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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 59

 

 

Introduction

The following Psalms (59-72) comprise the second part of Book Two (Psalms 42-72). The Book of Psalms divides up into five Books, of which this is the final part of the second, each of which ends with a special ‘blessing, which are as follows:

· Book 1. Psalms 1-41, which ends with ‘blessed be YHWH the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting, Amen and Amen.’

· Book 2. Psalms 42-72 which ends with ‘Blessed be YHWH God, the God of Israel, Who only does wonderful things. And blessed be His glorious name for ever, and let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.’

· Book 3. Psalms 73-89 which ends with ‘Blessed be YHWH for evermore. Amen and Amen.’

· Book 4. Psalms 90-106 which ends with ‘Blessed be YHWH the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting, and let all the people say, “Amen”. Praise you YHWH.’

· Book 5. Psalms 107-150 which ends with ‘Let everything that has breath praise YHWH’. Praise you YHWH.’

In this second book of Psalms it is noticeable that the greater emphasis throughout, as compared with the first section, is on God as ELOHIM. But this, while noticeable, must not be over-exaggerated for the name YHWH certainly does appear fairly often (Psalms 42:8; Psalms 46:7-8; Psalms 46:11; Psalms 47:2; Psalms 47:5; Psalms 48:1; Psalms 48:8; Psalms 50:1; Psalms 54:6; Psalms 55:16; Psalms 55:22; Psalms 56:10; Psalms 58:6; Psalms 59:3; Psalms 59:5; Psalms 59:8; Psalms 64:10; Psalms 68:4 (YH); Psalms 68:7; Psalms 68:16; Psalms 68:20; Psalms 69:13; Psalms 69:16; Psalms 69:31; Psalms 69:33; Psalms 70:5; Psalms 71:1; Psalms 71:5; Psalms 71:16; Psalms 72:18, as also does ‘Lord’ (ADONAI), and it should be noted that the name YHWH appears in the verse which ends the section (Psalms 72:18). Indeed, there it is specifically associated with ELOHIM, for there He is YHWH ELOHIM. So in the end this section also is dedicated to YHWH. It is only in contrast with the first section (1-41), where YHWH predominates, that we particularly notice the change of title/Name.

This Second Book contains Psalms from two main sources, firstly from a collection entitled ‘of the sons of Korah’ (42-49), and the remainder from a collection entitled ‘of David’. Apart from these there are two which are simply dedicated ‘for the Chief Musician’ (66; 67), one headed ‘of Asaph’ (50; see next section where there are more songs ‘of Asaph’), and the final one which is entitled ‘of Solomon’. The dedication of most of the Psalms to ‘the Chief Musician’ or ‘Choirmaster’, indicates that where necessary they have been adapted for Temple worship, in the case of David probably by David himself (he had a great interest in Temple worship). Interestingly the section ends with the note ‘the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended’ (Psalms 72:20). But this ascription need only be seen as applying to this section (or the collection from which the Psalms were obtained), as more Psalms of David will follow in later sections. It would appear to refer to the fact that the group of Psalms which are ‘of David’ in this particular section is now coming to its conclusion, and may be seen as indicating that the Psalms of ‘the sons of Korah’ and others have been included under his supervision. It might, however, seem to add strength to the idea that, at least in this section, if a Psalm is said to be ‘of David’, this is intended to indicate authorship by David himself. On the other hand the final Psalm is ‘of Solomon’ (the son of David), which could easily have been be seen as ‘a prayer of ‘David’, because he was of the Davidic house.


Verses 1-5

Heading (Psalms 59:1 a).

‘For the Chief Musician; set to Al-tashheth. A Psalm of David. Michtam; when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him.’

Like the last two Psalms this is another Psalm which is dedicated to the Choirmaster or Chief Musician, and set to the tune of ‘Do Not Destroy’. It is a Psalm of David, a Michtam (plea for ‘cover’ or protection).

