Today’s passage: Psalm 59
Today’s chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Mint Dark Chocolate
The epigraph of Psalm 59 tells us which time that evil men sought David’s life and meant to kill him that he’s writing songs about today. It reads, “when Saul sent men and they watched the house in order to kill him,” an incident which you can review in further detail in 1 Samuel 19:8-18. And artists, writers, poets: remember that, like David, your life experiences can enrich your work with the manifold abundance of inspiration drawn from reality. So if your stuff is boring–like mine–then try drawing the ire of a demon-haunted king and going on the run while your country is beset with violent national enemies.
While reading David’s latest plea for God to deliver him from his foes’ treachery, one verse immediately leapt out at me. “Do not slay them, or my people will forget; scatter them by Your power, and bring them down, o Lord, our shield” (11), I read. I thought to myself: huh, David isn’t calling for his enemies to die! He wants their lives to be an ongoing reminder to the nation, perhaps a reminder of God’s justice and goodness to those who trust him, or perhaps an ongoing example of what happens to traitors. And then I read this verse: “Destroy them in wrath, destroy them that they may be no more, that men may know that God rules in Jacob to the ends of the earth” (13).
Cue record scratch.
Okay. Number one, so much for mercy in David’s prayer. Number two, he wants God to “not slay them” and to “destroy them that they may be no more?” How is that even possible?
To resolve this apparent contradiction, I turn to Strong’s Concordance. Strong’s identifies the verb from “Do not slay them” (11) as the Hebrew harag, meaning “to kill, slay, murder.” This is what Cain did to Abel, this is the death penalty that the Torah prescribes for certain sins; it’s killing, plain and simple. So David will have none of that. Now according to Strong’s, the verb in “destroy them that they may be no more” (13) is the Hebrew kalah, “to complete, finish, accomplish.” This is what God does to the universe in Genesis 2:1-2. But, speaking more to the question at hand, Moses uses the verb kalah when he tries to persuade God not to wipe out Israel for their sin. He says:
Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. (Exodus 32:12)
Moses is basically saying: “God, if you wipe out your people now, the Egyptians are gonna think you delivered them just to mess with them. Do you really want a reputation as some fickle, evil deity who saves people just to turn around and wipe ’em out?” And in other verses such as Deuteronomy 7:22 and 1 Samuel 15:18, the word is used similarly to refer to wiping out nations, finishing them off.
All of which doesn’t really help me see how one could put an end to a group of people, so that they are no more, without actually killing them. God might cut off their generational lines, so that their family tree ends with them and their legacy is cut off. Or God might make David’s treacherous enemies cease to be as enemies, so that they can’t actually carry out any harm against him, while living powerless and shameful lives. But none of these seem like what David is really driving at, because wherever I see kalah is applied to people, it appears to mean making them cease to be as living beings, taking their very breath.
So, Question of the Day: Is David simply so overcome with emotion that he desires two different things, conflicted and changing his mind from verse to verse? Do you see a resolution to this apparent contradiction?