs better fitting with a Hebrew Bible ethic aside, we shouldn’t pray for them to meet what we believe to be their just desserts. Rather, we are to pray for them in the context of our loving them. Loving them means we are intentionally committed to seeing them become more fully who God designed them to be. And we can rest assured that God’s design for them does not include them being our enemies. It is entirely more likely that it includes their becoming our brother or sister in Christ at which point they aren’t our enemies any longer, they’re our treasured fellow followers.
So, what’s the point here? What does any of this have to do with understanding what it means for God to save us from our enemies? Two things. First, when we encounter this concept in the Hebrew Bible (and we do in several places), we cannot simply claim and appropriate it for our own lives in the same spirit it likely appears in the text. God doesn’t operate toward us in the same fashion as He did the author and He expects us to operate in a different fashion than the author did.
Getting even more specific with the text here (which can also be found in Psalm 18 and was put to music in a terrific song by Waterdeep of the same name), we should call on the Lord who is worthy of our praise. And when we do, we can expect salvation from our enemies. But, rather than merely the victory over them David probably imagined and was perhaps our first consideration, that salvation from is likely to become a salvation for, especially when we put the words of Jesus—which are our standard—properly into practice. Enemies becoming friends and brothers is the kind of work that the Gospel can do when we work with it and is something for which we should most certainly praise the Lord.
Our command is to make disciples of all nations. That includes those folks who might currently be considered our enemies. And increasingly, we don’t have to travel across the world to find folks who fit that particular bill. We often just need to travel across the political aisle. In a culture that is ever more sharply divided along bitterly partisan lines, this New Testament understanding of salvation from our enemies is something we could very much use a whole lot more of. Our love and prayers can make it happen. Let’s get to work.