~ The Enemies in Psalm 23 ~
Eros is the Greek word for lustful “love”, as in the “love” of money. The English word “erotic” is rooted in eros, but lustful sexuality is only a small component of the spirit of eros. A powerful spirit, the ancient Greeks and Romans personified it into a god. As all their gods and goddesses who were moody, whimsical and egocentric, the ancients went to great lengths to appease them out of fear.
Negate the attributes of agape love described in 1 Corinthians 13 and an image of eros will appear: Eros is impatient, cruel, envious, boastful, proud, self-seeking, easily angered, keeps a record of offenses, delighting in evil and rejoicing in deceit. (See verses 4-6.) Eros is destructively possessive, injecting its venom into individuals and communities. Like a rattlesnake, it then retreats a little ways, watching the victims writhe torturously in the spell of its power.
Making friends is not eros’ way, for it draws power from the energy of those it declares as enemies. You may be an enemy of another because the other declared you so. You need not, however, have enemies of your own unless you declare and own them as such. If you let it, eros will choose enemies for you, thereby possessing you, dangling you from its talons, taking you where you don't want to go, or, worse, convincing you that you need to go there, in the name of justice, religion, self-protection, self-respect, a moral cause or other deceptive cloaks in which eros wraps itself. Eros is seductive and intoxicating, making you feel good, or at least meaningful and righteous.
The eros of nations, institutions or individuals will appoint your enemies you would have never chosen yourself. In fear or intoxication of the soul, you go and destroy others whom eros appointed for you. The eros in others target you, the most painful being those closest to you. “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God” (Psalm 55:12-14, NIV). “You betray me with a kiss?” Jesus mournfully uttered to Judas. Blood-lust, power-lust, sexual-lust, money-lust, self-lust, are a few of eros’ strangle holds.
Jesus’ many injunctions to love enemies serve to break these strangle holds. That many believe this is impractical, unrealistic or impossible to put into practice comes from an inability to love as God does, the agape way. Our secular culture cannot divest itself of the practice of “I love you when…if…as long as you are this or keep doing that.” Our spiritual culture has been like-wise contaminated.
A prominent indicator of this is the reaction we feel when we hear or recite verse 5 of Psalm 23: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” How many of us can admit our focus was less on the Lord's table than on its great location? How many of us can admit a feeling of victorious self-satisfaction that our enemies are watching this feast? Yet Proverbs 24:17 says, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles do not let your heart rejoice.” So why does Psalm 23 make a point of having enemies present? Eros is the gloater, that which gives satisfaction at having enemies witness this feast, unable to partake. But there is no room for eros at the Lord's table.
Interestingly, and seemingly in the face of Psalm 23, Proverbs 25:21 instructs, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” Jesus reiterated this many times.
The prophet Elisha was guided by God to capture the invading army of Aram. “When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, ‘Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?’ ‘Do not kill them,’ he answered… ‘Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master’…So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel's territory” (2 Kings 6:21-23, NIV). Israel's national security was demonstrated in a dramatic way to depend on God, not Israel's military. Only eros would have claimed the victory for Israel, robbing acknowledgment from God. Only eros would have killed the prisoners God delivered them. Elisha’s response was the agape love of God. Eros tried sneaking in and God's prophet crushed it.
The table in Psalm 23 reflects the eastern ancient custom of sealing a covenant with a friendship meal. The Shepherd Lord is King, who appointed David as vassal or subject-king. David, as we are, was the Shepherd-King’s guest of honor, which is why David concludes verse 5 with, “You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” The presence of his enemies was not to smugly shove this scene into their faces, but rather have those who appointed themselves as enemies witness God's covenental grace. This is a beautiful picture of God's restorative justice open to all.
Free from the covenant of law into the covenant of grace and love, our table of the goodness of the Lord is always before us, in the presence of those who made themselves our enemies. Eros would seduce us into self-satisfaction and personal triumph as they look on. The victory and covenant are the Lord's, however, not ours. The enemies beholding us would steep stronger in their eros if we ignore the Shepherd's decree: Love them, feed them, overcome evil with good, invite them to share the table, for this is the Gospel.
Upon our invitation to participate in this covenant of grace, what joy far surpassing any self-satisfaction would grip us on being joined at the King's table by enemies transformed into our brothers and sisters! To extend such an invitation, we must first crush any visages of eros in ourselves: “Be holy for I am holy” our God decrees.
Should our enemies resist our invitation and not approach the covenental table, agape love doesn't allow for any gloating or vindication feelings, but rather sorrow and continued love and hope for them.
We are comforted, however, by the freedom from eros. Thus, as David ends the psalm, “Surely goodness and mercy [“love” in the original Hebrew] will follow [“pursue” in the Hebrew] me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of Yahweh forever.”
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © February 8, 2003
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