Saturday, November 9, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 140

With Psalm 140, we return to the story of David, who is named in the inscription as the psalmist. The psalm follows a pattern we've seen before. David is in some sort of trouble. Perhaps he is being hunted by Saul, with all the plotting, running, and hiding that involves. David begins by explaining his situation to God. Then he asks God to act in his favor. Finally, he expresses confidence that God will indeed do so. Let's take a closer look at each of these three sections. 

In verses 1-8, David begins with a prayer and then presents his circumstances to God. “Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers;” he requests, “protect me from those who are violent, who plan evil things in their minds and stir up wars continually” (verses 1-2). David asks God to do two things for him: to deliver him from evildoers and to protect him from violent men. A glance at the Hebrew offers some insight into his appeal. The Hebrew word for “deliver” is châlats. It can mean to rescue or remove or withdraw someone from a situation, but it can also refer to equipping or arming someone for war. David may either be asking God to rescue him or to arm him or perhaps a combination of both since he often needs to defend himself against his enemies even as he escapes from them. 

David spends several verses describing his enemies. They are evil and violent, unjust and cruel. They are continually hatching wicked plots and starting wars. Conflict and calamity are their specialties. Further, they have sharp tongues, and their words drip poison against David (verse 3). They make their false accusations against David, slandering him, poisoning the minds of all who listen to them. 

“Guard me, O Lord,” David pleads, “from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent who have planned my downfall” (verse 4). David's enemies are out to get him. They have set traps for him, spread nets, and hidden snares. David may be speaking figuratively here. Perhaps his enemies are trying to trap him in his words, to ruin his reputation, to turn people away from him, or to slander his good name. Of course, if David is on the run when he writes this psalm, his enemies may be setting literal traps for him, trying to capture him, imprison him, and perhaps even kill him. Both options, or a combination thereof, are possible. In any case, David is in danger. His enemies are strong. He feels weak. So he turns to God. 

David reminds God that He is his God, and he asks Him to listen to his pleas (verse 6). David also reminds God, and himself, that God has been a “strong deliverer” to him (verse 7). In Hebrew, this phrase literally reads, “the strength of my salvation.” God has saved David in the past, and, as David says, God has “covered my head in the day of battle.” God has protected David, rescued him from his foes, and helped him succeed. David needs to recall these actions even as he begs God, “Do not grant, O Lord, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot” (verse 8). He desperately needs God's reassurance. He knows what God has done for him in the past, but he wants to make sure that God will act on his behalf now and in the future. 

David continues by praying that those who seek to harm him will find that their mischief backfires on them (verse 9). “Let burning coals fall on them!” he calls out in his fear. “Let them be flung into bits, no more to rise! Do not let the slanderer be established in the land; let evil speedily hunt down the violent!” (verses 10-11). These wicked men are seeking to destroy David, but their evil will fall back down upon their own heads. God will see to it that they do not succeed in their evil plots. Their destructive actions toward David will end up destroying them instead. They will reap what they sow.

David ends on a confident note: “I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name; the upright shall live in Your presence” (verses 12-13). David trusts that God will judge rightly, that He will make things turn out for the best in the end. He believes that God will care for the needy and the poor (and he feels that he is among these people at this point). God will also see to it that the righteous, those who are just and who live in a right relationship with God, will have plenty of opportunities to thank God for His blessings (and plenty of blessings for which to thank Him). Those who are upright, who follow God's ways, who walk a straight path, these will obtain the greatest blessing of all. They will live in God's presence. They will experience an intimate relationship with Him. All of a sudden, David's troubles and enemies fade into the background. God takes center stage. David knows his prayers will be answered and that God will be with him always. 

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