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The Davidic Psalms 1At this point, the modern ordering of the Bible continues on to Ruth, then 1 and 2 Samuel. And if we were looking at the straightforward chronology of events, that is the natural ordering. However, I am looking at this from the perspective of our hypothetical time traveler, so after the book of Judges the next portion of Scripture that he would have had access to is the various Psalms of David, which were written during his lifetime. And to be honest, after the depravity revealed in the book of Judges, David’s psalms contain a breath of fresh air.
David is perhaps most well-known as being the best king of Israel. Naturally, we haven’t yet discussed how he came into power. But for now, suffice to say that one of his artistic qualities was his many psalms. Psalms were songs, but sadly we do not have the tunes preserved for us so we do not know how any of them actually sounded. Nevertheless, the content of the psalms ranges through a great many topics. We will examine quite a few of them here, but will organize them according to a few arbitrary categories.
There are 73 psalms that are mentioned as having been written by David. Those are Psalms 3-9, 11-41, 51-65, 68-70, 86, 101, 103, 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133, and finally 138-145. In addition, the New Testament claims David wrote Psalm 2 (Acts 4:25) and Psalm 95 (Hebrews 4:7). We can divide the Davidic psalms into certain categories: praise, petition, penitence, imprecatory psalms (to keep with the alliteration, you can view imprecatory psalms as “punishment” psalms if you wish), and prophetic psalms. Many of the psalms cross into multiple categories, and I should note that these specific categories are my own delineation. Others may come up with different structures that are equally valid.
To fully understand Scripture, one would need to cover all the psalms. Doing so would make this present book even longer, however, as an entire volume could be written just on the Psalms alone (in fact, such books have been written by others). Consequently, I will be content with three samples from each of the categories I have laid out above. For praise, I have chosen to look at Psalm 8, Psalm 103 and Psalm 138. For petition, Psalm 4, Psalm 7, and Psalm 69. For penitence, Psalm 32, Psalm 51, and Psalm 102. For imprecatory psalms, Psalm 35, Psalm 109, and Psalm 140. Finally, for prophetic psalms we will look at Psalm 2, Psalm 22, and Psalm 110. Needless to say, there are many more Psalms that could be covered, and, as I mentioned, some of the Psalms fall between categories (for example, Psalm 69 could also be viewed as an imprecatory psalm). But this will suffice for our present work.
A. Psalms of Praise – Psalm 8, 103, 138.Praise psalms are characterized by their focus on God. They seek to extol His virtues and in general show a primary concern about His Name. For example, Psalm 8 begins “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
The first thing that we should notice is that, while phonetically the same in English, there are two different forms of “Lord” in this verse. Remember that LORD, with all caps (or with drop caps, in most English translations), stands for the given Name of God, the Tetragrammaton: YHWH. Lord, with only a capital L, stands for the Hebrew word adonai. The word adonai carries along the meaning of a sovereign ruler or master, which is why “lord” fits as an apt translation.
Given these facts, we are within bounds of translation to say David begins Psalm 8 as “Yahweh, our sovereign ruler, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Despite the fact that God has a special relationship with Israel, His majesty is not limited merely to His relationship with her, but his Name is majestic “in all the earth”.
David explains how this has come about: “You have set your glory above the heavens” (verse 2a). What David means by this is the created order: the stars, the sun, and the moon (as he explains in verse 3) and not the spiritual realm we often think of when we hear the name “heaven”. Additionally, the “above” should not be taken as a physical location, but instead as an order of magnitude. God’s name is more glorious than the glory of what we see in the sky. In fact, so awesome is God’s power that verse 2 concludes by stating: “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2b).
I personally find this a striking contrast. God has “established strength” with something that is almost the exact opposite of strength: the cries from the mouth of infants. Infants are the most helpless of humans, precisely because the only thing they can do is cry. They cannot feed themselves, take care of themselves, move where they want, or any of that. Yet, David says that God established strength from even such a weak foundation as those cries. Clearly, the fact God can do this is indeed a marvelous display of His glory.
