Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not Yourself from my supplication.
Attend unto me, and hear me:
I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise;
Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked:
for they cast iniquity upon me, and in wrath they hate me.
My heart is sore pained within me:
and the terrors of death are fallen upon me.
Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me.
And I said, “Oh that I had wings like a dove!
for then would I fly away, and be at rest.
Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah.
I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.”
Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues:
for I have seen violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they go about it upon the walls thereof:
mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it.
Wickedness is in the midst thereof:
deceit and guile depart not from her streets.
For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it:
neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me;
then I would have hid myself from him:
But it was thou, a man my equal, my guide, and my acquaintance.
We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.
Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell:
for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.
As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me.
Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud:
and He shall hear my voice.
He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me:
for there were many with me.
God shall hear, and afflict them, even He that abideth of old. Selah.
Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.
He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him:
he hath broken his covenant.
The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart:
his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.
Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and He shall sustain thee:
He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.
But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction:
bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; but I will trust in Thee.
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I’m not going to lie; this was a rather confusing psalm upon first reading. There’s a lot here, and I’m going to have to dig deep to get it all out. On the surface, David was betrayed by someone very close to him, someone whom he trusted. That much is easy to ascertain. But there is much, much more here. The Holy Spirit will guide me into all truth and teach me what He wants me to know.
In the first 8 verses David wishes he could run away and live in the hills forever, far away from all men, where all is peace in the presence of God and creation. Wouldn’t that be nice! I too have felt that way. To live in the absence of conflict does seem inviting, but it is not the Lord’s will for us. It’s okay for a time, but we are called to be soldiers in God’s army, and soldiers who don’t fight are worthless. Granted, all He expects of us is to stand fast in the faith, and He will fight for us, but we do have to stand.
In verses 9-15 it gets ugly. “Destroy, O Lord.” This is a prayer for destruction of the enemy in battle when he who so prays believes the cause to be a righteous one. “Divide their tongues.” This is an allusion to what happened at the tower of Babel, when the Lord caused the construction of the tower to cease when the men could no longer communicate with one another. And indeed, when David learned that Ahithophel, his own trusted counselor, had turned on him and was counseling his son Absalom in the attempt to overthrow the kingdom, David prayed that God would intervene by bringing confusion to the wicked counsel, and the Lord did just that. In this passage, and at this time, it does not hurt David so much that his estranged son wants to steal the kingdom from him, as that his trusted advisor is helping to plot the evil deed.
This psalm has been fairly dark up until now, but verses 16-23 are refreshingly bright. I wish to look at this section one verse at a time because there is a gold mine here.
16 As for me, I will call upon God, and the Lord shall save me.
Wow! This is wonderful! Such faith, such confidence in the God who hears and answers prayer, in the God who cannot fail.
17 Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud; and He shall hear my voice.
This is the secret to David’s peace in the midst of the storm of betrayal: he prayed without ceasing. He kept his focus on God instead of his circumstances, and he held firmly to the Rock for his strength.
And this next part is really good. Don’t miss this….
18 He has delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me, for there were many with me. (emphasis added)
Notice that David does not focus on those who are against him, but on those who are with him. It could be easy for him to lose sight of his loyal friends, but he does not. He appreciates those who have remained faithful to him, giving them the honor they are due.
19a God shall hear, and afflict them, even He who abides of old. Selah.
God will hear David’s prayer and afflict his enemies. David knows this without a doubt. He trusts God enough to speak with certainty of things that have not yet happened as though they are in the past. “He who abides of old” signifies the eternal and unchanging God. David’s confidence is based upon God’s track record, for He has never failed.
And a word about the word Selah. We’ve come across this word several times and I have yet to mention it. To be honest, Bible scholars are not clear on what this means. It occurs 71 times in the Psalms and 3 times in the book of Habakkuk, but it appears nowhere else in the Bible. This is a musical term which seems to signal some sort of pause, perhaps like a fermata, or alternatively it is a sort of interlude or bridge where the instruments play while the singers remain silent. Either way, it is meant to add emphasis to the message of the text, to make one stop and think about the words that have recently been sung. As we read the Psalms, we too would do well to meditate on the Word of God.
19b Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.That the wicked have known no changes up to this point suggests they have had no conflicts or difficulties. Everything seems to be working in their favor, and for that reason, they do not fear God. But their end is coming.
20 He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him: he hath broken his covenant.
This verse threw me at first because of the sudden shift in subject. Grammatically, who is the antecedent of the pronoun here? Barnes believes it is Ahithophel, the primary subject of the psalm. David would have had Ahithophel foremost on his mind, and he certainly fits the description of this verse. He put his hands against David, who was at peace with him, and he broke his covenant with the king.
21 The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.
This too is a continuation of the description of Ahithophel, the trusted friend and counselor turned traitor. Oh, how horrible it is to be betrayed by someone in whom one has placed such great trust!
22 Cast your burden upon the LORD, and He shall sustain you; He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.
David here has a message for all who will suffer hardship, regardless of the nature of the trial. His current trial is that of betrayal, but he has faced other troubles besides, and there will be more as time goes by. His friends will face various trials of their own as well. One thing and one thing alone will remain constant, and that is God. He never changes. He never fails. I can cast my burden on Him, and He will sustain me. Right now my burden is physical pain. I have a broken foot and chronic migraine headaches, but God is bigger than physical pain. He sustains me every moment of every day. He strengthens me for every task; He enables me to say, “Yes, Lord, not my will, but Thine be done.”
23 But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; but I will trust in Thee.
This verse reminds me of at least three others. One of them is Romans 12:19, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” It is not up to me to seek vengeance on my enemies; God will take care of them. God tells me to stand still and see His salvation. He will fight my battles for me. Another verse that comes to mind is Psalm 91:16, “With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation,” speaking of the man who trusts in God. This stands in stark contrast to the deceitful man who will not live out half his days. In other words, they will die an untimely death, but those who trust in the Lord will die when their life is fulfilled.
This begs the question: When is one’s life fulfilled? We have all known sweet, godly people who died at a young age; and we have also known wicked, ungodly people who lived well into their nineties. How do you reconcile that with this verse? I certainly don’t claim to know all the answers. The almighty God does not always choose to tell us why He does a thing. The only thing we can know for sure is that He always has a good reason for what He does. God is too wise to be mistaken and too good to be unkind; so when you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.
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Photo taken in Pensacola, Florida, 2017.