Defining the Enemy in the Individual Lament Psalms as the Unscrupulous Exploiter

The lament psalms have three prominent figures: an enemy, a psalmist, and God. Regarding the issue of identifying the enemy in the individual lament psalms, it has been a crux among scholars. Two reasons account for this. First, the enemy appears in anonymity. Furthermore, uncertain assumptions to the headings referring to the psalmist and hazy historical contexts make it worse to identify the enemy. Second, the enemies’ evil behaviors are described as ubiquitous expressions beyond the specific time and place.

Then, who is the enemy? Why did he attack the psalmist? These questions have been a discussion topic in recent years, and several answers have been put forth. First, the socio-religious approach provides a wide range of interpretations relying on Sitz im Leben. It is based on the Israelites’ cultic perspective on illness in those days. However, while this approach sheds some light on the enemy related to sickness, it only covers a narrow category of the enemy’s range. Second, the literary approach spotlights the characteristics of the descriptions portraying the enemy’s identity. Nevertheless, the literary features of the lament psalms, in which similar expressions are repeated, rather obscure the literary distinction between the individual and the communal lament psalms. Besides, these portraits make readers regard the enemy not as realistic but rather as impressionistic. Third, many scholars define the enemy as the opponent of YHWH. They tend to identify the enemy within the triangular relationship through the theological lens. However, this view is problematic for three reasons: (1) The definition blurs between the motivation and outcomes of the enemy’s behaviors. The motivation of enemies oppressing the psalmist is not to oppose God, but to devour whatever the psalmist has. (2) There is no direct evidence that the enemies themselves intended to stand against God. (3) Most significantly, defining the enemy as God’s opponent imbues us to quickly have a dichotomic bias as if the enemy is outside the believers.

Therefore, I propose an ethical approach as an alternative method and argue that the enemy is the unscrupulous exploiter regarding the moral aspect. For this, I will first briefly mention the rhetorical implications of anonymity in the Psalter. Second, I will interact with prominent scholars by rearranging them according to research approaches: form critical, literary, and theological. Doing so will show that such approaches can only partially account for the meaning of the enemy. Third, I will suggest the ethical approach to explain the enemy’s identity. This will show how the moral reading fits clarifying behaviors and motives of the enemy. Fourth, I will conclude that the ethical approach and the meaning of the unnamed enemy will enable us to penetrate the reality of this world correctly.

5 thoughts on “Defining the Enemy in the Individual Lament Psalms as the Unscrupulous Exploiter”

  1. This sounds like a dissertation proposal
    The identity of the enemy in the Psalms is certainly an important issue, but it requires more than a conference paper to address it well. Perhaps as his research progresses he will be able to present a paper on some specific aspect of his findings.


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