Psalm 57

A Michtam of David when he fled from Saul into the cave.

Now we have another Michtam psalm of David, like Psalm 56. As The Companion Bible suggests, it has to do with writing, particularly engraving. Since most writing is not graven, this indicates its importance. It is “set in stone,” as our figure of speech would have it. Rotherham makes it “A Tablet.” Yet we would prefer to refer this to a mark of importance. These psalms are to be engraven; their lesson is to be remembered.

The occasion of this psalm is the time that David fled from Saul into the cave. Our best guess would be that this refers to the incident recorded in I Samuel 24. Let us consider from I Samuel 23:26.

26. Then Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain. So David made haste to get away from Saul, for Saul and his men were encircling David and his men to take them.
27. But a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Hurry and come, for the Philistines have invaded the land!” 28. Therefore Saul returned from pursuing David, and went against the Philistines; so they called that place the Rock of Escape. 29. Then David went up from there and dwelt in strongholds at En Gedi.
1. Now it happened, when Saul had returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, “Take note! David is in the Wilderness of En Gedi.” 2. Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel, and went to seek David and his men on the Rocks of the Wild Goats. 3. So he came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend to his needs. (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave.)

Here we have the circumstances under which this psalm was written. Just recently, Saul had come out with his army to capture David and his men. David had been fleeing to get away from Saul, yet the army of Israel was starting to surround him and his men, and it looked like David was about to fall into the hands of his enemy. Yet at the last minute a report of a Philistine invasion caused Saul and his men to turn back and leave David alone. This must have been quite a relief to him, and a sign that God was truly with him. Moreover, God was keeping His word to him. The very fact that David was still in the land of Israel and in the territory of Judah was because of God’s command to him, as we read in I Samuel 22:5.

5. Now the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold; depart, and go to the land of Judah.” So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth.

So it was because of obedience that David was not sojourning in a foreign land like Moab, where he had originally intended to go. He was in Judah because God wanted him there. That God would then deliver him from his enemies while there made sense.

Yet the respite for David and his men was short. No sooner had Saul returned from chasing off the Philistines than a report came to him, no doubt originated by traitors in David’s own tribe, that David was still in the land and could be found in the Wilderness of En Gedi. Saul prepared his own elite forces, and it seems that David and his men, caught mostly by surprise and unable to flee, had run for refuge into a cave, hiding out in its hidden recesses. This was a good place to hide in some ways, but also a dangerous one. The same cave that could offer hiding and refuge could also become a trap if they were discovered there. As Saul and his men searched the very area where the cave was, it must have seemed quite likely that they would be so trapped. And when Saul himself entered the cave where they were hiding, it must have seemed to them like it was all over for them and God had not come through for them after all!

Yet instead of searching the cave, Saul moved to a place where he was no longer visible from the entrance and prepared to attend to his needs there. What relief must come to them as it became clear that Saul had no suspicions at all that the cave was actually the hiding place of David and his men! Instead, he was only seeking a private place to relieve himself. This must have been a great relief to the hearts of David and his men. God had turned the trap around, and Saul’s plans to destroy them were brought to nothing.

So that was the occasion, and now we look at the body of Psalm 57.

1. Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!

We can well imagine David, waiting nervously in hiding in the cave and listening to the shouts and activities of Saul’s men right outside the entrance as they moved around searching the area. The mental strain must have been great on David and all his men as they waited with bated breath to see what would happen. In this situation, when he finds himself totally helpless to escape the trap he is in or to do anything to change his situation, David’s mind turns, as it always did, to his God. We can imagine him breathing out the words of this psalm to calm himself, or perhaps just playing the song in his mind. Perhaps a little tune occurs to him, along with the words, and he repeats this tune mentally, adding words to it, as a way of calming himself and steadying his nerves. God is the One, the only One, Who can help him out of the jam he is in now! So his song calls upon Him to be merciful to him.

For my soul trusts in You;

In this dire situation, David’s soul trusts in God. This could mean, and probably does mean, two things. One thing is David’s emotions. We can imagine what a fever pitch these were at in his current predicament! The soul has to do with the emotions and desires, and David calms his emotions with his trust in God. Another thing this means is David’s very being and life. The soul is often put for the person himself, and David’s very existence is currently in peril, for if Saul and his men catch them, all his men, and David especially, are as good as dead, and their souls will be lost.

And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,

Anyone who has been around birds, such as those who have raised chickens, will be aware that when anything threatens the little chicks, their immediate reaction is to run for shelter beneath the wings of their mother. David now pictures himself this way, as running to the wings of God for refuge in his own time of terrible danger.

Notice that here is a place where God is compared to a female animal. Though when pronouns are used God is referred to as male, and Jesus Christ when He became a man was indeed male, still the references to God as male are not universally true. The Holy Spirit is referred to by neuter pronouns, though we do not follow this in English and speak of the Spirit as “It.” Yet also there are cases like this, where God is compared to a mother bird with her chicks. Indeed, we must remember that God is not a man like us. He is our Creator, and all the truest and best aspects of male and female, at least as they existed in our initial, unfallen state, are summed up in Him. God contains in His character all that is good both in womanhood in general and in motherhood in particular. When His children are in trouble, they can indeed run to His wings for refuge like chicks run to their mother.

Until these calamities have passed by.

David plans to remain in the shadow of God’s wings until all these calamities have passed him by. Of course, this is literally what he and his men were hoping and praying: that Saul and his men would simply pass by the cave they were hiding in and not search it to seek them out.

2. I will cry out to God Most High,

David cries out to the most exalted God. Unlike Psalm 56:2, this is the typical name for God that is usually translated “Most High,” the word ‘Elyon. Perhaps he is thinking of God as the Most High over all the earth, looking down on him from on high, the great God seeing him in all his earthly troubles and watching over him.

To God who performs all things for me.

David is crying to God Who performs all things for him. Yet “performs” is perhaps not a good translation of the rare word gamar, which occurs only in the Psalms. It refers to bringing a thing to completion or to an end, either in success or in failure. Clearly David has carrying through to success in mind here. This would include God’s command for him to stay in Judah, as well as His promises that David would someday be King of Israel. It is God Who must carry these things through to completion for David, for at all times, and now in particular, he has no power to carry those things through for himself.

3. He shall send from heaven and save me;

David consoles himself that God shall send from heaven to save him. This is an important truth that we all need to remember. God does not have to leave heaven in order to save David. He does not need to come and be personally present on earth in order to save. He is perfectly capable of sending from right where He is in heaven in order to save His people. This is indeed what He is going to do when He sends final salvation and brings His people into the Kingdom of God at last.

He reproaches the one who would swallow me up. Selah

David is confident that God will be the One to reproach the one who seeks to swallow him up, as a fierce animal might swallow his prey. This refers to Saul, of course, who was seeking to destroy David at this time. Even as David says here, God did indeed reproach Saul, for when he learned that David had been in the cave and had spared his life he was reproached indeed.

Selah here connects this line with the following one. When God in His great mercy sends forth the truth, this will indeed reproach all those who prove to be enemies of the truth, even as Saul was.

God shall send forth His mercy and His truth.

David assures himself that God shall send forth His mercy and His truth. This anticipates the Kingdom of God, when He shall send forth His truth for the asking. God will no longer be silent, as He is today while He is working in a secret dispensation, as Ephesians 3:9 declares. Instead, He will be willing to share His truth with all who care to seek it. In that day the lies of men, so powerful in our day, will at last be silenced, and truth shall reign at last.

4. My soul is among lions;

David’s soul is, as it were, among lions, these fierce men who made him their prey and sought to tear him to pieces. It is from such a dire place that he looks to God for help.

The word “soul” here is again the Hebrew nephesh. David puts the “soul” here for himself. He is among lions, not just some part of him called the soul.

I lie among the sons of men

David lies, helplessly, among the sons of Adam. Which particular kind of sons of Adam we will find out in the next line.

Who are set on fire,

These sons of Adam are set on fire. Those who are set on fire are about to die and be consumed, and David feels that he is like one of these, whose life is about to come to an end.

