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Psalm 59 - A Prayer for Deliverance
For the director of music.
To the tune of “Do Not Destroy”. Of David. A miktam.
When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.
1Deliver me from my enemies, O God;
protect me from those who rise up against me.
2Deliver me from evildoers
and save me from bloodthirsty men.
3See how they lie in wait for me!
Fierce men conspire against me
for no offense or sin of mine, O Lord.
4I have done no wrong,
yet they are ready to attack me.
Arise to help me; look on my plight!
5O Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel,
rouse Yourself to punish all the nations;
show no mercy to wicked traitors. Selah
6They return at evening, snarling like dogs,
and prowl about the city.
7See what they spew from their mouths—
they spew out swords from their lips,
and they say, “Who can hear us?”
8But You, O Lord, laugh at them;
You scoff at all those nations.
9O my Strength, I watch for You;
You, O God, are my fortress, 10my loving God.
God will go before me and will let me gloat over
those who slander me.
11But do not kill them, O Lord our shield,
or my people will forget.
In Your might make them wander about,
and bring them down.
12For the sins of their mouths,
for the words of their lips,
let them be caught in their pride.
For the curses and lies they utter,
13consume them in wrath,
consume them till they are no more.
Then it will be known to the ends of the earth
that God rules over Jacob. Selah
14They return at evening, snarling like dogs,
and prowl about the city.
15They wander about for food
and howl if not satisfied.
16But I will sing of Your strength,
in the morning I will sing of Your love;
for You are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble.
17O my Strength, I sing praise to You;
You, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.”
As stated in the inscription, the occasion of this psalm was “when Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.” This episode is found in I Sam. 19:11ff. In it, David’s wife, and Saul’s daughter, Michal heard that Saul was sending men to kill David. She helped David escape by letting him out a window. This episode marked the beginning of David’s long ordeal of fleeing from Saul. The many events that occurred while David fled from Saul inspired many a psalm. “Strange that the painful events in David’s life should end in enriching the repertoire of the national minstrelsy. Out of a sour, ungenerous soil spring up the honey bearing flowers of psalmody. Had he never been cruelly hunted by Saul, Israel and the church of God in after ages would have missed this song. The music of the sanctuary is in no small degree indebted to the trials of the saints. Affliction is the turner of the harps of sanctified songsters” [Spurgeon].
As is so many of these psalms which are inspired by desperate situations, this one is a prayer: “Deliver me from my enemies, O God; protect me from those who rise up against me. Deliver me from evildoers and save me from bloodthirsty men” (vss. 1–2). “Desperate-like dangers, arising from the power and craftiness of enemies, must not discourage the godly, but sharpen their prayer to God, with whom are power and wisdom to deliver them” [Dickson, 350]. David’s enemies were “bloodthirsty men” and “evildoers”, which made them not only enemies of David, but also enemies of God. “Saul had more cause to fear than David had, for the invincible weapon of prayer was being used against him, and heaven was being aroused to give him battle” [Henry].
David describes the situation: “See how they lie in wait for me! Fierce men conspire against me for no offense or sin of mine, O Lord” (vs. 4). They “lie in wait” like a beast would for its prey. “While the enemy lies waiting in the posture of a beast, we wait before God in the posture of prayer” [Spurgeon]. They are “fierce men”, who “conspire”: they are zealous in their evil deeds. “The zeal and diligence of the wicked in the cause of unrighteousness might well reprove the languor and tardiness of saints in the work of faith and labor of love” [Plumer, 610].
