How To Respond When The World Totters - Psalm 59
Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me; 2 deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men.
3 For behold, they lie in wait for my life; fierce men stir up strife against me. For no transgression or sin of mine, O Lord, 4 for no fault of mine, they run and make ready. Awake, come to meet me, and see! 5 You, Lord God of hosts, are God of Israel. Rouse yourself to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah
6 Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city. 7 There they are, bellowing with their mouths with swords in their lips— for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”
8 But you, O Lord, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision. 9 O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. 10 My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.
11 Kill them not, lest my people forget; make them totter by your power and bring them down, O Lord, our shield! 12 For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter, 13 consume them in wrath; consume them till they are no more, that they may know that God rules over Jacob to the ends of the earth. Selah
14 Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city. 15 They wander about for food and growl if they do not get their fill.
16 But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. 17 O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.
Dr. Nichols of Ligonier, used two stories to contrast how godly people can respond during times of chaos. His first example was about Jerome who lived around 420 AD when the Barbarians were attacking Rome. Jerome was a scholar who translated the scriptures into Latin which was the common language of the people. When Rome started to crumble he spent the last years of his life hiding in a cave believing that all had been lost. His heart was overwhelmed and confounded by the fact that the great Roman Empire was crumbling before his eyes.
Dr. Nichols then contrasted Jerome’s response with the reaction of Augustine who was also living through those same events. Augustine saw that Rome would soon fall; but instead of going to hide in a cave he sat down and wrote a book that is called, ‘The City of God’. It is a book that contrasted the chaos of this world with the stability of the ‘City of God’ in heaven.
Augustine’s book begins with these words, “This is a great (long) work, its arduous; this, which raises us, not by human arrogance, but by a divine grace, above all earthly dignities that totter.”(v.11) In the midst of the chaos of his day Augustine wanted his thoughts and his attention to be raised above the turmoil of this world and placed upon something that was more solid.
At the end of the book Augustine says, “How great shall be that happiness which shall be tainted with no evil, which shall lack no good, and which shall afford leisure for the praise of God who shall be all in all. There shall be enjoyment of beauty. True honor shall be there. True peace shall be there. God Himself, who is the author of all virtue, shall be there and shall be its reward.”
Dr. Nichols finishes by saying, “Augustine could have this perspective about what was going on in Rome, and the collapse of the Roman Empire, because he had his confidence in the right place. Jerome goes off, when he senses the sands begin to shift beneath him, because he has his confidence in the wrong place.”
Having our confidence in the right thing is not always easy to do is it? So often our feelings can quickly shift when we experience the highs and lows of life. Perhaps some of us have experienced this during 2020 as we have experienced COVID19, financial pressures, a very intense political season, and during all of the social unrest that we see.
King David experienced this sort of thing in his life. God had anointed him to be king over Israel but He had not yet established David upon the throne. Saul, was still the king of Israel and with each passing day he became more jealous and paranoid of David. At one point, Saul sent men to watch the house of David so that they could kill him. We see this in the heading of this psalm. We read, “To the choirmaster: according to ‘Do Not Destroy’. A Miktam of David, when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him.”
Because of all of this, David cries out to God in the opening verses for God to deliver him, to save him and to protect him. He says in Psalm 59:12, “Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me; deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men.”
Saul’s reaction towards David was not the result of any sin or wrongdoing on David’s part. He says, “Behold, they lie in wait for my life; fierce men stir up strife against me. For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD, for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.” (Psalm 59:3-4)
David describes these enemies in verses 1-2 as those who have risen up against him, who intend to work evil against hi, and as men who are bloodthirsty.
Saul has sent his very best warriors to kill David. They have risen up against David and have stirred up strife as they plot evil. We see this in Psalm 59:3-4, “For behold, they lie in wait for my life; fierce men stir up strife against me...spare none of those who treacherously plot evil.” This scene is dramatic, chaotic and intense.
David’s enemies are also persistent. They have no intent of giving up and nor do they attempt to hide their intentions against David. Day and night his life is in danger. Twice in this psalm David says, “Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city.” (v. 6,14) As a result of this David is under the constant threat of attack and he always feels the pressure of these men who are plotting against him. The pressure is unrelenting. In the darkness of night David is unable to rest because he hears their threats like a pack of ravenous dogs who roam the countryside.
These men are loud, arrogant, prideful and destructive. David says, “There they are, bellowing with their mouths with swords in their lips - for ‘Who,’ they think, ‘will hear us’”. (v.7) And he says, “They wander about for food and growl if they do not get their fill.” (v.15)
Because of these things, David’s world seems to be tottering like Rome before the Barbarians.
Where was David to find comfort?
How was David going to find hope in this desperate situation?
