Through No Fault of Mine

In the Alfred Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant, Grant plays an advertising executive who is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies. As a result, Grant finds himself trying to escape one attempt on his life after another—all because of a case of mistaken identity. I doubt that anyone would find himself in a situation so complicated and convoluted as Grant’s character; however, the righteous can find themselves treated as enemies without having done anything whatsoever to deserve it. David had served King Saul admirably, bringing him great victories for Israel and honoring him in the process. Unfortunately, Saul’s jealousy of David’s exploits led the king to become openly hostile toward David, though David had done absolutely nothing wrong. Reflecting on an instance where he found himself on the run and hiding from Saul’s men, David wrote, “They run and prepare themselves through no fault of mine. Awake to help me, and behold!” (Psa. 59:4). David felt the pressure, the fear, and the sadness that came with this situation, but he trusted God through it all. And that must be our approach to any similar circumstance as well.

It can be difficult to understand why people would spew hatred toward someone who has never wronged them, yet Jesus suffered from this throughout His ministry, even dying as a direct result of this attitude. In fact, sometimes people simply find the existence of righteousness—and even peace and happiness—a threat because they do not enjoy them themselves. As a result, they attempt to even the score—not by seeking peace and happiness, but by trying to ruin the lives of others. This is the nature of evil. It is destructive and vindictive. And the people who fall into these patterns are victims of Satan’s devices even as they make the righteous their enemies. Even in the church, Christians who find their faults exposed often lash out to destroy those who have figured them out. For the guilty Christian, their motive is a sad type of self-preservation—seeking to preserve the myth of their godliness and their “territory,” much like the chief priests and scribes in the time of Jesus. A Christian caught in such circumstances will feel isolated, betrayed, and confused, just trying to grasp what the motives could be of the hatred, lies, and contempt expressed by their own brethren. It is a mournful plight, to be sure, and yet it has occurred far too frequently.

Whether at school, at work, at home, or in the church, it is possible to find yourself spiritually “on the run,” trying to defend yourself against a flurry of attacks that you do not deserve and probably do not even understand. It can be easy to allow your attackers to become your enemies, to induce you into returning the hate and losing sight of the righteousness that indirectly played a role in your situation. But we must rise above this, as David did and as Jesus did, and accept that being reviled does not justify reviling in return. Instead, we should heed the inspired words of Peter, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Pet. 4:15-16).

Trusting Judges

 The decisions of the courts and the selection of justices dominates the American political landscape in ways unforeseen by the founding fathers. Regardless, people on either side of the aisle sometimes wait breathlessly for the latest decision which will determine the direction of the country for the foreseeable future. While this irony—the most political influence and power coming from what was intended to be the least political branch—seems lost on the masses, there is a greater lesson that God’s people should regularly revisit. The reality of the predatory creeping of immorality through the courts is a reflection of both the malicious aims of some and the incredible apathy of others. Nevertheless, Christians should stop these displays of incredulity when the latest nonsense issues forth from on high. Instead, we should recognize the real nature of the problem, rooted in the individual wickedness of men high in power and low in morals. That they have the audacity to claim moral superiority in the midst of an immoral screed only speaks to the inspired wisdom of David when he wrote, “Do you indeed speak righteousness, you silent ones? Do you judge uprightly, you sons of men? No, in heart you work wickedness; You weigh out the violence of your hands in the earth” (Psa. 58:1–2). 
While our prayers should continue, seeking an environment in society that will allow Christians to live and work in peace (1 Tim. 2:1ff), we must never fool ourselves into thinking that we live in a society in harmony with Christian principles or that this is in any way the aim of those in power. In fact, we must accept that the wicked often hold power, working behind the scenes to undermine and destroy while putting on the public face of charm (Psa. 58:3-5). We can hope and pray for their failure and downfall, but it is not always within our control (Psa. 58:6-9). Accepting this while soldiering on for Christ is the type of perseverance that Christians need today. There are indeed people at work whose ends are wicked at every turn, and we can but wait for their influence to wane. In those moments when we see a slight course correction, we may breathe easier and rejoice for a time (Psa. 58:10), but we should never lose slight of the bigger picture, of how far conditions have worsened and how far society has fallen into the pit. 