The provenance of the Psalm is said to be when Saul sent some of his men to watch David’s house in order to kill him (1 Samuel 19:1; 1 Samuel 19:8 ff.). Compare our interpretation of Psalms 55. And there can be do doubt that in spite of its reference to the nations, the Psalm is of a very personal kind. Note the contrast between ‘me’ (regularly) and ‘my people’ (Psalms 59:11). Indeed, the references to the nations could arise from the fact that those who came to kill David were mainly mercenaries recruited by Saul for his standing army. Israel’s farmers would not want to be part of a standing army for they had wok to do in the fields. Such mercenaries may well be in mind in 1 Samuel 14:21, for ‘Hebrews’ (compare Habiru) is an unusual term for Israelites except as used by foreigners, (it is rarely if ever used by Israelites of themselves), and they are described in that verse as contrasted with Israelites. Furthermore we know that in those days foreign mercenaries were sometimes known as Habiru (stateless persons). Compare how many of David’s men also appear to have been foreigners.

David Prays For Deliverance From Armed Men, Including Foreign Mercenaries, Sent By Saul, Who Seek His Life As They Watch His House With A View To Killing Him When He Emerges (Psalms 59:1-5).

As a prominent commander David’s house would be well guarded. He was also married to Saul’s daughter Michal, who was, of course, in the house with him. And he was popular with the people. Thus Saul had three good reasons for not simply openly sending in his soldiers to kill David. He therefore sent them to watch David’s house with a view to killing him surreptitiously when he emerged (1 Samuel 19:11). In view of David’s own possible escort, this would require a good number of men.

Michal, who would know her father well, appears to have been suspicious of the men who had gathered outside the house, which as befitted David’s position would have been a large one, and warned David of what was afoot (1 Samuel 19:11). Indeed, her father may have sent her a warning to make sure that she kept out of the way. Thus she had good grounds for being suspicious.

So, aware of what was happening, David calls on God to deliver him, declaring his innocence, and describing the unscrupulous and bloodthirsty men who are out to assassinate him.

Psalms 59:1-2

‘Deliver me from my enemies, O my God,

Set me on high from those who rise up against me.

Deliver me from the workers of iniquity,

And save me from the bloodthirsty men.’

He calls on God to deliver him from ‘his enemies’, ‘the workers of iniquity’, ‘bloodthirsty men’. With that in view he asks to be ‘set on high’ by God, out of danger’s reach, so that they will not be able to touch him. The thought is of his being secure, as though in a fortified tower (see Psalms 59:9; Psalms 59:16).

He knew that that his adversaries were not just soldiers sent to perform their duty of arresting him so that he could have a fair trial, but men who hated him, selected because of their willingness to be part of a plot against him, and not averse to shedding innocent blood. At this stage Saul dared not attack him openly, for there were too many who might have come to David’s support, including his own son Jonathan. But in his jealousy, and because he suspected David of having an eye on the throne, he was determined to kill him, even though he had promised Jonathan that he would not (1 Samuel 19:6). Thus Saul had had to find men willing to be a part of his plot, some of whom would no doubt be mercenaries who only therefore owed loyalty to him.

Having been made a public Psalm, the Psalm was a reminder to all that when trouble beset them, in whatever form, they could look to God for help. We all find ourselves at times beset by troubles, and even possibly the target of influential people. At such times we can call on this and similar Psalms for comfort, as they lift us up to God for protection under His wings.

Psalms 59:3-4

‘For, lo, they lie in wait for my life,

The mighty gather themselves together against me,

Not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O YHWH.

They run and prepare themselves without my fault,

Awake yourself to help me, and behold.’

David points out to God that these mean are lying in wait for his life (an indication of the personal nature of the Psalm), although not for anything that he has done because he is innocent. It is not because of any particular sin or rebellion of which he is guilty, for in this regard he is without fault. He is totally loyal to Saul.

And he stresses the strength of the force that has come against him. ‘The mighty’ suggests that he recognised, as he surveyed them through a window, that they included some of Saul’s best warriors, powerful men who had come together for the sole purpose of assassinating him. He was not a fearful man, and he knew how to look after himself, something which Saul would have taken into account when determining the size of the force that he chose to send. But he knew that this assassination squad was too strong for him and the men who were with him to be able to cope with.