Whose teeth are spears and arrows,

Once more he describes these lion-like men. They have sharp teeth, but they are not an animal’s teeth. Instead, their teeth are the spears and arrows they are armed with. No doubt they would not have hesitated to use spears and arrows against David and his men if they had caught him.

And their tongue a sharp sword.

The tongue of these lion-like men, that with which they gobble up their food, is actually a sharp sword. If these swords go into action, surely David and his men will be gobbled up as well.

5. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;

Now David sings a refrain, exalting God above the heavens. We do not imagine that this means that Christ is to be exalted to a sphere above the heavens, for if He truly ascended higher than the heavens, then He would have to go out of the heavens altogether. No, the “heavens” here are not place, but rather are the most elevated or exalted beings. It does not matter how high the heavenly ruler nor how exalted his office. God is exalted above all the heavens, and none of them is higher than He is.

Let Your glory be above all the earth.

David exalts God’s glory above all the earth. Of course, this does not mean that it should be above ground level, but rather than the esteem in which He is held should be greater than the esteem of anything at all on earth, and even of everything there is on earth all at once. When He is esteemed and honored as being greater than everything one earth, then His glory shall be above all the earth, as David sang here.

6. They have prepared a net for my steps;

David speaks once again of the enemies who have come against him, even the forces of Saul who were surrounding the cave he was hiding in. They had prepared a net for his steps. Police use a similar figure today when they talk about putting out a “dragnet” to capture a criminal. Saul and his men had prepared a similar net to catch the fugitive David.

My soul is bowed down;

David’s soul is bowed down because of the trap surrounding him. Here “soul” is as usual the Hebrew nephesh, and indicates that David’s emotions were bowed down and depressed because of the danger he was in.

They have dug a pit before me;

Again he illustrates the actions of Saul and his men with the idea of digging a pit in front of David in an attempt to drive him to fall into it unawares.

Into the midst of it they themselves have fallen. Selah

In spite of the efforts of Saul and all David’s enemies to trap and destroy him, they instead fell into their own trap. This reminds us of what happened at the end of this story, when Saul, seeking to trap David, entered into the cave where David was hiding and was actually surrounded by David’s men and trapped himself.

This could well be another case in which David, after beginning to write this song to comfort himself while hiding in the cave, surrounded by enemies and breathing out prayers to his God for deliverance, actually finished the song later when the danger was past and he could praise God for what was in fact the outcome of the incident. Either that or we would have to imagine David speaking in supreme confidence, even while in the danger, of what God would do to deliver him from the danger. Of course, David was a prophet, and could easily have done that if God inspired him to do it. In that case, this would be an example of God speaking of things that are not as if they were. Saul had not yet fallen into his own trap, but he was about to, and by inspiration David could speak of it as if it had already happened.

7. My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;

This is a beautiful sentiment and a great thing for any follower of God to be able to say. We know that there are many things that could sidetrack a follower of God from having a heart firm and fixed on serving Him. One of them could be life-threatening persecution such as David faced. Another could be the scorn and ridicule of peers. Another could be the loneliness that can come from taking the seldom-traveled road of truth. Yet if our hearts are fixed on God and not divided between serving Him and serving others or ourselves, we will be able to stand firm and steadfast no matter the threat. That is the position David is in. No matter how grim his service to God has made things look for him, his heart is steadfast, and he will not stop serving Him no matter what.

I will sing and give praise.

Because his heart is steadfast and fixed on God, he will sing and give praise to Him. His praise is given, not just for delivering him from Saul in this one incident in his life, but also that He will always deliver him, even, at last, from death.

8. Awake, my glory!

This seems to be the praise song that David sings because his heart is steadfast and set on God, no matter the difficulty, the opposition, or the persecution he may face. Whether or not it was composed at the same time and during the same occasion that the early part of the Psalm was is hard to say. As The Companion Bible shows, it fits right in with the structure of the Psalm, so it definitely is not one fragment added to another. This is indeed a complete Psalm.

