Father, as we come before your word, we ask that we would see you as we look into your word, that you would reveal yourself to us, that we would learn of your nature, learn of your love, learn of your power, understand better your plan in the world around us and in our own life. Father, as we look to your word, may we see ourselves more clearly. May we see our needs, our anxieties, our frustrations, our triumphs in light of your word. Father, as we look to your word, may we see how your beauty, your brilliance, your love, your power can satisfy all of our needs and give purpose and direction for our lives. Lord, help us by the power of your spirit to be receptive to your word. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen. We continue on in the summer Psalms and Proverbs. This morning, we’ll be looking at Psalm 54, and I’ll be reading that for you. I made the mistake of not including the superscription. I apologize for that in our text this morning, so I’ll read it and then you will see when I hit verse 1. Psalm 54, this is the word of the Lord.
To the choir master with stringed instruments, a mascle of David. When the Ziphytes went and told Solomon, Is not David hiding among us? Oh God, save me by your name and vindicate me by your might. God, hear my prayer. Give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen against me. Ruthless men seek my life. They do not set God before themselves. Say, Lord. Behold, God is my helper. The Lord is the upholder of my life. He will return the evil to my enemies. In your faithfulness, put an end to them. The free will offering I will sacrifice to you. I will give thanks to your name, oh Lord, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies. The word of the Lord. You may be seated. We pray for the preaching of God’s word. Father, as my words are true to your word, may they be taken to heart. But if my words should stray from yours, may they be quickly forgotten. We pray this in the name and in the power of Jesus Christ. Amen. Charles Dickens was a masterful author.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that, but he was celebrated for his colorful characters and his creative story lines. And with many of his characters, a simple announcement of his their name was an introduction into their nature and or their profession. For instance, in his novel Bleak House, Mr. Talking Horn was not surprisingly a lawyer with a powerful and destructive presence while Snagsby, his clerk, was always fetching papers for him. There was another law office Mr. Guppy, worked there, a young, aspiring and awkward legal intern. Mrs. Flight was a collector of birds and flighty herself, while Mr. Smallweed was a collector of minor curiosity and a pack of it of secrets that spread like dandelions. Esther Somerson. She brought sunshine and hope to the beleaguered Jarmillaise family. What’s in a name? With Dickens, plenty. And in the same way throughout the Older Testament, we see that as well. Adam in Hebrew literally means the man, while Eve sounds almost exactly like the Hebrew word for life giver. Joshua means savior. Abraham, the father of many people. Nio me means pleasant, and we could go on. In our text, David calls out in verse 1, Oh God, save me by your name.
I hope that when you’re reading your Bible daily or throughout the week, you don’t get so comfortable in your reading that you overlook curious phrases like this one. David is expecting saving, which he’s in dire need of. And he’s expecting the saving to come from the name of God. He’s not first asking for God’s power or might or wisdom. He’s rather voicing to God the understanding that salvation can come to David simply in the name of God. Before we get too far down that line of thinking, let’s back up for a moment and remind ourselves of what it is that David needs saving from. As I said, this Psalm is one of 13 that has a superscription with a historical reference, a background to help us understand this Psalm in its immediate context. Again, the latter part of that super inscription writes, A masacle of David, when the Zephyites went out and told Psalm, Is not David hiding among us? I appreciate Derek Kidner’s remark that it was hardly surprising when Doag, the Edomite, turned on David in 1 Samuel 22. That story David reflects on in Psalm 52. The Edomites were enemies of Israel.
And while Doag feigned loyalty to Israel and even loyalty to David for a while, when the opportunity came, he quickly turned on David. But when the Zipheites went and told Saul, Is not David among us? When they betrayed David, it’s a different matter. Ziphyl, you see, was in the hill country of the region of Judah’s inheritance. Like David, these inhabitants all descended from Judah. In other words, David is here betrayed by his own kinsmen. 1 Samuel 23 tells the story of the locals in a border town asking for some help against raiding Philistines. And they asked David and his mighty man, and sure enough, he saves the border town. After he saves them, they send report to Sol. That David is there. David flees from that town into the hill countries, and now the Ziphytes have reported to Sol. Up until this point, it seemed that David may have taken it for granted that immunity or protection would be provided for him in the territories of Judah. But no longer, he no longer has any safe hideouts. And that’s the back story in which he calls out to God, Save me by your name. David, in verse 3, speaks a little bit about these Ziphyites who are ready to turn on David, ready to surrender him to Saul.
