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Psalms 56, 120, 140-142 Listen
When Saul's on one side and the Philistines on the other (Psalm 56)
For the meaning of the terms found in the subtitle, see the window to the right.
To the chief Musician upon Jonathelemrechokim, Michtam of David, when the Philistines took him in Gath.
1 Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me.
2 Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High.
3 What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.
4 In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.
5 Every day they wrest my words: all their thoughts are against me for evil.
6 They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps, when they wait for my soul.
7 Shall they escape by iniquity? in thine anger cast down the people, O God.
8 Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?
9 When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me.
10 In God will I praise his word: in the LORD will I praise his word.
11 In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.
12 Thy vows are upon me, O God: I will render praises unto thee.
13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?
According to the superscription of this Psalm, it was written on the occasion of I Samuel 21:10-15 (see notes). You remember when David fled to the safety of the Philistines for refuge because Saul was trying to kill him. David shows up in Gath and acts insane so as to create the impression that he is no threat to them any longer. Those weren't the best of times for David, but he wrote this Psalm during that time of crisis. As you can see from this Psalm, David is pretty certain he's experiencing just a temporary setback. After all, he's the King of Israel. Unfortunately, he and Samuel are the only ones who know it at that time. Saul's coming to that realization...and therein lies the big problem. Because of God's promise, David is able to say in verse 4, "In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me."
When God makes a covenant, God never violates his own covenant. David has been anointed King of Israel by Samuel himself (I Samuel 16, see notes). Undoubtedly it is for this reason that David can proclaim in verse 9, "When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me." David knew that he was living under the umbrella of God's covenant and was serving his purpose.
A prayer for deliverance (Psalm 120)
For the meaning of the term "Song of degrees," see the information window to the right.
A Song of degrees.
1 In my distress I cried unto the LORD, and he heard me.
2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.
3 What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?
4 Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.
5 Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!
6 My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.
7 I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.
"In my distress I cried unto the LORD, and he heard me." These are words likely written while David was fleeing Saul's death sentence (I Samuel 21-22, see notes), although we have no way of knowing exactly when this Psalm was penned. There are two geographic references in this Psalm. Meshech in the far north (Genesis 10:2) and Kedar (Jeremiah 2:10) in the Syro-Arabian Desert are too far apart to be the literal locations where David is residing at the time. He undoubtedly uses these place names to suggest being far from home. Notice how David sums up his circumstances in verse 7, "I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war."
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.
1 Deliver me, O LORD, from the evil man: preserve me from the violent man;
2 Which imagine mischiefs in their heart; continually are they gathered together for war.
3 They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison is under their lips. Selah.
4 Keep me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent man; who have purposed to overthrow my goings.
5 The proud have hid a snare for me, and cords; they have spread a net by the wayside; they have set gins for me. Selah.
6 I said unto the LORD, Thou art my God: hear the voice of my supplications, O LORD.
7 O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation, thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.
8 Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked: further not his wicked device; lest they exalt themselves. Selah.
9 As for the head of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them.
10 Let burning coals fall upon them: let them be cast into the fire; into deep pits, that they rise not up again.
11 Let not an evil speaker be established in the earth: evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him.
12 I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor.
13 Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence.
It is likely that Psalms 140-142 were written at about the same period of time in David's life. The introduction to Psalm 142 (see notes below) references having been written from the cave. This could be the cave of Adullam (I Samuel 22, see notes) or the cave at Engedi (I Samuel 24, see notes). That would place this writing during the period of time when he is hiding in the cave from Saul. David asks for deliverance from his enemies. It is interesting that David never mentions Saul by name when referencing his enemies.
By the way, Paul quotes a portion of verse 3 in Romans 3:13 (see notes).
Keep me from evil (Psalm 141)
A Psalm of David.
1 LORD, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.
2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
3 Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.
4 Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties.
5 Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.
6 When their judges are overthrown in stony places, they shall hear my words; for they are sweet.
7 Our bones are scattered at the grave’s mouth, as when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth.
8 But mine eyes are unto thee, O GOD the Lord: in thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.
9 Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me, and the gins of the workers of iniquity.
10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets, whilst that I withal escape.
This Psalm of David seems to flow with 140 and 142. It is likely, therefore, that it was written from the cave at the same time as 142 (see notes below). David expresses his strong desire to speak and act only in a way pleasing to God. People tend to develop a more cohesive relationship with God during times of distress. David's adversity draws him into a closer walk with God.
Maschil of David; A Prayer when he was in the cave.
1 I cried unto the LORD with my voice; with my voice unto the LORD did I make my supplication.
2 I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble.
3 When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me.
4 I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.
5 I cried unto thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.
6 Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I.
7 Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.
The superscription here references a cave. This could be the cave of Adullam (I Samuel 22, see notes) or the cave at Engedi (I Samuel 24, see notes). In both instances David was fleeing the wrath of Saul...yet he had time to write poetry, not to mention the presence of mind to do so. We really get some insight into the thinking processes that were going on in David's mind during this period of rejection. He feels that God is all he has and looks forward to the time when his soul is delivered out of prison, he is surrounded by righteous people and experiencing bountiful blessings from God.
I'm struck by the expression of helplessness from the future reigning King of Israel. Notice David's own words about his plight:
And you think you have problems! It just goes to show you: When it seems hopeless, God is really the one in control. It is important to keep in mind that David had been anointed King of Israel prior to this occasion - back in I Samuel 16 (see notes). NOTE: The road to success isn't always paved.