In Psalm 59, as usual, David is in trouble. Do you not find it odd that David, this man after God’s own heart, is so often in difficult straits? It would appear that he cannot make good decisions, or he isn’t much of a “people” person, or he’s just one of those people folks love to hate.
David’s wife has urged him to flee for his life, and he has done so. But as I read this psalm, I picture David not far away. Hiding, but watching Saul’s forces descend on his home. Concerned for his wife, concerned for his life, he prays for deliverance. He’s already been delivered through the trickery of his wife.
It’s interesting that David does not ask for the immediate destruction of his enemies in this case. Instead, he wants their punishment to be public, and drawn out, so that they will be exposed for the frauds and violent men they really are, and so that everyone can see what happens to those who live in this way and take warning.
But there is another reason: David wants God to act in such a way that the witnesses of these events will come to trust God as much as David has. Have you ever prayed this? That God would use his work in your life, even in the bad times, to encourage others to follow your lead in trusting the Lord?
David’s time as a fugitive, running for his life and from Saul, yielded a treasure of psalms telling us how he felt.
Psalm 59 – written when Michal his wife puts her life on the line and buys David time to make an escape (1 Samuel 19).
Psalms 34 and 56 – written when David narrowly escapes death from the Philistines (1 Samuel 21:10ff).
Psalms 57 and 142 – written while taking refuge with a host of other desperados in a cave (1 Samuel 22).
Psalm 52 – when he defeats the Ziphites who betrayed his location to Saul (1 Samuel 23).
Why David thought it would be safe to hide among the Philistines remains a mystery. Perhaps he thought they would be honored to have such a skilled warrior who had killed so many of their brethren. In any case, it speaks to David’s desperation, and in that desperation, he wrote Psalm 56. David is afraid (vs. 3). He weeps in fear (vs. 8). Like most of us in desperate times, David makes promises to God if only God will deliver (vs. 12). And, like most of us, David reminds himself there’s a limit to what mankind, even the cruelest of them, can do to us. They are not God, but mortal.
Of course, mortals can do plenty to us, but they cannot adjust or change our relationship with God, nor rob those who trust Him of the deliverance He provides (in whatever form it might come).
When it became evident to all but Jonathan that Saul was out to kill David, David ran.
And ran. And ran.
He ran first to his wife, who put herself in harms way to save David. He then ran to Samuel, who hid him for a while but eventually was also no safe harbor. David ran to Jonathan and after a bit of investigation, Jonathan too was convinced he could not save David. David then ran to the priests of the Lord at Nob (1 Samuel 22), who gave him food and weapons.
But there, among the priests, was a horrid fellow named Doeg. What he was doing there is anybody’s guess, but David knew he was out of place. When David left, Doeg reported to Saul about David’s presence and the priests of Nob were brought before the king. On orders from Saul, Doeg put them and their families and livestock all to death – and David felt the guilt that his actions had resulted in the deaths of the entire population of Nob.
Psalm 52 may have Doeg in mind.
Or it may speak of Saul.
In any case, neither man can seem to see the hand of God in their lives. David, however, does. Though bad things are happening all around him, he is cognizant that God is in control and is taking care of him. He does not berate God for sparing him and taking the inhabitants of Nob. As much as he may have been willing to give his life for theirs’, he looks beyond that event to what God is doing for the future of Israel – specifically with David.
The Psalm is a reminder to us all that though God may have seemed to fail in the lives of others, as long as we have breath, He is succeeding in ours.
The entirety of Psalm 49 speaks of life after death, and a key for understanding this psalm may be the final verse. In the writer’s eyes, only humans have hope of a life after this one.
With that in mind, we turn to the rest of the poem, which is one of the “wisdom psalms” because it claims to give advice for living. The writer is troubled by those who have no regard for God. They are, in his mind, those who are rich and specifically, those who are so rich that they believe nothing can befall them they cannot buy their way out of. Death, however, for the Psalmist, is not the great equalizer, but the great revealer.
There is no amount of money that can buy a soul from God – no amount that will blind the eyes of the Lord to the ways of the wicked, and death will happen to all: the rich, the poor, the unrighteous and holy. When it does, only the upright – which does not include those whose trust is in wealth – will survive. All others will be like the dead dog rover: dead all over – and forever.
Those who seek enough money to allay all worry, are seeking permanent ruin. God calls us not to worry, but to trust in Him. When we seek enough money that we will not have to worry, we are, in essence, saying we don’t trust God. The end of those people is without promise or hope.
The 16th century was a difficult time for Christianity. Voices stirred by a fresh reading of scripture spoke out loudly against traditions and innovations they thought had desecrated the way of God.
It didn’t go over well.
Martin Luther remarked during that time someone was martyred every day for speaking out against the established religion. Among them would be Luther’s friend Leonhard Kaiser, who was burned alive in 1526. In response, it is said that Luther wrote his most famous hymn – A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – and the sentiment for the hymn was taken from Psalm 46.
This psalm is the first of six hymns known as the “Psalms of Zion” (see also Psalms 48, 76, 84, 87, 122, and 132) which exalt the city of God as the Lord’s dwelling place. these psalms contain certain characteristics: all speak of the city of God (or “Zion”), a river that brings blessing, peace secured by the Lord and particularly provided to His city and the integration of all nations into the worship of the Lord.
In Psalm 46, two points stand out to me: First, God is determined to be appreciated by the world. It should happen because of the testimony of God’s people, but God is determined that it will happen. We should be just as determined.
Second, God is pictured here not as a divine warrior, but as a divine peacemaker. The people of God must, by their thoughts and actions, also be a people of peace. To do otherwise would make us untrue to our heritage and calling. I think about this whenever I see Christians begin to buckle on the implements of war to serve what they feel are righteous causes, and I am reminded of it whenever I am tempted to do the same. The one who brings peace does not use weapons of war, but breaks and shatters them. You cannot make peace by being unpeaceful.
In some Hebrew manuscripts, Psalms 42 & 43 are one psalm. When reading both together, you can understand why. The phrase “Why must I go about mourning?” occurs in both (42:9; 43:2). The phrase “Why are you downcast O my soul?” occurs at the end of three approximately equal sections (see 42:5, 11; 43:5).
This is not a David psalm, but the psalm of a temple singer who is in exile. If it is exile, then it is in country north of Israel, near Mt. Hermon (42:6), so he isn’t exiled far, but it does seem that the exile is due to a foreign invader, an ungodly nation (43:1), an “enemy” (43:2).
Of all the things an exile would pray for – return to family, friends, prosperity, homeland, it is significant that the Psalmist prays not for any of those things, but for a return to worship – to God’s holy mountain and altar.
For the most part, citizens of my country love our nation. We unabashedly refer to it as the greatest nation on earth and would not want to live anywhere else. But those with a heart focused on God, though patriotic, often find ourselves feeling exiled because of the direction our nation travels, led all too often by forces that have no regard for God. In times like these, Psalms 42 and 43 provide vocabulary for prayer. However downcast we feel though, we have not yet been separated from our worship and for that we can be thankful. We can demonstrate such thankfulness by actually going to worship — and worshiping, regularly and often. The freedom to worship for which we so often give thanks is a hollow blessing to those who do not take advantage of it.
Psalms 38 – 39 both speak of sin in the Psalmist’s life that has, because of the hand of God, left him debilitated and in despair. Because of its appearance after those two, Psalm 40 would seem a hymn of rejoicing that God has answered him and forgiven him.
What leads from a muddy pit of despair to the firm footing of a rock?
The writer says it is God’s adoption of his life and he frames it in an odd way (unless we remember an obscure passage from the law): “my ears you have pierced” (verse 6).
Under the law, one might buy a Hebrew servant and work him for six years. But in the seventh year, he was to go free. But the servant might have, in the intervening six years, become so close, or perhaps so dependent, as to not want to leave, but to remain a part of his master’s family. In that case, he might allow his master to pierce his ear with an awl, a forever sign that the master had accepted him as a part of his family and brought him under the eternal protection of his house.
