Facing the Devil
“For you are the God of my refuge,
why have you rejected me?
Why do I pace back and forth darkened
In the oppression of the enemy?”
This verse provides a remarkable development in the theology of this psalm. Up until now we had always seen the psalmist speak of his adversaries in the plural. Even in the previous verse, there is more than one ungodly person after him from which he must seek refuge. Here he no longer speaks in the plural, but shifts to the singular. There is one enemy that he has in sight here and it is from this one enemy that all the other enemies seem to come. It should be understood that the psalmist clearly has his sights on the work of the devil in the world around him. As Peter writes:
“Be self-controlled. Be Alert. Your enemy the devil goes about roaring, seeking one to devour.”
(1 Peter 5:8)
The Apostle Paul uses similar language when instructing the Ephesian Christians in putting on their spiritual armor—equipment that is used to protect a person from the attacks of the enemy. Note the words he employs:
“Put on the full armor of God so that you will be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
Thus, the enemy with whom we do warfare is led by the devil and those who serve under his command. In fact, the very word διάβολος (diabolos) literally refers to one who accuses with malicious intent. The Hebrew equivalent, שָׂטָן (satan) also means “an adversary or accuser.” While there is a more general term for enemy used in this verse, the intent of the use of the singular seems quite clear, the devil is behind the oppression that God’s people face.
Yet, wait a minute? Do we also not point out that God is ultimately sovereign even over the works of the devil? Indeed, we must. The first chapter of Job is a wonderful illustration of just that reality where the devil must ask permission before he can torment Job and that in the end it is God who establishes the boundaries that limit the extent with which satan can tempt. In addition, the evil spirit that tormented Saul, we are told in 1 Samuel 16:14, is from Yahweh. Similarly, when the Apostle Paul speaks of the thorn—an angel from Satan—as being from the Lord with the intent of keeping him humble (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
So how do we rectify both of these things? The answer to that question is to be found in the work of Sanctification that God is doing in our lives. He uses even the great enemy that we face as a tool by which he will shape us and conform us into the image of his Son. Yet, the process of sanctification hurts and is not easy because God is working out of us our old sin-hardened hearts and making us new creations. One of the tools that God uses in this process is that of the devil. Certainly the devil is doing exactly what he wants in rebellion to God, but at the same time God is using the devil’s activities to bring about his good plans for his own. Just as Joseph said to his brothers—“you intended evil but God intended good” (Genesis 50:20).
So why do we pace back and forth with a darkened scowl when things go badly for us? Why do we think that the Lord has ceased to be our refuge? Why do we think that God has abandoned us when trial comes our way? The answer lies with us and our weakness and not with God. There will indeed be times when we neither sense nor can see God’s hand at work, but just because we cannot see God working does not mean that he is not perfectly active in governing the events of our life to bring about his great glory. He is teaching us to walk forward in faith and just as a father needs to eventually take his hand off his his child’s shoulder before the child will learn to ride the bike on his or her own, so God lifts his hand off of our shoulder. He is still there beside us, we just do not sense it.
Peter reminds us of the truth of this principle when he speaks of his experience in getting to witness the miracles and transfiguration of Christ, yet when he turns to speak of the scriptures, he refers to them as “more sure” than experience (2 Peter 1:19). Why is this? Experience is often marred by the emotions and limited perceptions of the one who is experiencing. Scripture is given by God in an absolute way through the prophets and apostles. Indeed, it is more sure as two can come together and it will say the same words to each while our experiences might cause us to understand radically different things. Indeed, loved ones, let us stand together against the wiles of the devil recognizing that we are under the hand and protection of God. Let us cling to Christ’s protection while confidently facing those assaults of the devil that will be used by God to transform us more and more into the image of Christ Jesus.