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Deeper Commentary

Psa 59:1

For the Chief Musician. To the tune of Do Not Destroy. A poem by David, when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him-
As Saul "watched" or "kept" the house, David's response was to keep or watch over God's ways (:9 s.w.). We note that this is an imprecatory Psalm, praying for destruction of enemies. But it is set "to the tune of Do Not Destroy". It's as if on one hand David wished destruction upon Saul, but this was in tension with "Do not destroy". Perhaps he set it to this tune because he realized that his desire for Saul's judgment was pitted against, or nuanced along with, his considering of Saul's life as "precious", choosing not to destroy him when he had the chance, twice, and weeping genuine tears of sadness at Saul's death. And then enquiring "Is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God unto him?".

Deliver me from my enemies, my God; lift me on high from those who rise up against me-
"Redeem / deliver me..." is a quotation from Jacob's words when he found his relative Esau barring his path back home (Gen. 32:11,30). And the word is used of David's desire for deliverance from Saul (1 Sam. 26:24); and yet this was a redemption unappreciated by him as it ought to have been (2 Sam. 12:7). Finally David recognized that this prayer was answered (2 Sam. 22:18,49). As David had earlier prayed for redemption / deliverance from Saul and his enemies (Ps. 31:15; 59:1; 144:7), he would later pray for redemption / deliverance from his sins (Ps. 39:8; 79:9).

Psa 59:2

Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, save me from the bloodthirsty men-
Workers of iniquity" is a phrase used only in Job (Job 31:3; 34:8,22) and then by David (with Solomon later alluding to David's usage of the phrase). Apart from the law of Moses, Job was likely the only "scripture" David had access to; and so he often alludes to Job, seeing in him a parade example of innocent suffering. We too have been given scripture, which is largely a collection of biographies, in order to see that man is not alone in his apparently unique experiences; each are in essence passing through that which has already been experienced amongst God's people. 

Psa 59:3

For, behold, they lie in wait for my soul. The mighty gather themselves together against me- "Lie in wait" is the word for ambush. Solomon often uses the word, as if it is for him a major characteristic of sinners (Prov. 1:11,18; 7:12; 12:6; 23:28; 24:15). But it's a rather specific word to use so often. It's as if Solomon is consciously alluding to his father's experiences at the hands of the house of Saul (s.w. Ps. 10:9; 59:3), whom Solomon considered a threat to his own kingship. And so he seems to rather like using the term about sinners, as if using his wisdom to have a dig at his immediate opposition.

Not for my disobedience, nor for my sin, Yahweh-
Reading through the book of Psalms in one or two sittings reveals that frequent and intense self-examination was a leading characteristic of David:, especially while on the run from Saul; as if he began to pick up false guilt from how he was being treated, wondering if it was all in fact justified (Ps. 4:4; 7:3; 17:3; 18:20-24; 19:12; 26:1; 39:1; 59:3; 66:18; 77:6; 86:2; 101:2; 109:3; 139:23,24).

"Transgression" is Heb. 'rebellion'. The charge was going to be of treason, that David was planning on being king and was to be condemned. A kangaroo court would be held on this charge, David would be found guilty and executed. Yet Saul had twice been told that he would not be king and would be replaced. By charging David with rebellion, Saul's sin was indeed great.

Psa 59:4

I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me. Rise up, behold, and help me!-
As noted on :5, this attitude was to change after his sin with Bathsheba. The injustice of Saul's persecution weighed heavily on David's mind in the Psalms written at this time. But clearly this led him too far along the road of self righteousness and assumption of his general perfection, which led him into the sin with Bathsheba. We too can wrongly respond to false accusation in the same way. Ps. 119 shows David was aware of many sins and weaknesses in himself at this time, but the experience of false accusation lead him to overlook this at this point. "Ready to attack me" is Heb. "they station themselves"- exactly what happened that night when Saul's men surrounded his house.

Psa 59:5

You, Yahweh God of Armies, the God of Israel, rouse Yourself to punish the nations. Show no mercy to the wicked traitors. Selah-
See on :7. "Show no mercy" is "Be not gracious"; but later David asks exactly for such grace for himself in Ps. 56:1; 57:1. "Show mercy" is the term used in David's plea for forgiveness in Ps. 41:4; 51:1. "I have done no wrong" (:4) was typical of David's attitude before the sin with Bathsheba. He was taught that mercy to the undeserving is the essence of the Gospel; whereas previously he had railed against the display of any such mercy. AV "Be not merciful to any wicked transgressors" heightens the lesson. "Transgressors" or "traitors" is the term used by David of Saul and his supporters (Ps. 25:3; 59:5; 119:158). Solomon uses this term, teaching that "transgressors" must be rooted out of the earth / eretz promised to Abraham (Prov. 2:22), and that the "transgressors" are to face judgment (Prov. 11:3,6; 13:2; 21:18; 22:12; 23:28; 25:19). All Solomon says is true, but he clearly has in view the house and supporters of Saul, who were a group he felt he needed to repress in order to keep his own kingdom and power intact.

