Psalm 54It is very helpful when the heading to a Psalm is absolutely explicit. Shame about this one, then!
The instruments implied are generally agreed to be stringed, but there is no certainty. 'Of David' comes with its usual warnings, and as for what a maskil is, well there are several contending ideas.
A skilled composition, an effective song, a wisdom psalm, a teaching psalm, or a meditation.
As my parents would have said, 'Pays your money, takes your choice.' We simply don't know.
However, what follows is quite explicit. "When the Ziphites went and said to Saul 'Is not David hiding among us?'"
1 Samuel 23 is but one element in a long line of 'flee-be discovered-flee again' episodes in the life of David and his relationship with King Saul. It is worth reprising what we know of this relationship.
Firstly, Saul is the first of a new concept - the monarch of Israel. As such he is both a proud man and very insecure in his hold on power. He also seems to suffer from a personality disorder.
His daughter is married to David, and his son is intensely loyal to him, at the least.
David is a superlative hero 'Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands' (18: 7) who has attracted the fury of a king who sees his popularity and spiritual validation slipping away. He is a loyal soldier, bandit or mercenary as his mood takes him.
David attacked a Philistine force besieging Keilah, a 'city' some 7 miles from Hebron. Saul tries to catch him, but he heads into the 'Wilderness of Ziph', a few miles south. Saul cannot intercept him, but Jonathon finds David, and renews their 'covenant'.
Then some men from Ziph prove their loyalty to the king by attempting to betray David.
Such is the context for our psalm. It is a psalm of desperation in the midst of threat.
verses 1 & 2
The cry for help is deep and heartfelt, and contains an unusual element. Rather than calling simply on God's power, the psalmist calls on the power of God's name. The use of the divine name was to invoke the presence of God, not simply an outworking of divine power. The psalmist is calling on God to be actually present alongside him in his trouble.
There is some difficulty with translation as to exactly who the psalmist's enemies are, but they are certainly deemed to have no respect for God.
verses 4 & 5
God is sustainer of the psalmist's life - a form of the word implying 'greatest and principal' sustainer.
God acts as a shield against the weaponry of evil, deflecting it back on the wielder.
verses 6 & 7
As in previous studies, we see the 'inducement' of praise and sacrifice, implying that the psalmist cannot approach the altar until God defends him. This would certainly have been true in David's case. The power of the name of God is again acknowledged.
How can we use it?There are times when we may feel that the whole world is out to get us! This psalm acts as a reminder that God is our defence, and that we can call upon the holy name as a powerful aid in times of trouble. It also reminds us that when we are 'out of the woods' we must give thanks for God's sustaining and saving grace.
Stay safe, and stay well
Ali (Rev Alistair Jones)