The Wilderness Psalms 31, 34
I’m just going to pick at a few things in Psalm 31 and 34. These are both Wilderness Psalms written in the same spirit of Psalm 52.
I hope you all had a blessed Easter yesterday. To celebrate the occasion, God gives us two Easter-season passages to read today:
“Into your hand I commit my spirit” – Psalm 31:5
“He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” – Psalm 34:20
In Psalm 31 – except for verses 9-13, David seems to have learned his lesson to trust in God rather than in himself. It would have been a little more satisfying to see David acknowledge his own blame for his state in Psalm 31:9-13. But I can accept that God is extending the message to trust in Him always – especially when you are being pursued – without regard to the circumstances that led to your being pursued.
Psalm 34 offers similar advice, but does not have a passage of lament such as Psalm 31:9-13. We see a lot of change between the David of 1 Samuel 21, and the David of Psalms 31 and 34. In 1 Samuel 21, David lacked food, and he lacked battle protection. But in Psalm 34:9, “those who fear him have no lack!” In 1 Samuel 21, David lied in order to trick people into saving his life. But in Psalm 34:13, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit” is David’s advice to those who seek a long life. [It’s rather cute in a child-like way to prelude back to verse 11, and see a glimmer in David’s eye as he betrays that he is just now learning this.] In 1 Samuel 21, David was practicing Situational Ethics. But in Psalm 34:15, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous.”
I’m starting my discussion of the Wilderness Psalms with Psalm 52. For it is the clearest example of how – as beautiful as David’s poetry could be – he still had. Or if you prefer to look at it a different way, Psalm 52 is the clearest example of how God’s dealing with a man can transform him into a new man altogether. It all hinges on who “you” is in the first seven verses.
Most commentators admit they don’t know who “you” is. “Mighty man,” “tongue plots destruction,” “love evil more than good.” Doeg and Saul are frequently mentioned candidates. But I wonder if “you” is David himself – the man who had visited Ahimelech in 1 Samuel 21, and had put on a show of evil behavior that embarrassed him to the point where he could not admit by using the first person that the showman was himself?
In the first strophe (Psalm 52:1-4) David addresses a man with a tongue that plots a destructive course, a man who plots deceit, a man who love lies more than he loves speaking the truth. He addresses that man by name: Deceitful Tongue. Verse 7, “He trusted in the abundance of his riches” doesn’t really fit anybody among likely candidates. But in poetry, you can sometimes expand the scope of a word’s meaning and make it more picturesque. “Riches" could mean fiscal wealth. But it could also mean any other inner resource.
People have a tendency to fight in a manner that gives advantage. When he gets in a jam, the rich man offers bribes; the crafty man re-arranges the pieces on the chess board; the swift man flees; the powerful man clenches his fist; the glib man filibusters; and the pious man pulls a chain from the sky, and awaits his 8-foot tall god to moan, “You rang.” Each man knows his strong suit, and each man trusts in his own particular abundance of riches. And in doing so, each man works to his own destruction. The blessed man is the man without a strong suit – left without option except to wait on God’s name (Psalm 52:9).
If David is addressing anyone other than his former self, then it is beyond credulity that he would four-fold criticize that person’s grasp of the truth. David was coming out of a chapter (1 Samuel 21) where he was lying every time his lips moved. But if he is addressing the David of 1 Samuel 21 – if “I” is the David after God had a lengthy sit-down with him – and if verse 9 is David’s certificate of graduation (notice the change in tense between verse 8 and verse 9 – see if verses 8 and 9 make more sense if you insert “now” after the four “I”’s in 8 and 9), then the whole Psalm reads more as a testimony to the change God can effect in a man.
Psalm 52 is not a testimony of salvation – for David had already been said to be a man after God’s own heart, albeit a testimony of salvation can read as Psalm 52 does. More importantly for us, Psalm 52 teaches the Spiritual growth God can effect in a soul already committed to walking with Him.
What I like about Psalm 56 is that it is a wilderness Psalm, but that it does not depend on the means by which David arrived in the wilderness. “When I am afraid I will trust in You; in God whose word I praise” is a good model to follow any time you are afraid. You don’t have to be fleeing from your enemy. All you need is a fear and a God to trust in.
Psalm 56:4 ends with what appears to be a rhetorical question: What can flesh do to me? And the question puzzled me for years. For, though I get it – God is bigger than your problem, I wasn’t quite to the point where I had no answer for what flesh COULD do to me. I merely trusted God that He would be there with me should flesh show me what it could do. Today, I have a better answer.
Psalm 56:5-6 answer the question of what flesh can do to me – without God in the picture. Psalm 56:7 inserts God. What can flesh do to me? As I trust in God, flesh can do nothing without God’s permission. And if God were to grant permission, I have every confidence that I’m being put through that ordeal for my own growth. Psalm 56:9 – “My enemies (the things I fear) will turn back in the day that I call.”
I know this because God is for me. Don’t use this verse out of context. God is for you indeed. He wants you to live life boldly and free from fears. But don’t carry this verse onto the baseball field, or into the political world. God is for me as He teaches me to face my fear. But that doesn’t make Him anti-my enemy. Actually God is also for my enemy in the sense that He wants both my enemy and me to face the perils of life unafraid. But if conflict be inevitable, I cannot use this verse to assure myself that God found an extra Glenn jersey somewhere, and put it on. God is for me, therefore I know that He will grant me the courage to face the battle – even if that means He grants me the courage to lose.
Psalm 120; 140-142
Four short Psalms totaling 37 verses. I count 14 references to lies, to deceit, to vicious tongues, to slander. Your count may vary.
Except possibly for Psalm 141, the other three Psalms were written immediately after David’s disgraceful performance in 1 Samuel 21 – where David wasn’t able to make a true statement. With only a few exceptions, these Psalms make sense either way you read them:
· They make sense in the context that you seek deliverance from your enemy who is telling lies.
· And they make sense in the context that you seek deliverance from your own tongue, and from the lies that it brings onto your character.
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