[ Note: I have approached this Psalm in a little different format. The comments come before the actual verse or verses of focus. I think it might help to prepare you regarding the content of the verse before you read it and also it is easier to read my comments and compare them to the verse itself. This way you are not always scrolling up and down the page in the event that you want to check out the verse for yourself.]
These first words are, of course, instructions to the music leader, but it also gives us a hint regarding the situation surrounding the writing of the Psalm. Cush is described as a member of the tribe of Benjamin. One source says that Cush is indeed a follower of Saul and is an actual individual. Another source holds that it is not a personal name, but rather it is a name that David uses to describe the whole of Saul’s followers.
Shiggaion of David, which he sang unto the LORD, concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite.
David begins by acclaiming God as his God and announces the trust he has in God. The verse continues, describing the reason for his composition of this Psalm: persecution. This seems to be a problem that David had – at least as far as the Psalms are concerned – it seems someone was always out to get him in one way or another. I think when we look at his life and reign as king we see this to be true. He had many good and peaceful years, but he also had problems with those over whom he ruled.
When God removed Saul from the throne and gave it to David, there were many people in the kingdom that resented David’s ascent. Loyalists to Saul, even after Saul was dead and David was on the throne, tried to usurp his authority, if not directly through violence, then by trying to trap him through their words. Another point of contention with the Israelites could be that David was the one who united the Northern Tribes and the Southern Tribes, setting Jerusalem as the seat of the kingdom which is situated on what was the border between the two kingdoms. Before David’s rule, they each had their own leaders – kings, if you will.
David asks for deliverance, specifically meaning to be kept safe.
1. O LORD my God, in thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me:
David has fears and he talks to God about them. He feels that he is all alone in his stand against his enemies. He says that if allowed to succeed, those who persecute him would rip him limb from limb because no one is around to come to his defence. He uses pretty graphic language, here. We can expect David to know how a predator might handle his prey once it is seized because of his years as a shepherd and the task of protecting the sheep under his care. I imagine he saw the remains of many downed animals during those years.
But it isn’t his physical being for which he fears – it is his soul – the very core of his existence and his being. This is a spiritual war and he feels that God is far away.
2. Lest he tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver.
I consider the next two verses are presented as part of his defense. He says IF he has done this (whatever the complaint is they place against him — I suspect it has to do with his ascent to the throne over Israel); IF there is iniquity on his hands; IF he has rewarded evil for good, then, he states or asks why would he not have killed Saul when he had the chance (in parenthesis)? 1 Samuel 24:4-17 relates this episode in David’s conflict with Saul.
But … this parenthetical part of verse four doesn’t appear, to me, to be a rhetorical question as some commentators say. Instead, it looks like he’s saying something like “I even spared him when I could have killed him, so they have no reason to be my enemy!”
3. O LORD my God, if I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands;
4. If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me; (yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy:)
In verse five David effectively says that justice must be done – that if indeed he has iniquity on his hands (verse 4), then let them trample him into the dust. David is willing to undergo correction if he has wronged these people. We all need to be willing to undergo correction when we have sinned. If we truly have remorse and ask for forgiveness, God will forgive us and we can once more live in peace with Him.
5. Let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it; yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust. Selah.
Isn’t David in as tenuous a position as his enemies because God, being just in his judgments, could see that David is at fault and pass judgment against him?
But David has confidence in his position. He changes from indecision and feelings of persecution to almost anger and it is sounds like he is asking God to become angry and pass judgment. He describes the disposition of the enemies as having rage against him and he asks God to move on his behalf and judge as God sees fit to judge.
6. Arise, O LORD, in thine anger, lift up thyself because of the rage of mine enemies: and awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded.
But David is looking beyond himself: he has a vision. Verse seven shows that what concerns him is to have the people once more gather around God, their true King. He asks God to again claim the throne on Zion for Himself — for the sake of the people.
7. So shall the congregation of the people compass thee about: for their sakes therefore return thou on high.
He tells us that God will be the judge of people and he asks that he, himself will be judged according to his righteousness and integrity. It is not only the righteousness and integrity that is outwardly seen, but it is what lies inside. In other words, he knows God will judge him by the nature of the spark that lies at the very center of his soul. He knows God’s judgment can be nothing other than just and righteous because God is a just God.
He prays that wickedness would come to an end and those who are just be put into power – don’t we all? Then he says something interesting: God tries the hearts and reins. It is a parallel to the last part of verse 8, except here it encompasses all of mankind. It means that God will judge according to what is in man’s heart and innermost being. The word “reins” literally means kidneys, an organ that is the most hidden organ in the body and affected (one commentator says) by the workings of the mind.
8. The LORD shall judge the people: judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.
9. Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins.
David is getting bolder, now. He feels that God has listened to his prayer and states that God is his defender and in contrast to his plea in verse two, he is certain that God will deliver him.
