John T. Willis

Monday, December 18, 2017

God is our Refuge and Fortress and Shield--Psalm 59

The anonymous composer of Psalm 59 was obviously an Israelite and probably a king or military commander in battle.  His enemies are several unnamed nations (see verses 5, 8). He compares them with vicious dogs. A recurring refrain or chorus appears in verses 8 and 14:
      "Each evening they come back howling like dogs
           and prowling about the city."
"The city" could be Jerusalem, but it could also be Samaria, because verse 13 describes Yahweh as the God who rules over Jacob, which might indicate the ten northern tribes. There is not enough information to be certain about these matters. Psalm 59 falls into three parts.

1. The poet begins by asking Yahweh from delivering him from his enemies. 59:1-7.
    a. The poet uses the verbs "deliver," "protect," and "save" to emphasize that he wishes that Yahweh will deliver the psalmist from his enemies, those who rise up against him, who work evil. One needs to pay attention to the different nuances of the verb "save." Some assume that "save" means that God saves human beings from sin. But the present context makes it very clear that "save" means that God delivers human beings from enemies who threaten them. Verses 1-2.
    b. The poet now describes his enemies. They lie in wait to kill him; they stir up strife against him; they run and made ready to destroy him. But the psalmist has committed no transgression or fault against them or against Yahweh. So he beseeches Yahweh to "rouse himself" and come to the psalmist's help and see what is happening. Yahweh of hosts is the God of Israel. So the poet beseeches Yahweh to "awake" to punish "all the nations" who oppose the psalmist and Israel and spare none of those who treacherously plot evil against the poet. Verses 3-5.
    c. The poet concludes with his recurring refrain or chorus: Each evening his enemies, "all the nations," come back howling like dogs and prowling about the city [Jerusalem or Samaria]. There they bellow with their mouths, with sharp words on their lips, for they say, "Who will hear us?" Verses 6-7.

2. The psalmist now turns to God, praising him for his power and beseeching him to defeat his enemies. Psalm 59:8-15.
     a. When powerful enemies ["all the nations"] oppose Yahweh and his people, Yahweh "LAUGHS," and holds them in derision.  The same term also appears in Psalm 2:4 with the same idea. Yahweh is in control over all creation, and it is futile for any person or church or nation to oppose Yahweh. 59:8.
     b. The poet "watches for" Yahweh, i. e., expects Yahweh to appear and do his heavenly work in difficult situations. He calls Yahweh "my strength" and "my fortress." This figure or metaphor is based on the common practice in the ancient Near East when people sought protection, they made a strong fortress for defense against enemies. 59:9.
     c. The poet is certain that Yahweh will "meet" him and "triumph" over his enemies. Yahweh will do this through his "steadfast love" [Hebrew chesed]. Yahweh is always reliable in being with his people. 59:10.
     d. The composer compares Yahweh with a "shield." He implores Yahweh not to kill his enemies or his people [Israel] might forget; rather, he asks Yahweh to make his enemies totter by Yahweh's power and bring them down. 59:11.
     e. He continues beseeching Yahweh to let his enemies be trapped in their pride because of the sin of their mouths, the wicked words of their lips, to consume them in wrath until they are no more because of the cursing and lies that they utter. When Yahweh does this, it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob. Here Jacob may mean all twelve tribes or the ten northern tribes. The context does not make this clear. 59:12-13.
     f. The poet concludes the second stanza in this poem by repeating the recurring refrain or chorus in verse 6. But the end of this refrain in verse 15 is a little different from verse 7, but the general meaning is the same.
         "Each evening they come back howling like dogs
               and prowling about the city [possible Jerusalem or Samaria].
           They roam about for food,
               and growl if they do not get their fill."
Obviously, the psalmist's enemies are self-centered people who are intent on getting whatever they want. 59:14-15.
3. The psalmist ends by declaring that he will sing aloud the praises of Yahweh. Psalm 59:16-17.
     a. Three times, he repeats the words "I will sing" [twice in verse 16 and once in verse 17]. He  declares that he will sing of Yahweh's might and "steadfast love" [Hebrew chesed, the same noun which appears in verse 10]. Yahweh will deliver his people ONLY because of Yahweh's steadfast love. 59:16.
     b. In verse 17, the poet calls Yahweh his "strength" and his "fortress." He praises Yahweh because Yahweh shows him Yahweh's "steadfast love" [Hebrew chesed] for him. 59:17.

When confronted with dangerous enemies, it is always best to turn to Yahweh to protection and help.

Share YOUR beliefs and decisions and confrontations and failures and successes with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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