Theme: Man of Sorrows
In this week’s lessons we learn how David approached God in prayer when he experienced the terrible situation of being betrayed.
Scripture: Psalm 54:1-7
He makes his request (v. 5). Finally, David makes the specific request that God might destroy those who are attacking him. In the case of Doeg, pictured in Psalm 52, he has already prophesied what his end would be. It was to be pulled down, snatched up, twisted out and torn from Israel, even from the land of the living (v. 5). David is not so graphic in Psalm 54, but he does pray that evil might “recoil on those who slander” him and that God might be faithful to him by destroying them.
This prayer has bothered a number of commentators, who say, as they do whenever they come across such prayers, that this is somehow unworthy of a man of God and that we have been taught better in the New Testament. For example, A. Weiser complains about “human self-will and man’s low instincts of vindictiveness and gloating,” suggesting that the proper response is to pray for one’s enemies.2 It is true, of course, that we have been taught to pray for our enemies. But that does not mean that we are to cease to care for righteousness or pray that justice should be done by God. It is worth noting that judgment did eventually come to David’s enemies. David was right to pray for it.
However, it is equally important to remember that when David had the opportunity he did not take justice against Saul into his own hands. The very chapters that provide the background for Psalms 52 and 54 tell how David received what seemed to be “God-given” opportunities to kill Saul but record how he spared Saul’s life on at least two occasions (cf. 1 Sam. 24, 26).
He promises God a freewill offering (vv. 6, 7). This is not a case of offering a bribe to God, as if David had said, “I will bring you an offering if you deliver me from my enemies.” Rather, David is talking about a thank offering, promised to God in advance of his deliverance on the grounds of his firm confidence that God would indeed deliver him. How does he know God will do it? It is because of who God is (“God is my help”), and because God has delivered him in the past. David may not have begun this psalm with confidence. But having brought his anxieties to God and having reminded himself of who God is, he finds, as he did in so many others of the psalms, that he is restored to a quiet trust and confidence in God by the end of it. Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote, “Let us trust that if we are as friendless as this man of God, we may resort to prayer as he did, exercise the like faith, and find ourselves ere long singing the same joyous hymn of praise.”3
Here is one last thought. I have said several times in these studies that we must be careful not to turn all the psalms into prophecies of the coming of Jesus Christ or of events of his, or of the very last day. Augustine sees almost everything in them as a prophecy of Christ, and Arno Gaebelein sees nearly everything as a prophecy of the experience of Israel just before the Lord’s second coming. These narrow perspectives greatly limit the value of their commentaries. Most of the psalms are not prophecy at all; however, a few are, which are the Messianic psalms. And there are other psalms which, although they are not about Jesus Christ specifically, nevertheless aptly describe what we know were his experiences from the account we have of them in the New Testament.
Psalm 54 may be in this latter category. This is because, if you study it with the passion of Christ in mind, you will find that it is an excellent expression of the hope of him who called on God in the midst of his suffering on the cross and was heard by him. For example, “Save me, O God, by your name. Strangers are attacking me…. Surely God is my help. He has delivered me from all my troubles.” The Father did hear, did help and did save Jesus, even as he heard, helped and saved David. Jesus knows and understands what is happening to you. Therefore you can be sure that he will also hear, help and save you.
What request does David make in verse 5, and why has it bothered some commentators?
From the lesson, how does Dr. Boice respond?
What is the meaning of the offering David mentions in verses 6 and 7?
Application: What ought to be your attitude and response to your own suffering at the hands of others, knowing how Jesus was regarded and treated by those who should have received him in faith?
For Further Study: When we are hurting, God not only knows, but cares about us and the situation that is deeply troubling. Download for free James Boice’s study guide from his series “Hearing God When You Hurt.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
2A. Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, trans. H. Hartwell (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962); cited by Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20, Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word, 1990), p. 49.3C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 442.