BOOK 2: PSALM 59 OF 72 – Wronged but Righteous

We live in a world where the good Samaritans have been uprooted by the sniggering Pharisees.  How often does one hear that they’ve been wronged; that they are innocent, and their persecutors did not receive their just deserts; that they have worked hard, accumulated tears, sweat, and blood, but receive an imbalance of appreciation or reward.

Whilst 1 Samuel 19-20 shows us the narrative of Saul’s persecution of David, Psalm 59 helps us peer into David’s heart.  For there, we find the turmoil of the king-in-the-making, of the man after God’s own heart.  What we expect is a man who exudes continual confidence; whose gravitas precedes before him; who destroyed Goliath with his wit and not his brawn.  Instead, we find a man incredibly insecure; a man who pines for justice as he has been unjustly dealt with; a man who is not confident to take matters into his own hand, but rather to leave it in His.

Saul has left himself open to a harmful spirit from the Lord.  If not for Jonathan’s reminders, he would have pursued his passions to destroy David.  David describes him, and his men, as dogs howling and prowling about the city, bellowing with their mouths, lying in wait for David’s life, to stir up strife against him.  The enemies whom David faced are born of the same deceiver whom Jesus destroyed; and the enemies we face today are constantly deceived by the spirits of this world, than by the Holy Spirit Who breathes life through us.

That is why David can proclaim that the Lord is his Strength; that God is his fortress; that He will let David look in triumph on his enemies.  How can a howling, growling dog, a prowling lion, a hungry beast who wanders about for food, even scar the high towers of God’s temple?  We triumph because He is much larger than we perceive Him to be; and yet our sights are often on the dogs and lions than the unshakeable and unbreakable Rock we stand on.

David prays that his enemies are consumed by their own wrath; and indeed, that is what God allows, for those who do not stand under the cross; they are, as John said, already condemned: John 3:16-18.

 

Do we not need to restore our perspectives to this, daily?  Are not our eyes and our sight so easily manipulated by the circumstances that surround us?  This psalm is a firm reminder that, even a faithful shepherd like David is easily discouraged, describing to Jonathan that he is but one step away from death: 1 Samuel 20:3.  Yet, turning around, David realises that he need not fear death at all, because Jesus has conquered death.  David can now find strength – even strength in the face of death – that he can sing in the day of his distress.

These are not easy words for David to preach.  He was not a man who merely philosophised the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, and that he should somehow force himself to appreciate that God is his refuge.  No – he is a man who, like Jacob, wrestled with Jesus to be blessed.  David, too, is struggling here with the LORD; and by the end of this psalm, he is blessed and remembers that this Strength and towering fortress is built on the foundation of God’s steadfast love.

That is why Jesus’ work on the cross is so important; not just a generic concept of the emotion and passion that we call ‘love’ today.  Jesus’ work on the cross is a combination of His painful sacrifice, in the face of howling, growling, hungry dogs and lions; and His overcoming of these enemies is what allowed men like David; and men like us, to even have a basis to proclaim victory in the face of death; victory in the face of being wronged.

It is in the cross that we find comfort from the Lord who experienced the same discomfort; it is in the cross that we find true justice, from the Lord who had been unjustly treated; it is in the cross that we find true value, from the Lord who gives us our value.  When we set our sights on the cross, and not on the prowling lions, that we begin to realise that the balance of this world is corrupt.  That the scales are uneven.  But the cross evens the scales; the cross restores the corrupt balance.

 

 

BOOK 2: PSALM 59 OF 72 – Wronged but Righteous

Book 2: Psalm 58 of 72 – Victors and Losers

Modern Christianity is occasionally guilty of half truths, much like the politically correct arena of the contemporary world.  We either preach a gospel of unconditional love, and neglect the gospel of hell; or we preach the judgment of the lakes of fire and neglect to point out that it is Jesus, our gracious Saviour, who is himself the Judge on the last day.

The world tells us that either we are all eternally ‘condemned’ to a life of no higher meaning, that we are but dust and ash of the earth and we will return to the earth as such; or that we are valued ‘as we are’ and that no one should be condemned because that is a basic human right.

What Psalm 58 teaches us, however, is that David saw the world differently.  In God’s economy, in His kingdom, there are victors and losers; the gospel requires that there are only two camps of people – those who are with Him, and those who are without.