In fact, so amazing and awesome is God that David asks the natural question: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (verse 3-4). Just as the weakness of babies has been used by God to establish his strength, this question brings attention to our own natural weakness. For we are as powerless in our natural state as the infant’s cry is to his. Looking at the created order around us, it is very easy indeed to become overwhelmed by the majesty of the One who set all that in place, and David’s question is a natural one: who are we in relation to the one who could create all that?
David gives his answer: “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (verse 5). Despite the fact that mankind is so helpless, God has made man just a little lower than “the heavenly beings.” Who are these “heavenly beings”? Given the fact that David was just talking about the physical heavens, this could be a reference to the stars, the planets, or something similar, but I think in this instance David has shifted his focus to the spiritual realm. In fact, the Septuagint renders “heavenly beings” as “angels” and it certainly makes more sense that David would say we were a little “lower” than angels than that we were a little “lower” than stars or other heavenly bodies.
Likewise, here we should ask what is meant by “lower”? It is possible that more than one sense of the word is meant. After all, physically men are on Earth whereas angelic beings are “above” in heaven. But in the context of the verse, it appears that David means the word to be viewed in terms of glory and majesty. Indeed, David will say next: “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas” (verse 6-8). By doing so, we remember the charge God gave to Adam in the Garden, to rule over the Earth.
This means that man has responsibilities, because he has been set up as a ruler over certain facets of creation. David rightly recognizes that this dominion has been given by God, not something that man would naturally have in and of himself. It is only because “you [God] have given him [mankind] dominion” that man is able to rule over the beasts of the field and seas. So, having been granted that dominion, we recognize that despite the fact that man is so weak—comparable to the mere cry of an infant—God has uplifted us to the point that we are just a bit lower than the angels in terms of glory and majesty.
This leads David to conclude his psalm by repeating the first verse anew: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (verse 9). Thus, we can see this praise is directed toward God in light not just of the awesome works of creation that God has made, but also due to the fact that God has elevated man to a high position as well—a position that we do not deserve, yet which we can use to glorify Him.
When we look at Psalm 103, we see a similar structure. “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” Once again, David begins with concern about God’s name. David immediately provides reasons for why his soul ought to bless YHWH’s holy name:
Bless the LORD, O my soul,This litany of reasons to praise God is a vast treasure trove of deep theology! God “forgives”, and not only partially. He forgives all our sins. He heals, and again, not just partially but all our diseases. He redeems us, crowns us, and satisfies us. And these verses function merely as the prologue, for David immediately expands on what is meant:
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:2-5).
“The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (verse 6). What a comforting passage for those who have been oppressed, to know that God is going to work it out so that righteousness and justice will prevail. And this is not just going to be in a few isolated instances, but it will happen “for all who are oppressed.” God will not stand idly by while unrighteousness goes unchecked. There will be a final reckoning.
“He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel” (verse 7). Here David identifies the way by which God works His righteousness and justice: by giving us the Law. One cannot have justice unless one knows what is just in the first place. But of course the existence of the Law also means that it is possible to break the Law. Therefore David continues:
The LORD is merciful and gracious,While it is easy for Christians, especially, to overlook the impact here, these verses stand in tension against the previous verses. If God “works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed”, then how is it that He is also “merciful and gracious”? How is it possible that He not “deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” if He is righteous and just?
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103:8-10).
Before telling us how God is merciful to us, David first tells us why He is: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him” (verse 11). It is God’s love that motivates Him. He is merciful to us because He loves us, and that is why He does not punish us as our iniquities deserve. And not only does He not punish us, but David goes further: “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (verse 12).
And this gives us the “how” we were missing before. After all, just because God loves us does not mean He can simply overlook our sin. And, indeed, He does not overlook it. Rather, He has removed our sins from us and that is how He can be merciful to us while still maintaining righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. Again, David stipulates that God’s motive in all of this is love: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him” (verse 13).
It would be easy to stop here and leave it just at the love aspect, but intellectual honesty requires that I delve deeper here. If God does not deal with us in a manner our sins deserve because He loves us so much that He literally removes our iniquity from us, then what does that imply about those from whom God does require the full penalty of sin? Would that not imply God does not love them? I see no way around this conclusion. God shows “steadfast love toward those who fear him”, not toward all men everywhere in this passage. Likewise, God “shows compassion to those who fear him” and not all men everywhere. God is only said to love those who fear Him, and not everyone universally, in these passages.
