A Prayer for Our Enemies
April Dixon | August 18, 2019
So pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your storm.
Cover their faces with shame, LORD,
so that they will seek your name. — Psalm 83:15-16
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The Talmud records a story about a Bruriah, a legendary woman who was the wife of a major scholar, but who also was known for her knowledge and wit. One day, an acquaintance revealed that there was someone harassing him and that he was praying for that person’s destruction.
“You fool!” Bruriah scolds him. “The verse says ‘may chataim vanish from the earth’ (Psalm 104:35). Chataim, not chotim!”
You see in Hebrew, chataim means sins, while chotim means sinners. In the original text, the two words are spelled exactly the same, but pronounced differently. While this leaves the verse open to interpretation, Bruriah was sure that the psalmist meant chataim. In other words, pray that sins vanish, not the sinners! We don’t want God to destroy the sinners, if it can be avoided. We prefer that they stop sinning instead.
Psalm 83 describes an assault on Israel by enemies around the world who unite together in order to destroy her. The psalm writer opens with the following prayer: “O God, do not remain silent, do not turn a deaf ear” (83:1). We can almost hear his anguished voice pleading: “Do something! We need Your help!” But what exactly does the psalmist want God to do?
At first glance it seems that he wanted the Almighty to destroy Israel’s enemies. And sometimes, if we’re honest, isn’t that exactly what we want —the utter destruction of our enemies and their removal from this world?
But when we look closer, we find that there is a greater ideal at play. The psalmist prays to God that He bring destruction upon his enemies, not so that they die – but so that they will repent and live! “So pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm . . . so that they will seek your name.”
Certainly, God can eliminate our enemies. Or He can bring them to the point where they chose to eliminate their sins.
We recognize that each human being possesses a Divine soul. Even our greatest enemy has the potential to become our partner in bringing light to the world. So we pray to God that before He ends the life a person who has dimmed the light of his soul that person be given the opportunity to repent. Life shouldn’t be about settling personal vendettas. It’s should be about bringing goodness to the whole world.
We are used to praying for our friends, but sometimes we also need to pray for our enemies as well.