Given that 52 of the 60 Lament Psalms refer to an ‘enemy,’ it may be helpful to explore the identity and place of ‘the enemy’ in lament. Since many of us believe we have no real enemies, we may believe that those lines have no relevance to us.
Glenn Pemberton in his book, Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms, identifies many of the metaphors applied to ‘the enemy.’ They are one kind or another of vicious animal or one kind or another of unrelenting scheming, deceiving, or violent human. They are generally ‘out to get’ their victim, whether to defeat or destroy him.
They are rarely identified but often referred to in ambiguous or metaphorical terms. They may be literal enemies- people for the power held by the Psalmist (David), foes of Israel- or the word itself may be a metaphorical for an enemy not readily visible or identifiable.
Pemberton argues that the enemy may be left ambiguous because they identity of the enemy is less important than the aim of the enemy. He writes:
“The enemy is anyone or even anything that stands against life, the community, or against God’s way or God’s way in the world.” (120)
He goes on to suggest that the enemy is left ambiguous so as to not hook the reader to a particular enemy at a particular time. i.e. if the enemy is the Babylonian army that makes it a little difficult to identify with the writer’s angst. And, worse, it robs us, who live some 2.5+ millenia after the Babylonian army existed, of the value of the Psalm. I’m not too worried about being razed by Babylonian warriors!
“…the psalmists construct the enemy as an ambiguous or open character so that readers may pick up the text and make it their own. In this way, the enemy does not remain confined to a historical identity in the past. Instead we may read our opponents onto the text and the opponents of justice and righteousness throughout the world, a metamorphosis in reading that makes these psalms relevant for our own prayers.” (121)
If Pemberton is right (and I’d like to think that he is), who or what do you regard as an enemy?
Do enemies have to be external to us or might an enemy be some nagging anxiety within? Some personal propensity like worry or insecurity? Some addiction? Some intractable relationship issue?
What saps the life out of you? Who or what robs you of joy?
Perhaps any of those or others might you regard as ‘the enemy?’