Even that question aside, one still may wonder why it is that God would love anyone at all, let alone those who fear Him. Thankfully, David continued: “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (verse 14). God knows how we were made. He created us, after all! Not only that, but:
As for man, his days are like grass;There is a lot to unpack in these verses. First, God is merciful because He knows our weakness. This stands in harmony with Psalm 8 earlier, wherein we saw how God shows His strength through our weakness. This also fits with Moses in Psalm 90, if you remember our discussion on that psalm. Men are like a field of grass that withers away; God is “from everlasting to everlasting” and His love never fails. His love will always be upon those who keep His covenant, and we can rest assured of this because “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens.” We know He will not fail for “his kingdom rules over all.”
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The LORD has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:15-19).
God’s sovereignty is the basis for David’s praise here. God has chosen to overlook the sins of those who He wishes, as is his right. Thus, David ends the psalm with the exaltations: “Bless the LORD, O you his angles, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!” (verse 20-22).
It should be no surprise that Psalm 138 is in a similar vein. That psalm begins:
I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;We notice first how the psalm yet again begins by discussing how wonderful the Name of the LORD is. This time, we also see the exaltation of God’s word along with it. In this context, it may specifically refer to the Law of God, or any of the texts of Scripture that we have already examined. But “word” can also refer to any of the inner thoughts of God, as we have discussed previously in this book. God’s Name identifies Him, and His Word is who He is. And we notice that the thing God is most concerned with is His Name and His Word.
before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word (Psalm 138:1-2).
This fits in with much of what we’ve already discussed, so I won’t go too much into it, other than to remind you of Moses’s appeal to the Name of God when he asked God for leniency despite Israel’s repeated sins, and furthermore how Joshua repeated that pattern too. So clearly, His Name is high on God’s priority list. So in all these praise Psalms, we can understand that if we want to offer praises to God, the best way to do so is to focus on His Name, as David does when he gives “thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness.”
Indeed, all of this leads David to proclaim: “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased” (verse 3). As if that wasn’t enough, David continues: “All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar” (verses 4-6).
It is interesting to me that David claims that when any of the kings of the earth hear the words God speaks, they will give thanks to him. Clearly this hasn’t happened yet, so perhaps this is a prophetic psalm. It could also be a bit of hyperbole based on what ought to be the natural response to hearing God’s word rather than what is the actual response. After all, it is equally clear that David knows that not everyone does give thanks to God, for David notes the special relationship exhibited here. Despite how eminent God is, He cares about those who are low. Those who hurt and cry, who need, who are broken—those are who God seeks out. Those who are proud, haughty, and arrogant, God “knows from afar.” This indicates a separation or a distance in the relationship. How much better is it to be close to God and lowly, than being haughty and far from Him!
David continues: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life” (verse 7a) indicating once more for us the sovereignty God has over life itself. Not only that, but we see David’s life preserved tangibly because, as the verse continues: “you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.” Again, notice that this stretching out of the hand is viewed as something going against David’s enemies. Hopefully that will bring to mind how God stretched His hand against Job earlier in this work too, to once more establish the link: it is not a good thing for God’s hand to be stretched out against you. On the other hand, when it is stretched against your enemies, then God’s “right hand delivers” us.
The psalm then concludes: “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” Thus, we have the promise that God has a purpose for David (and by extension, we can include “for us” as well) and that God will fulfill that purpose. Yet despite knowing that that purpose will be fulfilled, David still concludes with a petition: “Do not forsake the work of your hands.”
So we can see by these psalms that there are certain patterns praise psalms tend to fall into. They seek to magnify, exalt, and glorify God by emphasizing His love and worthiness. They give thanks for the blessings that have come upon us. God is worthy to be praised precisely because of who He is: His awesome, glorious attributes. He will do what His purposes are. He will be faithful. He will love His people. And He will strike against the enemies of His people, but He will protect and shelter those who fear Him.
