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David knew what it was like to be pursued by enemies. When Saul heard the people celebrating Israel’s victories by singing “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten-thousands”, he was filled with jealousy. His jealousy turned to rage, and one day, he picked up his spear and threw it at David while he was playing his harp. Later his son Jonathan talked some sense into him and Saul let David alone for a while, but his rage eventually returned, and Saul threw his spear at David again. After that David was on the run, hiding in caves, even living among the Philistines for a while. With God’s help he managed to always stay one step ahead of Saul and escape. On one occasion Saul was chasing him around a mountain. It looked like there was no escape for him. But just as Saul was getting close to capturing David, word came that the Philistines were attacking, and Saul had to stop his pursuit and to go to fight the Philistines. David must have wondered if his life of running from Saul would ever end.
When Saul was killed in battle David’s life changed. He was made king. He didn’t have to run for his life from Saul anymore. But his enemies didn’t completely disappear. He still had to fight the Philistines and others who attacked Israel. And just when it seemed that he had defeated all the nations around him and would not have to be constantly fighting wars, he faced another enemy. Temptation. He wasn’t looking to see it, he was just out walking on the roof of his palace and accidently happened to see Bathsheba bathing and the enemy won a victory. As James says, each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. David entertained his evil desire, he acted on it and then had Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, killed to cover up what he had done.
Thankfully, when Nathan confronted him with his sin, he confessed, and Nathan assured him of God’s forgiveness. But there were consequences. He faced troubles in his family for the rest of his life.
David’s life story reminds us that the struggle is relentless. We are surrounded by enemies who pursue us. The sinful world around us is constantly trying to convince us that this life is all there is so forget about all this god stuff. Let your hair down and live it up while you can. Just when you quiet the voices of the world for a while, something pops up on your screen, not something you were looking for or wanted to see, but there it is, stirring up all kinds of desires you know are wrong. Then, as Peter reminds us, there is Satan, the roaring lion who is constantly prowling, looking for any opportunity he can find to devour us.
The struggle, the struggle against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh is relentless. There are days when we identify with David. The enemy pursues my soul. He crushes my life to the ground. He makes me dwell in dark places like those long dead, so my spirit grows faint inside me. Within me my heart is devastated… My spirit fails. We are ready to throw up our hands and say, “what’s the use? I can’t take it anymore. I can’t win. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. I just can’t keep struggling against these enemies. They are relentless. They are too powerful for me.”
As bad as we might feel in moments like that, times when we feel helpless and overwhelmed, it’s a good thing to realize that we can’t defeat our enemies on our own. It’s a good thing to realize that we need help, and then, like David, to turn to the Lord as our helper.
David says, LORD, hear my prayer. Give ear to my cry for mercy. In your faithfulness, answer me in your righteousness. Do not bring charges against your servant because no one living can be righteous before you.
Like David, we admit that there is no reason in us that God should hear our prayer or help us. No one living is or can be righteous in God’s sight. We have all sinned and fallen short of the righteousness God requires of us. We have not won every battle with our relentless enemies. We have given in to our sinful desires. We have listened to the lies of Satan. We have followed the ways of the world. If God did what he justly could do, hide his face from us because of our unrighteousness, we would be like those who go down to the pit of Hell. So, we come to him crying out for mercy. We come to him because he is faithful to his promises. We come to him, not on the basis of our own reputation for goodness, but for the sake of his name, the LORD, the God of faithful love.
We are moved to turn to the LORD, to spread out our hands to him, because we remember the days of long ago. We meditate on all his works and consider what his hands have done.
We recognize that, as the one who created all that exists simply by speaking a word, he has the power to help. As we review what he did for Israel, dividing the Red Sea, providing food and water in the wilderness, knocking down the walls of Jericho, causing the sun to stand still, slaying in one night 185,000 Assyrians were who laying siege to Jerusalem; as we hear the angel tell Mary that nothing is impossible with God and we see Jesus calming storms, walking on water, casting out demons, healing every sickness and disease, and even raising the dead; as we meditate on all that God has done, we are convinced that he can do whatever we ask. Nothing is impossible for him. No enemy is too powerful for him.
As we see that, when Adam and Eve sinned, God gave them a promise that there would be a seed of the woman who would crush the head of our relentless enemy; as we hear God repeat that promise to Abraham and we are told that righteousness was credited to Abraham through faith in that promise; as we see that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, he was the seed of a woman, and as we are reminded of all the other promises of God that are fulfilled in him– born in Bethlehem, betrayed by a friend, crucified so that his hands and feet were pierced, with the rich in his death, and alive again on the third day; we are convinced of his faithfulness. Not a single promise he has made will ever fail. Hearing about his faithful love, his mercy every morning, moves us to trust in him even when it feels like we are crushed to the ground and our spirit grows faint.
In his revelation, John sees the souls of those who were martyred, who were executed because of their faith in Jesus. He hears them calling out to God, how long, Lord? How long does the struggle of God’s people on earth have to continue? We don’t like the answer. They are told that it would continue until the full number of those who were destined to be martyred as they had been, was reached. The struggle will continue to be relentless until that number, known only to God, is reached. The struggle will continue until the gospel has been preached to all nations. As long as God allows this sinful world to exist, the struggle we have against the devil, the world and our sinful flesh will continue. That’s why, with Peter, we look forward to the time when Jesus will bring this world that his cursed by sin to an end, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth were righteousness dwells.
What do we do in the meantime? We continue to struggle against our enemies as we look to the LORD for help and guidance. With David we pray, teach me the way that I should go, for I lift up my soul to you. Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your good spirit lead me on level ground. As long as you grant me life on this earth, fulfill your promise to be with me. Give me your strength to persevere. Help me see the way out of temptation that you always provide. Continue to give me a humble attitude that is always willing to be taught by you and to gladly and willingly submit to your will.
David asked that that Lord would preserve his life, bring him out of trouble and wipe out all his enemies. We know that that prayer was answered, just as our prayer, deliver us from evil is answered, when God graciously takes us from this world of sorrow to himself in heaven. In Jesus he has defeated all our enemies. He defeated every temptation of the devil. He took on himself the punishment we deserve for our sins. He defeated death by his glorious resurrection from the dead. Yes, our struggle seems relentless. It seems that it will never end, but it will. Jesus will come again in glory and, in his mercy, he will take us to live in the new heaven and new earth were there are no struggles, no enemies, only peace and joy forever in the presence of God.
When the struggle gets us down, we can learn to say with David in another Psalm, you guide me with your counsel now, and afterward, you will take me to glory.