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Psalms 56, 120, 140-142     Listen Podcast


When Saul's on one side and the Philistines on the other (Psalm 56)

To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Silent Dove in Distant Lands.” A Michtam of David when the Philistines captured him in Gath.
1 ¶ Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up;
Fighting all day he oppresses me.
2 My enemies would hound me all day,
For there are many who fight against me, O Most High.
3 Whenever I am afraid,
I will trust in You.
4 In God (I will praise His word),
In God I have put my trust;
I will not fear.
What can flesh do to me?
5 All day they twist my words;
All their thoughts are against me for evil.
6 They gather together,
They hide, they mark my steps,
When they lie in wait for my life.
7 Shall they escape by iniquity?
In anger cast down the peoples, O God!
8 You number my wanderings;
Put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?
9 When I cry out to You,
Then my enemies will turn back;
This I know, because God is for me.
10 In God (I will praise His word),
In the LORD (I will praise His word),
11 In God I have put my trust;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
12 Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God;
I will render praises to You,
13 For You have delivered my soul from death.
Have You not kept 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 can flesh do to 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 out to You, Then my enemies will turn back; This I know, because 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)

Song of Degrees (Ascents)
Easton Bible Dictionary

Song of steps, a title given to each of these fifteen psalms, 120–134 inclusive. The probable origin of this name is the circumstance that these psalms came to be sung by the people on the ascents or goings up to Jerusalem to attend the three great festivals (Deut. 16:16). They were well fitted for being sung by the way from their peculiar form, and from the sentiments they express. “They are characterized by brevity, by a key-word, by epanaphora [i.e., repetition], and by their epigrammatic style...More than half of them are cheerful, and all of them hopeful.” They are sometimes called “Pilgrim Songs.” Four of them were written by David, one (127) by Solomon, and the rest are anonymous.

A Song of Ascents.
1 ¶ In my distress I cried to 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 to you,
Or what shall be done to you,
You false tongue?
4 Sharp arrows of the warrior,
With coals of the broom tree!
5 Woe is me, that I dwell in Meshech,
That I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
6 My soul has dwelt too long
With one who hates peace.
7 I am for peace;
But when I speak, they are for war.

"In my distress I cried to 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."

A Psalm of deliverance (Psalm 140)

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.
1 ¶ Deliver me, O LORD, from evil men;
Preserve me from violent men,
2 Who plan evil things in their hearts;
They continually gather together for war.
3 They sharpen their tongues like a serpent;
The poison of asps is under their lips.
4 Keep me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked;
Preserve me from violent men,
Who have purposed to make my steps stumble.
5 The proud have hidden a snare for me, and cords;
They have spread a net by the wayside;
They have set traps for me.
6 I said to the LORD: “You are my God;
Hear the voice of my supplications, O LORD.
7 O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation,
You have covered my head in the day of battle.
8 Do not grant, O LORD, the desires of the wicked;
Do not further his wicked scheme,
Lest they be exalted.
9 “As for the head of those who surround me,
Let the evil of their 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 a slanderer be established in the earth;
Let evil hunt the violent man to overthrow him.”
12 I know that the LORD will maintain
The cause of the afflicted,
And justice for the poor.
13 Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name;
The upright shall dwell in Your 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 out to You;
Make haste to me!
Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.
2 Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
3 Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips.
4 Do not incline my heart to any evil thing,
To practice wicked works
With men who work iniquity;
And do not let me eat of their delicacies.
5 Let the righteous strike me;
It shall be a kindness.
And let him rebuke me;
It shall be as excellent oil;
Let my head not refuse it.
For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked.
6 Their judges are overthrown by the sides of the cliff,
And they hear my words, for they are sweet.
7 Our bones are scattered at the mouth of the grave,
As when one plows and breaks up the earth.
8 But my eyes are upon You, O GOD the Lord;
In You I take refuge;
Do not leave my soul destitute.
9 Keep me from the snares they have laid for me,
And from the traps of the workers of iniquity.
10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
While I escape safely.

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.

I cried unto the Lord (Psalm 142)

A Contemplation of David. A Prayer when he was in the cave.
1 ¶ I cry out to the LORD with my voice;
With my voice to the LORD I make my supplication.
2 I pour out my complaint before Him;
I declare before Him my trouble.
3 When my spirit was overwhelmed within me,
Then You knew my path.
In the way in which I walk
They have secretly set a snare for me.
4 Look on my right hand and see,
For there is no one who acknowledges me;
Refuge has failed me;
No one cares for my soul.
5 I cried out to You, O LORD:
I said, “You are my refuge,
My portion in the land of the living.
6 Attend to 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 Your name;
The righteous shall surround me,
For You shall 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.