B. Psalms of Petition – Psalm 4, 7, 69.We begin our investigation of the Psalms of Petition with Psalm 4. A petition is a request or a plea. Thus, it should be no surprise that these psalms include many requests of God, and exhibit more questions rather than outright declarations about who He is.
Psalm 4 opens up thus: “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” (verse 1). By this, we can see that the first petition of David is to ask God to listen. This is a cry that is often found in our hearts, because there are many times when it feels as if God is not listening. Yet, as David pointed out, we can rely on the fact that God has previously given relief when we were in distress to know that He is there, even in the midst of crisis.
David then presents his problem: “O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him” (verse 2-3). David is facing a trial where evil men are besmirching his name. Yet David takes solace in the fact that God sets apart the godly for Himself, and he knows that God hears his lament.
He continues: “Be angry, and do not sin” indicating that anger, itself, is not sinful. And this makes sense, because we have seen God act in anger before. So while anger often leads to sin, at least for humans, it is not the same thing as sin. So the psalmist says: “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD” (verse 4-5). This advice is well worth it for us to ponder, and I have to think that David was writing it for himself as well.
We should pay special attention to the idea that we should “offer right sacrifices” when we get to prayers of penitence too. Continuing here: “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!’ You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (verse 6-7). Here, David petitions God to look upon those who need some good shown their way, in a way similar to the blessing Moses recorded asking God to make His face shine upon Israel. But notice that in the midst of asking for such favor, David points out that God has already done so in the past. Thus, he is not asking for anything new, but a continuation of the previous blessing. The result is found in the ending of the psalm: “In peace I will lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (verse 8). Thus, the pattern of the petition is shown: David requests the LORD respond to him, points out that God has done so in the past, and then says what his current tribulation is. He also seeks to add others who are facing similar problems into the prayer, pointing out yet again that God has helped before. And finally, he rests secure that God will be faithful.
Psalm 7 begins similarly: “O LORD my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me, lest like a lion they tear my soul apart, rending it in pieces, with none to deliver” (verse 1-2). David immediately tells of his need and how dire his situation is. He does not hold back and sugarcoat it: his life is in danger.
“O LORD my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands, if I have repaid my friends with evil or plundered my enemy without cause, let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground and lay my glory in the dust” (verse 3-5). In these words, David protests his innocence by pointing out that if he is guilty, then it is just for them to destroy him. This reminds me of the protestation Job made when he proclaimed his innocence, and it certainly is true that psychologically it is much easier for us to bear punishment when we deserve it, rather than when we are innocent and are forced to endure hardships. There is something about it that just digs into our sense of injustice. We know that God is a just God, though, and somehow the scales must balance.
Because of this, David petitions God for redress: “Arise, O LORD, in your anger” (verse 6a). How many of us would pray that today? I doubt very many would. (And again, I could note that this passage also fits in the imprecatory psalms section—as I mentioned, there is a lot of overlap in the Psalms, but that is because life itself overlaps themes.) David continues his request: “lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment. Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered about you; over it return on high” (verse 6b-7).
So David’s petition in Psalm 7 is that God set Himself against David’s enemies. David is innocent, and he seeks God’s help in affirming that by being a true judge. This is well within the “job description” of God, as David continues: “The LORD judges the peoples; judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me” (verse 8). On the other side of the dispute, however, are evil people. To them, David asks: “Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous—you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God!” (verse 9).
These two verses tell us a lot about God. We see that God is a judge, and that His judgment is righteous. His judgment is also not based on outward appearances, but God rather tests “the minds and hearts.” David’s plea is that God establish the righteous and cause wickedness to end. Because of his confidence in the LORD, David says: “My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (verse 10-11). Thus David claims to be upright in heart. We must keep this in mind, because our next section will deal with psalms of penitence. How is it that David can claim to be upright in his heart, while knowing that he also is a sinner?