David opens the chapter by pointing out the falsehood and lies of the ‘gods’ – that such gods are incapable of judging the children of man uprightly, because they are filled with violence.  He then moves on to the wicked who are estranged from the womb, from birth, as liars, spouting out venom like the Satan.  They are incapable of hearing He who can charm, and sing the right tune that provides them with a central bearing.  Indeed, His sheep hears His voice, and the wicked by contrast are deafened: John 10:27.

Psalm 58 is directed to the choirmaster according to ‘Do Not Destroy’.  It is unclear what this means exactly – yet it would appear the content of Psalm 58 contradicts this direction.  David pleads to God to break the teeth of the enemies, to tear out their fangs, to let them vanish, and to undo the damage that the wicked could cause by their flaming arrows.  They are to be swept away, and not to see the light of day like a stillborn child.  This is graphic imagery that David employs to show us that on the last day of Judgment, Jesus too will destroy the wicked in like manner.

The chapter ends contrary to the judgment of the violent gods in the opening; instead, their judgment is replaced by David’s God who judges on the earth, who rewards the righteous.

One may read this chapter and consider how this is reconciled with the loving God; how a loving God can ‘bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked‘.  Yet, it is because God is loving, that his ‘violence’ is firmly directed towards the unjust; firmly directed towards those who have been led astray and lead other astray.  It is in loving judgment that sin, and the sinners without the covering of Christ’s blood, is swept away.  His immense, epic intolerance of the wicked only demonstrates to His immense, epic love for His children.

This may be why the psalm should be sung according do not destroy.  David did not say that the Lord delights in destroying the wicked; on the contrary, He is simply describing that life under the ‘gods’ muddies the waters of His love with compromise.  Life under the ‘gods’ shows no distinction of right and wrong; of blessing and curse; of light and darkness.

However, His love transforms us.  The righteous can enjoy life intimate from the womb; speaking truth; that our lips and tongues are like honey to our neighbours’ hearts; and that we hear His voice because we are His.  Our closeness to Him, like a lamp on the hill, only condemns the wicked even more, like the shadow that darkens proportionate to the brightness of the light.  It is only when we are righteous, that we identify sin for what it is, and that (like the Lord) we demand it be destroyed with those aligned to it without remorse, as David sings.

Not all are victors, though we are all born losers.  The gods of this world deal out violence, making us believe in lies so that we are equally condemned by the illusion that it is all meaningless, and what is left is but atheistic/agnostic humanism.  No – David is singing that there is One who is victorious, and by standing in His victory, we are shielded from the damage and loss that comes from a life estranged from the Father.

Book 2: Psalm 58 of 72 – Victors and Losers

Book 2: Psalm 57 of 72 – His love and my praise

Today, we often say “praise the Lord” when He does amazing work in our lives.  When He gives us favour at work.  When we are blessed with the gift of children.  When we are provided for materially.

Yet, how often do we still praise Him when we are in the midst of difficult circumstances?  When there is a re-structuring in my firm and that I am re-directed to a team that I have no expertise in?  When my supervisor is potentially demonised?  When my financial obligations outweigh my income?  When there is severe illness in the family?

We often look to Job as the forebear, as it were, of the generations of Christians who have suffered and yet looked to the Redeemer: Job 19:25.

Whom we do not often associate with such praise in the midst of suffering is a man like David.  Whilst in the 1st few chapters of the book of Job we learn some facts about the faithfulness of the eponymous hero, the reader is not familiar with him as we are with David, whose generational, familial, military background are laid out in the course of various books in the Old Testament.  Clearly, Job teaches us a lesson on God’s sovereignty in the midst of unjust suffering.  It is a parable for us that even in the most extreme forms of suffering, God’s answer is in the sacrificial lamb: Job 42.

David, on the other hand, teaches us our interaction with the politics of the world as a man who grew from a mere shepherd boy to become a king setting a new precedent (since he likely drew limited inspiration from Saul’s leadership when he took over the reins to lead Israel) of what it means to shepherd a uniquely, unparalleled, theocratic kingdom.

It is within such context that we approach this psalm, which David wrote when he was still but a soldier, fleeing and hiding in a cave from Saul’s wrath: 1 Samuel 21, 24.

David starts not with self-justification, but with humility: “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge.”  Indeed, our source of refuge is in God, because our security lies not in our education, not in our accumulated life experiences, not in our accolades.  Those are measures of how the world values us.  God, however, values us simply as His beloved children.  David thus yearsn, “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.”  Yes – let your will be done, not mine; let your purpose be done, not mine.  Yet this purpose is one that is for me; it is one in which I have the privilege in partaking.