David speaks of his own blamelessness: “I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me. Arise to help me; look on my plight!” (vs. 4). David, of course, is not claiming sinlessness in all things, but he is asserting his innocence in this situation. On this basis, he cries out to God, “Arise to help me.” “The basest deceivers and the worst criminals are so much in the habit of making solemn protestations of innocence, that an assertion of our freedom from criminality has with many very little weight. Yet to the innocent it is an unspeakable consolation to be able to deny every charge; and before God in prayer the argument of injured innocence has prodigious power” [Plumer, 606]. “We shall always find it to be a great thing to be innocent; if it does not carry our cause before an earthly tribunal, it will ever prove the best of arguments in the court of conscience, and a standing consolation when we are under persecution” [Spurgeon]. Note, though, that in this fallen world, David’s innocence does not keep him out of trouble, nor away from persecution. “Though our innocency will not secure us from troubles, yet it will greatly support and comfort us under our troubles” [Spurgeon]. And indeed, “when we suffer for well-doing, we are conformed to our Redeemer, and have an evidence of our acceptance with God. We should indeed greatly fear suffering as ‘evil doers, or busy-bodies in other men’s matters’ (I Pet. 4:15); but we ought not to be either afraid or ashamed of the hatred of the workers of iniquity” [Plumer, 610].
Though David has done no wrong, “yet” his enemies stand poised to attack him. In his innocence, they attack him for nothing, for no earthly reason. What a waste of human effort!
David cries out for justice: “Arise to help me; look on my plight! O Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, rouse Yourself to punish all the nations; show no mercy to wicked traitors” (vss. 4–5). At times, when we pray, we speak to God as if He were asleep, completely clueless to our plight. “Arise”, says David, “Rouse Yourself.” But God is not asleep, and He is aware of our troubles, and He will bring His salvation and execute His justice in His time. “The Lord will let the plot go on, and the danger of the godly grow, as if He minded not to take notice of it, that He may first put His children to prayer, and then appear in the fit time” [Dickson, 350].
David cries out to God as the “Lord God Almighty” and “the God of Israel.” The name “God Almighty” implies “the boundless resources which He has at command for His people’s good.” [JFB, 227]. The name “God of Israel” implies the willingness with which He will use these resources for His people’s good.
Just as there was something beast-like in David’s enemies lying in wait for him, so also was there something beast-like in their doing their deeds by night: “They return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city” (vs. 6). “Ordinary laborers quit work in the evening. Although David’s foes were not idle during the day, yet like dogs, which infest oriental cities, they renewed with great eagerness their pursuit of him at night when honest men commonly went to sleep” [Plumer, 607].
They mistakenly think that, by night, no one will see their evil deeds: “See what they spew from their mouths—they spew out swords from their lips, and they say, ‘Who can hear us?’ But You, O Lord, laugh at them; You scoff at all those nations” (vss. 7–8). God not only sees their evil deeds, He mocks them.
As his enemies scheme, David waits for the Lord’s deliverance: “O my Strength, I watch for You; You, O God, are my fortress, my loving God” (vss. 9–10). As his enemies watch for him in their ambush, David “watches” for God. He resolves to wait for God’s deliverance. Moreover, he expects God’s work of salvation: “God will go before me and will let me gloat over those who slander me” (vs. 10). And why should we not expect God’s work of salvation. “To God no set of circumstances creates a crisis, an emergency, or an exigency. He is eternally and infinitely calm” [Plumer, 611].
David wants the punishment of his enemies to be a long-term reminder to the people: “But do not kill them, O Lord our shield, or my people will forget. In Your might make the wander about, and bring them down” (vs. 11). “Swift destructions startle men for the present, but they are soon forgotten, for which reason he prays that this might be gradual” [Henry].
Not only for their actions, but also for their words do they deserve punishment: “For the sins of their mouths, for the words of their lips, let them be caught in their pride. For the curses and lies they utter, consume them in wrath, consume them till they are no more. Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob” (vss. 12–13).
David’s enemies do not stumble into evil; rather they crave evil like hungry beasts crave food: “They return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city. They wander about for food and howl if not satisfied” (vss. 14–15). Their craving for evil is contrasted by David’s craving to worship the Lord, as he anticipates his deliverance: “But I will sing of Your strength, in the morning I will sing of Your love; for You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I sing praise to You; You, O God, are my fortress, my loving God” (vss. 16–17). Note that David will praise God for His strength and love. For the saints, both attributes are valuable. “Power, without mercy, is to be dreaded; mercy, without power, is not what a man can expect much benefit from; but God’s power by which He is able to help us, and His mercy by which He is inclined to help us, will justly be the everlasting praise of all the saints” [Henry].