He points out their zeal to take him. They have ‘hastened and prepared themselves’ (it bears all the signs of a rushed operation hatched by Saul in one of his periods of severe depression), and he has done nothing to deserve it (see 1 Samuel 20:1). So he calls on YHWH to ‘awake Himself’ on his behalf, and take note of what is happening. Saul has aroused these men on his side, let YHWH now arouse Himself on David’s side.

All of us may feel at some time or other that the whole world is against us, even though it is not our fault. At such times we too can pray this prayer. And no one experienced this kind of situation more than our, Lord Jesus Christ, Who was constantly beset by men who were trying to get Him.

Psalms 59:5

‘Even you, O YHWH, God of hosts, the God of Israel,

Arise to visit all the nations,

Do not show favour to any wicked transgressors. [Selah’

David has recognised the diversity of Saul’s assassination squad, mercenaries from a number of nations, and he may well have felt that the whole world was against him. So he calls on God to deal with them all, and not to spare any of them, because they are showing themselves to be evil men. It would not even have crossed his mind to take part in an operation like this himself. It was totally abhorrent to him.

Alternately it may be that the sight of all these foreign soldiers out to get him has awoken his mind to the perils that Israel is facing from nations round about (see 1 Samuel 14:47-48), and thus causes him, in the nobility of his heart, to pray for Israel’s deliverance as well as his own, and not spare any wicked transgressors. He would not be unaware of the threats facing Israel. It might thus indicate his breadth of mind in that, in spite of his own troubles, he is still concerned for Israel’s fate.

Note his description of God as, ‘YHWH, God of Hosts, God of Israel’. In his extremity he recognises that he needs a powerful God to save him, not only YHWH his covenant God, but YHWH Who is the God of Hosts, sovereign over all hosts of heaven and earth, and with a special concern for Israel. This title would be especially apposite if his thought had turned for a moment to Israel’s wider problems.

Some see this verse as added to the Psalm later (or altered to suit) when it became a public Psalm and a prayer for the deliverance of Israel. Many hymns today are later altered for some purpose, whilst still being attributed to the original author. This cannot be discounted, but it is not really necessary. The nation’s fate was always on Daid’s heart.

‘Selah.’ This musical note might be seen as indicating a break in his words, giving time for thought and worship when it became a public Psalm.


Verses 6-10

David Expresses His Confidence That YHWH Will Protect Him (Psalms 59:6-10).

Describing his enemies as like a pack of stray dogs on the prowl (compare also Psalms 59:14) David is confident that YHWH will laugh at their folly and will protect him. God will be his fortress in the face of the strength of the enemy.

Psalms 59:6

‘They return at evening, they howl like a dog,

And go round about the city.’

At night time all decent citizens remained in their homes and took to their beds. And it was then that packs of howling stray dogs roamed the streets looking for food. Thus he sees Saul’s men, as they try to secrete themselves around the neighbouring houses, as fairly similar, although in their case he is their prospective food. ‘They return at evening’ may suggest that they had been watching his house for a number of nights, dispersing during the day and returning each evening. Or the main reference may be to the fact that stray dogs return each evening, something which he likens to the arrival of these men.

Psalms 59:7

‘Behold, they belch out with their mouth,

Swords are in their lips, “For who,” they say, “hears”?’

He describes them as being like belching dogs, hungry to get at him. But in their case their lips are like swords. They express murderous intent against him. They are confident that no one knows what they are about. But they have overlooked YHWH.

Psalms 59:8

‘But you, O YHWH, will laugh at them,

You will have all the nations in derision.’

He is confident that YHWH can deal with these foreign mercenaries. That YHWH will laugh at them in their supposed ‘secrecy’, and will have them all in derision. See similarly Psalms 2:4. And, still concerned about Israel’s needs in spite of his own danger, he also lifts his prayers beyond himself, desiring that in a similar way YHWH will have in derision all foreigners who have designs on Israel.