However, it is proper to rejoice when the power of evil has been rebuffed, if only briefly. Furthermore, our perspective should be greater by far, remembering that whatever judges may say upon the earth, they too have One who judges them for their decisions and lives. “So that men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely He is God who judges in the earth’” (Psa. 58:11). We should not put our trust in judges to do the right thing, but we can always put our trust in the Judge of all mankind, for He always does the right thing. Every political twist may not turn toward righteousness, but God will set it all right in the end.goo

Until Calamities Pass By

Sooner or later you will find yourself in the midst of adversity, under attack from the malicious, and trapped by circumstances. Sometimes these problems are financial, sometimes they revolve around health, and often they are spiritual. Those who have been in battle understand this reality quite literally. And yet the mindset essential to surviving with soul intact, ready to move on to the next challenge, is the same. When Saul was chasing David, the future king lived under constant threat, emotional hurt, and physical challenges. On at least two occasions he retreated into a cave to escape the notice of Saul and his men (1 Sam. 22:1; 24:3). His emotions on both occasions must have been powerful, and yet his reflection on this experience, recorded for our benefit in Psalm 57, provides practical advice rooted in spiritual insight.

The challenges that confront us may take many forms, but most take some time to develop and can push us to a very negative place. That is why, whenever life throws us off course or forces us to retreat into our own “cave,” we ought to learn from David’s experience. While the order is not an absolute, it is very telling—and beneficial.

  1. When you find yourself in the midst of adversity, do not let it overwhelm you and do not let it cause you to doubt. Instead, trust God and His care (Psa. 57:1).
  2. Then, with renewed attention to what God can do regardless of what Satan has thrown your way, pray (Psa. 57:2); pray without ceasing (1 Th. 5:17).
  3. Thus growing in faith and confidence (Psa. 57:3), and armed with the knowledge that God is with you, you can endure the hardships, endure the attacks, endure the affliction, and endure the pain (Psa. 57:4), because you know they have an end.
  4. No matter what is going on around you, and no matter how bad you may feel at that moment, worship God, praise Him, and focus once more on the things above (Psa. 57:5).
  5. While the problems that beset us seem overwhelming on their face, they often serve only as a platform for Satan to set the real trap. Therefore, during the challenge of adversity, it is essential to become even more aware of the enemy’s devices so as to avoid falling into various pitfalls (Psa. 57:6).
  6. As funny as it sounds, it is often during these times of trial that we can have greater clarity of purpose. Adversity is thus not the time to weaken our resolve. Adversity is the time to grow our commitment (Psa. 57:7).
  7. When struggles begin and we face tremendous challenges, this is the time to give even more effort, to wake ourselves up to the depths of our soul, and to arise ready for spiritual combat each and every day (Psa. 57:8).
  8. When we thus prepare ourselves, we will become more outspoken about our faith and more ready to stand out among others (Psa. 58:9).
  9. We can do all of this knowing the character of our God and gaining perspective even during trial of how much He has done for us and continues to do (Psa. 58:10).
  10. In the end, on the other side of trial, you will come to see how great God truly is, more confident than ever in His majesty, His glory, and His care (Psa. 58:11).

We all face adversity. We all experience challenges throughout life. We all go through trials of one form or another. And some of these will likely reach the point of overwhelming us from time to time. But that is all the more reason why we should embrace David’s perspective. He went from triumph to tragedy multiple times through his life. Yet, through it all, his faith provided the foundation for him to overcome each test and emerge stronger than before. You will face trials in life—most of which you would never have anticipated. Regardless, you can always know how and where to turn. “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, Until these calamities have passed by” (Psa. 57:1).

