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David is in great distress. His life is threatened with death. Therefore, in the first verses of this psalm, he takes refuge in God. As he makes his distress known to God, his trust that God will deliver him grows. He starts in the depths, from where he cries out to God to deliver him. Then his prayer turns to the quiet confidence that God is in control. Although nothing has changed about his situation, while praying he comes at the end of the psalm to sing praises for the deliverance that God is going to give.
In this psalm we also hear the voice of the faithful remnant in the end time. At the end of the psalm, the morning breaks and there is praise for God, Who has delivered the remnant from its enemies by His power and strength. This foreshadows the dawning of the joy of the millennial realm of peace.
We can also notice a division in two parts in this psalm: first Psa 59:1b-10 and then Psa 59:11-17. Both parts end in similar wording (Psa 59:9; Psa 59:17) and contain corresponding phrases (Psa 59:6; Psa 59:14). Both parts begin with a prayer for help and end with a testimony of faithful trust.
Prayer for Deliverance
The first part of the heading is also in the heading of three other psalms (Psa 57:1; Psa 58:1; Psa 75:1).
For “for the choir director” (Psa 59:1a) see at Psalm 4:1.
For “[set to] Al-tashheth”, literally “Do not destroy”, see at Psalm 57:1.
For “a Mikhtam of David” see at Psalm 56:1.
Then we read in the heading the background of the psalm: Saul sent servants to David’s house to guard him at night and kill him in the morning. This event is mentioned in the first book of Samuel (1Sam 19:10-11).
Prophetically, we recognize in Saul the beast coming up out of the earth of Revelation 13 (Rev 13:11-18). That beast will be out to kill all who do not worship the image of the first beast, which is the beast coming up out of the sea (Rev 13:15).
David is in great distress. He bursts forth to God in short, powerful exclamations: “Deliver me …, set me …, deliver me …, save me …“ (Psa 59:1b-2). Servants of Saul come to him, whom he calls “my enemies …who rise up against me”, “who do iniquity”, and are “men of bloodshed”. We can see a climax in these designations.
He addresses these cries of distress because of these people coming toward him, whom he calls “my enemies”, to God, Whom he calls “my God”. His enemies will kill him without mercy. Therefore, he asks his God to set him securely “on high away”.
With the words “for behold” he draws God’s attention to the fact that his enemies have set an ambush for his life (Psa 59:3). For the purpose of setting that ambush, they conspire against him. They deliberate how best to seize him. David now addresses God as “LORD” as if to remind Him through that Name that He has a covenant relationship with His people, the people over whom He has appointed him as king.
He also mentions to Him that on his part he has given no occasion for their murderous plans, for there is no transgression nor sin in his attitude toward Saul. He is without transgression because he has always obediently done what Saul has asked of him. There has been no sin in his service to Saul (cf. 1Sam 20:1). The demonstration of his innocence is an additional argument for the call to God to intervene.
Added to this is the fact that the men Saul has sent at him are “fierce [or: strong] men”. These enemies are strong, mighty. Facing them, David feels powerless. At great speed they rush upon him and prepare to put him to death, “without guilt” of him (Psa 59:4). There is no justification for their pursuit on his life because he has done nothing that would make this necessary. Therefore, he can make an urgent appeal to God to “arouse” Himself, to meet him, to come to him to help him, and to see that the distress is great and help urgently needed.
David appeals to the “LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel” (Psa 59:5). In Hebrew it is Yahweh Elohim Tsebaot, followed by “God of Israel”. He is asking “the LORD” – the Name not often used in the second book of Psalms – namely the God of the covenant, to use His great power as the “God of Israel”. That this is called out in prayer means, in the prophetic application, that the period of Lo-Ammi, the period when Israel was temporarily set aside by God (Hos 1:9), has come to an end.
By invoking that Name, he asks if God with all His hosts will come to his aid against these “fierce men” who want to kill him. He also calls God the “God of Israel”. By this he is saying that it is not only about his own salvation, but that of His people as well. His people are in danger of falling into the power of evil, bloodthirsty men.
