Psalm 59

Psalm 59 is concerned with the enemies of God. At the time when David prayed these things it must have seemed as though everyone was an enemy of God. The setting is the night of David’s escape from Saul (1Sam. 19). David had won a decisive victory over the philistines and was no doubt in the warrior frame of mind. Having struck down the enemies of God outside Israel David returned only to have an attempt made on his life by Saul. On top of this Saul now had men watching his house ready to finish him off. It must have crossed David’s that an option would of course be to simply kill Saul. After all David had just dashed the mighty philistines to pieces. But somewhere along the line God taught David that he did not need to take matters into his own hands. David had a couple of opportunities to kill Saul which he refused to take up (1 Sam. 24, 26). He wanted to express that this judgement was ultimately God’s prerogative. In fact this Psalm expresses that it is God’s prerogative to punish any of his enemies. And this psalm is a prayer for God to do just this (vs. 5). The injustice of David’s position was agonising (vs. 3-4). How could Saul, the king of Israel, be such a traitor to the kingdom? It must have seemed to David that Israel was finished with such a state of affairs at hand. How could Israel maintain her sway over her hostile neighbours when the king was obsessively intent on killing God’s chosen general? David must have imagined dreadful visions of the fall of Israel because he prays desperately that God would make sure the hostile nations are finally defeated despite this traitorous episode (vs. 5). Just because David was not permitted to lay a hand on Saul (or show anything but respect for him for that matter) did not mean that he could not pour out his indignation against Saul before God. David’s imprecation is justified here. He expresses before God the terrible injustice of his situation and calls on God to save him (vss. 3-4). The elaborate use of the various names of God in verse 5 serves as a covenant appeal: ‘Yahweh’ (the special covenant name of God), ‘God of might’, and ‘God of Israel.’ Basically the prayer of this psalm is that God would destroy everyone who works against his purpose. The ‘prowling dogs’ of verse 6 are probably the men that Saul sent to kill David but this description is one which elsewhere refers to evil-doers in general (Psalm 22:16, 20). Cities in those times would have been full of mangy scavenging dogs and to be likened to one of these is to be described as the most shameful and desperately evil creature. Just as the dogs return each evening to the streets to devour any food or rubbish lying around so are those who do the bidding of evil. The ‘swords’ from their mouths refers to the bitter and lying words which they speak, specifically, words of blasphemy against God. This blasphemy involves a denial of God’s omniscience and justice. But, says David, God laughs at these evil doers. In Psalm 2:4 the same response of God to those who rage against him is described: ‘The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.’ It seems strange to think of God as laughing at people but we should remember that this is poetry and that the psalmist is trying to describe poetically how such actions appear to God. What he is describing is the supreme irony of rebellion against God. It is a case of the proverbial ‘cutting off the branch you sit on.’ When we strike out at God we are always striking at ourselves. To curse God is to curse oneself. God is the life of humanity and to cut oneself off from this life is to execute judgement upon oneself already before God does anything. Something that is comical is not always a matter of flippancy. In philosophy something can be described as comical which nevertheless pertains to the very essentials of existence. In the work of Kierkegaard it is a term that describes the contradiction of the human being trying to create his own existence apart from God while the essence of his humanness consists precisely in the God relationship. It is therefore a matter of not wanting to be what one is: human. We can speak of the comedy of rebellion against God without trivialising that rebellion. And this is what is portrayed in this psalm here in verse 8. Those who blaspheme God are really making a mockery not of God but of themselves. The very presence of God before the speakers of such words is the essence of the mockery against them. God does not need to say anything: they are mocked by his very presence.

David declares that he will now wait and watch for God who is his strength. It is a classic declaration of faith. To be able to wait upon God and do nothing in the way of taking things into one’s own hands in the midst of such a situation is trust indeed. Here is a man who really believed that God would save him. We could even say that his faith is: that he was convinced, on the basis of who he knew God to be, that God must (by his own covenant promises) save him (what form that salvation takes or when it is, is up to God). He goes on to describe what he believes will happen when God saves him. He will gloat over those who slander him. He asks God then that his enemies not be destroyed completely. Let them wander around in destitution like Cain so they might be an example of God’s justice to the people of Israel. Let the people see the proud bought down. Let them see them caught in their pride and ruined by it. Let them see the proud condemned by their own words. When this happens, when God consumes them in his wrath, the world will know that the God of Israel reigns. Here is a strong appeal. Let it be done so that the might and justice of God is displayed to all the peoples of the earth. Let it be done in such a way that people will never forget that God did it. Let the glory of the God of Jacob be manifest in this.

The psalm returns in verse 14 to a description of the rebellious as dogs prowling about for food never satisfied but always wanting more. In the face of these dogs already described David can sing of the strength of his God which he knows is about to fall upon them at any moment. By now he is sharing in God’s attitude toward their threats described in verse 8. At this stage in the prayer David’s confidence is such that he no longer laments in the face of these dogs but rejoices in anticipation of how they will be used to facilitate a mighty demonstration of God’s justice. All people will be used to glorify God whether through condemnation or salvation. David ends with the refrain which, in verse 9 and 10, spoke of waiting. But here there is no mention of waiting, only singing. David feels that his prayer is as good as answered and he is already rejoicing in what is yet to happen.

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