Psalm 27 — Whom Shall I Fear?
27 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.
3 Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.
4 One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.
5 For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.
6 And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
8 When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.
9 Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.
10 When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.
11 Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.
12 Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.
13 I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
14 Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.
The closer we draw near to God, the more trouble we seem to attract from our enemies. Adversaries are powerful and many when one joins the cause of Jesus Christ, which is to herald the coming kingdom of God. Part of the program of heralding is the service of worship, where the ministry of praise, sacrifice, prayer and proclamation are prominent. Timidity is unbecoming of a Christian, but boldness invites fearsome opposition. David, confident that God was with him, inquired provocatively, “Whom shall I fear?”
Psalm 27 is a Psalm of trust/confidence. As a Psalm of David, it is structured with trust at the beginning and end and filled with an interior lament and petition for asylum. We are unsure of the exact setting, but the context is in the midst of Psalms explicitly directing our attention to worship in the temple (Ps. 26–28).
David established his confidence in YHWH (v. 1). Three attributes of YHWH grant trust. YHWH is my light carries the imagery of darkness eroding away. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Light illumines truth and exposes the evil of deceit. Satan is the prince of darkness, and there is no light in him. YHWH, my salvation reveals the most prominent theme in Scripture. Salvation history has Jesus and the cross at the center. His name informs us of His function. He came to save sinners.
Fear is also a theme we must consider. Fear is equated with punishment and death. The enemy seeks to destroy those who defect from the domain of darkness and ally with the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col 1:13). David’s inquiry is rhetorical, “Whom shall I fear?” With YHWH, the defense of my life, there is no one to fear except to fear God. Thus, the Psalm opens with great confidence and trust in God’s ability to shine, deliver, and defend the suppliant. Do you share in this confidence?
David argued his opposition failed (v. 2). A wicked trinity contrasts with verse one’s triune list of divine attributes. Evildoers, adversaries, and enemies want to destroy David’s life but they fall short of their goal. The theme of opposition is found in almost every Psalm. The litany of adjectives to describe the wicked also exposes their active strategies. Though they seek to kill the body, we should fear the One who can destroy the body and soul in hell.
David was confident and without fear, regardless of the size of the opposition (v. 3). David’s opposition varied: his brothers; Saul and his family/household; his son Absalom; and Joab certainly did not make his ministry as king an easy one. David fought the surrounding nations and subdued every one of them. Though war arise against me, confronted David; but he declared, “my heart will not fear.” Slander and misrepresentation (v. 12) appear almost benign to the malignancy of violent bloodshed. Jesus informed his disciples they would know of wars and rumors of wars until the eschaton and Christ’s second advent. From the days of Cain and Abel to end times tribulation, man is at war with words and weapons.
David explained his one desire was to worship YHWH in His house all of his days (v. 4). One thing sets apart David’s heart, as one after God’s own heart: the desire to dwell in the house of the Lord. There is no more esteemed petition in Scripture than to request access to God’s presence, a most holy place. The fool has no interest, but the believer wants to abide all the days of my life. Access exposes the Psalmist to YHWH’s delightfulness, and understanding is gained when inquiry is made in the temple. Jesus said, “Come and learn of me.” When difficulties in the knowledge of God arose, many left Jesus; but his true disciples knew there was no other place to go, for Jesus had the words of eternal life. This key verse is next supported with the Psalmist’s logic.
David reasoned the presence of God was the safest place when resistance came to him (v. 5). The day of trouble is more ominous than common frustrations. Eschatologically, it is the day that determines life and death. David was faced with this reality many times. It also anticipates the tribulation expounded by Jesus (Mt 24, Mk 13, Lk 21) from Daniel and the prophets’ “day of the Lord.” The house of the Lord is the temple, is the tabernacle, wherein is the secret place of His tent. The allusion is to the holy of holies. This most holy place was a cubed room inside the rooms of YHWH’s mobile home (c. 1446–966 B.C.). The ark of the covenant rested inside this room and most aptly represented YHWH’s particular presence in the midst of Israel.
The imagery of concealment, “He will hide me,” is divine protection. The safest place in the world is in the hand and will of God. He will lift me up on a rock is the parallel of being in the holiest place. The cleft of the rock is imagery common in David’s writing and it holds the idea of being safe in a Masada-like fortress — a stronghold (see v. 1, “defense” means refuge in a high place).
David vowed to worship the Lord with offerings and a loud voice of praise (v. 6). To lift up my head is a visible gesture of confidence, contrasted with the lowering of the head, meaning despair. The enemies are again present. In fact, they are the cause for the need of repositioning the suppliant. As is common to David, they are around me, as the host is encamped (v. 3) and elsewhere encircling the Psalmist. Christians are not oblivious to the evil around them, but they are focused on Jesus, which always produces worship.
Sacrifices are offered in His tent as one act of worship. Four categories of sacrifice were under the Law of Moses. We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord with shouts of joy. Christ’s perfect sacrifice, made once for all, when He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us (2 Cor 5:21), is the catalyst for worship. Music and song are a gift from God, employed in the temple with the appropriate expression, “I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.” We note the future tense of the verbs and identify a vow to praise. With David’s excommunication from worship in the tabernacle, he worships YHWH while hiding from his enemies in the rocky regions.
