I began last week by saying that last week’s psalm was yet another psalm of lament. Well, today’s psalm is yet another psalm of lament, when the psalmist calls on the Lord for help because of the trouble he’s in. And like last week’s psalm, Psalm 57 ends with a vow to praise the Lord. The psalmist will praise the Lord among the nations and he will sing of the Lord among the peoples. He will praise the Lord and sing to him, because he knows the Lord will hear and answer his cry for help.
The title of the psalm says it’s a psalm of David and is connected to a time when he fled from Saul into the cave. So, Saul became jealous of David and wanted to kill him. In 1 Samuel 18, we read how he hurled a spear at David in order to pin him to the wall. 1 Samuel 19 begins with Saul telling Jonathan and all his attendants to kill David. And later in the same chapter, we read that once more Saul tried to kill David with a spear. He then sent men to David’s house in the night to kill him while he slept. David escaped, but in chapter 20 he said to Jonathan that there was only a step between David and death. He was one step away from death. And so, he fled for his life and in chapter 22 we read how he came to the cave of A-dullam. And presumably that time — when he had to hide in the cave from Saul who wanted to kill him — was the inspiration for this psalm.
The psalm can be divided into two parts: verses 1 to 5 and verses 6 to 11. In the first part, he cries to the Lord for help. And in the second part, he praises the Lord for saving him. So, let’s look at both parts now.
Verses 1 to 5
Last week’s psalm began with a cry for mercy, but this psalm begins with a twofold cry for mercy:
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.
He’s calling on the Lord for mercy and for help. And he adds that he has taken refuge in the Lord. So, imagine David hiding in that cave. For the time being, so long as he remains in the cave, he’s safe. However, he won’t be able to stay in the cave forever. He can’t live their permanently. Eventually he’ll have to leave the cave and move on somewhere else. So, that cave can only offer him temporary refuge. And, of course, you can’t live in a cave. You live in the world, with all it’s trouble and trials and sorrow and suffering. But, while we can’t live in a cave, we know — as David knew — that we can always trust in the Lord to be our refuge and strength at all times. We can count on the Lord to protect us and to defend on all occasions. The Lord will always surround us and be our fortress and high tower. So, David would have to leave the cave one day; but he never has to leave the Lord, because the Lord is always his refuge and he’s always your refuge.
And in the second part of verse 1, David uses the image of a mother bird, enfolding her young in her wings to convey the idea of how we can hide ourselves under the protective care of the Lord our God:
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
That Hebrew word translated ‘disaster’ in verse 1 is used in Job 6 to refer to the calamity which fell on Job. So, think of the disaster that fell on Job and all the sorrow and suffering he experienced. Well, David was facing something similar because of Saul’s hatred. And the words ‘has passed’ make us think of a storm which comes our way and causes devastation and destruction until it passes and moves on somewhere else.
On the one hand, David is describing the trouble he’s in. It’s like the raging of a storm. It’s like the calamities which fell on Job. Disaster and trouble have come upon him just as they come upon us. But then, on the other hand, David confesses his faith in the Lord. The Lord is his refuge. And the Lord will protect him the way a mother bird protects her young. He trusts in the Lord; and we should trust in him too.
And so, David cries out in verses 2 and 3 to the Lord who is ‘God Most High’. Since he’s God Most High, then he rules and reigns over all things in heaven and on earth. And from his heavenly throne, he sends down upon David his love and his faithfulness in order to save David. The word translated ‘love’ is that Hebrew word which denotes God’s covenant love, his steadfast love, his never-ending love for his people. And the word ‘faithfulness’ is another covenant word, because it means that God is faithful to all his promises to his covenant people. Hasn’t he promised to be their God forever? Hasn’t he promised never to leave them? Hasn’t he promised to treat them as his treasured possession? Hasn’t he promised all of these things and more besides? Well, the Lord will be faithful to all his promises to all of his people.
And David depicts God’s steadfast love and faithfulness as if they were messengers, sent from God in heaven to his people here on earth. You’re in trouble. You’re facing disaster. You’re facing danger. He’s my Steadfast Love, sent to save you. He’s my Faithfulness, sent to do you good. He sends from heaven and saves his people on earth. And at the same time, he rebuked those who hotly pursued David. Saul was pursuing David; but David trusted the Lord to rebuke Saul and to save him.
And before moving on to verses 4 and 5, notice what else David says about the Lord in verse 2: He is the Most High God who fulfils his purpose for me. The NIV puts those little brackets around the word ‘purpose’ because the word ‘purpose’ is not there in the Hebrew text. However, the translators have added it to make sense of the line which literally says:
God who fulfils for me.
What does God fulfil for me? He fulfils his purpose or his plan for me, doesn’t he? And isn’t that interesting? David was being pursued by Saul; his life was in danger; he had to hide away in a cave. And yet, in the midst of his trouble, David was aware that God was would working out his plans and purposes for David. And that’s something for you to remember whenever you face troubles and trials and sorrow and suffering and when you’re wondering what is going on and why are these things happening to you. Why are these things happening to you? Well, it’s because God is working out his plans for you and he’s using the circumstances of your life to fulfil his purposes for you. And his plans and his purposes for his people are always good and right, aren’t they? He’s plans and purposes are always shaped and determined by his love for his people. And so, we trust that whatever we’re going through is somehow necessary for us, because God uses all our experiences to fulfil his purpose for us.
And look what David was going through. In verse 4 he says that he was in the midst of lions and ravenous beasts. He’s comparing Saul and all his enemies to wild animals who want to devour him. And he depicts their teeth as spears and arrows and their tongues are like sharp swords. Their teeth and tongues probably refer to what they say. And so, their words are like weapons which are aimed at hurting him. And yet, David believes that the Lord is with him as his refuge and the Lord is working out his plans for him and the Lord will send his steadfast love and faithfulness to save David.
And in verse 5, David prays to the Lord to be exalted above the heavens and to let his glory be over all the earth. He’s asking the Lord to act in such a way that his glory will be displayed through all the earth. Why does God do what he does? When I was in Naas, I used to teach RE lessons in one of the local primary schools. And the children were always asking questions. And often they wanted to know: Why? Why did God do this? Why did God do that? Why? And very often the only answer I could give was: For his own glory.
Why does God do what he does? He does it for his own glory: to make known his glory throughout the world so that people will worship him. When David was speaking to Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, he said to the giant that he, David, would give the bodies of the Philistines to the birds and beasts and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. Why did the Lord help David to kill Goliath? He did it for his own glory so that all the world will see what a great God he is. And so, in this psalm, David asked the Lord to rebuke his enemies and to save him in order to display to all the world his glory and his greatness.
Verses 6 to 11
In verse 6, David describes his enemies once again. They spread a net and dug a pit to capture him. But look: they have fallen into it themselves. Perhaps they’ve already fallen into it and David is describing something that has already happened. Or perhaps he’s thinking of something that will happen in the future, but he’s so confident about it and he’s so sure it will happen that he speaks of it as if it’s already happened. In any case, according to verse 7, David’s heart is steadfast. He means that he’s committed to the Lord and loyal to him. His love for the Lord and devotion to him is steadfast. It’s firmly fixed.
And he vows to sing and to make music to the Lord in praise of him. He exhorts himself to wake up as if he had been sleeping and to praise the Lord with harp and lyre. He says he will awaken the dawn, which perhaps means he will get up early to praise the Lord. And he wants to praise the Lord among the nations and to sing of God’s glory among the peoples of the world. He wants people everywhere to know how great and glorious is his God, because God’s love is great and reaches to the heavens and his faithfulness reaches to the skies. He’s again referring to God’s covenant love and faithfulness. God’s covenant people at the time when this psalm was written were the people of Israel. They alone of all the people of the world were God’s special, chosen people. Yet David wanted to declare to the world what the Lord was like and how he loved his people with a steadfast, never-ending, never-changing love. And so, he repeats the refrain from verse 5:
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
let your glory be over all the earth.
Display your glory and greatness to all the world.
Those two covenant words — God’s steadfast love and his faithfulness — remind us once again of God’s commitment to his people. He has bound himself to his people with a promise to be our God and to take care of us. And as part of God’s covenant with his people was his promise to send his Son into the world as one of us to give up his life to pay for our sins and to make peace for us with God. And so, because of Christ who has reconciled us to God, we may look to God for help and strength and we can expect good things from him. And so, we’re able to cry to him as David did for mercy and help. And we’re able to take refuge in him and to look to him to protect us from evil and to keep us safe when the storms pass by. We’re able to cry out to the Most High God, knowing that for the sake of Christ the Most High God is our heavenly Father. And we know that his purposes and plans for us are always good, because whatever enmity there once existed between us has been removed by Christ. Instead of expecting God to send down his wrath and curse on us, because of our many sins, we can expect him to send down on us his love and faithfulness. We can always expect good things from the Lord, because of Christ our Saviour and Mediator who died to reconcile us to God. And so, we should be like David and give thanks to the Lord and praise his name always.
And David’s prayer in verses 5 and 11 for God to be exalted above the heavens and to let his glory be over all the earth is fulfilled in the worldwide mission of the church to declare to all nations the wonderful works of God. From his throne in heaven, the Lord Jesus continues to send out preachers into all the world to declare to everyone the glorious riches of God’s grace and his willingness to save everyone who turns from their sins in repentance and who trusts in Christ for salvation. The God who saved David from his enemies and gave him life and peace in the land of Canaan is willing to save sinners everywhere from their sin and misery and to give them everlasting life and peace in the Promised Land to come — to the praise of his glorious grace.