To the chief Musician on Neginoth, Maschil, A Psalm of David.
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God: and hide not Thyself from my supplication.
2 Attend unto me, and hear me: I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise:
3 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.
4 My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me.
5 Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me.
6 And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.
7 Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah.
8 I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.
9 Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: for I have seen violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they go about it upon the walls thereof: mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it.
11 Wickedness is in the midst thereof: deceit and guile depart not from her streets.
12 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:
13 But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance.
14 We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.
15 Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.
16 As for me, I will call upon God: and the LORD shall save me.
17 Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and He shall hear my voice.
18 He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: for there were many with me.
19 God shall hear, and afflict them, even he that abideth of old. Selah. Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.
20 He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him: he hath broken his covenant.
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.
22 Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.
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.
Under life’s most crushing circumstances, we must cast our burdens on God, and with His help we will weather the storm.
We begin the psalm in a flush of fearfulness. Expressed here is a brutal honesty about the pain and the agony of life. Have you ever experienced a fit of panic in which you look for a way of escape? You just want to get out of the place of stifling, unrelenting oppression, but there is no immediate escape. The panic builds. Of all the oppressive situations men face in their lives, there is nothing so painful as when their closest friends turn on them or abandon them. That is the case in this psalm. But by the end of the psalm, you will begin to feel a strong, sweet confidence in God.
Verses 1–8. “Horror has overwhelmed me!” Have you ever seen such a sharp description of the fear and pain experienced in life? While many little children do not understand the hard pressures of life and the severe pain of abandonment and persecution, everyone has a bad day now and then. This Psalmist is going through the toughest day of his life, and he takes us by the hand and shows us where our thoughts and feelings must go in such circumstances.
First, he describes his condition. Often, you will find people who do their best to ignore the severity of their predicament. They just do not want to face the desperate reality of their situation. But this is not the case with the Psalmist. In this prayer to his God, David describes both his condition and the way he feels about it.
Wicked men accuse him of sin. Sometimes these accusations are false and sometimes they are true, but a Christian cannot look at his own sin apart from the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul asks of the accuser, “Who shall lay anything to charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” If one comes to us pointing out our sin and implying that there is no forgiveness in Christ, that is a depressing accusation indeed. And you can bet that Satan will always whisper that hopeless contemplation into the ear of our mind! Whether the accusations are true or false, they come from the malicious lips of enemies who hate the soul of this man.
The Psalmist goes on in verses 4 through 8 to describe exactly how he feels. Horror, fear, and trembling sweep over him. Have you ever been in a situation where you just wanted to run away? Emotionally, physically, or spiritually, life becomes intolerable for you, so you want to run. Here the Psalmist describes the most difficult trial in his life. It is not unlike the pitiable cries that emerged from the lips of our Savior in the garden the day that He cried out to His Father, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.”
Verses 9–15. In this second set of verses, David moves from considering his own feelings to dealing with the enemy. When we are attacked, it is impossible to ignore the enemy opposing us. So what do we do with this enemy? We turn the enemy over to God who is the Judge over all creation. To think that ultimate justice is in our hands is a burden too heavy for anyone to bear.
The Psalmist asks God to divide the enemy and thereby weaken it. As the old saying goes, there is little honor among devils and thieves. So this division in the camp of the enemy is made easily enough. Moreover, this enemy of which he speaks is no buttercup. He is cruel and violent—dead bodies lie in his wake. Deceit and sinful behavior mark the wicked man.
As David further develops his predicament for us in the psalm, we discover that there must be someone besides the enemy who has rejected, despised, and insulted him. Here he describes the most painful thing that can ever happen to any person—it is the people closest to us that can hurt us more than anyone. These are brothers and sisters in our family or in our church. From the examples given in the New Testament, we know that the devil uses this strategy. He knows that he can hurt believers through fellow believers. You may remember that the devil used Peter in this way to discourage Christ Himself.
Be careful to note that David does not call this brother “an enemy.” Even when our brothers sin against us, we must not lump them into the category of the enemy. Whereas these brothers may be used by the enemy, still, they are not the enemy. Nevetheless, David does follow up quickly with a curse on his enemies: “Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell.” We must carefully distinguish between our brothers who sin and the enemy. It is never appropriate to curse our brother, but it is quite appropriate to issue fierce curses against the enemies of our souls. But who are these enemies? David will not specify the names of his enemies. It is quite sufficient to say, “God knows their names,” and leave it there.
Verses 16–23. After asking God to deal with the enemy, the Psalmist issues a cry of faith. When we say, “I know God will help me,” we make a statement of faith. Regardless of the weakness of our faith at the moment, it is still important to eke out the statement in faith.
The Psalmist gives more basis for faith in verse 18 as he reminds himself that God has saved him from many enemies in the past. Faithlessness refuses to look at past victories. Faithlessness ignores the victory of Christ’s resurrection, the martyrs, and courageous men and women of faith who have taken the Gospel into the darkest lands across this world. But faith will have us carefully study the victories of the past in our own lives and in the lives of others, and we will gain much strength from that, producing courageous action.
The statement of faith continues with a note of confidence that God will take on the devil himself and cast him into hell (v. 19). Of all the enemies of the Christian soul, none is more determined to oppose us than the devil. Those who have broken covenant with God will always oppose those who have made peace with God by the blood of the Lamb. The approach of the wily serpent is laid out in verse 21—his words are smoother than butter and softer than oil, but they are drawn swords, bent on destruction.
Finally, David exhorts us to throw our burdens on Yahweh, Who is faithful to sustain us all the way to heaven. Whereas the bloody and deceitful men—the children of the devil—will not live out half their days, the righteous will remain unmoved forever.
1. Let us be very careful not to hurt our brothers and sisters by unloving, unkind, or thoughtless words and actions. Be sure that what you do to your brother is always done for his edification, so that you will not be used by the devil to hurt him. If you cannot speak in wisdom for his edification, it would be better not to confront your brother at all. It may be safer just to pray for him.
2. This psalm also teaches us to be careful who we call an enemy. We must carefully distinguish between a brother who reproaches us and an enemy who uses a brother to reproach us.
3. Beware of the tempter. He is deceitful and he makes sin and rebellion look attractive.
4. When you are overcome by temptation and trial, you must learn to cast your burden on God. Imagine yourself carrying a 200 pound backpack. Take the backpack of your worries and troubles off and toss it upon the Lord. This is done by prayer.
Worship is never afraid of honest descriptions of our real condition and the painful strivings of life. For this life is not all a happy day filled with victory after victory. There are still battles to be fought, blood to be spilled, and pain to be endured. We describe this in worship, but we do not dwell there. This psalm moves from expressions of pain to petition to faith-filled boasts in God.
Although considered unusual in the context of most worship services today, we may pronounce curses upon our enemies in our worship. These are enemies who are led by the devil and who broke covenant with God a long time ago.
1. Give several examples of Deliverance psalms.
2. Describe the way David feels in this psalm.
3. What do you say when the enemy condemns you of your sin?
4. What is the worse thing that has happened to this Psalmist?
5. Who are David’s enemies?
1. Are there enemies that attack our family? Who are these enemies? Is it difficult to identify the real source of the attack?
2. When the devil tempts us to sin, what do his temptations look like? Give several examples that illustrate the attractiveness of temptation. (e.g. chocolate-covered cockroaches) Psalm 56