John T. Willis

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Psalm 57:6-11

The second part of Psalm 57 is verses 6-11 (verses 7-11 are identical to Psalm 108:1-5):

"They [the psalmist's enemies] set a net for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my path,
but they have fallen into it themselves.
My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody.
Awake, my soul!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn.
I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
among the peoples;
I will sing praise to you
among the nations.
For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens;
your faithfulness extends to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
Let your glory be over all the earth."

1. Wicked people try to set traps to control, oppress, and afflict people who are striving to serve God. It is typical in the Old Testament to compare this with setting nets for birds or animals (Amos 3:5; Psalms 9:15; 10:9; 25:15; 140:5; Lamentations 1:13), or with digging a pit and covering it with camouflage in order to lure an animal to walk over it and fall into the pit (Psalms 7:15; 9:15; 119:85; Jeremiah 18:22). Ironically, God mysteriously works to cause the net or the pit to catch the very persons who set them to harm others.
2. When the psalmist experiences God's deliverance from her or his enemies, she or he will give thanks to and praise Yahweh for his salvation by "singing" with the voice and accompanying that with "making melody" on musical instruments; the psalmist here specifically mentions the lyre and the harp (verses 7-9). (See Psalms 33:1-3; 150).
3. Yahweh's "glory," his magnificent splendor and awesome brilliance, is "above the heavens" and throughout "all the earth" (see Psalms 8:1; 148:13).
May we praise God for his glory and steadfast love and faithfulness.

John Willis

Monday, March 28, 2005

Psalm 57:1-5

Psalm 57 is very similar to Psalm 56 is several ways. Both psalms have a recurring refrain or chorus: 56:4 and 10-11; and 57:5, 11. Enemies are threatening and attacking both psalmists: 56:1-2, 5-6,9 and 57:3, 4, 6. Both psalmist proclaim their trust in Yahweh to prevail over their enemies: 56:3-4, 8-11, 13 and 57:1-3. It is interesting that Psalm 57:7-11 is identical to Psalm 108:1-5. The recurring refrains or choruses in Psalm 57 divide this poem into two parts. The first part is verses 1-5:

"Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.
I cry to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me,
he will put to shame those who trample on me.
God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.
I lie down among lions
that greedily devour human prey;
their teeth are spears and arrows,
their tongues sharp swords.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
Let your glory be over all the earth."

1. The psalmist knows she or he is not worthy of Yahweh's intervention, and thus pleads for his "mercy"--verse 1a. This is the same plea the author of Psalm 56 makes at the beginning of her or his psalm: "Be gracious to me, O God" (Psalm 56:1a).
2. To "take refuge in" God is a common biblical expression meaning to "trust in" God. See Psalms 2:12; 18:2; 46:1, 7, 11; and often. This metaphor comes from the usual practice in the ancient world of building a fortress or tower in which people being attacked could find protection from their enemies.
3. "The shadow of God's wings" may be a metaphor depicting God as a mother hen under whose wings her baby chicks find protection (Isaiah 31:5; Luke 13:34), or it may be a reference to the wings of the cherubim spread out above the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place of the temple (see 1 Kings 8:6-7), and thus indicate people taking asylum in the temple from enemies seeking to destroy them (see further Psalms 17:8; 36:7; 63:7; Isaiah 6:1-3).
4. The composer of Psalm 57 compares his enemies with "destroying storms" (verse 1d) and "lions" that greedily devour human prey (verse 4a-b). Psalmists often compare their enemies with ravenous beasts (see for example Psalms 7:2; 10:9; 17:12; 22:12-13, 16, 20-21; 34:10; 35:17; 58:6; 59:6-7, 14-15; 68:30; 91:13). As in Psalm 56:1a, 2a, the author of Psalm 57 speaks of her of his enemies "trampling on" her or him (verse 3b).
5. God has a "purpose" for his creatures (verse 2b). And although we do not have the resources to carry out his purpose for us, he can "fulfill" his purpose for us in ways that far transcend all that we ask or think. See Ephesians 3:20-21; Philippians 4:4-7.
6. God dwells in heaven (see 1 Kings 8:30, 36, 39; and very often), but he "comes down" to earth to work among people and to carry out his purposes (verse 3a; see Genesis 11:5-7; Psalm 14:2; etc.).
7. God delivers his people by "sending forth his steadfast love and faithfulness," to which the Bible often refers--see for example, Psalms 25:10; 40:10-11; 61:7; 85:10; 89:1-2, 14; 115:1; 117:2; 138:2. God in his unwavering love and commitment to human beings never gives up on delivering them, not matter how bad things appear to them.
8. The composer of Psalm 57 compares the attacks of his or her enemies on him or her with soldiers trying to kill their opponents with "spears," "arrows," and "sharp swords" (verse 4c-d). These are common metaphors for the violence of enemies in scripture--see for example Psalms 11:2; 37:14-15; 59:7; 64:2-4; 91:5-6; Proverbs 30:14.
9. God's "glory" is his magnificent splendor which is apparent throughout all creation to those who have eyes to see--Psalms 19:1; 24:7-10; 29:9; 63:2; 66:1-2; 85:9; 97:6; Isaiah 6:1-3.
Our God is an awesome God, whom we can trust in all circumstances.

John Willis