By this I know that You are well pleased with me, because my enemy does not triumph over me. (Psalm 41:11)
David wrote Psalm 41, and it’s simply impossible to understand our text verse correctly unless we view it through the lens of him being a military man. He was a soldier, a general, a commander, a king who led his troops into battle. Not only did he kill the Philistine giant Goliath in a one-on-one showdown, he eventually led Israel in putting down the entire nation of Phylistia once and for all.
And so, being a military man, David equated having God’s pleasure (God’s favor, God’s approval, God’s smile) upon his life with him being successful in combat against an enemy. That’s the thought he is conveying in Psalm 41:11. He says, “God, there’s one sure way that I know that you are well pleased with how I’m living my life: When I come up against an enemy, I win.”
You see, if David had ever fought and lost, he wouldn’t have thought, “That enemy was just too tough to handle.” He wouldn’t have said, “I needed a better plan of attack.” Instead, he would have concluded, “Something is not right between me and God. He’s not pleased with me. Somehow I’ve gotten out from under the fountain of His favor. I must have angered Him or disappointed Him.”
This, of course, was Old Testament thinking at its purest. The Old Testament Jews assumed that if God was pleased with a man’s life there would be a wife, children, flocks, herds, health, money, and plenty of food and drink to show it. They held to the notion that God blessed those who served Him well and cursed those who didn’t. We see this in the life of Job after God had allowed Satan to take his children, wealth, and health from him. The bulk of the book of Job is Job’s three friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) urging him to confess his sin to God and repent of it, while Job in turn defends his innocence. We even see the same notion carried over into the New Testament age when the disciples come upon a man who was born blind and ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-3)
However, a more thorough study of the New Testament shows us that those with whom God is pleased oftentimes do get triumphed over, at least in an earthly sense. John the Baptist was beheaded by the Roman ruler Herod Antipas (Matthew 14:1-12). Peter and John were unjustly arrested for preaching Jesus and healing in His name (Acts 4:1-22). A short while afterward all of the apostles were thrown into prison and beaten (Acts 5:17-41). Stephen was stoned to death by the Jewish Sanhedrin council (Acts 7:54-60). James was killed via the sword by the Roman ruler Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1-2). Peter was arrested and imprisoned by the same Herod (Acts 12:1-4). Paul was stoned and left for dead at Lystra (Acts 14:8-20). Paul and Silas were imprisoned and severely whipped in Philippi (Acts 16:16-34). Paul was beaten by the Jews and led away in chains by Roman soldiers at the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 21:26-36). John was banished to the small, barren island of Patmos by the Roman emperor Domitian (Revelation 1:9). And do I even have to mention that Jesus Himself was falsely arrested, illegally tried, and brutally crucified?
Frankly, all of these travesties of justice, many of them fatal, would have confused David because he was a man who counted on God to lead him to unquestioned victory in battle. His philosophy was, “While others trust in horses and chariots, we will remember the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7). So does this mean that God was displeased with all the New Testament Christians who were persecuted and oftentimes martyred for their walk with the Lord? Hardly. It simply means that what applied to David in the Old Testament era didn’t apply to them in the New Testament era. While it’s true that God never changes in regards to His nature and character (Malachi 3:6), He has certainly been known to change His ways of dealing with people during various parts of history. This is what the study of dispensationalism is all about.
Now, Christian, you’re probably like me in the fact that you’d rather live under David’s Old Testament set-up than the New Testament one. You’d rather slay Goliath and lead your army to victory after victory than be falsely arrested, imprisoned, stoned, whipped, or slain yourself. Well, I don’t know what to tell you about that except that us having a fuller revelation of Christ and understanding of God can’t be a bad thing. It also can’t be bad that we now enjoy the realized events of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the Holy Spirit literally dwelling inside each believer, a completed Bible, and some 2,000 years of church history. Truth be told, David would no doubt envy us in more ways than we envy him.
So, basically, my goal for this post is to remind you that Christ’s people oftentimes do take it on the chin in this New Testament age. I realize this isn’t a comforting thought, but it’s true nonetheless. We live in a world where injustices are commonplace and the wicked win tons of earthly victories. At the risk of sounding too dramatic, I’d classify us as an oppressed people. Each day of our lives we are oppressed by Satan, his demons, and men and women who do his bidding (even if they don’t realize or admit that they are doing it). The fact is that we have much more in common with Stephen, James, Paul, and John than we do David.
Therefore, Christian, let me say that while I don’t believe there is anything patently wrong with you praying to God and asking Him to grant you victory of your enemies, you shouldn’t be surprised when you come out on the losing end of things. You ask, “But why would God say, “No” to such a prayer request?” Well, you shouldn’t confuse a “No” with a “Wait.” You see, God has already declared that every Christian will overcome this world (1 John 5:4-5). That’s a done deal. It’s just that all the accounts won’t be fully settled and finalized until the afterlife. That leaves a lot of living to be done in this life, doesn’t it? And, unfortunately, that living includes a lot of losing “battles” that we must fight.