Once again he urges God to awake and cites as the reason “to punish all the nations”. God must intervene and punish Saul’s servants. Saul and his followers are the enemies of David. Prophetically it refers to the enemies of the remnant outside the people, the nations. This is evident in the use of the word “dogs” (Psa 59:6; 14), which in the Bible is a symbol for the nations (cf. Mt 15:21-28). Here we find the fulfillment of what is written in Psalm 2, where we read that the kings of the earth gather together against the LORD and against His Anointed (Psa 2:1-3; cf. Zec 14:2).
These are people who are “treacherous in iniquity”. Literally it says “all traitors of iniquity”. These heathen, which includes their comrades such as the antichrist and his followers, are traitors, faithless, and their deeds are unrighteous. They are unfaithful to God. Therefore, God must not be gracious to any of them.
He compares his enemies to howling dogs that wander the city in the evening looking for him (Psa 59:6). They return in the evening, which means that the danger has not passed; they are looking for ways to catch him. Their howling – literally ranting, whining, crying – is a threat that announces a possible attack.
As they wander, a tirade of curses comes out of their mouths pouring out on David. The words spurt out; it is a flood of words that make it clear that they are after his blood (Psa 59:7). Their words are like “swords”, sowing death and destruction (cf. Psa 57:4).
“They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue parades through the earth” (Psa 73:9) because they believe that no one hears what they say, “for, [they say,] “Who hears?” They are afraid of no one; there is no one who can do anything to them. In their audacity and pride they do not think of God at all (cf. Psa 10:11). They do not take Him into account. Should He be there, so they reason, He is clearly absent.
After David brought his complaint to God, his mind is at rest (cf. Phil 4:6-7). He now turns in confidence to the LORD, the God with Whom he has a personal relationship (Psa 59:8). While the arrogant opponents may think there is no one to hear them (Psa 59:7), David knows better. He knows that God laughs at them (Psa 2:4). God does not take them seriously in their attempts to bring down His anointed king. Who can oppose Him without being himself exterminated by Him? God mocks all the nations. Here by nations is meant God’s people because they act like the nations (cf. Psa 59:5).
The strength David experiences from the enemy does not lead him to think of a counter-offensive or to consider human means he might employ to fight the enemy. No, he will watch for God, for He is his “stronghold” (Psa 59:9). With Him he is invulnerable to the strength of the enemy. That he watches for God, means that he focuses on God, puts his eyes on and trust in Him. With Him he knows himself to be safe.
He trusts in God as his “God” Who “in His lovingkindness will meet” him to come to his aid (Psa 59:10). As soon as he has turned his eye to God, he sees not only God’s lovingkindness, but especially God Himself, the God Who is faithful to His covenant. He counts on the gracious God because he has done nothing that would cause God to deliver him into the hand of his foes. Therefore he knows that God will let him look triumphantly upon his foes. God will deal with them so that he will have nothing more to fear from them (cf. Exo 14:30b).
God must not slay His attackers, for then his people, the people over whom he is anointed king, will soon forget again how God deals with His enemies (Psa 59:11; cf. Psa 78:11). No, God must scatter them by His power. Thus the wandering Cain is a warning example of God’s judgment on him because of the murder of his brother Abel (Gen 4:12-14). Similarly, the scattered earthly people of God are a testimony of God’s judgment upon them because of their murder of their Messiah. These warning examples should keep people from committing sins against God and the neighbor. If they do not listen, they will suffer the same judgment.
What is an encouraging testimony to God’s people is retribution from God to their enemies that they deserve righteously for their crimes (Psa 59:12). After all, they have sinned terribly with their mouths. The word that has come over their lips testifies to great pride. They have uttered curses and told lies, saying that no one hears anyway (Psa 59:7). They must be made aware of the fact that there is Someone Who has heard their words and Who will judge them for that (Mt 12:37). David asks God to destroy them in His wrath (Psa 59:13).
Earlier he asked not to slay them, but to scatter them (Psa 59:11). This is to make them a testimony of God’s power to his followers. Now he asks for the final, ultimate judgment. This is after they have served as a testimony to God’s power. When their time is up, they are to be destroyed, so “that they may be no more”. That judgment is for a testimony against them. It does not mean that they cease to exist, but that they no longer live on earth and they can no longer do their evil work.
