The title to today’s psalm refers to that time in David’s life when he had to flee for his life because Saul wanted to kill him. And we read in 1 Samuel 21 that Samuel went to a place called Nob, where he asked the priest for food. The priest replied that the only food he had at hand was the consecrated bread which was placed before the Lord in the tabernacle each day and which normally only the priests could eat. However, the priest agreed to give it to David for food; and he helped David in other ways. But then we’re told that this man, Doeg the Edomite, was there. He was Saul’s head shepherd and he saw how the priest helped David. And in 1 Samuel 22, we read that Doeg the Edomite told Saul what the priest had done. When Saul heard what Doeg said, he ordered his soldiers to kill all the priests of Nob, because they had sided with David. The soldiers were unwilling to do what Saul had commanded, but Doeg had no qualms about it and he struck the priests down, killing 85 of them. And he didn’t stop with the priests, but killed the men and women and the children and infants and the animals in the city of Nob.
Some time after that massacre at Nob, David wrote this psalm. And I suppose Doeg became for David a symbol of all evildoers, because in this psalm David contrasts the way of wicked and the way of the righteous. The way of the wicked, as we read back in Psalm 1, will perish; but the Lord will watch over the way of the righteous.
If you read other English translations, you’ll discover that there’s some uncertainty about the correct text for verse 1. For instance, the ESV renders verse 1 as follows:
Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
However, we’ll stick with the NIV, where David asks this mighty man, who is a disgrace in the eyes of God, why does he boast all day long in evil? The phrase ‘mighty men’ is often used in the Old Testament to refer to soldiers who had gained a reputation for being strong and brave. And so, another preacher has suggested that, if David is thinking of Doeg in verse 1, then he’s being sarcastic and scornful. Doeg may have regarded himself as one of Saul’s mighty men, and he may have boasted to his friends about what he had done for Saul at Nob, but he wasn’t really a mighty soldier; and what he did that day to the priests and the people of Nob was only evil. It was nothing to boast about; and instead he should have been ashamed. So, why do you boast all day long of this evil thing you have done?
And then in verses 2 to 4, David describes this wicked person. What are the wicked like? Well, with their tongue, which is like a sharpened razor, they plot destruction. Think of the damage that can be done with a razor in the wrong hands. Well, think now of the damage that the wicked do by the things they say. Again, we can think of Doeg and the damage he did when he told Saul what the priest had done; and how he turned Saul against the priest. But, of course, this psalm applies not just to Doeg, but to all who are wicked and who plot evil.
And the wicked practice deceit, says David at the end of verse 2. And so, they hurt other people by the lies they tell and by the rumours they spread. And look: instead of loving what is good and hating what is evil, they love what is evil. And instead of loving the truth and hating what is false, they love what is false. They love every harmful word and their tongues are deceitful. Well, do you remember last week I mentioned the young Pakistani Christian who was working as a domestic servant. She wanted to leave her job, because her employers were putting her under pressure to convert to Islam. Well, after she said she wanted to leave, they beat her. And then what did they do? They told her parents she had stolen from them. In words, they lied. And then, when her parents began to investigate what had happened, the employers began to accuse the woman’s father of stealing from them as well. And so, we see the harm they did to this young woman and to her family: not only did they beat her, but they told lies to cover up what they did and to get the woman and her family into trouble. And all the time now in the media we hear about fake news and we wonder who can we trust? Who is telling the truth? People lie and deceive to cover up the evil things they have done; and they lie and deceive to get other people into trouble.
But the way of the wicked will perish, because look at verse 5:
Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin.
For now, they might get away with it, but they will not get away with it forever, because there is a God in heaven above who sees all things and who knows all things and he intends to judge the world one day. And so, one day — if the wicked do not repent and seek God’s forgiveness — the wicked will be brought down and demolished like a building when it is turned into a heap of rubble. And one day, the wicked will be snatched up like a piece of litter and discarded And one day, the wicked will be torn from their tent, where they once lived in luxury. And one day, the wicked will be uprooted like a tree which is dug up and thrown onto the fire to burn. For now, the wicked seem to prosper and to do well. They seem to be mighty men who can do what they please; and who is able to stop them? But the psalmist is sure that one day the Lord will judge them and they will be removed from the land of the living to perish forever, away from the presence of the Lord. The day of judgment is coming and there will be no escape for those who continue on in their rebellion and unbelief.
