Harassed by an Enemy- Psalm 143:3-4

As we continue in our examination of David’s prayer while he was hiding in a cave, fearing for his life, we next find that David turns to a time of “self-examination”, his physical situation causes him to assess the state of his soul. He begins, in verse three, by telling us that “the enemy pursues me”. We must first remember that this is poetry, and is characterized by imagery. The writer uses words to paint a picture of his state of mind and heart. The NIV translation here obscures the metaphor, making it sound like David is referring here to an enemy outside the cave with swords and spears. While that is certainly the case, it is not what David primarily refers to here in this verse. The KJV translation puts it as “For the enemy has persecuted my soul”, and this translation does a better job of bringing out the metaphor here. David begins by pointing out the fact that all of the people of God have a common enemy in the use of the definite article (the) here. “The” enemy here refers not primarily to the men outside the cave with swords and spears, but to the enemy inside the cave with David, to the one who “persecutes his soul”. The enemy referred to here is not a flesh and blood enemy, and is one who continually (note the use of the present tense here) persecutes the people of God, not from outside the cave in this case, but from inside of David’s own mind. The “persecution” here is not only a physical one, but an emotional, mental and psychological one. The Hebrew word persecute here is one which takes on the sense of “to harass”, and is often used of verbal harassment. The enemy here is portrayed as being in the cave with David, whispering in his ear all sorts of verbal harassments, tormenting David in his own mind. As we examine the Bible as a whole, we will discover that this form of harassment is “the” enemies primary form of persecution of the people of God, and David here makes clear to us the enemies goal in doing so, telling us that “he crushes me to the ground”. In using this imagery, David paints for us a picture of the condition of his “soul” at this point in time, and the picture he paints here is of someone who is completely broken and at the end of his strength, tired of running, tired of hiding, tired of fighting and ready to give up. He is hiding in a cave, made anxious and afraid by those pursuing him outside the cave, feeling as if he is being “buried alive” by the one persecuting him from inside the cave. David then lets us in on the condition of his “soul” at this point in time, he tells us what this persecution from inside the cave has done, and it has caused him to “dwell in the darkness”. His primary use of this phrase is again not literal, but metaphorical. While he does literally “dwell in darkness”, the darkness pictured here is not physical. Those in the dark can no longer see the light, and the light here refers to God. The persecution of the enemy has so harassed David that it has brought him to the place where he feels like a person who cannot find God, who does not even know God, and this harassment has brought David to the place where he feels like he is just like “those long dead”. He feels so overwhelmed by this darkness that it is to him as if he were dead, and, as we will see later, leads him to the conclusion that he might as well be dead, that it would be a better option than dwelling in this darkness. Having pictured for us the current condition of his soul, David then tells us about the condition of his “spirit”. Again, the word spirit is used metaphorically here, and it is here described as “growing faint”. What he means by spirit, then, is the desire to live which is fundamental in human beings, he is about to give up, to no longer go on in the life God has given him, to run outside the cave and let those looking for him do what they have come to do. He is losing his purpose for living, losing his inspiration to go on, his heart is being “dismayed within him”. The heart represents the very core or center of the person, and what David tells us here is that the harassment of the enemy has brought him to the place where the very core of his being has been shaken, he is beginning to doubt the meaning and purpose of his life, the point of his existence. He is at the point where he can no longer speak, think, act. He is empty inside and beginning to lose sight of any reason to go on, wondering if maybe he should just dwell in this cave until they finally catch up with him. So what can we, as the people of God, learn from David’s experience here? We must come to understand that out primary enemy is not “flesh and blood”, not the enemy who pursues us physically, but the one who harasses us mentally, emotionally and psychologically. His desire is set forth plainly by God through David here, and that desire is to cause us to choose to dwell in darkness, to harass us to the point where we do not see any purpose in continuing on in the life which God desires for us. He desires to get us to “hide in a cave”, to give up on seeking God’s purpose for our lives, dwelling in the shadows and never coming out into the light, into the true meaning and purpose which only pursuing God’s calling on our lives can bring. What we learn here is that we have an enemy, and his goal is to cause us to give up, to forsake finding and fulfilling the calling which God has placed upon each of our lives, to get us to quit, because the only way he can keep us from being what God wants us to be and doing what God wants us to do is by causing us to give up. May we learn, as David does later in this Psalm, that the devil can not stop us, only we can stop us, and may we choose not to dwell in darkness, but to continue to move forward into His marvelous light, into God’s purpose for our lives.

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