Everybody has enemies. Do you ever wonder why popular sitting Presidents do stupid things and discredit their office or are forced to resign; or a Governor known for righteousness acts stupidly and has to step down at the height of his powers? Do you wonder at a multimillionaire lawyer who pleads guilty to bribing a judge; or a popular honor student athlete who suddenly commits suicide, or who drinks, drives and kills someone else? It could be enemies; or some kind of enemy opposition attacking us and tearing us down - just when everything seems to be going so well.
Clearly something is opposing success. Something or someone is putting blocks, or obstacles in our path opposing us achieving our goals. Let’s explore the nature of this opposition in the scriptures. The Jewish and Christian traditions have long understood and dealt with this curious phenomenon. Nowhere is it clearly more expressed than in one of the oldest and most often read writings, the Psalms.
Psalms are the universal prayers that have been nourishing Christians and Jews for forever. Let’s look at Psalms as a whole and the five books within Psalms and their themes. Then we’ll focus in on the first book, which is called Lamentations. There is an unusual structural pattern in Psalms and throughout the whole Old Testament. But we will concentrate on the theme of the first book of Psalms and the structural item. At the end, I hope you will have a little more sense in your mind as well as your heart about why Psalms nourish us and why they are so rewarding to pray.
The Psalms are perhaps the best collection of Laments, Prayers, Pleadings, Thanksgivings and Praises to God ever put to papyrus. I hope after this brief discussion you find an additional meaning and depth of prayer when you read or pray the Psalms; I also hope you will have a better understanding of how pervasive opposition is in all realms.
Parallelism – Double Speak
In the Old Testament, everything is said twice. One book is even called Deuteronomy, which means “the second time.” In it the Law is repeated: the Law is read a second time.
There are even two versions of Creation: creation is told in Genesis 1 and creation is told again slightly differently in Genesis 3.
We are shown sets of two brothers with entwined lives: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau are entwined pairs of brothers.
There are two great Exiles from the land, Two Temples, two Pillars of the Temple, Two Kingdoms; Israel to the North, Judah to the South.
The Godhead is spoken of in two parts: God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.
Statements are doubled; things are repeated with slightly different words within the same sentence. Linked by a colon. As I am doing now: the way I’ve been writing. Stylists call this Parallelism. It is a distinct literary technique, and many books have been written exploring this technique. But Parallelism is more than a literary technique; Parallelism is used all through the Old Testament as a teaching method. Psalms use of Parallelism is especially notable because the Psalms are condensed, explicitly musical: Psalms are almost perfect examples of parallelism.
New Testament Triplets – Three Speak
Before we discuss the meaning and music of Psalms, a brief aside. The Old Testament is doubles: the New Testament is Triplets.
Three synoptic gospels; Mark and Matthew and Luke.
Parables grouped in threes.
Linkages of three sayings or parables for meaning.
Peter thrice denies Jesus, and Peter is thrice asked, “Who do you say I am.”
Thrice Jesus orders Peter to feed his sheep, his lambs and his sheep.
And of course, the Godhead is now revealed as trinity, three: Father Son and Holy Spirit.
The Narrative Level
Okay, so what’s the secret? What’s the hidden meaning? Why Two in the Old Testament and Three in the New Testament? Here is the Old Testament secret: In the Old Testament, the first statement is dealing with the exterior world, with what’s going on around us. The story. This is what actually happened or is happening with people and places. This is often called the narrative level. It’s called narrative as in narration, or telling the story. This is all true and you can take it as historical fact. When David thanks God for saving him from his enemies opposing him and the people, he is in fact talking about the Philistine tribe he has just fought off.
The Reflective Level
But, what about the parallelism; the same thing said slightly differently? Why is there a second version from a slightly different angle? Is it because we are so dense we need to hear it twice? Maybe so, but do we need to hear everything twice? The parallelism is for more than style reasons. Nothing is accidental in the Bible. A good reason for the parallelism is to lead you to reflect on what else this might mean. This is the reflective level. The parallel repetition is designed to cause the reader to reflect on what else is going on: what is going on within himself. The repetition refers to what is happening inside rather than outside. This is not only narration; this is a description of an inner state, something going on inside the reader, the prayer. There is something going on beneath the surface that has parallels, or a connection with what is going on at the story level. It is what is also going on as a struggle in David’s mind and soul – and ours.
David is thanking God for helping him with the enemies opposing him at the time, a historical tribe at a historical time. But, David, or the author, is also causing us to reflect on another enemy and another battle going on: the enemy opposing and attacking us on the inside. This enemy opposition may be the despair or loneliness eroding our spirit: or pride luring us to think and speak contemptuously of our brothers and sisters. We’ll explore more of this secret in a moment. This “double speak” is one of the great secrets of the Old Testament. As for the New Testament: for now, let’s just say there is also something like the “double speak”, only more. Something new. But that’s for another chapter.