Psalms 59:9

‘Because of his strength I will give heed to you,

For God is my high tower.’

Recognising that he stand almost alone against Saul, the man who rules Israel, he informs God that he is giving heed to Him. He has nowhere else to turn. All the ‘strength’ is on Saul’s side. He recognises that he now needs some support from somewhere. But he has no doubt about where he can obtain that strength from. For God is his fortress and his high tower (into which the righteous can run and be safe - Proverbs 18:10).

Psalms 59:10

‘My God with his covenant love will meet me,

God will let me see my desire on my enemies.’

His confidence lies in God’s covenant love (chesed), the love which God revealed when He redeemed Israel from Egypt, and the love that He shows to all who are true to the covenant. He knows that God has already demonstrated that love towards him by sending Samuel to anoint him in readiness for the future that He has in store for him (1 Samuel 16:13). Thus he has no doubt that He will meet him in this present situation. He will see that his enemies are thwarted in their desire to kill him. And he is, indeed, equally sure that God will give him victory over all his enemies, whoever they may be.

‘Let me see my desire on.’ This was a common phrase indicating the granting of success. It is found on the Moabite stone, where Mesha of Moab speaks of Chemosh (the Moabite god) as having ‘let me see my desire on all who hated me’.


Verses 11-13

David Points Out To God That He Is A Victim Of Slander, Lies And Cursing And Asks Him To Deal With Them Accordingly (Psalms 59:11-13).

We should note that what David majors on is not the power of a great enemy, but on slanderous and lying words which are being spoken against him. This indicates a local situation where he is being falsely accused. He does not want them just to be killed out of hand (something that he knows God could do), but rather to be made a public example of, an example that will never be forgotten, an example that will reveal that God rules over all nations.

Psalms 59:11

‘Do not slay them, lest my people forget,

Make them wander to and fro by your power, and bring them down, O Lord our shield.’

David had no doubt that God could simply strike his enemies down where they were. But he asks Him not to do that, for if He did it would soon be forgotten, and then His people would simply forget it. It would be a seven day wonder. What he rather wants is that they might be made to wander to and fro (compare Psalms 59:15, same verb) or be ‘scattered’, by God’s power, and then brought down, by the One Who is Israel’s shield. Wandering to and fro would well describe a mercenary’s life, but here it may be the more prosaic thought of them wandering up and down in the city in vain as they wait to seize him (Psalms 59:15), something that the people would observe and remember, laughing continually behind their backs. Both, of course, may be in mind. They were to be constantly trying, never succeeding, until God brought them down. Their presence would be a constant reminder of what Saul was like and what he had tried to do to David, and how he had failed. David seemingly at this stage did not approve of foreign mercenaries lording it in Israel. In his view they were not needed. Did Israel not have their Sovereign Lord as their shield?

‘MY people’ does not necessarily indicate that David was speaking as their king. It could equally well see him as identifying himself with his fellow countrymen against all their enemies, of which these foreign mercenaries reminded him. For he sees God as Israel’s shield and protector. What need then of foreign mercenaries?

Psalms 59:12

‘For the sin of their mouth, and the words of their lips,

Let them even be taken in their pride,

And for cursing and lying which they speak.’

He now describes what his charge is against these men. They have cursed him and lied against him, and behaved haughtily towards him. So he calls for them to be called to account for the sin of their mouth and the word of their lips. They had no doubt been convinced by Saul (they would not take much convincing) of how treacherous and dangerous David was, and as such men will, they had made it openly known with cursing and swearing. They wanted it known that they had been charged to deal with the infamous David. It was from those who overheard them that Michal may have obtained her intelligence (1 Samuel 19:11).

Psalms 59:13

‘Consume them in wrath, consume them,

So that they will be no more,

And let them know that God rules in Jacob,

To the ends of the earth. [Selah’

So whilst he did not want them simply struck down immediately, leaving him still open to further attacks by Saul’s men (compare 2 Kings 1:9-14), he did want them to be dealt with in such a way that when they were consumed, to be no more, it would let men know that it is God Who rules in Israel (Jacob), even to the ends of the earth. ‘To the ends of the earth’ would suit the idea that although the mercenaries moved on to pastures new, God would reach them wherever they were. It may be that he had in mind the story of the Exodus when the delayed judgment on Pharaoh eventually led to the nations learning of the glory of YHWH. But what we should note from this is that David’s great concern, even at such a time, was not so much for his own safety as for the glory of God.

