This psalm is another lament attributed to David. We do not know if there was a specific event that prompted David to write this.
This psalm is also meant to be sung, as it is directed to the choirmaster. So, we see it is a personal lament, but also meant for corporate worship.
David asked God to hear his complaint. But he was not complaining about God, he is explaining his situation to him. His complaint is against his enemies.
There are those who complain about God. They often do this when something bad happens and they say “how could God allow this”? We are not studying that issue today, but if it is on your mind, I’ll direct you to the book of Job.
In this psalm, David once again asks God to deliver him as others seek his downfall. He asked God to preserve him and to hide him. One thing we see for the first time, though, is David asking God for help with his fear. He said “preserve my life from the dread of the enemy”, not just “preserve me from my enemy”.
God created us with the emotion of fear. It is a response to danger. Our bodies react with in such a way that we can run or fight better than we can normally. We should be afraid of a ferocious beast and act to avoid being killed. Failure to have that fear leads to disaster. Exhibit A is the person who jumped into the tiger pen at the zoo and was killed. Evidently no one taught him that tigers were dangerous for humans or he thought there was a television screen between him and all dangers.
But fear is a strong emotion. It is often a negative motion. And it is one that seems to feed on itself. It can get the better of us, especially if we think about something over and over, letting our fear grow with each cycle. Fear then turns to dread. It becomes paralyzing. The danger grows in our minds out of proportion to reality. Soon, we can neither think nor act as we should.
We have all seen the movie where the bad thing comes and most people run, but one person freezes and looks at the thing in horror until it kills them.
David dreaded his enemy even though he knew God was bigger and stronger than his enemy. But he realized this and asked God to preserve his life from his dread.
This is a prayer that does not minimize the danger, but asks God to help David keep in in perspective. He believed God had the power to defeat his enemies and the desire to do it. But, at times, fear got the best of him and he needed help.
We have all been in that situation.
Description of the Enemies
These verses contain a long description of David’s enemies. They were wicked people who had secret plots against him. (2) Their words could wound. David said they were sharp and bitter, like swords or arrows.
The word “whet” in verse 3 in the English Standard Version, is an old word for “sharpen”. For example, my father gave me a knife when I was young,
and he gave me a stone to sharpen it with. He called it a “whet stone”. The New International Version modernized the language to “sharpen”, which is appropriate.
Words can hurt and cause damage to a person’s feelings, their reputation, and their ability to get things done. These enemies shot their arrows from ambush at David and at God’s people. They did not confront David face to face, but talked to others. They were bold and unafraid when they operated from cover. They did not see themselves as accountable to anyone.
Intentional character assassination is the bearing of false witness, which the Bible labels as a sin. (Exodus 20:16) It is right there in the ten commandments, yet some people believe it is acceptable to do to put someone down and elevate themselves. This happens often in politics and business, and sometimes within the church body.
Gossip is possibly one step down from intentional character assassination. Gossip is usually defined as spreading rumors or repeating stories that you do not know to be true. Gossip tends to grow in intensity, too, as it is passed from person to person. The story gets bigger and badder as it goes along. I have seen this happen in church so many times.
The Bible condemns gossip. Paul, in Romans 1, equates gossips with those who God gave up to debased minds, which is scary. (1:29) Gossip is harmful to the victim, but it is also harmful to the fellowship. It is literally a poison spreading through the body.
David knew that these evil doers could harm him without real swords or arrows. They could turn the people against him by telling lies in secret, calling his leadership into question. David’s enemies did this, refusing to come out in the open to criticize him, but continually working out their evil purpose. David asked God to protect him against this.
When we ask God for help, he acts for our benefit and his glory. Here, David says God acts suddenly and uses the evil doers own words, or tongues, against them.
My father would have said they were hoisted on their own pitard. That phrase actually comes from Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet’. There is a play on words here, as David said God shoots his arrow at them, as they shot arrows at David. Evidently, God only needs one arrow to overthrow an evil person, where that person needed several arrows to accomplish their evil plans.
Their words come back to haunt them and all who see it recognize them for the liars and gossips they are. David said they “wag heir heads” at them. We still do that, don’t we? When we see someone get caught doing something bad, we shake our heads “no” and turn away in disgust.
So, God would act to Davis’s benefit as he had before. But, God also works to his own glory. Verse 9 says mankind fears God when this happens, they tell others what God has done, and they ponder it.
When God acts for our benefit and delivers us from something bad, we should be careful to give him the glory for it. We should not take credit and steal his glory for our own. That is an offense to God. In Isaiah 42:8, he said “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other…”.
We can, however, rejoice in what God has done. The last verse of this psalm shows us this. David said for the righteous to rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him. We rejoice when we see God conquer the enemy and our faith is built up so that we take refuge in him in times of trouble.
This applies to us individually, but also as the church. Remember, this psalm was designated for congregational worship. There are many in our time who malign Christianity, often saying things that are not true and ridiculing our beliefs. They do not give glory or thanks to God.
We can ask God to protect the church from these people. We should pray that he would open their eyes to the truth of the Gospel. But, failing that, that he would act to stop their evil purposes.
At this very time, the church, even in free countries, is being told by governments that it cannot meet as it believes it should. It may well be wise to do this while the Covid-19 virus is spreading.
But, Christians should be praying that this will end and that governments will not see this as a precedent for shutting down church meetings. We all know that one who assumes a power seldom gives it back.
May the Lord preserve us from our enemies and from the dread of them.