The Five Books of Psalms
Back to the Old Testament and the Book of Psalms. Actually, there are five books of Psalms. Not all translations show them as five distinct books, but most modern translations, both Protestant and Catholic, preserve the Jewish structure of five books. There are no formal titles for the five books; they are just called Book 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The first book of Psalms begins with Psalm 1, ends with Psalm 41 and is often described as Lamentations, or cries for help. It’s about attacks from enemies opposing us and asking God’s help. Book 2 starts with Psalm 42 and emphasizes the longing of the soul for God. Book 3 begins with Psalm 73 and expresses the goodness of being near to God. Book 4 begins with Psalm 90 and proclaims the Majesty of God. The final Book 5 begins with Psalm 107 and gives glorious praise and thanks to God and his everlasting mercy.
We will stay with Book 1 now. Cries for help against those opposing and attacking us and lamentations about how tough things are. Each of these Psalms has the mysterious music of the Old Testament double beat, a parallelism.
Psalm 1 announces the theme of the book. Listen for the parallelism, the repetition: Blessed the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
nor standeth in the way of sinners.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord;
and in his law doth he meditate day and night...
Like a tree planted by the river, that brings out it’s fruit in season;
it’s leaf doesn’t wither.
And whatever he does prospers.
The ungodly are not so:
but are like chaff which wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous:
but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
This Psalm is both a lovely example of Parallelism, but more so; it is the introductory warning announcing the theme of the first book. The second Psalm, Psalm 2 clarifies and redoubles the warning by laughing at the kings of the world who want to break God’s rule and run things themselves. God lets us know he has set up his king, his anointed, his Son on his holy hill and he will break the opposing nations with a rod of iron; shall dash the opposition in pieces like a crockery jug. So, be smart, be wise kings and judges of the earth. Serve the Lord and kiss the Son, lest he be angry. Blessed are all that trust him.
Pretty potent Christology in the Old Testament, no? But, think about this. God is not speaking just about Potentates, Supreme Court Justices, Presidents and Ayatollahs out in the world. The double beat tells us that, yes, this is true for what it says about Potentates, Justices, Presidents and Ayatollahs among the nations, but, says the second beat, it is also doubly true for the Potentate, Supreme Court Justice, President and Ayatollah you have set up inside yourself. Your self: Your ego: Your will. Whomever it is who rules and steers and runs this human entity you call your Self.
With that introduction, let’s explore the reflective level of in the first book of Psalms. Some Psalms are so familiar to us, we – forgive me for saying this, certainly it is true for me – they are so familiar we don’t really listen to what they are saying. We take comfort in the familiar words and almost chant them as a talisman.
But, the theme of the first book of Psalms is to wake us up to the enemies inside us. Before we can straighten our lives out we have to recognize what is causing the havoc. We are quick to blame bad parents, teachers who don’t understand, authority figures, bad bosses, conniving colleagues, stupid politicians or faithless friends. But the first Book of Psalms alerts us to reflect within. The enemy, he is also us. We have our own worst opposition waiting inside us.
As an example, of both the narrative and interior reflective dialogue let’s jump to Psalm 5:
1 Give ear to my words, O LORD,
consider my sighing.
The narrative level is the verbal or mental explicit prayer we recite. Now, said again at the reflective level comes the groaning of the spirit from the deepest heart of our mind:
2 Listen to my cry for help,
my King and my God; for to you I pray.
First I ask God to listen to my spoken words, because I am suffering and need help. In the parallel repetition I let God know this really is beseeching prayer from my soul, my inner self, referring now to my deep internal state.
3 In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice;
The act of prayer; and now, said again, the reflective intention of the prayer:
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation.
I won’t explain each line; for the last nine stanzas of Psalm 5 I’ll just point to where the parallel signals a change from external enemies and problems to dealing with enemies and problems inside me.
4 You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; (AGAIN)
with you the wicked cannot dwell.
5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; (AGAIN)
you hate all who do wrong.
6 You destroy those who tell lies;(AGAIN)
bloodthirsty and deceitful men
the LORD abhors.
7 But I, by your great mercy,
will come into your house; (AGAIN)
in reverence will I bow down
toward your holy temple.
8 Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness
because of my enemies; (AGAIN)
make straight your way before me.
9 Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; AGAIN)
their heart is filled with destruction.
Their throat is an open grave; (AGAIN)
with their tongue they speak deceit.
10 Declare them guilty, O God!
Let their intrigues be their downfall; (AGAIN)
Banish them for their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
And now the beautiful conclusion where the parallels are interwoven: Look for the words “Glad, Joy, Rejoice” and “Refuge, Protection, Shield”.
