A psalm of hope in the midst of fear
"A Psalm of David. The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. " (verses 1-3)
David faced many times of conflict and difficulty throughout his life. Even as a boy tending the family flocks, he dealt with dangerous predators, such as lions and bears, who not only could savagely kill his sheep, but could tear at his own flesh as well. As a teenager, David faced the giant warrior, Goliath of Gath, and stood firm in his faith in the LORD, even as the giant spewed threats at him, "Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field." (1 Samuel 17:44) As the captain of King Saul's army, he faced not only the regular hazards of battle, but later the treachery of the jealous king himself.
During the many years of exile, David faced innumerable dangers on every side: wild animals, deathly sicknesses, neighbouring enemy nations, people of his own nation, Saul and his army, and even his loyal band of rebels who became mutinous every now and then. As king, David had yet still more battles to fight, more division amongst his own, and even sedition and insurrection in his own family. David certainly had ample opportunities to fear.
Yet, here David declares that he is confident, no matter what happens, because the LORD is his 1. light, 2. salvation, 3. strength of life. Such assurance prompts him to rhetorically ask, "Whom shall I fear... of whom shall I be afraid?," as if such knowledge removes all shadows of doubt. What is it about the LORD that takes away all of David's fear?
Lets look at the first reason: "The LORD is my light." What are the properties of light? Well, to name a few: it provides warmth, it enables physical life, it reveals, it heals, it comforts, and it is colourful. David says that the LORD is his "light," meaning that the properties we can attribute to physical light, David can apply to God spiritually.
For example, the LORD would reveal to David the safest course of action or direction to take when he was unsure of how to proceed, even as the rays of dawn will shed new light on a hazardous pathway allowing travellers safe passage. The LORD renewed and energized David's spirit and body after weary marches or battles, even as the sun gives life and energy to the plant world through photosynthesis. The LORD's presence was like the security of a lighted house on a dark night to David through times of uncertainty and loneliness. David does not fear, because the LORD is his Light.
The second reason David does not fear is because: "The LORD is... my salvation." Salvation is most often defined as: "preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss." As defined spiritually, salvation means: "deliverance from sin and its consequences as brought about by faith in Christ." David could surely be referring to both, in that the LORD both rescued him often from physical danger and death, and likewise also provided a means of atonement for his sins, rescuing him from eternal death. David knew that whether earthly or spiritually, the LORD was his Saviour, and he banked on that.
The third reason David writes is that: "The LORD is the strength of my life." David does not take assurance in his own strength, though it may have been great. He does not glory in his own prowess in battle or skill with the sword. He does not boast in the accuracy of his shepherd's sling, nor his swiftness of foot. David claims God as the source of his strength, the secret of his success, and the power behind his victories and survival. As he wrote in another psalm, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God." (Psalm 20:7)
David likewise took strength from the LORD in his personal life, living a life of integrity, humility, and faithfulness. He was not perfect, but when he sinned, he turned to the LORD in repentance and faith, reliant upon God's great mercy. The LORD was David's strength in every aspect of his life.
David is able to affirm that no matter what or who comes up against him, he will not fear, for the LORD is his light, his salvation, and his strength. In his own words, "...in this will I be confident."
"One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me up upon a rock. " (verses 4-5)
What one thing would you want if the Lord offered you anything? Solomon asked for wisdom, and the LORD spoke to him in a dream and said that because he asked for wisdom, and not health and wealth, He would grant him all three. Solomon was the richest and wisest king Israel ever had, and he left us the book of Ecclesiastes as a testament to what he learned in his long life.
David desired one thing from God, one main thing: to be with Him forever. It would be like a child coming to their parents with a Christmas wish list, and on it one thing is written: "I really only want you, Mom/Dad." Wouldn't that, if genuine, touch your heart more than anything? Your child sees and grasps your value, and cherishes you for it.
Have you ever thought, like me, that if only our children understood how much we truly sacrifice for them out of love for them, how much we care for and provide for them, just how blessed they are among the children of the world to have food, clothes, and security, ... that if they understood all this, they would be so much more thankful and content?
Well, that is what David is saying here. He lives the reality of Hebrews 13:5, "Be content with such things as you have, for the LORD Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" All David desires is to be in the presence of God for all eternity, because in God is all provision, protection, and perfection. All he could ever want, he has found in the presence of the LORD.
"And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in His tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD." (verse 6)
David's confidence in God results in an overflow of worship. When faced with a difficult circumstance we often come before God with lamentations and mournings, pouring out our troubles to Him in desperate prayer. That's totally right to do, and David did his share of wailing before the throne as well. But note what he is also doing here: he is worshipping God in joy! We all understand such exuberance after our prayers are answered, but here David is doing the rejoicing beforehand!
In Phillipians 4:6-7, Paul admonishes the believers,
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Note that alongside those desperate prayers and supplications, we are told to express thanksgiving! What does it take to be able to celebrate answered prayer before it is, in fact, answered? Faith.
David says that his praises would be "sacrifices of joy", or in other words, it was difficult for him to rejoice in the midst of his troubled circumstances. It certainly does not come naturally. Yet, David is so certain that God will deliver him (future tense), that he gives evidence to his faith by praising God for delivering him (past tense).
James speaks of faith that is proven by works, and Hebrews declares that, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen." (Hebrews 11:1) When we are faced with a situation that strikes fear into our hearts, remember that the God of David is our God, too, and that we can have the same assurance David did of God's presence and promises. He will not leave us nor forsake us, and will supply our needs. We can rejoice in advance through faith in God's good plan and purpose in every trial. He is faithful to His Word.
"Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When thou saidst, 'Seek ye My face'; my heart said unto Thee, 'Thy face, LORD, will I seek'. Hide not Thy face far from me; put not Thy servant away in anger: Thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up." (verse 7-10)
Like most of David's psalms, they were likely written during times of great inner struggle, and were intended to encourage himself in the LORD more than anything. So here we are on one of those roller coaster rides, and it has hit the downturn. After a lengthy declaration of his confidence in God's care, David now turns to supplication for the burdens weighing heavily upon his heart. He begins with a cry for God to listen to his prayers and to answer them.
He reminds himself, even as he "reminds" God, that he is walking in obedience to what God has commanded, and is seeking first the LORD and His ways. He had not yet read the verse in which Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you."(Matthew 6:33), but David understood the truth of it. He was a man who sought the LORD with a whole heart, and as such was found pleasing in God's eyes, despite his many faults.
Knowing that, if God were to regard David purely in His righteousness, and not in His mercy, He would find great fault with him; thus David begs to be regarded in mercy.
He once more expresses the confidence he holds in the character and mercy of God, Who will remain faithful to him even when all others desert him.
"Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty. I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD." (verses 11-14)
This psalm is about David's dependence on the LORD throughout a fearful season of literal enemies and real physical dangers, that God sees him safely through. David's entire emotional security and mental stability is bed rocked upon his faith in God's character and promises. He says himself that had he not believed that God would deliver him, he would have straight passed out! False witnesses, wars, and enemies on all sides, and yet David found strength in waiting upon the LORD for His guidance and His deliverance.
Throughout the ages since David wrote this psalm, believers have found strength and hope in these final words of this powerful song of hope:
"Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord."