Psalm 57: A Prayer Against Bloodthirsty Persecutors
As we further contend with the persecution brought on by ideology and terrorists gone wild in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Northeast Africa, Europe, and sporadically in the United States, there is ancient comfort found in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the prayer of Psalm 57. It is the prayer of God’s people against bloodthirsty persecutors.
The original context was David, the anointed one of God, running from the persecution of his lunatic father-in-law, King Saul. It is one of six miktam(s) in the Psalms. It is a song written by David that seems to invite cymbals, as a musical instrument to accompany the poetic song/prayer.
David opened his prayer with a plea to Yahweh (57:1), “Be gracious to me…” There is immediate repetition of the plea, which is customary in Hebrew poetry. The author is in trouble and there is no one to turn to except the God of his fathers. He has learned confidence in trusting Yahweh, the God of Israel, throughout his youth. With his rise to fame in the defeat of the Philistine champion, Goliath, David was soon tempered by the rage of crazy Saul. Madmen with weapons are nothing new under the sun.
“For my soul will take refuge in Thee,” is the hopeful rest persecuted ones seek from God. Refuge is common biblical imagery. It is a place of safety. The safer the place, the better the place, and there is no place safer than, “in the shadow of Thy wings.” God’s people go to God and find rest for their souls. Destruction will pass, either in this life, or assuredly in the life to come.
Next, David wrote one of the great statements of God’s providence in all of Scripture (57:2), “I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me.” God is working all things together for good for those who love Him, and who are called according to His purposes (Rom 8:28).
David, in Hebrew, means, “beloved.” David was loved by Yahweh, identified here as El Elyon, who clearly had a purpose for the young shepherd/warrior’s life. No doubt, when David was feeling the pressures of the moment, he wrote psalms to remind himself and comfort himself with remembrance of his own Good Shepherd. The shift from direct address (v. 1) to inspired contemplation (v. 2) continues in 57:3.
In 57:3, Yahweh/El Elyon is the God of David’s salvation. The pronouns are personal: He/me. Salvation belongs to the person of God, and it is extended to individuals who gather into the company of spiritual Israel. The Israel of God has always been the regenerate members of God’s covenant of grace. These were primarily the remnant of Jews in the era before the advent of Jesus Messiah, and this group extended to God’s elect from every nation at Pentecost in Acts 2.
Yahweh saves His people and reproaches the enemies of His beloved ones. He sets His hesed (lovingkindness) upon His own. David longed for God’s love and truth. No doubt, in the Saul’s persecution of David, there was the all-to-familiar death hunt for the Bethlehemite; but the smear campaign must have also been a factor (57:4d). David’s reputation, as a rogue character, later troubled him in an attempt to unite the tribes of Israel.
God’s people are in a world of trouble. We must be confident in the God of our salvation. He is the first to be called upon in our day of trouble. We know Him to be gracious and above every other so-called “god.” He will send forth exactly what we need. In fact, He has done this twice in most significant ways.
First, He sent forth the Lord Jesus Christ to be the way of salvation for us (Jn 14:6). Second, He sent forth the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26; 15:26), to bring us salvation from sin and all that separates us from God, including Satan, who is behind every persecution. The lies about us; the hate against us; and the trampling down of our very existence is met by Jesus, who is our strong Deliverer, and whose name means, “Yahweh saves.”
In 57:4, David turned his attention to his problem. When we pray, we must adore God, first (57:1–3). He is worthy, above all our problems. Focusing on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2), will set the problem in its proper place. David’s enemies are formidable. He describes them as lions, with only the desire to devour the ruddy roamer. A trinity of trouble: spears, arrows, and swords followed David wherever he fled. Today, we must remember our brothers and sisters on the run from Islamic madmen. Their swords have severed the heads of God’s people from their bodies. Their demonic mantras accompanying each martyrdom. Praise God for the witness of His people, resolute to maintain their testimony of Jesus Christ when ensnared by their Muslim persecutors.
A repeated refrain of praise is positioned at 57:5 and again at 57:11, “Be exalted above the heavens, O God; let Thy glory be above the earth.” The best time to praise God is all the time. In the midst of recounting his troubles, David exploded in exuberant exaltation of the Lord. “No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” is David’s intimate knowledge of God. Yahweh has revealed Himself, including love and truth, to David and to us. We must always be ready to ejaculate words of praise from our hearts and tongues.
The problem statement resumes in 57:6. The imagery of a net and a pit are employed to acknowledge the state of being hunted. David’s oppressors were lurking and plotting against his every move. Lions in the world and wolves in the church will scheme to ruin pastors, and others who vigilantly take their stand against Satan and his demons. The local church is a war zone, and the anointed preacher is hunted by those who sneek in from the world to inflict damage in the church. Churches are frequently brought to schism by these imposters, posing as angels of light. Woe to the treacherous men and women who trample on God’s elect.
