A psalm of prayer and praise
"A Psalm of David." (verse 1)
I sometimes cannot get over how amazing language is, written language especially. Contained in patterned markings on a page, (or screen), are the thoughts, feelings, and knowledge of another person. Through their words, written perhaps even eons before we were born, we can see into the very soul and mind of that other person, long passed away. It is nothing short of incredible.
Here we have a psalm written by a man we know as David, the king of Israel, some three thousand years ago. We don't know when in his life he wrote this, but it is clearly a time of distress; David seems to have dealt with his inner turmoils with the pen as much as with prayer.
Some of David's psalms appear to be written completely in the moment, as the end of the situation is still unclear at the psalm's conclusion, although he does include that he believes it will turn out right because of God, his trust. Here, though, we seem to have a psalm written in two parts; the first, during the agony of his soul that initially prompted him to pick up the pen and write out his plea to God, and the second, after it all was settled and done.
God did indeed deliver him from his troubles, and after perhaps finding the scroll, or scrap of scroll, depending on where he was and what he was doing (not a lot of scrolls likely to be available in caves), he felt compelled to give it a happy ending.
Alternatively, he may have actually written this after the great distress was over, and composed the first part from his still fresh memories of anguish. Regardless of our speculations on the timeframe in which David wrote it, this psalm presents two distinct portions to notice: David's prayer and David's praise.
"To You I will cry, O LORD my Rock: Do not be silent to me, lest, if You are silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to You, when I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary." (verses 1-2)
David is very definite in his cries. Unlike some who vaguely lament their pain to the "great unknown" or call upon anyone who will listen, David directs his prayers to the God of the Bible, Yahweh or Jehovah, as His name has been translated. The name "LORD" in all capitals signifies a four letter configuration in Hebrew known as the "tetragrammaton", literally, "the four letter Name." It is written without any vowels, and the letters have various pronunciations, so the name of God remains a bit of an enigma. Yet, we know His character and we know His Word, and most importantly, we know Him in the person of Jesus.
David calls God his "Rock." Rocks are strong, stable, immoveable, and ancient. You don't get into a fight with a rock; it will always win, without even moving. Its very nature and composition is its power. God is like a rock to those who depend upon Him.
Notice here that David expects an actual answer from God when he prays. Do we? How many times have we just poured out our souls to God and then got up and left? David starts his prayer by asking God to answer him, not just to listen to him.
His reason gives us an insight into the nature of his troubles. If God doesn't answer him, David fears he will die. The word "pit" is the Hebrew word bowr, meaning cistern or sepulchre. It was used as a poetic reference to an actual gravesite, a tomb. The sense of the word is that of a "prison," much like the literal pit into which Joseph was thrown by his brothers; the idea being that there is no escape once one is "locked up" in a grave. David clearly did not want to die yet, especially at the hands of his enemies.
When David "lifts up his hands" towards God's Holy Sanctuary, he is not enacting some sort of prayer ritual, like the Muslims who face Mecca when they pray. David knows that God dwells in the heavens and not in only one special spot on earth, not even His own prescribed tabernacle.
“God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things." (Acts 17:24)
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27)
David is reaching out physically for God, even as his soul is reaching out towards Him. "Hear me!" is the essence of his prayer, a prelude to his main request.
It would appear that David is in danger of being lumped in with a bad lot. In Psalm 27, David spoke of a time when many false witnesses rose up against him and accused him of conspiring with evil men. Perhaps this was written around that time, or yet, it may still have been a different situation altogether, simply sharing similar troubles.
David asks God to deliver him from the condemnation that is justly awaiting these others who are guilty of wickedness. They made a pretense of friendship while yet plotting evil against those who trusted them. David hates their deeds and desires their judgement as much as he defends his own innocence.
David pronounces what he believes God's response will be to their sin: He will destroy them. Rather than build them up, He will tear them down. David likewise gives the reason for this: they did not fear God, nor take His Word seriously. God promised blessing to those Israelites who obeyed His commands, and cursing to those who didn't. Furthermore, He promised to bless those nations who blessed the children of Israel and to curse those who cursed them. We don't know who David's enemies are in this psalm, whether they be native or foreign, but in either case, if David is God's man, then these "workers of iniquity" have stepped over a line that requires God's involvement, and it sure doesn't look good for them.
"Blessed be the LORD, because He has heard the voice of my supplications! The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him." (verses 6-7)
Now into the second part of the psalm, David praises God for answering his prayers. We can thus assume that when the time of judgment came, David was acquitted and the evil doers were justly condemned, just as David prayed and believed would happen. David knows that God is the One to whom he owes his life, not the judge, nor the opinion of men. God delivered him from death, and to God his gives the glory.
David calls the LORD his "strength and shield," denoting that his source of ability and protection was due to God, not something from "within himself," as is the popular philosophy today.
David speaks here of his heart. It is with his heart that he trusted God and it is with his heart that he will now rejoice. Our "heart,"as scripture uses the term, is our innermost being, not an organ that pumps blood. Actually the word could be better translated "bowels," as it was believed by the ancients that the "heart" of our being was within our reproductive system. Both physical localities make sense, but that is not the point. The "heart" David references is the spiritual part of us- our soul, and thus is not "located" in any organ of our body. David is saying that his soul trusted in God and that it now rejoices in God's faithfulness to answer him.
"With my song I will praise Him." Indeed, and we are reading it right now!
"The LORD is their strength, and He is the saving refuge of His anointed. Save Your people, and bless Your inheritance; shepherd them also, and bear them up forever." (verses 8-9)
David now expands his praise to include all the children of Israel. God is not only his personal deliverer, but is all Israel's deliverer. To anoint is to specially choose and commission, and God has specially chosen the descendants of Jacob, also known as "Israel", to be a witness to all the world of how God deals with those who trust in Him. They were to be a light to the gentile nations around, as God blesses them and protected them supernaturally from harm.
They are called His "inheritance" because they are His children, and He promised never to disown them, no matter what they did. He would chasten and discipline them severely at times, because of their gross rebellion to His good and just statutes, but He never rejected them as a whole. In fact, we have recorded in scripture promises He will yet still fulfil to the literal physical nation of Israel, godless as they may currently be!
He has ordained a final "week" of seven years in which He will purify His people and save them from both their enemies and from their sin, as they turn, one and all, to faith in their true Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. They largely rejected Him when He first came, but they will all believe in Him when He returns in glory.
David concludes this psalm with the final prayer: "shepherd" Your people, and "bear them up" forever. David, ever the shepherd at heart, sees the Israelites as God's "sheep," and calls upon the nurturing nature of God to watch out for them. He goes into great detail and spiritual analogy in his 23rd psalm, but here he simply asks God to shepherd them "also."
To "bear up" is to uphold what is inclined to fall, what is weak. All men are thus weak and thus inclined to fall. It is my prayer that God uphold me in my frailty and His church in it's weakness, and it is my assurance from His Word that He will indeed do so:
"Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Saviour, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen."