Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Third Psalm

O Lord, how my adversaries have increased!
Many are rising up against me.
Many are saying of my soul,
"There is no deliverance for him in God."
But You, O Lord, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying to the Lord with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain.
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me round about.

Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God!
For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek;
You have shattered the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the Lord;
Your blessing be upon Your people!

The situation had gotten out of hand. We are told that this psalm was written by David when he fled from Absalom, his son. Although the history of David's flight is recounted in 2nd Samuel 15 and 16, the problems had started even before that. David, the king of Israel, the nation set apart by the Law of Moses, had egregiously violated that Law. He had committed murder and adultery (2nd Samuel 11 and 12).

David did not have control of his own house either. His daughter Tamar was sexually violated by her brother Amnon, and David did nothing. Absalom, disgusted with his father's  apathy, avenged his sister, killed Amnon, and fled (2nd Samuel 13). Eventually Absalom returned to Jerusalem, not even speak to his father for two years. And right after father and son were finally reunited, Absalom led an uprising to take the throne from his father.

This psalm recounts the thoughts of a monarch ousted by his people who were led by his son. In fact, David deserved death according to the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 22:22 and Leviticus 20:10). His people could have felt fully justified in their desire to kill him. Even by modern standards, many of us would have called for his removal as well. His personal behavior and management of his own family were both indefensible public embarrassments.

On first reading this psalm I had made the assumption that a helpless, pure, and holy man was being persecuted for his righteousness. Furthermore, I thought that David’s adversaries were mocking God’s power to save him. Of course God would save David from these evil men! David feared briefly, but then realized that God was most definitely on his side. The good guy wins again.

The problem is that cookie-cutter morality does not hold up here. David is not the good guy. Absalom is not the good guy either. There is no good guy. So why does David expect special treatment from God? According to the Law, David’s adversaries are correct in stating that “There is no deliverance for him in God.” There is only death. How can David claim that God is his shield and his glory?

There is a small hint to why David’s perspective on the situation differs so substantially from those who are seeking his life:
I was crying to the Lord with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain.
This interchange between David and the Lord gave David confidence that, despite his grave misdeeds, God would still save him. It allowed him to sleep soundly, something most hunted men find difficult to do. He woke safe and secure, confident that he need not be afraid. The conversation that took place must have made up the difference between those who said “There is no deliverance for him,” and David who said, “the Lord sustains me.” Both sides see the overwhelming guilt of David, but David knows that the Law is really about bringing humanity to the realization of its guilt and that God does not desire perfection, or even animal sacrifice, but admission of guilt in the form of a broken spirit, a contrite heart, and acknowledgment of God’s righteous power to save. How do I know David was relying on this information? He recorded it in Psalm 51, which was written before fleeing Jerusalem, after his sin had been made public.

David deserved death, and he knew it. But he also knew that his God had been saving unworthy people who acknowledged their unworthiness and God’s immeasurable worth for generations.

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