And David calls them strangers in verse 3. Admittedly, there’s some discussion on whether stranger or insolent men is the proper translation. Those two words in the Hebrew appear almost identical. Some scholars wonder why David would call his fellow tribesmen strangers, so they would prefer insolent men. But it seems to me that it’s possible that the surprise of their betrayal is so shocking that it was as it if he never knew them. Think, for instance, of Caesar’s response, A2, Brutus, you also, Brutus? When Caesar was assassinated in the public forum, Brutus, you may know, was once a captured slave, but he was noticed and favored by the young Caesar who continually promoted him, gave him his freedom, and then helped bring him into high offices in Rome, becoming one of Caesar’s closest friends. He flew tark when he writes on those lives he records, that initially Caesar fought against his assailants. But when he saw Brutus lift his dagger, it was too much for his soul, and he ceased his struggle. Perhaps that’s the feeling of complete betrayal that David felt. His so called kinsmen were now strangers. If insolent men is the preferred translation, we have an almost exact verse in Psalm 86.
In that Psalm, David declares, Oh God, insolent men have risen against me. A band of ruthless men seek my life and they do not set you before them. That term insolent fits with the last phrase of the verse. They are insolent. They have no regard for God. They have not set God before him. That’s the charge that David levels against them. It’s a twofold charge, actually. First is that they are seeking his life. And secondly, that they do not set God first. David’s aware of a correlation here. Those who don’t set God first in their lives, that they don’t live for God’s glory, they don’t care about God’s plans or intentions, they are simply and regularly living for themselves, chasing after their own interests. Unable to see or unconcerned with what God is doing, they will eventually find themselves fighting against what God is actually doing. The townspeople of Ziff, thinking of themselves, hoping King Solomon stays in power, were turning David over for their own interests. They, we, may think that at times we’re neutral. We just don’t care. But in fact, we find that we are opposed to what God is doing and become ultimately enemies of God.
See what’s happening in the background of our story in 1 Samuel 23, in that narrative, right before we read that the Ziphytes go to Saul to tell on David, Jonathan, one of Sol’s own son, actually meets secretively with David. First Samuel 23, 23 verses 15 to 23 speak of that. Jonathan, knowing that Saul is trying to find and kill David, comes to David and encourages him with these words in part. He says, Do not fear for the hand of Saul, my father. My father shall not find you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be next to you. Saul, my father, knows this. Then the text tells us in 1 Samuel 23 that the two of them, Jonathan and David, made a covenant before the Lord. Jonathan, you see, set the Lord first before himself, and so he could see what God was doing in and around him. Saul, who at this time thought only for himself, refused to see or couldn’t see what God was doing and how God could be shaping his life. Instead, he fights against what God is doing. And so Saul and his army have come out one once again to destroy David.
And David is running out of hiding places. It was in that need that David calls out to the Lord to save me by your name. Notice the second half of verse 1, it parallels the first, And vindicate me by your might. In Hebrew poetry, it’s very common for the use of parallels where the second half of a verse explains or fills out or complements the first half. You learn more about one section by seeing the second section. So David uses this parallel approach throughout this entire Psalm. Every verse gives an example of it. But there are a few extra phrases that would then stick out. When they don’t match that pattern, they’ll capture your attention. The first example of that is in verse 3, for they do not set God before themselves. So the saving that David is hoping for is not to just get me out of this jam when he says, Vindicate me by your might, but rather that God would clear his name. David has been charged again and again with plotting against the life of King Solomon. And his various attempts to show that he was loyal to Solomon, that he would never lift a hand against the Lord’s anointed, fell on deaf ears and blindness.
Solomon was simply determined to destroy him. And so David calls out to God in prayer, verse 2, he pleads that God would listen to the words of his mouth. Old Testament scholar, Marvyn Tate captures David’s plight beautifully when he writes, The worshiper confides in the superior power of God at a time when he has nothing to expect from the power of man. David is failed now by his own tribe. He’s a persecuted individual, and he turns to the Lord in worship and petition, calling on the name of the Lord for saving. Tate also remarks that Israel is to worship wherever God places his name. And so David calls on the name of the Lord in his distress. And in doing so, his perspective changes. When you look at the structure of this Psalm, you’ll notice in verses 1 and 2, that’s David’s cry out to God. Verse 3 is a description of the reason for his distress. And then it ends with the realization that these men, the ones who are out to get David, do not value God. God is not at the forefront of their thinking. And at that discovery, David says, Selah.
Selah is a Hebrew term that occurs 71 times in the Psalms and three times in Habakuk. And while a precise meaning is uncertain, it’s generally understood to communicate a liturgical break or a musical pause. Very often it represents a shift in the poem itself. That appears to be the case here. For immediately after David’s reflection on who is persecuting him. After that pause, he remarks, Behold, God is my helper. The Lord is the one who upholds my life. And this perspective gives him hope that deliverance is on the way. On this transition between the persecuted David and the praising David, Marvyn Tate remarks, Whether the transitions were the result of something external to David, such as a word from the priest, or whether the Psalm is designed to bring the one praying it to a point of faith and confidence is uncertain. I love that quote because in sharing with us that uncertainty, Tate has given us two exceptional practical applications. The first is, listen to the words of Godly men and women around you. The one idea is that perhaps David heard a word of encouragement from the priest. Listen to their words as they speak into your life and circumstances.
Spend time with people who have spent more time with Jesus and watch, look, and listen to how the Lord has shaped their lives. The second application is to pray God’s words back to him. Tate says, Maybe that’s what happened. Maybe as David prayed this prayer, he came to the point of confidence and faith. There are many times in which an honest and thoughtful reading of a Psalms, particularly one that might speak to your own situation, it can take our eyes off of ourselves and put our focus back on the Lord. Even Christ himself, our Lord, in the midst of his own temptation, answered Satan with Scripture. The Holy Spirit regularly uses the truth of God’s Word to breathe life and refreshment into our bones. We can, by reading God’s words of truth or hearing words of truth from Godly friends, be reminded that we have a high priest who can sympathize with our weakness, one who has been tempted in all things, yet without sin. Jesus, for instance, knows exactly what betrayal feels like. Jesus felt Julius’s kiss, a precursor to the cross. This is certainly the case with all of our struggles, all of our frustrations, all of our dilemma, all of our feelings of persecution.
Christ knows, and we are not alone. David was right to cry out for help. In David’s confession in verse 4, that God is my helper, that the Lord is the upholder of his life. That’s the reason that he has hope. In fact, although Psalms 54 is technically a lament song, notice the perspective that David has had all alone. In the midst of his lamitation, of a betrayal by his own tribe, David can see some things. Look at what he can see. The name of the Lord, the might of the Lord, the help of the Lord, the sustaining of the Lord, the faithfulness of the Lord, the praise of the Lord, the goodness of the Lord, and finally, the triumph of the Lord. That is a perspective that he has while he himself is feeling betrayed by strangers rising against him, ruthless men seeking his life. The adversaries may have no regard for God, but David is already thanking freely thanking God. What’s key here is that David is determined not to let his circumstances determine his outlook. It’s true that he’s in tune to all the discouragements around him. He knows that his life and the life of the men around him are in grave danger, and he knows he has nowhere else to turn.
But he also knows a deeper truth as well that God can deliver against all odds. And so he looks to God and calls upon the name of the Lord of his salvation. That phrase, your name, occurs twice in this Psalms, both in verse 1 and in verse 6. David uses it both in his petition in the first half of that Psalm and in his praise. And so as such, it can function as a frame for the Psalm. I think there’s a few theological observations we can make. The first of which that there is something really significant about the name of God. I’m not talking about the term God, mind you. Everyone, just about everyone anyway, is okay with the term God if it represents some higher power or maybe a benevolent genie in the sky. Talking about the name of God. The Hebrews in the Old Testament understood that it was special. It’s so special that they avoided pronouncing God’s personal and intimate name for fear that if they mispronounced it, they would be taking it in vain. But throughout the older testament, God revealed himself regularly through his name. God, our provider, God, our defender, God, our refuge, the great I am, our salvation, just to name a few.