A partial explanation is found in the next verse: “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts” (verse 12-13). This begins with a conditional: “If a man does not repent.” This implies that if a man does repent, God will not ready “his deadly weapons.” Now, these weapons clearly are metaphorical weapons in that God does not literally get a sword or arrows out, but the point is clear. God opposes the wicked. The way to not be opposed by God is by repenting of one’s sins. But evil men will not do so:
“Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends” (verse 14-16). By these words, David indicates how God unleashes His deadly weapons: by having the evil the wicked man dreams up fall upon his own head.
It ought surprise no one that this, in my mind, helps us see once again how compatibilism is the default understanding of Scripture. David speaks of God making deadly weapons and how God is going to judge the wicked, and yet when that judgment comes about it is because the wickedness the evil man is engaged in comes upon his own head. A man’s evil actions redound upon him. He falls into his own pit. This action is something the wicked man does, yet it is also clearly attributed to the judgment of God. Again, these two things coexist; they are not contradictory, but rather two sides of the same coin.
David ends Psalm 7 by saying: “I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High” (verse 17). Thus, he ends his petition by giving thanks for who God is.
Psalm 69 has a similar structure. It begins with David expressing his need: “Save me, O God!” This is short and to the point. No beating around the bush. David does then get metaphorical in describing the reasons he needs saved: “For the waters have come up to my neck.” Thus, he is in danger of drowning:
I sink in deep mire,David’s lament is one that we often face. He has cried out to God so long that his throat is parched. His eyes have grown dim, and still there is no response from God. How long was this happening for David? We do not know, but each of us has been there at some point in our life. The feeling that God has abandoned us and left us on our own.
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God (Psalm 69:2-3).
More in number than the hairs of my headAgain, the injustice David faces is quite clear. He has too many enemies to count, and they are mighty. They attack with lies, and he is being forced to pay back for things he had not stolen. David knows he is not fully innocent, for he knows what he has done and that his sins are not hidden from God, yet he also knows that his sins do not justify the attacks he is facing.
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you (Psalm 69:4-5).
David then says something I find quite keen: “Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel” (verse 6). David’s concern is not so much for himself at this point, but for others who would trust and follow God. Now at this point, we could wonder what reason others would be put to shame by what David had done. But that would be to misunderstand David’s prayer here, for he is not saying that he has done anything wrong, but rather it is precisely because he has enemies despite not having done any evil toward them, that it risks others being put to shame through him.
To make this clear, David’s next sentence is: “For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that dishonor has covered my face” (verse 7). David is suffering for the sake of God, and that is why he is concerned that others may be put to shame through him. In effect, David is saying that he does not want to be the cause of others being dishonored through him, because it is for the sake of God that he is being dishonored and under reproach. Indeed, it was to such a point that he says “I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother’s sons” (verse 8). This is how broken David is now. And again, what was the cause?
For zeal for your house has consumed me,David’s very acts of righteousness were used by evil people to mock him. They were used to tear him down, to belittle him. His acts of worship were being turned to his reproach. This is why David is so intent that others who love the LORD not be put to shame by what is happening to him, because in seeing how the righteous were torn down, they might decide to abandon righteousness.
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting,
it became my reproach.
When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
I am the talk of those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me (Psalm 69:9-12).
Despite all this, caused by the very worship of God, David does not depart from God: “But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness” (verse 13).
Not only does David not reject God, but he recognizes that God will act “at an acceptable time.” God’s timing is not our timing. While we are in the midst of despair, it is very easy to forget that. Yet, God will answer with his saving faithfulness, at the appropriate time. David has faith in this, because he knows God. So he gives his petition:
Deliver meWe can see the parallels between the petition and the dangers that David faced earlier in the psalm. Thus, the petition addresses the exact problems that David has already acknowledged. He then continues his plea:
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me (Psalm 69:14-15)
Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good;What I find most striking about this section is the raw honesty that David portrays. He is in distress, and the turmoil he faces is vivid in the text. Yet still he knows that God has “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy.” He pleads that God turn toward him, to not hide His face, to respond quickly, and to be close. All of these things would culminate in God ransoming and redeeming him from his enemies.
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Hide not your face from your servant,
for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.
Draw near to my soul, redeem me;
ransom me because of my enemies! (Psalm 69:16-18).
David then points out that he is not presenting God with any new information, for: “You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you” (verse 19). This truth may be one of the hardest for those of us who follow God to understand, at least while we are in the midst of danger and despair. Not a single thing happens to us that God is unaware of. God is the judge of all that is right, and yet this goes on under His watch. How is a Christian to deal with this? How is a Christian to respond when God feels more like an absentee father than a loving father?
David never sugar-coats what has happened to him:
Reproaches have broken my heart,Given all this pain and suffering that David has experienced, it is no wonder that he then asks God to strike out at his tormentors:
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink (Psalm 69:20-21).
Let their own table before them become a snare;This may come off to us as sounding a bit vengeful, but this fits with other themes that we have already seen in the psalms and, indeed, in the rest of Scripture. David is asking for nothing more than that the evil that is being plotted against him to redound back upon the heads of those who are plotting it—a theme we will investigate more fully in the imprecatory psalms. Nevertheless, at this point, David is asking for God to “pour out your indignation upon them” and even to “let your burning anger” destroy them. Why is he so unforgiving toward them? David provides an answer in the next verses:
and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.
Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see,
and make their loins tremble continually.
Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let your burning anger overtake them.
May their camp be a desolation;
let no one dwell in their tents (Psalm 69:22-25).
For they persecute him whom you have struck down,Again, this is one of those passages in Scripture that seems so out of place with much of our modern theology. David is literally asking that his enemies be killed and, more so, even to be damned. And yet most striking is perhaps the reasoning in verse 26. His enemies deserve this wrath from God because they are persecuting “him whom you [God] have struck down”!
and they recount the pain of those you have wounded.
Add to them punishment upon punishment;
may they have no acquittal from you.
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
let them not be enrolled among the righteous (Psalm 69:26-28).
In other words, these evil men are doing to David what God already had done to him. David says that God struck him down, and that God indeed had “wounded” him. We have already seen the utter despair that David has fallen to, and verse 29a will even state: “But I am afflicted and in pain.” And yet despite the fact that David says that God has struck him down, he calls for judgment upon those who are piling on. He does not condemn God in any of this! Indeed, he asks: “Let your salvation, O God, set me on high!” (verse 29b) and then even concludes:
I will praise the name of God with a song;So, David accepts that God has struck him down, and David responds with praise! Yet when evil men persecute him and “recount the pain of those [God has] wounded”, David asks that they be “blotted out of the book of the living” and “not be enrolled among the righteous.” Why is there such a radically different response from David toward men than toward God, when arguably God is more responsible for David’s suffering then other men are (after all, they are only mocking him for what God has already done)?
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the LORD more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the LORD hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners (Psalm 69:30-33).
Again, I think that this is an example of David understanding what Joseph understood. Joseph knew that he was sold into slavery due to the plan of God—that God had sent him there to save lives. He knew that God meant it for good, even though his brothers meant it for evil. Here, David’s reaction of praising God while condemning his enemies for what are essentially the exact same actions, indicates that David knows that God means it for good while his foes mean it for evil.
How many of us, facing trials and tribulations of our own, can keep that distinction in mind? How much easier is it, I must confess, to blame God just as much as we blame those whom He has brought against us for His own purposes?
David understood who God is, though, and that’s why he continued to praise Him. He had an eternal perspective in mind, which is why he was able to conclude the psalm by saying:
Let heaven and earth praise him,God’s timescale is not our timescale, but He always “will save Zion.” David knew that that promise was more certain than all the pain and suffering he faced. Because of that, David felt confident to speak honestly and openly with God. To say, essentially, “God, what’s happening to me really sucks. Please save me from this agony!” And yet to conclude, “Still, I know that You have good reasons for why You have acted the way You have, and I trust that You will make things right in the end. For You always do.”
the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it (Psalm 69:34-36).
We can conclude from this that it is morally permissible to complain to God when we suffer, as long as we do not accuse Him of wrongdoing while we do so. We know that God knows we are but dust, and He knows how frail we are. He does not always respond in a way that feels loving, but we know that He is loving, and that He hears us when we hurt. In the end, we will dwell in Zion and have a fuller understanding of all the intricacies. But until then, God does not spite us and does not tell us to have a stiff upper lip and to just bear the agonies that we face. We are free to express them to Him; indeed, it is better for us to do so than to pretend all is fine when it is not.