Many of these men, if they survived or remained with Saul that long, would be struck down on Mount Gilboa as they sought to defend Saul (1 Samuel 31:1 ff.). And even though that did not initially fulfil David’s desire (what happened on Mt Gilboa could have been seen as suggesting that God did not rule in Israel), the situation was remarkably transformed when David rose to power and finally convincingly smashed the Philistine power. God’s reputation was thus finally enhanced among the nations as a consequence of the mercenaries being consumed.

‘Consume them in wrath.’ He wanted them consumed by God as One Who was angry at the fact that they had lied and cursed against the anointed of YHWH (1 Samuel 16:13), and had taken up arms against him. (Something which we know he himself would never do, in spite of Saul’s unforgivable treatment of him - 1 Samuel 24:6; 1 Samuel 26:11). He considered that by attacking him they were attacking God.

‘Selah.’ A further pause for thought.


Verses 14-17

His Would Be Assassins Can Wander Up and Down Like Stray Dogs All Night If They Wish, But He Will Meanwhile Sing Of The Triumph And Protection Of His God (Psalms 59:14-17).

David concludes the Psalm by taunting his oppressors for wasting their time by awaiting him in order to strike him down (compare Psalms 59:6-7), because he knows that it will be in vain. And he declares that meanwhile he will sing of God’s covenant love and faithfulness, knowing that God will be his refuge and strength.

Psalms 59:14-15

‘And at evening let them return,

Let them howl like a dog, and go round about the city.’

They will wander up and down for food,

And tarry all night if they be not satisfied.’

David again takes up the picture of the wild dogs who scavenge in the city streets at night, if necessary wandering up and down all night if they are unable to find sufficient food. They would obtain their food from the rubbish thrown out of houses, which awaited collection by the rubbish collectors who would collect it in carts and burn it outside the city (in later days in the Valley of Hinnom).

He is quite content for his would be assassins to do the same, for he has prayed through to certainty of God’s deliverance. He sees them returning that night to keep watch outside his house, remaining there all night until they can seize him, only to be thwarted when they cannot find him. But he is satisfied now that it will be in vain, for he has already made his plans for escape, leaving them to face the smothered laughter of Israel when the story got around. (It may well be that the window through which he escaped (1 Samuel 19:12) was in the city wall, but whether it was or not, he was confident that they knew nothing about it, and he proved to be correct). So he sees them as like stray dogs, wandering the streets but never satisfied.

Psalms 59:16

‘But I will sing of your strength,

Yes, I will sing aloud of your covenant love in the morning,

For you have been my high tower,

And a refuge in the day of my distress.’

Meanwhile David would sing of God’s strength, the strength which had delivered him, and he will sing aloud (in contrast to their howling) of God’s covenant love in the morning, by which time through God’s help he would be safe and far away. God had not overlooked His covenant promises, and was proving to be his High Tower.

Psalms 59:17

‘To you, O my strength, will I sing praises,

For God is my high tower, the God of my mercy.’

Indeed, he declares, he will yet sing praises to God who is his strength, and to God Who is his fortress, and the God Who shows him favour. Note that there is no boasting about his cleverness in escaping, or even of the wife who helped him to escape. All his thought is on the fact that he owes it all to God, and to His strength, protection and favour.

This Psalm is a reminder that God is concerned about all our troubles, especially when we appear to be beset by people who are trying to get us down. It especially speaks to God’s people when they are facing physical persecution, and reminds them that they are under God’s protection. All who are His are secure in God.

The whole Psalm is a preview of the life of Jesus, Who also was continually beset by enemies, only to come through triumphantly because His Father was with Him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 59:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-59.html. 2013.

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