David petitioned for YHWH to hear and respond to him (v. 7). God hears and answers the prayers of His faithful ones. David’s daydream of being in the courts of the tabernacle has prompted a fervent prayer. It is reverent to ask for God’s ear, and to call him by name. Christians pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus because it is the name we trust in. It is the name above every other name, and it is His name that brings us to our knees in prayer and confession.
David reminded YHWH of His invitation to come to Him (v. 8). The invitation is from YHWH to “seek My face.” Here is the Gospel call for men and women to diligently seek God in a personal relationship. In heaven, we will see Him face to face, but for now we must comply along with David who wrote, “Thy face, YHWH, I shall seek.” Obeying this command is natural for the regenerated soul. Though we see in a mirror dimly by faith, the day is coming when we shall see Him as He is. We will be like Him.
David petitioned YHWH as His Savior not to desert him (v. 9). Do not hide Thy face is an imperative petition. For God not to make an appearance, maybe because of His anger at sin, is abandonment and forsakenness. This is any man’s worst-case scenario. Sin separates man from God. God is angry with sin, despite being slow to anger and slow to wrath in His grace. The unrepentant sinner wants hell more than God. He is forsaken by God. To know the love of God in Christ is to change one’s mind and heart’s desire in the direction of the God of my salvation. He is YHWH-ebenezer, my help. Most men do not want God’s help, but the Christian knows his necessary dependence on God.
David expressed His trust in YHWH even above those most loyal to him (v. 10). My father and my mother is an expression of those who are most given to love someone. The serial killer’s mom is the last one to love him. David presents a mean scenario of total forsakenness. But the Lord will take me up to the rock, the temple, the place of His presence when man fails me. We are taught not to trust in man, but to trust in God with our whole self (Ps. 118:8).
David petitioned YHWH to educate and guide him (v. 11). Conversion takes you through the narrow door in the wall of sin but being justified is hardly the end. The way of God comes with education. David asked for it. He knew his foes were shrewd. A level path is safer than the snake trail with its dangerous twists and turns and ledges overlooking the pit of destruction. Christians should pray for God to make them want knowledge. We are slothful without the Lord’s impetus — slow to learn, slow to understand. We need to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:18).
David requested YHWH save him from deceitful liars (v. 12). My adversaries have a plan and an intentional end — violent destruction. Those who lusted after David’s anointing and position, rose up to be false witnesses against him.
This is not uncommon in the church as reported by famed radio teacher, J. Vernon McGee, in commenting on Psalm 27:12, “I was brought up in a denomination that has since gone into liberalism. And I was a preacher in a denomination that has gone into liberalism. I always prayed to the Lord, “Do not let me fall into a position where I am at the mercy of church leaders or a church board.” I was an active pastor from about 1930 to 1970. During that entire time of forty years, God never let me get into a position where I was at the mercy of men. That is what David is praying in this verse. My heart goes out to many ministers today who find themselves at the mercy of a church board or some hierarchy. I urge them to pray like David did, ‘Don’t deliver me into the will of my enemies. Don’t let them get me down and pin my shoulders to the mat, Lord.’ I think He will hear and answer that prayer (Psalms, Volume 1: 1977; p. 147).”
David trusted in YHWH’s goodness to prevail and preserve his life (v. 13). The goodness of YHWH is the hope of God’s people in the land of the living, or as Solomon would say, “under the sun.” The hope for help keeps us going in the days of trouble. Goodness and mercy are following you every day, child of God, because Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” God is good and just in a world of injustice and neglect. Faith demands hope because of the unseen workings of God’s providence; therefore, we must wait in hope.
David reflected on his need to tarry courageously (v. 14). Echoing God’s word to Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous (Jos 1:7),” and David’s deathbed encouragement to Solomon, the Psalmist convinces himself to wait for the Lord. This is not a motionless activity; but rather, it connotes one who stands ready for instructions. David was a waiter. He served the Lord (and even nibbled on some of the Lord’s bread when hungry).
In sum, we have seen David’s trust in the Lord, found by him in the presence of the Lord, represented by having access to the most holy and merciful place in the house of God. David was excommunicated and outside of the place of worship because of the false witness and evil intents of his foes, enemies, and evil doing adversaries. He was forsaken by family and friends, but God had not forsaken him. YHWH asked him to wait in faith for His promised deliverance.
In conclusion, we join David in living in a hostile world with many enemies, seen and unseen. We are the object of the wrath of men because of who we are in Christ. As George Whitefield learned, increasing zeal for the Gospel and the doctrine of justification by faith through the new birth, only provoked unregenerate church leaders to ban him from preaching the Word of God. David found himself in the wilderness, even as Whitefield found his pulpit in the open fields. We may find ourselves cast out of houses made with hands, but God does not dwell in houses made by the hands of men. He dwells in the hearts of those who fear Him. Whom shall I fear?
Fear the God of your salvation and keep His commandments, as you seek His face in the secret place of your heart of hearts. There, His Spirit dwells in truth and grace as my light and my salvation. I will lift my head in praise to the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the world (Rev 5:6, 12), with shouts of joy and sacrifices of praise to the glory of His name.
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 16, 2021