C. Psalms of Penitence – Psalm 32, 51, 101.As we move into our next category of psalms, it is time to look at what David’s response was when he sinned. Sinning is something that every one of us do, and thus we need to see what a God-honoring response to sin is. After all, as we have seen, those who are forgiven can actually appeal to God to judge us based on righteousness. But how is that possible if we are sinners?
We begin with Psalm 32:1, as follows:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,This verse tells us a great deal about the nature of forgiveness. When David speaks of the transgression that is “forgiven” and “covered” he is not saying that the transgression no longer exists. Instead, as the second part of the verse explains, when forgiveness happens the sin no longer “counts” as sin. God instead views the forgiven sinner as one “in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
The phrase “the LORD counts no iniquity” ought to remind us of Abram, of whom Genesis 15:6 says, “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” So God “counts” things as one way or another. He counts faith as righteousness, and when He forgives someone He does not count that man’s sins as “iniquity.” Putting these two together, we can resolve the question of how David could argue that God judge him based on righteousness. 1) He had faith in God, and therefore that was counted as righteousness; 2) His sins were forgiven and thus they were not counted as sins.
In the simplest form, this is precisely how all of salvation works Biblically. So, how does one become forgiven? The first step is to acknowledge the sin to God. As David says:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted awayWhen David did not confess, he wasted away. His life was misery, because God’s “hand was heavy upon me.” Indeed, while we do not confess our sins, they remain an obstacle between us and God. Yet notice that the instant David confessed his sin, “you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin (Psalm 32:3-5).
I think it important to note that it is the “iniquity” of sin that God forgives, and not always the consequences of that sin. When you commit evil, nearly always there will be consequences that come about as a natural reaction to that sin. If you lie to someone, for example, they will trust you less, even if you truly repent. If you murder someone, they will not come back to life simply because you repent. This is why having the iniquity of sin forgiven does not mean that one should not be punished by the state for that sin, because the state (i.e., the government) deals with those consequences. It is not unjust for the state to imprison, or even put to death in the case of murder, someone whom God has forgiven.
In any case, let us return to the psalm. After David informs us how God responded to his confession, he urges us:
Therefore let everyone who is godlyI find it very interesting that those of us who have been forgiven immediately want others to experience that same forgiveness. David thus prays to God that everyone who is godly “offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found.” And the reason for this is because God has been so good to David, David wants to share this with as many people as possible. Indeed, David turns his attention to others and says:
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance (Psalm 32:6-7).
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;His concern is that everyone truly grasp how God’s mercies and forgiveness works, so that we are not ignorant like animals who only go where they go because they are forced “with bit and bridle.” Rather, David’s hope is that all of us learn to stay with God because we will understand it is “the way you should go.”
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you (Psalm 32:8-9).
“Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD” (verse 10). This is why the wisest course of action is to be with God. Sorrow remains when our sins are not forgiven, but the instant we turn to God we see steadfast love. Thus, we can conclude with David: “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (verse 11). Again, we are righteous and “upright in heart” not because we have never sinned, but because our sins are forgiven! That is true joy indeed!
Let us then move to Psalm 51. This Psalm is based on the events that happened with Bathsheba, which we will cover when we get to the books of Samuel. For now, the header to the Psalm gives us all the information that we need: “To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” We know that “gone in to” is a reference to sexual intercourse, so even not knowing the rest of the details, we know that David sinned sexually with Bathsheba, and Nathan the prophet confronted him on it. Again, the details are not yet important and will be discussed at the proper time. For now, let us focus on David’s reaction to his sin. Unlike the other psalms we have looked at verse by verse, I want to present this in its entirety first so you can get the full impact. We will then look at the details:
Have mercy on me, O God,David’s first appeal is again to the mercy of God, based on His “steadfast love”. This ought to give us confidence that we can always turn to God’s love. It is our constant. But David’s concern is to remove his sin: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity” he says in verse 2. “Cleanse me from my sin!”
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar (Psalm 51).