10. My defence is of God, which saveth the upright in heart.
11. God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.
David gives a caution or warning to those who practice wickedness and do not turn away from it: God is sharpening His sword, stringing His bow, and readying His arsenal to use in defense of the righteous.
12. If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready.
13. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors.
Those who are persecuting him are writhing (travaileth) in pain because of iniquity (sin); have devised ways of causing trouble for David (and the kingdom); and have out-right lied.
14. Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood.
Part of their scheming has been to dig a pit, figuratively meaning they have tried to snare him by trying to make him “slip-up.” But the tables have turned and they have fallen into their own trap. In a sense, they have unwittingly dug their own grave. All of their plans to ensnare David will come back on them and the actions they have taken to discredit him will come back upon their own heads. In other words, all they have done will return to them and bite them in their collective butt.
15. He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made.
16. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.
Have you ever been around a person that you came to consider as wicked or evil? Have you noticed the results of the plans they made to trouble those they don’t like? I have. I didn’t arrive at the conclusion instantaneously, but it was something I realized over a period of time. After the contact with that person ended and some distance in time and space had occurred, I began thinking about the exhibited behavior. I was amazed to discover that whenever a plan was hatched or an action taken to harm someone else (it was never physical violence) the scenario which had been set up always backfired. The schemer was the one bitten in the rear instead of the planned victim! The mischief that was hatched returned to the head of the mischief-maker — it never failed. God was watching out for the intended victim who was and is a strong Christian!
Finally, David praises the Lord because He is righteous and he is the Lord over all.
17.v I will praise the LORD according to his righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the LORD most high.
A Final Word
All around us are people who will try to make us “slip-up.” They may want to see us fall away from our faith so they can prove that we aren’t as good as we think we are. They may do this to harm us in some way – to perhaps discredit us with friends and colleagues. They may do it because they despise our Christian faith. The reasons are many and can be simple or complex. The fact is that there are people who want to harm our relationship with God, even destroy it if they can.
When this happens, we need to do what David did:
1. Affirm God as our Lord.
2. Cry out to Him for protection.
3. Tell Him what’s going on in our lives.
4. Tell Him our fears.
5. Listen to what God has to say to us.
6. “Sing” praises to the living God who answers and protects you.
This isn’t a formula for a prayer – not exactly – although it has the elements of a good prayer, if not a complete prayer. This is what David did in this particular Psalm and it is reflected in part in some of the Psalms we have read so far. This list is taken from the first two verses. The rest of the Psalm describes his confusion about why he was being persecuted. He questions his own heart and actions. It shows what he thought ought to happen to him if, indeed, he actually had wronged these people who were making complaints against him. Following this model of prayer just may help us figure out what is happening around us and to us.
If we tell God we are confused and are questioning our actions and the actions of others; if we tell Him what is going on in our life; if we tell Him our fears and then listen to what He has to say to us in response, He will honor us with an answer. It may not be the answer we want to hear, but putting our trust in God that He only wants the best for us (this is truth) will help us accept correction to better ourselves and increase our faith.
Continuing past those verses, we find David becoming more confident that he had done no injustice to the followers of Saul. Today’s secular psychologist would probably say that David was merely engaging in self-talk and through that self-talk he vindicated himself.
I believe, instead, that God actually talked to David. He helped David to see that his persecutors were wicked when they persecuted him. After this, David is ready for the judgment of God – even if it includes judgment on him (he’s feeling confident) – and he calls upon God to rise up in anger and proclaim His judgment (verse six). Then God starts talking to him.
I would say verses 8 through 16 are all revelations to David from God. Some of them may not seem like they are, given the way they are expressed, but the subject matter and the order make me think they are. Perhaps re-reading the verses aloud with some intonation in the voice will reveal what God is saying to David and David’s response. The Psalms are, after all, intended to be sung or spoken aloud.
Then, finally in verse 17, David is ecstatic and singing praises and maybe even kicking up his heels in joy. David had that type of personality when it came to praising God. This is a good quality for us to have, too. It’s a whole lot more fun for both God and us if we could quit sucking on the lemon slices.
The Key to Surviving Trying Times
We often have these same feelings as David. The key to having security in times of insecurity is to give your life to God, confess that Jesus actually lived and died for you and finally allow the Holy Spirit to enter your innermost being and take up residence after cleaning house. Then you will have no problem approaching God in the same way David did in this Psalm. When you have times of insecurity you’ll call out to God, telling him where you hurt. After listening for His answer and guidance, you’ll be able to stand straight and confident, singing praises to God for his love and protection. But the important concept here is to listen to what God has to say.
Sit quietly at the end of your prayer and reflect on it — God may show up through insight or intuition. He may not. Quite often He will show up at the strangest time when you least expect it. Sometimes, you’ll have a certainty about a problem or a situation — you’ll just know. Listen for Him and be alert.