The epigraph of Psalm 59 tells us which time that evil men sought David’s life and meant to kill him that he’s writing songs about today. It reads, “when Saul sent men and they watched the house in order to kill him,” an incident which you can review in further detail in 1 Samuel 19:8-18. And artists, writers, poets: remember that, like David, your life experiences can enrich your work with the manifold abundance of inspiration drawn from reality. So if your stuff is boring–like mine–then try drawing the ire of a demon-haunted king and going on the run while your country is beset with violent national enemies.
Let me lay it down. Verses 1-5, evil people are violent untameable cobras. Verses 6-9, O Lord, please knock their teeth out and make them like miscarriages. Verses 10-11, then the righteous people will rejoice and recognize God’s goodness. Bam, psalm summarized, we can go home now. No, actually, not quite yet.
According to the epigraph, Psalm 57 is a psalm of David, written about “when he fled from Saul in the cave.” This reference is vague enough that it might refer to one of two occasions where David hid from Saul in a cave, first in 1 Samuel 22:1-2, and then again in 1 Samuel 24. Either way, we find him in a similar situation: on the run for his life, praying to God for rescue.
Psalm 56 is another of David’s cries for help when faced with his enemies. The epigraph gives us some historical context: “A Mikhtam [possibly epigrammatic poem or atonement psalm] of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.” This is, apparently, the same incident found in I Samuel 21 where David fakes insanity before the king of Gath, about which David wrote Psalm 34. But while Psalm 34 is an optimistic hymn of praise and gratitude for deliverance, Psalm 56 is a psalm of troubled prayer and trust in the midst of crisis. Perhaps David was not yet out of the woods when he wrote it.
The city is a place of law and civilization. Humans exchange goods and services in the market, perform their day’s work, live in houses with their families, love and worship and celebrate together. The city is a place of safety in numbers, protection from the hazards of the wilderness. Or rather, it would be if it weren’t for all the wicked people.
The nice thing about the epigraph before each psalm is that sometimes it gives you the personal context in which the psalm was composed. Psalm 54 here concerns the time that the Ziphites ratted out David’s hiding place to Saul. You can check out the full story in 1 Samuel 23:15-29 and 1 Samuel 26. Go ahead, read it! The psalm is super-short and it’ll take you like five minutes to read the story with the Ziphites and junk. We’ll still be here when you’re done.
“The fool has said in his…” Wait a minute. This psalm is the same as Psalm 14!
I’ve been thinking lately: does it all come down to love? Because if, as John says, God is love–if the supreme Creator of the universe worthy of all praise is in essence love–then it would probably be to my benefit to keep love in mind as I read these passages and write these posts. So I open up my Bible today, and Psalm 52 starts off with: “Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? The lovingkindness of God endures all day long” (1). Kids, we are off to the races.
Psalm 51 is another of David’s better-known works. The epigraph provides a quick-and-dirty summary: “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” It’s a psalm of confession, and to anyone who’s had The Talk, the verb “had gone in to” leaves no question as to what physical act constituted David’s sin here. The psalm is a confession of adultery, and of all the sins that compounded when David tried to cover the deed up.
The opening of Psalm 50 is a summons issued to the earth, and it conveys God’s power. In the very first verse, it draws the camera back to get a cosmic scope, describing God as “The Mighty One” and picturing the whole earth and sun. Between the power of God’s speech, the “fire [that] devours before Him” (4), and the lines that state, “He summons the heavens above, and the earth, to judge His people” (5), the opening calls to mind Psalm 29’s picture of thunder and lightning as the voice of God. Here, though, God speaks judgment.