Psa 59:6

They return at evening, howling like dogs, and prowl around the city-
The allusion is to dogs hunting in packs, singling out their victim, chasing it until it is exhausted, bringing it down to the ground [David often speaks of 'bringing down'] and eating it alive. The "return at evening" could mean that having tracked David to his house, they disperse for a time like dog packs do, but "return" again to the victim at evening, and take up their watch (1Sa 19:11). If they were patrolling around the city, it was by God's grace that David managed to get over the wall and run away. Hence he asks God to "meet" him in :5 Heb. the other side of the wall. There was nobody standing there but God met him and directed him to safety.  This is a description of Saul's men prowling around the city, ensuring David didn't escape (:1). But the language is repeated in :14, with the Hebrew suggesting they would be made to do this again- in the condemnation of the last day. As they had prowled around the perimeters of the city like dogs, so they would be thrown out of Zion in the last day and wander in the darkness of rejection and condemnation. The idea is that they were living out their own condemnation. Their hatred of their brother led them to act out ahead of time the condemnation of the wicked.


Psa 59:7

Behold, they spew with their mouth; swords are in their lips-
Here again we see the lesson of Job's sufferings; that human words are of immense power, and can be as swords. They were speaking loud enough for David to hear inside the house. The foaming at the mouth is described in :12 as curses and lies [the Hebrew could possibly mean "spells". These curses would have been imprecations, demanding David's eternal condemnation by God. "Foaming at the mouth" ["spew with their mouth"] is language associated with witchcraft and cursing. It has been observed: "this characteristic of salivation at the mouth was also ascribed to witches in Akkadian incantations. In the same way, the mulozi of Zimbabwe use "mate mabi", ‘bad spittle’ to effectuate ruin". Dogs and hyenas are associated with witches in Africa today, the belief being that witches can turn themselves into animals; and probably they also were thus associated in the ancient near east. Hence David likens these people to dogs. Michal's use of teraphim may have been because she thought they would counter all this. Curses were usually met by counter-curses. But unlike Michal, David was far above and beyond their ideas and called upon Yahweh to save him from evil in whatever form, perceived or actual. He says God is his shield against these curses (:11), not some counter curse nor teraphim. We could re-point :5 to read "wake up to punish all the witches, don’t have pity on any master of the dark arts". Likewise :8 "You scoff at all the nations" can be repointed as "you utter imprecations against all the witches".

We note that Saul at this time was using witchcraft- it was likely popular in Israel at the time. But later he condemns witches. Again this is a psychological classic. He judges severely against what he himself is guilty of; he transfers his guilt to the witches.

For, they say, who hears us?-
Here we have an example of God perceiving what human words and attitudes mean in reality, before Him. For they likely didn't actually exalt that nobody heard their words, and that therefore they were unaccountable to God. But this was what their attitudes implied. The assumption that God doesn't hear human words and thoughts is almost endemic to human nature. But He does and by them He judges men.

Psa 59:8

But You, Yahweh, laugh at them. You scoff at all the nations-
See on :7. David was in an apparently hopeless position, with the house he was in, and the entire city, encircled by Saul's men (:1,6). But he was confident that at that moment, Yahweh was laughing at those men. He was treating them as the Gentile nations. David commonly perceives the hateful and apostate within Israel as mere Gentiles. Or perhaps "the nations" was added under inspiration at a later point, perhaps during the exile.

In :5 and :8 David speaks of Gentiles. It could be that Saul's men who were sent to take him included Gentile mercenaries like Doeg the Edomite. Or perhaps David reapplied this Psalm to a later time of threat from Gentiles. Thus he took comfort in his deliverance from Goliath as a basis for his deliverance from Saul at this time, and then used that deliverance from Saul as encouragement to faith that God would likewise deliver him from some Gentile opposition. This is the path of spiritual maturity and growth, going from strength to strength through all life's trials.

Psa 59:9

Oh my Strength, I watch for You- As Saul "watched" or "kept" the house, David's response was to keep or watch over God's ways (:1 s.w.). The idea is "unto You will I watch". As they were looking at him, watching him, David was looking to God. In various ways we may all feel watched by men, we worry about image and appearance, or fear what they are devising. But our response is to believe that God is watching it all and we look unto Him.

For God is my high tower-
David sees that Yahweh will be a "high tower" or place of refuge at the day of future judgment (Ps. 9:8,9, quoted about this in Acts 17:31 "He will judge the world in righteousness, He will administer judgment to the peoples in uprightness.  Yahweh will also be a high tower for the oppressed; a high tower in times of trouble. Those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, Yahweh, have not forsaken those who seek You"). This was his ultimate defence, rather than the house in which he was taking refuge at the time (:1). But David feels God has been like this to him in this life (2 Sam. 22:3; Ps. 18:2; 46:7; 48:3; 59:9,16,17; 62:2; 94:22; 144:2). He therefore sees a seamless experience in his relationship with God in this life, and at the future day of judgment. God saves us right now and is a refuge for us in countless life situations; and this is the guarantee that He will be likewise at the last day.

Psa 59:10

My God will go before me with His grace- David was inside his house surrounded by his enemies (:1), and escaped through a window. As he planned the escape, he believed that God's grace would go before him. At the end of his life he appears to reflect upon this incident, glorying that although he was "compassed about" with the threat of death, seeing the house was surrounded by Saul's men intending to kill him; yet God's grace had somehow gone before David and prepared a way of escape (Ps. 18:5,18 s.w.).

Psalm 18 speaks of a time when David is surrounded but miraculously delivered by an eartquake. We wonder whether this applies to the time when he was surrounded by Saul's men in his home with Michal. The house was surrounded, but Michal let him down out of a window and he escaped. How come, if the house was surrounded? An earthquake would explain how this was possible: "The cords of death surrounded me, the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. The cords of Sheol were around me, the snares of death came on me [all referring to Saul's men surrounding his house]... Then the earth shook and trembled, the foundations also of the mountains quaked and were shaken... He sent from on high. He took me [Ps. 59:1 "lift me on high from those who rise up against me"], He delivered me from my strong enemy [Saul] [Ps. 59:1 "Deliver me from my enemies"], from those who hated me [Saul's men surrounding his house]; for they were too mighty for me. They came on me in the day of my calamity, but Yahweh was my support. He brought me forth also into a large place [David fled to Samuel]. He delivered me, because He delighted in me. Yahweh has judged me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands has He recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of Yahweh, and have not wickedly departed from my God [Ps. 59:3,4"not for my disobedience, nor for my sin, Yahweh. I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me"]" (Ps. 18:4,5,7,16-21).

The idea is as in LXX that God's mercy goes before David. This is prevenient grace, the idea that God is already there and His grace has gone before us. David displays such faith by saying this, surrounded and trapped as he was my men intent on killing him. Ps. 21:3 has this same idea of God's grace being prevenient, going before us, just as predestination and calling from the beginning is cited by Paul as the parade example of God's grace: "For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness: thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head".

God will let me look at my enemies in triumph-
AV "See my desire upon my enemies". David's desire to see his enemies condemned seems to sharply contradict the Father who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ez. 33:11).

Psa 59:11

Don’t kill them immediately, or my people may forget. Scatter them by Your power-
David wanted them to be destroyed (:13), but he wanted them to be scattered and then destroyed, so that their doom would be a lesson to as many people as possible. This was what happened to God's apostate people- they were scattered as a lesson to the nations. This is an allusion to Cain being told he would not die immediately but rather would wander until his death- just as David wishes Saul's men would wander in the darkness of condemnation (:14).

And bring them down-
The phrase is usually used by David to mean 'bring them down to the grave'. David is seeking to invert Saul's command to bring David up to him to be killed- up the hill to the upper town in Gibeah where Saul's palace was. David sees the descend of Saul's men from the palace down to his house as God bringing them down- to condemnation.

Lord our shield-
Another allusion to the promise that God would be a shield to Abraham and his seed. The promises to Abraham were continually appealed to by David in his times of crises. David surely had in mind how he had turned down Saul's offer of a shield, and had slain Goliath who had a shield. He is asking God to come through for him again, as He did against Goliath. We too are led to build on previous experiences of God's activity for us.

Psa 59:12

For the sin of their mouth, and the words of their lips, let them be caught in their pride-
Rather, "the sin of their mouth is each word of their lips". See on :7. As the Lord taught, by our words we are justified or condemned. We note how "sin" and "words" are paralleled. Pride and words spoken are the basis for their condemnation- things which would be shrugged off merely as surface level weakness by many today.  

For the curses and lies which they utter-
There were no expletives used in ancient languages. The curses they uttered were imprecations for Divine judgment upon David; and he asks for these curses to come true for them. But again we note the lack of grace and desire for their repentance on David's part. Although unrecorded in the historical record, Saul would have justified his demand for David to be arrested and slain by various untrue lies about him. Backed up by curses. We note that instead of directly requesting their destruction, David asks God to let his enemies be caught up in their own pride and words, and thereby to condemn themselves. The Lord possibly alludes here in teaching that by their own words men are condemned or saved.