Shortly before the pensive Selah, we are told that God will send from heaven to save David; he will put to shame him who tramples on David.  It is then clarified that God will send out  “his steadfast love and his faithfulness“.  How exactly is this played out?  We see this in 1 Samuel 24:

12 May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. 14 After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! 15 May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”

16 As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17 He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. 18 And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. 19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. 20 And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.

This is a turning point for David.  He could have very well set a wicked example of murdering the Lord’s anointed.  He could have uprooted the person whom the Lord, and Samuel, had appointed as the 1st king of Israel.  Instead, David exercised mercy; he repaid wickedness with love.  Why?  This could only be due to the revelation that David received in the cave, in hiding, in the storm.  Instead of justifying himself, instead of finding his comfort in his friends, in his band of brothers, he found comfort in knowing that the Lord sent help in the form of steadfast love and faithfulness.  David therefore approached Saul in the confidence that the Lord is the just judge who would deliver David from Saul’s hand.

The story of David’s mercy is told in generations to come.  David’s rise to kingship was not due to Saul’s own demise.  That was happening concurrently.  The Lord has already been preparing David’s heart to take the role of the anointed king, and this is one of the crucial moments beautifully juxtaposing the persecuted shepherd who exemplifies the meaning of mercy, against the wrathful king who exemplifies the meaning of self-justified vengeance and Pharisaic achievement.

That this happens in a cave is almost, itself, a commentary that this is the spiritual battle which we face in the dark of our hearts.  Do we walk the path of Saul in pursuing every end  and strategy to achieve political and economic might?  Or do we allow God to balance the scales of justice because we trust that He will deliver us from “the midst of lions, fiery beasts, children of man whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords“, as David goes on to describe in this chapter?  David’s goal was not even to exalt himself; he merely set his eyes on Him who provides our refuge; yet, in doing so, we learn from 1 Samuel 24 that he exudes the qualities of a king that Saul does not have.

Much like the story of Joseph and his brothers, Haman and Mordecai, so also the enemies’ plan to dig a pit in David’s way would only end with the pit being the enemies’ ultimate destination.  Satan’s attempts to lure us into death is itself converted into an opportunity for the Lord to save us through death into re-born life.  That is the Selah that David invites us to ponder.  That is the extent of God’s faithful love, that He can transform even the darkest circumstances into the source of our everlasting joy.

As Spurgeon comments on the whole chapter:

Mystically this hymn may be construed of Christ, who was in the days of his flesh assaulted by the tyranny both of spiritual and temporal enemies. His temporal enemies, Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and people of Israel, furiously raged and took counsel together against him. The chief priests and princes were, saith Hierome, like lions, and the people like the whelps of lions, all of them in a readiness to devour his soul. The rulers laid a net for his feetin their captious interrogatories, asking (Mt 22:17), “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” and (Joh 8:5) whether the woman taken in the very act of adultery should be stoned to death or no. The people were “set on fire, “when as they raged against him, and their teeth and tongues were spears and swords in crying, “Crucify him, crucify him.” His spiritual enemies also sought to swallow him up; his soul was among lions all the days of his life, at the hour of his death especially. The devil in tempting and troubling him, had laid a snare for his feet;and death, in digging a pit for him, had thought to devour him. As David was in death, so Christ the Son of David was in the grave. John Boys, 1571-1625.

 

The Lord’s faithfulness and love in the first half of the chapter are then the cause of David’s gleeful response in the latter half.  “I will sing“, “I will awake the dawn“, “I will give thanks to you“, “I will sing praise to you” – why?  “For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

David’s preparation for the throne does not require academic excellence, military might, or political savvy.  His preparation was simple.  He turned to God’s steadfast love.  He knew that such love had the power to transform his circumstances.  It was not a distant, impersonal love which would only lift one’s emotions; it was a real, tangible, force personified and exemplified in the work of Christ on the cross.  It is that grace and mercy which drove David to take the high road, and which grew him into a person that he never imagined he would become.  This was his spiritual marker, his milestone, and arguably one of his most important moments in consolidating his kingship.  Oftentimes we face similar dark circumstances, and write them off in hopes that the Lord would give us favour in better times; yet it is in these dark circumstances that we need to find refuge in Him to consolidate His purpose in our lives.

Book 2: Psalm 57 of 72 – His love and my praise

Book 2: Psalm 56 of 72 – What can man do to me?

VV.1-9 continues David’s plea, David’s tossing and turning and his pain in writhing.  All day long the enemies plot to injure this son of God.  However, the rousing climax comes through vv.4, 10-13: In God, whose Word I praise, in the Lord, whose Word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.  What can man do to me?

It’s as if the previous chapters are a crescendo to reach this moment.  David’s vows amount to mere thank offerings (v.12) – because the Lord is powerful enough to rise one’s soul from the dead, from one’s feet from falling.  It is that resurrection, not only of the body, but of the soul, that enables and strengthens David to walk before God in the light of life (v.13).     Even the atheists will be resurrected in the last days (Revelation 20), but it is God who can rise one’s soul from the dead this day.

Do we therefore praise the Word of the Lord, the incarnate Word who fulfils the promise of such present deliverance?  Spurgeon comments:

He is a wretch who, having obtained help, forgets to return a grateful acknowledgment. The least we can do is to praise him from whom we receive such distinguished favours. Does David here mean “by God’s grace I will praise him”? If so, he shows us that all our emotions towards God must be in God, produced by him and presented as such. Or does he mean, “that which in God is most the object of my praise is his word, and the faithfulness with which he keeps it”? If so, we see how attached our hearts should be to the sure word of promise, and especially to himwho is the WORD incarnate. The Lord is to be praised under every aspect, and in all his attributes and acts, but certain mercies peculiarly draw out our admiration towards special portions of the great whole. That praise which is never special in its direction cannot be very thoughtful, and it is to be feared cannot be very acceptable. In the Lord will I praise his word. He delights to dwell on his praise, he therefore repeats his song. The change by which he brings in the glorious name of Jehovah is doubtless meant to indicate that under every aspect he delights in his God and in his word.

 

 

 

Book 2: Psalm 56 of 72 – What can man do to me?

Book 2: Psalm 55 of 72 – Betrayal

The theme of Psalm 55 continues from Psalm 54.  It opens, however, on a bizarre note – “Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!  Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan” (vv1-2).  This is very different from the confidence in Psalm 54; however, this is the raw heart of David.  Even his own faith in God, his own confidence in Him, wavers.  We therefore cannot even have faith in our own faithfulness – only He can sustain us in that respect.

Just as Jesus pleaded that the cup be passed from him (Matthew 26:39), so also David wishes to escape the fear and trembling by imagining flight as a dove (v.6).  Again, another moment for pause and meditation brings David’s focus back to the true deliverance; he is not to run from circumstance, but to run to the Lord who delivers (vv.9, 16).

Yet the cause of his pain isn’t the atheist as in Psalm 54; the cause of his pain is his companion; his familiar friend; a friend whom he used to take sweet counsel together, within God’s house (vv.13-14).  This is a betrayal that only Jesus knew in the name of Judas.  A companion who would stretch out his hand against his friends, violating the sacred covenant of fellowship (vv.20-21).

This is the pain that causes David to waver, sharply in contrast with the strikes of clear enemies which David could more easily bear (v.12).  But the acts of betrayal are worthy of nothing less than Sheol, the pit of destruction (vv. 15, 23; see also Numbers 16:32).  Such is the eternity of betrayal, of the sons of the chief liar, versus He whose eternal love is enthroned from of old – the unchanging nature of the deceiver and the reliever (v.19).  Spurgeon says in his Treasury of David:

Religion had rendered their intercourse sacred, they had mingled their worship, and communed on heavenly themes. If ever any bonds ought to be held inviolable, religious connections should be. There is a measure of impiety, of a detestable sort, in the deceit which debases the union of men who make profession of godliness. Shall the very altar of God be defiled with hypocrisy? Shall the gatherings of the temple be polluted by the presence of treachery? All this was true of Ahithophel, and in a measure of Judas. His union with the Lord was on the score of faith, they were joined in the holiest of enterprises, he had been sent on the most gracious of errands. His cooperation with Jesus to serve his own abominable ends stamped him as the firstborn of hell. Better had it been for him had he never been born. Let all deceitful professors be warned by his doom, for like Ahithophel he went to his own place by his own hand, and retains a horrible preeminence in the calendar of notorious crime. Here was one source of heart break for the Redeemer, and it is shared in by his followers. Of the serpent’s brood some vipers still remain, who will sting the hand that cherished them, and sell for silver those who raised them to the position which rendered it possible for them to be so abominably treacherous.