David knows the outcome of those who employ evil to thwart God’s chosen ones. The pit imagery always has an ironic twist in Scripture. The pit digger becomes the pit dweller. Haman hung on his own custom-built gallows. Pharaoh’s son was killed in an ironic retribution for Pharaoh’s killing the sons of Israel. The God of providence has said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” The unelect, unregenerate, unbelieving terrorist is re-paid with the hell he labored to bring to earth.
Christians must be wise to evil in the world. David did not lay down his sword at the request of Saul’s autocratic government initiative. We know we do not war against flesh and blood (Eph 6:10–20), but flesh and blood is spirited by demonic influences. Murder and lies are the works of devil. As Benjamin Netanyahu once stated, “If Israel laid down its weapons, there would be no more Israel. If the Arabs laid down their weapons, there would be no more war.”
Blessed are the peacemakers, but there will be no peace until Jesus Christ returns as the divine warrior (Rev 19) to put His enemies down. Liberal pacifism is a silly notion promulgated by those inspired by the people who resided in security at Laish (Judges 18:7). The people of Laish presumed they were safe. They imagined a world without trouble, and they fooled themselves into believing they lived there. Christians must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Mt 10:16).
In 57:7, David did what warriors do…He sang. Nothing strikes terror in the heart of a terrorist like people who sing in the face of persecution. Songs of faith are songs of war. “Our God reigns, our God reigns…” is a modern-day fight song.
The Psalms themselves are God’s songbook of war. How blessed is the Free Church of Scotland, who have resigned themselves to stay the old course of singing the songs of Psalms. Their a cappella utterance has a profound effect, when every voice proclaims the Words of God. One understands why the gates of hell will not prevail against us, when enraptured in the spirit of the victory song.
So much of the war motif is lost, today, in the music of the Christian church. There is nothing wrong with singing of God’s love, but there is much to contend with here, until His love is fully realized in the coming kingdom. The church needs some new war songs, and maybe the old ones are best for this purpose in our day.
“My heart is steadfast, O God,” is repeated (57:7). Salvation is dawning (57:8). Praise must be elevated to song. The dark of night is passing, and anything that sleeps and slumbers must be awakened. “Awake my soul and sing, for Christ has fought and died for me!”
The Cross is the weapon of Christ in the fight against sin, Satan, the world, and death. He is victorious! Without the resurrection, we have nothing, but He is risen, indeed. Awake! Arise from the dead, O slumbering soul! Where is the victory of our enemies? Where is the sting of their assault?
In 57:9, David goes public with His praise, “I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord among the peoples; I will sing praises to Thee among the nations.” The reprobate have the mantras to their demonic lords. God’s people must proclaim Him who reigns from the heavens with all authority. His truth, His love, His victory is our prized proclamation. We must stir up the church with the Psalms. We must stir up the world to know the God of Israel, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the conquering King of glory. They will boast in their demonic god(s) because we have not secured our place upon the rooftop. Where is the voice of the church? Why is she so quiet? When will she awaken again?
Persecution by demon-inspired religion is the answer. The church grows lax in her comfortable security. She has not joined with her fathers to burn with the Word of God in her bones until she burns upon the fags of the fanatics. Where is the champion in the pulpit? Is he spewing psychology? philosophy? moralism? comedy? therapy? The liberal church, today, is as fat as Eglon and as lame as Mephibosheth.
The Holy Spirit inspired psalms were given to David and others. The Word of God is our sword (Eph 6:17; Heb 4:12). We must pray the psalms. We must sing the psalms. We must re-orient ourselves to the war at hand. The Word of God is mighty in the hands of the Spirit-filled beloved of God.
Pray to God to raise up men like the “beloved” to proclaim the supremacy of our Savior. We must believe the truth that is Jesus Christ. We must speak the truth, and it must come as a Word of love to God and to our neighbors. They are toying with the wrath of God, in living a lie. They serve Satan unaware. We must declare our status as the hunted victorious in a treacherous world of danger.
“For Thy lovingkindness is great to the heavens; and Thy truth to the clouds (57:10).” What can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:35–39)? Our troubles in this world are legion, but who has overcome (Jn 16:33; 1 Jn 5:4–5)? It is Christ Jesus, our Lord. He has demonstrated His love for us upon the Cross of Calvary (Rom 5:8). He has delivered us from our enemies (1 Sam 2:1; Lk 1:71). He has sent His Spirit to help us understand these glories awakened in us (Jn 16:13). We declare our faith in the only worthy One, and we proclaim the excellencies of Christ, our Savior (1 Pet 2:9).
The nations have raged against God and His anointed (Ps 2), from their inception. In every generation, God has been praised by His hunted people. Their message is David’s message in Psalm 57. Victory is assured (2 Cor 2:14). Faith is steadfast in our hearts. King Jesus is exalted above the heavens, as His love and truth go forth to prevail in the earth!
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
February 12, 2021