But perhaps the Lord will not wait until the day of judgment; and perhaps he will bring them down to ruin in this life. And if he does, then the righteous will see and they will fear, because they have seen the wrath of God with their own eyes; and it is a fearful thing when anyone falls into the hands of the living God. But the righteous will also laugh, because the judgment has not fallen on them, but on the wicked who did not trust in the Lord, but who trusted in their great wealth and who grew strong by destroying other people. So, the righteous are laughing for joy, because the person who was oppressed them has been brought down by God; and this self-made man, this self-sufficient man, who trusted in his wealth and power, has been reduced to nothing. God has judged this wicked man and he has delivered his people from their misery. And so, they laugh for joy.
The way of the wicked will perish. This wicked man — who plotted evil and who hurt other people with his lies and who trusted in himself — will perish. But what about the righteous? Well, we learn three things about the righteous in verses 8 and 9.
Firstly, they are like an olive tree, flourishing in the house of the Lord. So, whereas the wicked will be rooted up, the righteous will be firmly planted. Olives trees are known for their long life and for the fruit they produce which is good for food and which has many other uses. And so, the psalmist likens himself to an olive tree in the house of the Lord. And he’s using this image to convey the idea that the righteous can expect a long and fruitful life in the presence of the Lord.
Secondly, the righteous trust in the Lord and in his unfailing love. This is God’s covenant love, his never-ending love for his people. Do you remember the end of Psalm 23 where the psalmist says that God’s goodness and love will follow him all the days of his life. So, no matter what we face in this life, whatever troubles and trials and sorrow we experience, we know that God’s goodness and his unfailing love are following us, pursuing us; and we can therefore always count on him to help us. Or think of Lamentations 3, where the writer laments before the Lord, because of all the terrible things that have happened. But then he says:
But this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope….
What does he call to mind?
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end.
The righteous person trusts in God’s steadfast, unfailing, covenant love for his people.
And thirdly, the righteous person praises God. David writes in verse 9:
I will praise you for ever for what you have done…
I will praise you in the presence of your saints.
This is a vow to praise God for what God has done. What has God done? Well, when David wrote the psalm, the Lord hadn’t yet done what the psalmist was hoping he would do. He was hoping that God would tear down this wicked man and demolish him. That’s what he said in verse 5: ‘Surely God will do this.’ And he’s so confident that God will do it, that he vows at the end of the psalm to praise God for it. And he’s looking forward to the day when he will join the rest of God’s people in the house of the Lord to praise him. And so, the righteous praise the Lord and give thanks to him for all that he has done for us.
The way of the wicked will perish. But the righteous will be like an olive tree, flourishing in the house of the Lord, because the righteous will live forever in God’s presence. In this life, we may suffer all kinds of trials and tribulations, because in this life there are many who are wicked and who hate the Lord’s people and who will oppress us. But in this life, we can rely on God’s unfailing love to help us; and when this life is over, we will come into the presence of the Lord, to praise him forever with all his saints, and we will never have to leave, but will be with him forever.
And we are declared righteous in God’s sight through faith in Jesus Christ. David and all of God’s people in the Old Testament were sinners. They broke God’s laws and commandments in thought and word and deed. They too did wicked things and they deserved to perish just like the wicked. But the difference between the righteous and the wicked is that the righteous confessed their sins to the Lord and brought their sacrifices to him, sacrifices which foreshadowed the Saviour who was to come to pay for their sins and to cleanse them from their guilt.
And we too are sinners who break God’s laws and commandments in thought and word and deed. We too do wicked things and we deserve to perish just like the wicked. But we are declared righteous in God’s sight by trusting in the Saviour who has come and who laid down his life as the ransom for sins and who shed his blood to cleanse us. Through faith in him, we are pardoned by God and accepted as righteous in his sight. And now that we have peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ, we can look forward to coming into the presence of the Lord in the life to come; and everyday we can trust in his unfailing love to help us in this life; and we should praise him continually in anticipation of the day when we will praise him forever in glory.