Theme: Keeping Away from Evil
In this week’s lessons, we learn about David’s prayers, and how we, too, need to pray for God’s protection as we seek to live an upright life.
Scripture: Psalm 141:1-10
In today’s study we resume our look at verses 3 and 4 in which David asks God to “set a guard” over his mouth, his heart and his actions.
3. David’s actions. He expresses this from the negative side, however, asking God to keep him from being “drawn to what is evil” or taking “part in wicked deeds.” This is what we pray for when we say the Lord’s Prayer, asking, “Lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13).
David’s prayer is not only that he might be kept from evil, however. It is also that he might be kept from the company of evildoers, so he will not be tempted to sit down with them and “eat of their delicacies” (v. 4). This is like the two preceding psalms in which David asked God to keep him from the company and corruptions of the wicked. It is one reason why we should think of these psalms as being written by the same man. I repeat here what I said in the two earlier studies. It is not that David is too good for evil people; the problem is that he is too much like them and is therefore likely to be swept away by their wickedness if he is in their company.
David swept away by evil company? If that was a danger for David, how much more so for you and me? Shouldn’t we also be praying, “Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil” and “Lead me not into temptation”? Derek Kidner comments rightly: “There is a Puritan vigor and single-mindedness about this psalm to put one in mind of Christian and Faithful at Vanity Fair, whose prayer was ‘Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity,’ and whose reply to the challenge ‘What will you buy?’ was ‘We buy the truth.’”1
Now we come to the more difficult part, which is verses 5-7. But we can treat them briefly since the New International Version probably does as good a job as any in showing their connection with the rest of the psalm and with each other. The link between verse 5 and verse 4 seems to be that in verse 5 the psalmist, having asked God to keep him from the allure of evil and evil persons, professes his preference for the friendship of the righteous, even if they reprove him for his sin. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.”
Is there a setting for this psalm? Franz Delitzsch takes its ascription to David seriously and gets a plausible meaning for this difficult middle section by relating it to the time David was driven from Jerusalem because of Absalom’s rebellion. In those days David was cut off from the temple, was well aware of his failures as a king, welcomed reproof from friendly sources, and prayed for the overthrow of those who had wrongly usurped power. The New International Version takes verse 7 as being spoken of the wicked who are to be destroyed, meaning that their bones will be scattered. But Delitzsch thinks that they are being spoken by David and his followers. As he explains:
Assuming the very extreme, it is a look of hope into the future: should his bones and the bones of his followers be even scattered about the mouth of Sheol…it would nevertheless be only as when one in ploughing cleaves the earth; i.e. they do not lie there in order that they may continue lying, but that they may rise up anew, as the seed that is sown sprouts up out of the upturned earth…. We discern here the hope of a resurrection.2
It is tempting to accept Delitzsch’s proposed setting for the psalm, especially his suggestion that it may contain an anticipation of a future resurrection of the righteous. But the extreme setting of Absalom’s revolt is not necessary to explain David’s preference for the company of righteous persons, even if they should rebuke him. We ought to welcome reproof from the righteous at all times. It is also probably best to take David’s words about people being thrown from cliffs and bones being scattered as referring to the just end of those who would do exactly that to others, especially since that is what he has been saying about those who practice evil in the preceding psalms (Pss. 138:7; 139:19; 140:9-11).
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), p. 470.
2Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, n.d.), vol. 3, p. 366.
What is the third of David’s requests? How does he express this?
Explain the link between verses 5 and 4.
How has verse 7 been understood?
Reflection: Why are wounds from friends to be preferred to those of an enemy? How do they differ?
Application: How are you sometimes tempted to associate with evildoers in ways that compromise your Christian testimony? What will you do in response?
Prayer: Ask God for help to build more discipline into your prayer life.