Psa 59:13

Consume them in wrath, consume them, and they will be no more. Let them know that God rules in Jacob, to the ends of the earth. Selah-
The idea may be that he wanted the God of Jacob to be known as king throughout the eretz promised to Abraham. He wished for the Kingdom, the dominion of the king, to be known within that entire territory. And David considered that the destruction of the wicked would achieve this. It is perhaps intentionally ambiguous as to whether David wanted them to finally "know that God rules", rather than Saul ruling, as meaning he wanted them to repent- or whether he wanted them to realize all too late, in their condemnation, that "God rules". It appears from :14,15 that the latter is how David saw it. And such wishing of condemnation upon men seems to me quite wrong.

The connection is clear with 1 Sam. 17:46, where David said he would "give the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel". Clearly David was inspired by memory of his victory over Goliath.

Psa 59:14

At evening let them return. Let them howl like a dog, and go around the city-

This repeats :6. What they had done, acting like wandering dogs in the darkness, is here what David wishes upon them in the future day of judgment. As they acted like dogs wandering around the town and his property, so he wishes them the wandering of condemnation. The allusion is to Cain who also didn't die immediately but wandered around. As punishment for slaying Abel in jealousy. So by wandering around the town like dogs on the scent of meat, i.e. David, they were living out their condemnation. David's attitude was far from right bit yet he sung this to the tune of Do Not Destroy. Saul's life was precious in his sight. His wrath and his saving grace and love were in conflict, but love and grace won out. In this sense David had God's heart, for Hosea shows us that He feels the same struggle.

The ecclesia in the wilderness were ‘types of us’. They were rejected from entry into the Kingdom; and when that finally sunk in, they “returned [s.w. convert, turn back] and wept before the Lord; but the Lord would not hearken to your voice” (Dt. 1:45). The rejected will “return [s.w. convert] at evening: they make a noise like a dog [whining for acceptance], and go round about the city [cp. the foolish virgins knocking on the closed door]”. This is the picture of Rev, 22:15, where the dogs wander outside the closed city of Zion. The language here repeats that of :6. This was a description of Saul's men prowling around the city, ensuring David didn't escape (:1). But the language is repeated here in :14, but with the Hebrew suggesting they would be made to do this again- in the condemnation of the last day. As they had prowled around the perimeters of the city like dogs, so they would be thrown out of Zion in the last day and wander in the darkness of rejection and condemnation. The idea is that they were living out their own condemnation. Their hatred of their brother led them to act out ahead of time the condemnation of the wicked. Just as John says that those who hate their brother walk in darkness, and darkness means condemnation at the last day.

Psa 59:15

They shall wander up and down for food, and howl all night because they aren’t satisfied-
David was confident that God would deliver him from his encirclement, and that all who were out watching for him that night would find he had escaped and be "not satisfied". But he sees this as looking forward to their ultimate disappointment in the condemnation of the last day; see on :14. The lack of "satisfaction" is a major theme in the descriptions of condemnation for those who break the covenant (s.w. Lev. 26:26). And it is the principle we must live by today; that the only satisfaction is in the things of God's Kingdom. Even in this life, the eye is not "satisfied" with seeing or wealth (s.w. Prov. 27:20; Ecc. 1:8; 4:8; 5:10). And those who seek such satisfaction from those things will find that dissatisfaction is the lead characteristic of their condemnation (Ps. 59:15). Tragically Solomon knew the truth of all this but lived otherwise; just as so many do who give lip service to the idea that the things of the flesh cannot satisfy.

Psa 59:16

But I will sing of Your strength. Yes, I will sing aloud of Your grace in the morning. For You have been my high tower, a refuge in the day of my distress-
"In the morning", David had escaped (1 Sam. 19:12), and  "sang of God’s mercy" at Ramah with Samuel. David escaped by night from his house when surrounded by Saul's men (:1). This Psalm is his confident prayer before escaping out of the window. He was confident that by morning he would be safe and able to praise God for the deliverance. But the words also have generic reference to how David's first waking moments were naturally of prayer to God. And this is our pattern. He often mentions his habit of regular prayer morning and evening (Ps. 5:3; 55:17; 59:16; 88:3; 119:147). This  should not have to be enforced upon us, but rather the natural outcome of a life lived in constant connection with God. David perceived that the Mosaic ritual of morning and evening sacrifice taught the sacrifice of prayer should be made in daily life, even though at the time of many of the Psalms, David was exiled from the sanctuary. This exile from organized religion led him to make this connection, as it can for us too.

Psa 59:17

To You, my strength, I will sing praises. For God is my high tower, the God of my mercy-
As noted on :16, David was confident that God would deliver him from his hopeless situation, in the house encircled by men sent to murder him (:1). He was confident that one day he would sing praises to God for the deliverance; either the next morning (:16), or in the eternal dawn of God's Kingdom upon earth. "The God of my mercy" or grace reflects how David thought that although he was suffering as an innocent victim, his salvation from that suffering was still by grace alone.