How would David have the strength to endure such a long and intense season in his life?
What good could possibly come out of this experience?
Even though David’s world was tottering, David was not going to go hide in a cave for the remainder of his days as Jerome had done. He says, “O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. My God in His steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.” (vv.9-10) Like Augustine, David sets his gaze upon the LORD.
In this moment that weakened his strength of heart David confesses that the LORD is his strength. Twice in this psalm we see David refer to the LORD by the name ‘Strength’. (9,16-17) Last week in Ephesians 6:10 which says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” Here in Psalm 59 David is giving us an example that we can follow.
David prays to the Lord and asks that He would come and see what was going on all around him. He asked that the Lord would arise and punish all the nations and spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. We read, “For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD, for no fault of mine, they run and make ready. Awake, come to meet me, and see! You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel. Rouse yourself to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil.” (v.4-5)
Through all of this David remains full of hope as he declares in verses 16-17, “But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.”
During this long trial, David has seen that the steadfast love of the Lord has been by his side all along. He says, “For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress”.
This reminds us that even in the our greatest time of despair and need God provides for us many graces for our comfort. Spurgeon writes, “David always found a friend to help him when his case was particularly dangerous, and that friend was in his enemy’s household; in this instance it was Michal, Saul’s daughter, as on former occasions it had been Jonathan, Saul’s son.” As comforting as these graces are to David, there is no substitute for having the presence of the Lord in his life during such times. Nor should we substitute being with the LORD and sheltering in Him for any other comfort or support.
Paul also speaks of this in 2 Timothy 4:14-18, “Alexander the copper-smith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand with me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lions mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Yet, in this psalm David prays something that sounds somewhat strange to my ears. David desires to see his deliverance to be a process through which he and his people will grow.
David could have prayed that the Lord would immediately remove this affliction from him. He could have asked that these men be quickly and decisively defeated in one fell swoop. Yet, this is not how he prays. He does not ask for their rapid and hasty removal; rather, he prays that over a longer period of time they would be removed. We see this in verse 11, “Kill them not, lest my people forget; make them totter by your power and bring them down, O Lord, our shield!”
Like Jesus’ disciples, we want to call down fire upon our enemies and see their demise come quickly. However, David sees value in letting his enemies be slowly removed from before him. Their actions deserve to be judged from the Lord. Yet, David prays for a process through which God’s people will benefit.
Why would David pray such a thing? We know that this process accomplishes two things concerning God’s enemies.
First, it allows them time to repent. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Secondly, it allows them to continue in their sin heaping up judgment against themselves. Consider 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7, “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering – since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.”
David prays a very different kind of prayer than I so often bring before the LORD. He says, “Kill them not, lest my people forget; make them totter by your power and bring them down, O Lord, our shield! For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter, consume them in wrath; consume them till they are no more, that they may know that God rules over Jacob to the ends of the earth.” (59:11-13)
Matthew Henry spoke about this verse saying, “If the execution be soon done, the impressions of it will not be kept, and therefore will not be durable, but will quickly wear off. Swift destruction's startle men for the present, but they are soon forgotten, for which reason he prays that this might be gradual.”.
No one has to convince a soldier to cling to God during the midst of a battle - even if victory is assured. Yet, when the battle is over a soldier can quickly forget about the most important things.
Joshua knew this to be a real threat for the people of Israel when they settled in the Promised Land after they took possession of their inheritance. Joshua said to them, “And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers, as He promised them. Therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan.” Then he gives them this warning, “Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and to cling to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul”. (Joshua 22:4-5)
In Psalm 59, David’s world tottered and he sheltered in the LORD. Like David, when Rome tottered Augustine placed his confidence in the LORD and received great strength. By contrast, when Rome tottered Jerome hid in a cave and his soul became distraught.
As we face chaos, confusion and conflict in our lives we have a choice to make. When we see in Ephesians 6 that the Christian is engaged in a long battle we realize that we need to respond appropriately.
Will we respond like David and Augustine, or will we respond like Jerome? Troubles are to expected in our lives. (John 16:33 - I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.)
David has taught us in this psalm that the Lord accomplishes things in us when we go through such things. We all want them to be done quickly but it is comforting to know that God draws us close to Him when the battle rages. So do not be alarmed by this process. Look to the Lord for Strength, shelter in Him, and take refuge in the LORD.
Throughout this process God will seek to do the following:
To see if we will live by faith.
To teach us patience in the process.
To discover the blessing and grace that is contained in the chaos.
To stir up our zeal for the LORD and dependence upon Him.
To cultivate our appreciation for His presence in such times.
To test the disposition of our hearts. To see what we say and how we will act.