Psalm 140: Where the Battle Lines Fall

Read Psalm 140.

If you were to judge David’s life by what he wrote in the Psalms, it would seem he was always being accused, attacked, or assaulted by some thug or another. His prayers often contain something like the sentiment in Psalm 140:1, which says, “Rescue me, LORD, from evildoers; protect me from the violent.”

David’s life story recorded elsewhere in Scripture bears this out in rough strokes. From Saul to Absalom and beyond, David made plenty of enemies. In fact, as he was nearing death, he gave his son Solomon a short list of people who still needed to be dealt with (see 1 Kings 2:5–6, 8­–9). Rest did not come easy for the king.

Jesus once warned His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18–19). Even though David lived about a thousand years before Christ, he knew what it was like to be opposed. In Psalm 140, it’s not merely that David has conflict in his life; his enemies “devise evil plans in their hearts” (v. 2); they’re flat-out “wicked” (v. 3). David’s battle in this psalm, and in others, is framed as a fight between good and evil.

This is one of the reasons David feels confident the Lord will be on his side. He even asks for God to step in with an edict of divine punishment for his foes: “May burning coals fall on them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise” (v. 10).

But is the world that simple? Is it really just good versus evil? The stories we tell today are often more complicated, filled with morally questionable antiheroes and misunderstood villains. We learn by watching long-arc TV shows and movies that things are not always as they appear; the bad guy is not always the person we first think it is, and even then, he might not really be all bad. And in our own experience, we discover that people—ourselves included—have mixed motivations and that virtue can be spiked with vice. Conflicts in our world are not so easily resolved.

Yet David’s portrayal of his enemies leaves no room for that. There is nothing redeeming about them, as far as he’s concerned. His world is black and white—and I believe his perspective is spot on, though not how you might imagine.

David has been anointed by God and serves as the king of God’s people. He has been chosen to move history closer to redemption. Those who oppose him as he follows the Lord are on the wrong side of the struggle. At the same time, it’s not opposition to David or any other human being that makes someone an evildoer. Rather, it’s opposition to God and His commands, to the unfolding of His good plans for the world.

That’s why the apostle Paul, when he wrote his letter to church at Rome, saw in Psalm 140 a description of the human race apart from Christ (compare v. 3 with Romans 3:13). There is a war raging, and it is light versus darkness, good versus evil—just as simple as David makes it out to be—but the battle lines are not where we might have assumed.

One crucified criminal hanging next to Jesus could curse and mock the Lord, while another could recognize Him as the Savior of the world and ask for mercy (Luke 23:39–43). From the ground below, the two men must have looked similar. They’d committed the same crime and were condemned to die by the same cruel torture. But from God’s perspective, these two men couldn’t have been more different.

The only thing separating the righteous from the unrighteous is how they respond when confronted with the love of God. That’s it. Everything else is inconsequential.

What is this all about?

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