~ Spirit Warfare of the Psalms ~
“O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy…the enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead” (Psalm 143:1a, 3, NIV).
Recalling the proclamation of Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” let me suggest the enemy of Psalm 143 is not human. King David laments he has been crushed to the ground and lives in “darkness like those long dead,” almost a quote of Lamentations 3:6.
“So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed” (143:4). In Psalm 142:3, David writes, “When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way.” Solomon writes in Proverbs 4:23 that the “heart” is “the wellspring of life.”
In verse 7, David pleads, “Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails.” The “failing” of the spirit may be better translated from Hebrew as “faints with longing” as Psalm 119:81 cries, “My soul faints with longing for your salvation.” Prior to the infusion of the distinctive trinitarian Person of the Holy Spirit on individuals at Pentecost, the Hebrews referred to the Spirit of Yahweh as Ruach or the Breath of God. As God breathed life into the first man, David uses the same breath-word in Psalm 104:29: “…when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust,” referring to all creatures. David’s very breath and heart in 143:4, his life force and wellspring, is failing him, crushing him to the ground, towards the darkness of the grave.
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul” (143:8). The morning is a common imagery for the dispelling of darkness. Although David is in crushing, suffocating distress, he still knows and trusts in the love of God that is unfailing. Yahweh is the light and salvation (Psalm 27:1) who lifts him “out of the depths” (Psalm 30:1).
“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (143:10). Deliverance from evil isn’t enough. David asks to be in God’s will and led to level ground, an image for stability and security, also used in Psalm 26:12, Isaiah 40:4 and 42:16. Level ground allows one to see the threat of an approaching enemy far away.
The psalm ends with an appeal in support of David’s prayer to God’s righteousness, His unfailing love, and for God’s name’s sake, not David’s, “for I am your servant.” Indeed, the Master’s name is made honorable and glorified, or shamed and defiled, by His servants. Thus the servant “lifts up my soul” (v.8) to the Lord, hiding himself in God (v.9), learns to do His will (as any servant must) and trusts in His love for him.
Psalm 44 ends with similar language: “We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love” (v.25-26, NIV). Psalms 91 and 94 are among many others that detail the elements of spiritual warfare and the strategies we must embrace.
Let's move to the sixth chapter of Mark’s gospel account for an event of wonder, pathos and even humor that’s often overlooked in the striving against evil. In verse 7, Christ gives His twelve apostles “authority over evil spirits” and then sends them out in pairs to villages with “no bread, no bag, no money…not an extra tunic.” Verse 13 records, “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them” (NIV).
Verse 47 in the same chapter tells how the disciples were rowing against a strong wind on a lake as Jesus returned from solitary prayer on the mountainside. In the darkness of the pre-dawn, Jesus walked on the water toward them. “When they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified” (v.49-50, NIV). Digest this moment. They had just helped distribute food to about 20,000 people (5,000 men plus wives and children) from 5 bread loaves and 2 fish. Prior to that they experienced weeks “on the road,” only in pairs, with no provisions, successfully exorcising nasty demons. Now a small army of disciples were screaming in terror at the apparent sight of one ghost. All together they couldn’t handle one spirit.
We go deeper into this irony that is both sad and amusing by pondering verse 52: “…for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Later (Mark 8:17b), Jesus asks them a scathing rhetorical question: “Are your hearts hardened?” Appreciate the power and piercing meaning of Jesus’ reference to hardened hearts. It was a heart-stopper to those Hebrew people. “Hardened heart” frequently appears in the Torah, Wisdom and Prophetic scriptures, and was carried over to the New Testament writings. Those words were always applied to the enemies of God and the Gospel. Jesus was cutting deeply. It was the same as asking, “Are you opposing God and His work?”
After Peter’s first sermon on the morning of the Pentecost, Luke writes that “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37a, NIV). A soft heart is easily cut. The response was the perfect question: “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v.37b). Before sundown that day, 3000 people did what had to be done.
The Psalms frequently speak of “lifting up our souls” to Yahweh. When we lift our hands in prayer and worship, or our hearts in praise, is this gesture not a reaching up to touch our Lord? Remember how the chronically ill woman stalked Jesus with one burning desire – “If only I can just touch Him!” She was delivered from her evil.
Hard hearts wage war against evil with evil, against terror with terror. Hard hearts cannot understand Jesus’ injunction to feed your enemies, to overcome evil with good, to live by dying to self. The psalm we considered presents the elements of Jesus’ teachings – prayer for God’s will to be known, for the way to be made smooth and level (“faith moves mountains”), appealing to God’s righteousness, trusting in His unfailing love, and striving to touch Him. Thus our enemies are silenced and their evil rendered powerless, “for His name’s sake.”
“Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace” (Psalm 6:8-10, NIV).
“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble, he will keep me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock…I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:4-5, 13-14, NIV). Touch the Lord as you gaze on Him.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © November 9, 2002
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