Yesterday, we considered most of Psalm 63 in our Sunday service. There is a final section of the Psalm which we didn’t look at in too much detail. Here’s what it says: “But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped” (Psalm 63:9–11).
David is trusting in God’s promises to deliver him from his enemies (2 Samuel 7:9-11), and so he describes, in very visual language, what will happen to the enemies who have driven him out into the wilderness. They will die and descend down into Hades. They will be killed by the sword in battle, and jackals—which are basically coyotes—will eat their dead bodies.
I’m not sure how comfortable you are with this language. The truth is, we read this kind of language often in the Psalms: God’s people speaking with expectation about the way that He will save them by destroying their enemies.
Many Christians struggle with this kind of thing. They think, “Didn’t Jesus tell us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek? How do these things fit together?”
We can’t resolve this tension by pitting the Old Testament against New Testament, as if they were opposed to each other. At least twice, the New Testament favourably references this “cursing” language from the Psalms: Romans 11:9-10 quotes Psalm 69, and Acts 1:20 quotes Psalm 69 and Psalm 109. The book of Revelation also records the saints in heaven longing for God’s justice in a way strikingly reminiscent of the Psalms (Revelation 6:9–10).
At the same time, there is a progression in the story from the Old to the New Covenant, and we are helped when we remember that we live in a different place in the story than did David. God’s people are no longer gathered under one political ruler. Instead, we’ve been sent out with the mission of reconciliation. Like 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Ambassadors don’t wage war. They don’t use any weapons. Instead, we implore people to be reconciled to God.
But we can’t forget that the reason we do this is because the judgement of God is coming. And the reason we don’t fight against our enemies is because God has promised to do so Himself.
Just listen to this passage from 2 Thessalonians chapter 1:
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.(2 Thessalonians 1:3–10)
When Jesus returns, He will return to make war against His enemies. Passages like 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 and Psalm 63:9-11 remind us of this fact. They remind us that rebelling against God (which is what David’s enemies were doing—cf. Psalm 2:2) is a really big deal, and one day will be punished in the most decisive way.
On the one hand, that realization should motivate us to proclaim the gospel. But on the other hand, it is OK—even, important—for us to be comforted as we remember that justice will be done, and in the end, God wins.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.(Philippians 1:27–28)