David calls upon his glory to awake. This is figurative, of course, for a thing like glory does not sleep, but we would expect such figures in poetry. David probably means his esteem for God should awake and go into action in order to cause him to praise.

Awake, lute and harp!

He calls upon the lute and harp, probably his own lute and harp, to go into action as well to praise God. Obviously this is later, for David was not about to start playing a lute or harp while hiding in a cave and hoping Saul and his men will not notice! David may have composed this song at that time, but he certainly did not play it with full instruments until later.

I will awaken the dawn.

David’s praise will begin before the sun even rises, so that it will be as if his music is waking the dawn as it will be playing as the sun rises and the dawn “awakes.”

9. I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples;

This is the song David sings early in the morning with the lute and harp. He praises the LORD among the peoples. Even though the word “Lord” is not capitalized in the New King James Version, this did originally read “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” in Hebrew, but it was changed to Adonai by the Sopherim, the self-appointed editors of the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet when David wrote this Psalm it was of Jehovah that he was speaking. He promises to praise Him, not just among the Israelites who would generally agree with him in praising Him, but even among the peoples, many of whom did not traditionally praise the LORD at all. David doubtless did do this among whatever foreigners he had contact with, such as foreign ambassadors and so forth. Yet this probably looks forward to the Kingdom of God to come. Then, the Kingdom in coming to earth will come upon Israel first. As the other nations seek to learn of it and what it entails, many of them may meet with David, and he will praise the LORD to them as he tells them of His wondrous ways, even as he had learned of them in his life in the past. Perhaps many of these very same Psalms he wrote so long ago will be used by him at that time to explain to the peoples the glory of the LORD.

I will sing to You among the nations.

When he is among the nations, personified no doubt in their representative ambassadors and other leaders, David will sing to the LORD among them so as to make them know of His splendid attributes.

10. For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens,

These are the things David will sing of among the peoples and the nations. He will sing of the fact that Jehovah’s mercy reaches unto the heavens. Though David too was a man and a sinner like the rest of us, God watched out for him and rescued him from all his troubles, even as he did in this case. David personally experienced God’s mercy many times in his own life when God forgave him various sins, especially that with Bathsheba and Uriah. David thus will be able to explain and sing of His mercy that reaches unto the heavens to the nations and peoples he will be meeting with at this future time.

And Your truth unto the clouds.

He will also sing that Jehovah’s truth reaches unto the clouds. We know that Christ claimed not just to have the truth but to BE the truth. Jehovah IS truth, and His truth truly is as high as the sky, reaching to the very heavens. There is nothing in creation that was not made and established by Him, and so He is both the Source of all things as well as the Source of all truth. Therefore His truth reaches to the very highest.

11. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;

This is a refrain, repeating verse 5. David calls on God to be exalted above the heavens. Again this does not mean David wants God to go up the elevator to the top floor, but rather that He should be held in the highest honor and esteem, much higher than even the most elevated of beings, whether heavenly beings or the exalted men of the earth. No matter how great a person is, God is exalted high above him.

Let Your glory be above all the earth.

Again he wants God’s glory, the honor He is given and the esteem in which He is held, to be above all the earth. In other words, He should be given more glory that anything on earth, and indeed than the earth and all that is in it combined together. He made it all, and He is greater than it all. Let us all hold Him in such esteem. Let us all give Him such honor. Let us all ascribe to Him such glory. He truly is worthy!

To the Chief Musician. Set to “Do Not Destroy.”

Again, though this was probably originally a private psalm David composed in his mind and heart as he and his men waited with bated breath in the cave, hoping against hope that Saul and his men would pass them by, David later dedicated this psalm for public use, so that all God’s people, upon finding themselves in similar, dire circumstances, might fix their hearts on God as David did, and, in Him, find similar comfort. This song is not set to some tune called “Do Not Destroy,” but that is the theme of the psalm. David’s enemies, particularly Saul, wanted to destroy him, but God said, “Do not destroy,” and it was God’s will that prevailed, not Saul’s. Thus the theme of this psalm truly is “Do Not Destroy.”