And in the newer testament, Jesus shows us that he is the I am, that Jesus is the Savior, that his is the only name under heaven whereby men may be saved. And it is his name, the name of Jesus, that many people would rather you not mention. Even though the name of our Lord might be exactly what they and we need. In our text this morning, we can also make a few observations about David’s use of the name of God. First, because it’s a parallel that he’s using, the first and second portions connect and enhance each other. With that in mind, saving by his name is like vindicating by his might. So the first association with God’s name is his might. And yet in verse 6, we see that David states, I will give thanks to your name for it is good. It is good. The second association he makes is that the name of God is good, mighty and good. The practical lessons for us is simply the reminder that God is both mighty and good. He is neither a mighty tyrant or a pleasant, pathetic fellow. He is mighty and good. He is strong and kind.
It is in his name. It is his nature. God is always good. There are no exceptions. All he does is only good. We may not understand it. We may wonder. We may even feel like we’re disagreeing with what he’s doing. But those moments that’s our problem, it’s our lack of sight, or perhaps our unbelief. God is always good. It is his nature. It is his name. And he accomplishes all his plans. Another theological insight is that when David prays for deliverance and then rejoices with a free will offering that it has come, we see, and I’ll use the words of Old Testament scholar Hassel Bullock here, he says, David, in the midst of worship, acknowledges the reality of the evil that stalks his personal life and over which he triumphs through God’s power. He’s making the point that evil, that the evil that the evil in our personal lives impact the context of our worship. Now, we often try to segregate portions of our life. This is what we do on Sundays, and this is how we live the rest of our lives. Or I can look like this in Church or among certain people, but the rest of the week or at other times, I fret and worry and fuss all the day long.
I appreciated the challenge that one scholar noted. He says evil can never be studied apart from worship of the sovereign God. When I first read that, I cocked my head like I just did there. And I said, Well, that might be an overstated statement. That might be a bit much that evil can never be studied apart from worship of a sovereign God. But then I read on and he noted that from the beginning of the world to the end of scripture, God is in the process of triumphing over evil. In our Psalm, David makes that connection readily. His expectation in this Psalm, which is a prayer and praise in worship that is to be read and to be praised and to be sang among a congregation of the people of God. His expectation is that the evil of his enemies will return or return back or spring back in the Hebrew on their own heads. And he is so confident in the faithfulness of God that he readies himself for that free will offering of gratitude and thanksgiving. The word translated as in your faithfulness is one that is normally translated as truth. This leads Bullock to note, While evil and truth do not at first appear to be opposites, it is evil that is the enemy of truth, for evil always aims to distort truth.
From the tempters’ challenge to Eve, did God really say to our own personal struggles, Is this really that wrong? Evil always seeks to distort the truth, to create doubt and unbelief in each of us. And so as we wrap up here, we need to recognize that the only solution to the ongoing attacks of the evil one is to work to keep every conversation, every thought, every situation, every relationship, every dream in the context of worship with our sovereign Lord. To regularly put God before us in our daily loving, to bring together our worship on Sunday and a life lived in worship. To call out to Him for help in our struggles, to call out to Him for forgiveness in our failures, to call out to Him in joy and thanksgiving in our triumphs and blessings. In summary, we must regularly and repeatedly call upon the name of the Lord for his might and rest in his goodness. Only then can we to rejoice with him as we look on his triumph over all his enemies. Let’s pray. Father, I thank you for David, for who lived his life open and honest. Father, when we look at parts of his life, we see he was no saint, but yet you were before him, and he was ready to admit his faults.
He was ready to confess his weaknesses. He was ready to speak of his fears, the mighty warrior, the slayer of ten thousands. Father, thank you for that example of what a life could look like when you are set regularly before us. Father, thank you for your work of redemption and salvation in our life. That you always hear the call for help. Father, we rejoice in that. Give us strength and confidence to call upon your name. Give us winsome words and grace, a measure of a kind boldness as we speak to a world that is in great need for your saving name. And help us to understand those opportunities. And let us come humbly before this dying world to bring them the very words of life. Work those words, work the name of your son deep into our life. And Lord, we rejoice that you have promised that you who have begun a good work will be faithful to complete it. We rest on that in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription