Often when people read the Old Testament they are confused about the stories about enemies, wars Israel fought with God’s blessing, and phrases in books like Psalms such as “dash my enemies in pieces like a jar of clay.” How can the same God “destroy enemies” in one part of the Bible and tell us to love them in another part?
In Old Testament times, spiritual blessings were very closely tied to the physical world. This began when God called Abram’s family as his chosen people (Genesis 12). Their family would found a nation that would be a channel of blessing to all the other families on earth. Through them, God showed off who he is and how he works. In turn Israel demonstrated how to follow God.
God clearly stated, “I alone am God” (Deuteronomy 6:4). He called Israel to build their whole lives around worshiping him. Other people and nations who followed their example, worshiping God, and living in peace with the nation of Israel would be blessed, but those who didn’t would be judged. This was one of God’s covenants, or agreements, with Israel.
Because of this, Israel is unlike any other nation in the world. God has never promised to protect Americans just because we are part of this country. But God himself chose this people group to show the world what it looked like to be in relationship with him.
This covenant explains why Israel could call out for vengeance from God on their enemies. When they were attacked, the people would say to God, “I’m trying to follow you and my enemies are hindering me. God, judge them like you promised.”
David, who wrote many of the psalms, was king of Israel. During his reign, he had many personal enemies, as did the nation of Israel. He literally had people trying to kill him on a daily basis at times.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a rare occurrence in my life! So how can we relate to things David wrote like in Psalm 3:7?
Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
Since Christ’s death and resurrection, the spiritual world meets the physical world in a new way. Peter writes that those who believe in Christ are the spiritual nation of God (1 Peter 2:9). We are now the ones who demonstrate living in relationship with him. Unlike Israel, the church has not been promised the same blessing for blessing and cursing for cursing treatment on our flesh and blood enemies. Instead, Jesus actually calls us to love our enemies.
Here is our reality: our battle has never been against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Even when people attacked Israel, Satan was behind it. He is our enemy, and he attacks us with spiritual lies as well as physical danger.
So while reading passages in the Bible about war and enemies, we can recognize what the Old Testament writers were facing – literal enemies hindering their ability to serve God – and apply it to our own spiritual battles, where Satan tries to keep us from worshiping God. He may still use humans to persecute us, but that’s just one of his many tactics.
I can pray the same prayer David did, but not in reference to men. I can call out for God to save me from my spiritual enemies who attack me. I can run to God for mercy and protection from Satan’s attacks of lies and pain and fear. I can pray, like Jesus did, “Your kingdom come, Lord.” Even for Israel, God has always been ultimately focused on protecting his people from evil and the temptation to fall into evil rather than on only keeping us physically safe.