David next confesses that he knows his sin, and he also knows who he has ultimately sinned against: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” It would be easy for us to take this too far, because it is also true that David sinned against other people in this event. Yet all sin against others is still a sin against God.
David then says something that fits in with what we have seen Moses write, especially around the time of the Flood: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (verse 5). Some might be tempted to say that the sin is David’s mother’s sin, that perhaps she slept with Jesse before they were married and that was the sin by which his mother conceived him. But when we get to the life of David, we will see that he had seven older brothers, so David clearly is talking about his own sin. His mother was not sinning when she conceived him; David was a sinner from his very conception.
Again, this fits with Moses’s statement in Genesis 8:21 (“For the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth”) and the fact that Sodom was destroyed without finding even ten righteous people while there must have been more than ten infants in the city, and it indicates that we are all very much born directly into sin. How is it possible for us to be sinners from conception, before we could even have done anything good or bad in the first place? As I’ve mentioned before, the doctrine of Original Sin helps explain this, but I will leave that for a fuller discussion later.
David continues his plea to be purified. He uses the metaphor of being purged with hyssop (verse 7) but what he is clearly asking for is found in verse 9: “Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.”
But David also wants more than just to be forgiven: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (verse 10). Not only does he want his sins to be forgiven, but he wants his very heart to be clean. He does not wish to sin again.
David knows that in the end, God does not want sacrifices. As he said, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.” Why, then, does God command those sacrifices if they do not please Him?
Because while the sacrifices don’t please Him, what they accomplish—the salvation of those who have faith—does please Him. And David truly grasps this. It is not the animals in and of themselves that somehow take away sin, but: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (verse 17).
Again, it might be easy for us to press this too far. David is not saying to abandon the sacrifices altogether, but he instead sees the higher purpose for them. That is why he ends the Psalm by saying that when Zion and Jerusalem are established fully (which I take to mean that when people are offering sacrifices with that broken spirit and contrite heart), then God will delight “in right sacrifices” which include “burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings.” David understands that sacrifices made from an impure heart are not effectual.
We will now examine Psalm 101, which will show us the results of that penitence, and which will also lead us into our next section on imprecatory psalms. David begins with praise: “I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will make music” (verse 1). Again, David’s common theme is to ground what comes in God’s love and justice, and he finds both of those topics worthy of praise—enough that he will make music for them!
I will ponder the way that is blameless.Because David has been forgiven, he can “walk with integrity of heart.” As a new creation, he is far from having a perverse heart. Indeed, his reaction toward evil is so strong that he literally says: “I hate the work of those who fall away.”
Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
it shall not cling to me.
A perverse heart shall be far from me;
I will know nothing of evil (Psalm 101:2-4).
David will then ratchet up that response:
Whoever slanders his neighbor secretlyIn contrast to those who are evil, however, David says:
I will destroy.
Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart
I will not endure (Psalm 101:5).
I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,These two attitudes culminate in David drawing a very distinct line between good and evil:
that they may dwell with me;
he who walks in the way that is blameless
shall minister to me (Psalm 101:6).
No one who practices deceitDavid essentially has declared war on those who remain evil. Having been forgiven of his own sins causes a zeal in David to stamp out evil everywhere.
shall dwell in my house;
no one who utters lies
shall continue before my eyes.
Morning by morning I will destroy
all the wicked in the land,
cutting off all the evildoers
from the city of the LORD (Psalm 101:7-8).
We may, naturally, wonder if David is being a bit hypocritical here. After all, he was forgiven and yet he offers no forgiveness to anyone. Yet that is not actually the case. In the first case, we can understand that David’s reaction toward evil is the correct response for one who has had a heart changed toward good. David’s reaction is literally the same reaction that God has toward evil: an intense hatred of it, and the desire to destroy evil wherever it is.
Secondly, we know that David has drawn a distinction between those who are evil and those who are good. Those who are good are those who, like David, have been forgiven. And that forgiveness is possible for anyone who turns to God.
Still, we should not soft-pedal what David says. As much as he wants righteous people to prevail, he wants the wicked to fail. And this leads us into the topic of imprecatory psalms.