This is what the Psalmist is saying: His situation changed when he confessed that he wanted to come under the house of God, live in His refuge and in His service. At that point, from a quicksand of sin, his life was rescued by God.
So too we must decide that the life we’ve been determined to live, causing us so much pain, is simply not the one for us. We want to come under the refuge of God, and be His servant and not our own for all our days. It is then that we can find deliverance and forgiveness.
Why do we sin?
Psalm 36 begins in a confusing way – depending on the version you are reading.
The old New International Version begins with “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked.” The new New International version says I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked..” The New Revised Standard Version however says: “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in their hearts.”
Hmmm. Is God speaking about the wicked, or is sin speaking to the wicked?
It’s a thorny issue. The Hebrew text more closely favors the last translation with one caveat: transgression speaks not deep within the heart of the wicked, but “within my heart.”
This reading is what makes the psalm so difficult, but it is also what gives the psalm sense – and the answer to our beginning question: Why do we sin?
The reason we sin is because it is so easy. No one says: “I really need to work harder at being a murderer” or a slanderer, or an adulterer, or a liar, or an envious person. Give it a little time and without care, evil blooms from within.
Alexander Pope wrote:
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
Yet, seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
The psalmist knows he is a sinner. He knows his sin springs easily, as if (but not) divinely ordained from deep within his heart. He knows the end of the sinner. And he is thankful that God still loves him. With God’s love, there is yet hope.
In Jesus’ story of the “Prodigal Son,” the father is pictured as keeping an vigilant eye out for his wayward boy, hoping he will return. On the day the son returns, the father sees him “a long way off.” The father “runs” to meet the boy and, before they ever get home, the father calls for clothes that will cover the evidence of the boy’s transgressions and restore him to his place in the family.
I think of that when I read about sins being “covered” in Psalm 32.
It doesn’t imply a “cover up.” Everyone knows of the boy’s shameful behavior. No one will forget. Not even the father. Note that the father understands this wayward son has lost his inheritance and it will not be replaced. But the story isn’t about cover-up. It’s about forgiveness.
Forgiveness means restoration.
But forgiveness requires repentance, a change of heart that prompts a change of mind that results in a change of life. God may even prompt the change, as he does in Psalm 32, and if He does, the prompting may not be subtle. But here’s what I’d suggest: when we find ourselves under the heavy hand of God, rather than feel oppressed, we should feel loved. We are precious to God. If we weren’t, He’d just let us go. He is too holy and cares about righteousness too much to overlook our sins and take us back, warts and all. But until we change, there is nothing He won’t do to us to prompt our change, and nothing He won’t forgive when we do.
There is movement in Psalm 29, and the movement is not only the movement God causes. It is also the movement God makes as He comes to His people and the movement the Psalmist makes as he calls people to worship.
It all begins with heaven. The “mighty ones” are heavenly beings (see 89:5-7) who are called on to give God His due and bow down before him – not, at this point, because of His power, but because of his glory and holiness, the “splendor of his holiness.” The call to praise follows the Lord from heaven to earth, to the sea to Lebanon in the north country where the voice of God splinters the great cedars like a tornado. It (the call to praise) and the Lord move south past Mount Hermon (“Sirion”) all the way to the desert of Kadesh and in the wake of God’s coming to His temple, everything is laid bare. Those who have gathered for worship can only cry “holy!”
An old hymn reads: “O I want to see Him, look upon His face.”
But no one, experiencing the personal presence of God, expresses such a desire. He is far too supreme and matchless for that. He does, in fact, render those privileged to enter His presence virtually speechless with the exception of that one word: “holy!”
This is not just any God. In a world filled with deities and the mindsets that give them praise, the psalmist is plain: this is Israel’s God, The Lord, mentioned specifically seventeen times in the poem.
Though the movement of God brings upheaval and destruction wherever He goes and by His simple presence, God’s people are not disturbed. He brings them peace. It is the same peace Jesus exhibited asleep in the stern of a boat in the midst of a violent sea – so violent that his disciples despaired of life. It is the peace that fills all who recognize the glory of God, who belong to Him, and rejoice in His presence.