11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy;
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
12 For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
The heart of the first book of Psalms is to go beyond asking for help from external opposition; it is also to invite God to come in and wipe out these internal enemies opposing and tearing us down, depressing us, making us crazy. The internal enemies driving us to the refrigerator, making us worry constantly. The enemies making us seethe with jealousy over someone else’s good luck and better house or perfect husband. The enemies driving us to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory, to commit the stupid act that brings us humiliation and destroys our career and reputation. These are the enemies psychoanalysts call Thanatos, the Death Wish; the enemies that cause constant anxiety and a drive to destructive behavior powered by the ultimate fear of death. These are our Opposition, our enemies.
The later books of Psalms deal with more advanced issues. They develop almost the way a great symphony develops a simple theme. The initial theme, stated in the first book, is the opposition within, our internal enemies causing us to sin, leading us into destructive behavior. First it’s important to see and understand this. Once we’ve invited God in to deal with these enemies we are ready for the next movement. As the theme develops, we ask God to forgive us for willingly committing sins, and thanking him for forgiving our stupidity. And he is quick to forgive. Later in Psalms we acknowledge the majesty of God and continue to regret our shortfalls, yet we ask him to accept our sacrifices of forgiveness of others and sorrow for our stupidity. Finally, in the great final movement of the final, the fifth Book of Psalms, we explode into spontaneous, continuous unrestrained praise and thanksgiving for God’s greatness and goodness and mercy to us all. That’s the Music of the Psalms, a theme developing and expanding throughout the five Books of Psalms.
But for now, back to the first movement; where we invite God to come in and take on and wipe out these enemies tearing us down, depressing us, making us feel and even act crazy. We invite God to Crush Our Opposition.
In Psalm 7, more about our enemies:
Behold, the wicked brings forth iniquity;
Yes, he conceives trouble and brings forth falsehood.
15 He made a pit and dug it out,
And has fallen into the ditch which he made.
16 His trouble shall return upon his own head,
And his violent dealing shall come down on his own crown.
Doesn’t Psalm 7 describe the Death Wish, Thanatos perfectly?
We dig our own pit then fall into our own ditch. And our violence, or giving in to this, comes down on our own head. Here is our desperate situation: Both the here and now of David, and what’s going on inside us, here and now.
In Psalm 17 we ask God to protect us from our external threats at the narrative level:
8 Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
We also ask God to save us from our insidious internal enemies:
Hide me under the shadow of Your wings,
9 From the wicked who oppress me,
From my deadly enemies who surround me.
10 They have closed up their fat hearts;
With their mouths they speak proudly.
So who are these enemies?
The fat hearts, the proud mouths; is this a biblical way of describing our need for status, for control, for power, for pleasure? As earlier, our own death wish, here our fears of being controlled and our desires to control, for power, to be known and important, for social position, both of these are “the wicked who oppress us.”: The Opposition.
So, what is to be done about this? Who will Crush Our Opposition? The answer begins in Psalm 18:
6 In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried out to my God;
He heard my voice from His temple,
And my cry came before Him, even to His ears
He sent from above, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters.
17 He delivered me from my strong enemy,
From those who hated me,
for they were too strong for me.
More solution to our self-dealt troubles… in the 23rd;
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
So, how do we invite God in to do this for us; how do we enlist the healer, the only one with the power to Crush Our Opposition? The answer is revealed in Psalm 24:
Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory.
Are these the gates of the city, your town, gated community or your house? I think these gates Psalm 24 speaks of are the gates of our mind. You know the phrase, “open minded,” or “open mind”? As human beings we “close up”. We protect ourselves from exposure to others, to risk, to vulnerability. We even close our minds to thoughts or ideas that we find uncomfortable, or threatening in some way. We like our comfort; we crave stability. Sometimes, even when things are going badly – and we know it – we would rather stay with the awful known than risk something unknown. We are creatures of habit, of inertia. Whatever motion we are in, we keep going in that direction. This is one of the natural laws, and as our 10 Dimensions exploration reveals; these physical characteristics are more than physical, they are all-pervading, and impact how we live mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
So the psalmist, David, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is giving you the secret of how to crush your opposition, how to overcome the most insidious enemies you have. David doesn’t say, “Train up for war, practice your aim, sharpen your swords. No, David says, Lift up the gates, throw the doors open – and your champion will come in and take on your enemies for you. They are too darned strong for you. The Lord himself, Jesus will come in and take on the opposition and put the boot to them.
This is the secret of the First Book of Psalms. (1) Acknowledge your internal enemies. (2) Recognize they are too strong for you alone. (3) Accept your vulnerability and pray for the creaky, rusty gates of your heart to open up enough to allow the King of Glory, Christ himself to come in, and Crush Your Opposition. Then you are free.
So, my hope is when you read Psalms now, you will see and feel the two levels; the narrative level on the surface, the exterior world; and the deeper reflective interior level calling you to a deeper relationship with Christ.