As a result, they will know “that God rules in Jacob”. It is not them with their big mouth full of presumptuous words who are rulers, but God is Ruler in Jacob. Here “Jacob” is mentioned, emphasizing the weakness of the people. That weak people have in God a Ruler unlimited in power. And God is not only Ruler in Jacob, but He rules “to the ends of the earth”. There is no territory on earth, no matter how far it is from the center of the earth, Israel, where He does not reign. And He reigns everywhere in the same way as in Israel.
Realizing God’s omnipresent dominion, David can now boldly say that by evening the enemies may return as howling dogs (Psa 59:14). To howl means, as in Psa 59:6, to rant, to whine. The context in which it appears makes it clear that it is not here the ranting of a dangerous dog as in Psa 59:6, but the howling of a beaten dog that disappears with its tail between its legs, which is evident from Psa 59:15.
David has heard God’s laughter over the enemies (Psa 59:8). That encourages him and gives him peace. Let them come back and roam the city, he knows that God is laughing at them.
Because he knows that God rules, he is also confident that their attempts to seize him will be in vain. “They will wander about for food”, that is, they are looking for him (Psa 59:15), like dogs that are “about for food”. They will spend the night, but “will not be satisfied”, for they will not be able to get hold of him. They will spend the night, but be disappointed in the expectation that they will be satiated by the capture of their prey.
Song of Praise
The words “but as for me”, are contrasted with the false hope of the “dogs” of the previous verse. David’s watching for God is not in vain. He will sing of God’s strength because God has shown His strength and has delivered him (Psa 59:16). Strength is the same as in Psa 59:9. However, the strength is here found with God and not with the enemies in Psa 59:9, who are called the “fierce men” in Psa 59:3. The night, which is full of growling dogs who are out for his blood and think they will seize him in the morning, has lost its terror for David.
He is not afraid in the morning. On the contrary, he will sing of God’s strength. “Yes”, he says, “I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning”, at the dawn of salvation. His enemies had wanted to kill him in the night, but drop off with their tail between their legs, while David sings joyfully of God’s lovingkindness the next morning. He sees that God has been a safe “stronghold” for him and praises God’s lovingkindness for that. He is impressed with the fullness of God’s lovingkindness to him.
David speaks here for the third time of a “stronghold”. He first asked God to put him in a stronghold in view of his need (Psa 59:1b). After bringing his distress to God, he says that God is his stronghold (Psa 59:9). Now that he looks back in faith, he testifies in his song that God has been a stronghold (Psa 59:16).
David has experienced that God has been that stronghold for him because he has taken refuge in Him. God has been “a refuge” in the days when fear distressed him. We may know that God is a stronghold, but we will only experience that when we take refuge in Him in our distresses and troubles.
David knows that he did not come out of the distress by his own effort or cleverness. He was certainly helped by his wife Michal (1Sam 19:11b-12), but she too was only able to act that way because God wanted to save David. It is all thanks to God Whom he calls “my strength” (Psa 59:17).
His enemies are way too powerful for him, but not for God. God is his strength and to Him he will sing praises. Because God is his strength, God is his stronghold. He owes everything solely to God’s protection. And God has protected him because He loves him. David is thankfully aware of this as well. Therefore he sings again of God’s “lovingkindness” (Psa 59:10; 17).
It is an example for us when we are in great need and distress. We may then take refuge in God and seek protection and safety from Him. He receives us eagerly, for He loves us. He protects us with His strength, but does so with in His heart those feelings of lovingkindness toward us. He is full of goodness for us. We experience this especially when we resort to Him in our need. Whatever means He uses to rescue us from our distress, the rescue ultimately comes from Him. That is why we want to honor Him.
Thus David ends the psalm by praising God’s “strength” in Psa 59:16 and God’s “strength” in Psa 59:17. In Psa 59:16 David speaks of “Your lovingkindness”, which is the strength of God; in Psa 59:17 David says “O, my strength”. God, with His strength, is his God.
David is not only singing of God (Psa 59:16), but also to God (Psa 59:17). We may proclaim God’s power over all things to all creation, to the visible and the invisible world. We may also praise God’s Being for the power He has shown for the benefit of His own.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 59". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12