 

Book 2: Psalm 55 of 72 – Betrayal

Book 2: Psalm 54 of 72 – Deliver me by Your Name

God is intimately interested in our deliverance, in our salvation.  He is not distant; he is not intangible.  He is alive, and He walks with us.

David makes this abundantly clear: O God, save me, by your name, and vindicate me by your might (v1).  O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth (v2).  God is my helper (v.4).  The Lord is the upholder of my life (v.4).  He has delivered me from every trouble (v.7).

The key distinction is v3 – the strangers who rose against David did not set God before themselves; followed by a pause of Selah for meditation.  As Spurgeon says in his Treasury of David:

They have not set God before them. They had no more regard for right and justice than if they knew no God, or cared for none. Had they regarded God they would not have betrayed the innocent to be hunted down like a poor harmless stag. David felt that atheism lay at the bottom of the enmity which pursued him. Good men are hated for God’s sake, and this is a good plea for them to urge in prayer. Selah. As if he said, “Enough of this, let us pause.” He is out of breath with indignation. A sense of wrong bids him suspend the music awhile. It may also be observed, that more pauses would, as a rule, improve our devotions: we are usually too much in a hurry: a little more holy meditation would make our words more suitable and our emotions more fervent.

On meditation – what, however, would be the logical conclusion if the strangers who rose against David do have God before themselves?  The possibility is that God is not with David; the possibility is that David is walking in sin.  Indeed, the rebuking of David by the prophet Nathan certainly points to that truth  (2 Samuel 12).

Yet, the comfort comes from those who do stand with Him; God has — not that He will – but He has delivered David from every trouble.  David claims that victory just as we should; how many times do we claim the kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it has been done in heaven?

This too is a continuation of the theme in Psalm 53 – that only God is good.   That is why salvation is done by His Name, by His might, by His deliverance.  So also those who spit on the Name of Christ face the Father’s wrath; the underlying atheism of the one true Lord the reason for the persecution of His body, His church; all such would lead to the inevitable deliverance that David is claiming.  Do we claim that deliverance on the merit of Christ’s work?  Or do we doubt God’s goodness because of our failures?

 

Book 2: Psalm 54 of 72 – Deliver me by Your Name

Book 2: Psalm 53 of 72 – Only God is good

Psalm 53 follows naturally on from Psalm 52.  “There is no God”, says the fool, as if this fool is the same mighty man described in the opening of Psalm 52.  This fool is corrupt and David describes that “there is none who does good“.  David’s conclusion is sombre – God wishes to see if any of the children of men would understand and seek after Him; but they have all fallen away, together they have become corrupt.  V.3 is his analysis of men: “[t]hey have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

This grim analysis undoubtedly includes himself.

Then David addresses the Anointed One, He who is the promised seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15, and who is the only one who is able to understand and who seeks after God (v.2).  God the Father will scatter the bones of him who encamps against Jesus (v.5).  It is therefore not by man’s hands, but by Jesus the God-man, who will restore the fortunes of his people (v.6).  As Charles Spurgeon comments on this Psalm in his Treasury of David:

“David sees the end of the ungodly, and the ultimate triumph of the spiritual seed. The rebellious march in fury against the gracious, but suddenly they are seized with a causeless panic. The once fearless boasters tremble like the leaves of the aspen, frightened at their own shadows. In this sentence and this verse, this Psalm differs much from the fourteenth. It is evidently expressive of a higher state of realisation in the poet, he emphasises the truth by stronger expressions. Without cause the wicked are alarmed. He who denies God is at bottom a coward, and in his infidelity he is like the boy in the churchyard who “whistles to keep his courage up.” For God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee. When the wicked see the destruction of their fellows they may well quail. Mighty were the hosts which besieged Zion, but they were defeated, and their unburied carcasses proved the prowess of the God whose being they dared to deny. Thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them. God’s people may well look with derision upon their enemies since they are the objects of divine contempt. They scoff at us, but we may with far greater reason laugh them to scorn, because the Lord our God considers them as less than nothing and vanity.”

For who is good?  Jesus answered the ruler in Luke 18, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone“.  Here, David looks to the Son who is good, just like his Father, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Book 2: Psalm 53 of 72 – Only God is good