They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly. They have now surrounded our steps; they set their eyes to cast us to the ground. He is like a lion eager to tear, as a young lion lurking in ambush.
The Psalmist makes a grammatical swing in this text that would cause English professors all over the world to cringe and gripe and look down their literary noses at this abuser of tense. He moves from describing the sinister forces that plague and press him to speaking of one, solitary enemy. He does this without warning, and without giving us any indication that he is talking about something or someone different. It is here that something stands out. Perhaps David had found some insight in the way he sorted through his problems.
Now, I am well aware of the fact that just a couple of days I wrote about naming our enemies (“know your enemy”), identifying them and praying in such a way so as to expose each challenge. I remain staunch in my opinion regarding the health of this practice. However, when we are considering things from a theological perspective, which we should from time to time, and giving room to meditate on the broad picture of our spiritual lives, there are some rules of the road that can help us to make sense of things. I believe that David reveals one of those things here.
The reality of trial and temptation and sin is this: though there are many different ways it manifests, it all really settles back into the same place. Two Biblical scenes offer a brief explanation here. Both of them involve a constant character, both of them are dealing with the same core issue, however they play out very differently. When we look at Satan’s temptation of Eve and Adam (the order is intentional) in Eden, and Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness we find that the Devil’s tricks don’t really change all that much, he merely dresses them up differently for different people. All of the tempting is based on one fundamental principle: Our lives are better off in our own hands, not God’s. This manifests itself in eating the wrong thing for Adam and Eve in the Garden. But, this also manifests itself in the wilderness not by a temptation to eat the wrong thing, but to eat the right thing at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. Satan hasn’t changed his attack, he’s just come from a different angle. Ultimately the issue is ALWAYS whether we will trust God with our lives or trust ourselves. Incidentally there is a reason that Proverbs 3:5-6 is one of the most oft-quoted verses in the Bible, namely because it is likely one of the most broken commands in the Bible.
David is dealing with a host of problems here in Psalm 17. He paints the picture of a man surrounded, enemies on every side, his strategies failed, his plans gone, literally, to hell. But then, in a moment of beautiful clarity, he realizes that it really isn’t ALL of these problems that he’s facing, but just the one. The lion lurking, teeth dripping with sulfur, ready to make a meal of this warrior is the problem. The New Testament says that the Devil moves around like a roaring lion, the imagery is very clear. And that roar is growling out one very important question: “who are you going to trust?”
It’s the same thing we deal with everyday. From intentionally cutting off some Honda-wielding psycho on the interstate who deserves to be taught a lesson for slipping in front of us off two miles back, to claiming too many dependants on our tax form at work hoping we don’t get audited. The reason we give our spouse the “silent treatment” is the same as why we fail to turn away from dangerous images on the television screens and computer monitors in our homes. As I said a couple of days ago, there is a need to be intentional in the way that we identify those specific things, they all have some unique properties and once they have invaded our minds they must be confessed independently for our benefit. However, the underlying and root issue is not unique, it is universal. We will either let God be God, or we will ignore His sovereignty and step into the role ourselves.
At the core of the cross of Christ is an announcement of submission. We see it declared in the Garden of Gethsemane and then displayed on the hill of Golgotha. Jesus, the perfect One, the loving One, the wise One, the Only Begotten, says one thing if He says anything: “Father, no matter what the road looks like, I trust You to the very end.” He said it in the wilderness when He rejected Satan’s bread, and He held firm in His trust all the way to His grave. This is the same thing David dealt with in Psalm 17, and it is the same thing we will deal with today.
Allowing God to sit on the throne of our heart is, without contest, the most important thing we will do today. Our tendency is to think that there are several important things that we have to do, but truly our focus must, like David’s, move from plural to singular.