Today’s psalm begins with the psalmist crying to God to save him, because ruthless strangers are attacking the psalmist. Then, in the middle of the psalm, the psalmist expresses his confidence in the Lord. And at the end, the psalmist makes a vow to give thanks to the Lord for delivering him from his troubles.
The title of the psalm tells us that it’s a psalm of David and was written in connection to the time when the Ziphites betrayed David to Saul. The background is 1 Samuel 23, where we read that Saul summoned his men to go down to a city called Keilah where David was; and Saul and his men were going to besiege the city, because Saul wanted to capture and kill David. After seeking guidance from the Lord, David and his men decided to leave Keilah and they went from place to place in an effort to elude capture. And we read that he hid in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. And the Ziphites went to Saul and told him that David was hiding where they lived. Saul asked them to keep an eye on David and to let Saul know where all his hiding-places are. And they agreed. And then we read how David and his men were going along one side of a mountain; and Saul and his men were going along the other side. And Saul and his men were closing in on David to capture him.
And so, that’s the background to today’s psalm. The Ziphites have betrayed David; and his life is in danger, because of Saul and his men. There’s no one who can help him, apart from the Lord his God. And so, he turns to God in prayer and cries to him for help.
Verses 1 to 3
And so, in verse 1 he cries out to God: Save me. And vindicate me. He wants the Lord to deliver him from his enemies who are pursing him. And he wants the Lord to vindicate him and therefore to make clear that David is innocent and has done nothing wrong. King Saul may have been pursing him, but it wasn’t because he was a lawbreaker and criminal. He was an innocent man who did not deserve to be treated this way. And David refers to God’s name and to his might:
Save me … by your name;
vindicate me by your might.
When he refers to God’s name, he’s referring to God’s character and to how God has revealed himself to be a God who is faithful to his promises to save his people; and he’s revealed himself to be a God who is mighty and powerful and able to vindicate his people.
So, David prays for salvation and vindication; and he pleads with the Lord in verse 2 to hear his prayer and to listen to the words of his mouth. He’s in a dire situation and Saul and his men are closing in on him and he’s sure to be captured unless the Lord hears his prayers and saves him.
‘Strangers are attacking me’, he says in verse 3. The word for strangers often refers to foreigners, but in this case, David is referring to Saul and his men and perhaps also to the Ziphites. But David’s enemies were not foreigners, but fellow Israelites. However, in a sense they were strangers to David, because they were against him. And David describes his pursuers as ruthless men who were seeking his life. Saul wanted to capture and to kill David; and as we saw when we studied Psalm 52, Saul was ruthless enough to kill anyone who supported David. And the third thing David says about his pursuers in verse 3 is that they were men without regard for God. Saul, who was the king of Israel at that time, was meant to keep the command of the Lord and to do his will here on earth. But by this stage in his life, he had no interest in doing the will of the Lord. Instead of seeking first God’s kingdom, he was self-seeking and selfish.
Verses 4 and 5
David cries to the Lord to save him from these ruthless enemies who want to capture and kill him. And then we come to verses 4 and 5 where David expresses his confidence in the Lord:
Surely God is my help.
Behold! God is my helper.
Is he talking to himself or to his men who are with him? Perhaps they’re afraid and he wants to encourage them. And so, he says: Behold! Look! God is my helper.
Sometimes when we think of a helper, we think of a home-help who comes in and cleans the house. We could do it ourselves; but we don’t have the time and we pay someone to do it for us. Or we ask the children to help out around the house. Again, we could do it ourselves, but it’s important to encourage the children to be helpful. So, we might think of a helper as someone who lends a hand, but isn’t really necessary or essential. However, that’s not what we’re talking about here. We should think of a person who is drowning in the sea and who comes up for air and shouts as loudly as possible: ‘Help!’ The person is drowning. He could die. And he can’t save himself. Is there anyone who can help him? And David and his men are in trouble, because Saul and an army of ruthless men are closing in on them. They could die and they can’t save themselves, because they’re not strong enough. But behold! Look! God is my helper, he will come and save me from death. He is the one who will sustain me and therefore I can rely on him; I can lean on him.
And ‘let evil recoil on those who slander me’. That’s in verse 5. One of the commentators refers to the ‘boomerang effect’ of sin. People think they will get away with evil, but just as a boomerang eventually returns to the person who threw it, so the Lord will ensure that what a wicked person does will eventually come back on them and they will suffer the penalty for what they have done. So, David trusts the Lord to help him and to uphold him and to repay his enemies for what they have done. And he trusts the Lord to do this, because of the Lord’s faithfulness. The Lord is faithful; and he has bound himself with a promise to take care of his people.
Verses 6 and 7
And so, in the first part of the psalm, he asked the Lord to save him from his enemies. In the second part, he expressed his confidence in the Lord who is faithful. And in the third part, he vows to give thanks to the Lord. He will sacrifice a freewill offering. When God’s people sinned in Old Testament times, they were required to bring an offering. They had to bring it to seek God’s forgiveness. But they could also bring a voluntary offering, an offering they were under no obligation to bring, but one they wanted to offer willingly to demonstrate their gratitude to God. And so, the psalmist promises to bring such an offering to the Lord, because ‘he has delivered me from all my troubles and my eyes have looked on triumph on my foes.’
In 1 Samuel 23, Saul and his men were closing in on David and his men. It looked as if it was curtains for David. There was nothing he could do to save himself and they weren’t able to escape. But then, as Saul and his men were closing in on David, a messenger came to Saul telling him to come quickly because the Philistines were raiding the land. And so, Saul was forced to break off his pursuit of David in order to deal with the Philistines. And so, David and his men were saved by this providential intervention by the Lord. Little wonder he wanted to praise the Lord and give thanks to him, because the Lord had heard him and saved him from these ruthless enemies who wanted to kill him.
And David could count on God, and we can count on God, because the God who rules over all things in heaven and on earth is the Lord, who has bound himself to his people with a promise to be their God and to take care of them always. And though we are sinners, who sin against the Lord continually and who deserve his wrath and curse, nevertheless the Lord our God is gracious and merciful and he appointed his Son to be the mediator between us. And as our mediator, Jesus Christ came into the world as one of us; and he has paid for our sins by his death on the cross; and he has established a lasting peace between us, so that God will never treat us as his enemies, but he will always treat us as his children. And therefore, as his children, we can cry out to him whenever we face ruthless enemies. And we will face ruthless enemies, because there are many in the world who do not believe and who are enemies of God and his people and they will despise us and they may oppress us and persecute us for righteousness’ sake. But when we face ruthless enemies who have no regard for God, we can trust in God our Father to help us, because Christ our Saviour has reconciled us to God by his death on the cross. And we can trust in God our Father to help us in whatever trials and troubles we face, including the current coronavirus crisis. Though those who do not believe are anxious and afraid, because there’s no one to help them; we know that we can look to the Lord to help us and to sustain us. He is not our enemy who hates us, but is our God and our Father and he loves and cares for us.
And if ever you doubt God our Father’s ability to save us, all you need to do is remember that Jesus Christ our Mediator faced ruthless enemies, who not only sought to take his life, but who took his life when they nailed him to the cross. But God the Father vindicated his Son by raising him from the dead and by exalting him to the highest place, where he’s able to look upon his enemies in triumph. God our Father saved his Son; and he’s therefore able to save you, no matter who troubles and trials and dangers you may face. And so, thanks be to God for his kindness to us in Christ Jesus and for being our helper always.