Tears in a Bottle

At some point in your life, if you have not already, you will experience a crisis that will cause you to fear as you have never feared, you will feel that people all around you are out to get you, you will wonder not just when, but if there will be any relief, and you will doubt if anyone even cares. Such a crisis can take multiple forms and come from a variety of places, but in principle it is a universal problem with a universal solution.

When David was fleeing from Saul, his desperation reached the point that he fled to the land of Israel’s most dreaded enemy, the Philistines, to the city of Gath, the hometown of Goliath. No wonder, then, that David felt oppressed and persecuted (Psa. 56:1). No wonder that he felt hounded by enemies all around. He was on the run from his own people and hiding among his greatest foes (Psa. 56:2). David knew the answer to his fear was faith in God (Psa. 56:3-4), but the constant harangue of the Philistines, thinking evil of him and twisting everything he said to seem a lie, made him fear for his life nonetheless (Psa. 56:5-6). To David, it seemed at that moment that evil would prevail, despite knowing that God was angry with it (Psa. 56:7). However,  his faith rose once again to realize something that we can forget far too easily: God cares about us deeply, far more deeply than our often shallow perspective can appreciate. “You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?” (Psa. 56:8). What imagery! No matter where our wanderings and fears have taken us, God knows. No matter how many tears we have cried over a problem, a tragedy, an injustice, or a fear, the LORD has, as it were, a collection of each and every one. Does God care when we are hurting? The record of our tears tells the tale. And it is with this knowledge that the righteous can move on in life regardless of fear and heartache “because God is for me” (Psa. 56:9). Faith, properly focused, can overcome fear (Psa. 56:10-11), at least enough to keep on going and to do the right thing (Psa. 56:12). It is this reflection, that God has kept us to this point in life, and He can care of us the rest of life too, that gives the righteous strength to carry on and not allow the burdens of life, the blows of adversity, or the sorrows of heart to alter our faith (Psa. 56:13).

I do not know the last time that you cried, or why, but God does. He has your tears in His bottle. He has a record of all the pain and fear that you feel. He has not abandoned you to these things—far from it. He is with you each step of the way, ready to listen, ready to bless, and ready to guide. And this is why, in the long run, He is capable of drying every tear from your eye.

The Sadness of Betrayal

We have all been there—shocked, dismayed, and in utter disbelief when a close companion makes a sharp turn away from that friendship to cause hurt, harm, and heartache. A closeness once assumed unbreakable crumbles at the speed of sound with angry words and heated argument. Friendships forged in common cause often pass as quickly as a Hollywood romance once the immediate purpose is fulfilled. Moreover, today, the rapid exposure of opinions on Facebook or Twitter can quickly alienate former allies. And so circumstances expose the shallowness of relationships once thought forged in iron.

Nowhere does this problem bring such sorrow as when God’s people part ways due to the failure of faith. It hurts more than words can describe to see a brother in Christ you love dearly turn against the truth, against the church, and against the Savior to follow the deceptions of Satan. But when that brother, from bitterness of soul, spews his anger and hate toward the bride of Christ in active betrayal, working for the enemy in direct opposition to all previous devotion, it causes even greater pain. Paul warned that Satan often deploys forces deep within the ranks of God’s people (Acts 20:29-30), posing as the faithful to the undermine the faith (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Nevertheless, to witness a friend turn into a foe hurts deeply.

David understood this situation and its sorrow. He saw Saul praise him as a hero and then hunt him as a villain. When tired and hungry, he endured people pointing the pursuit his direction. He saw his sons defy him to try to take his throne. And he experienced a trusted advisor desert him to offer counsel to destroy him. Therefore, when David reflected on the hurt of betrayal in Psalm 55, he did not have to consult others for perspective. He knew the disbelieving sorrow (Psa. 55:1-3), the pain (Psa. 55:4), and the fear (Psa. 55:5) that problems bring. He understood the temptation to run (Psa. 55:6-8) and anger at the violence of sin (Psa. 55:9-11). But  the source of the problem—a former friend—hit with a force beyond the issues themselves ordinarily would have created. “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; Then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me; Then I could hide from him. But it was you, a man my equal, My companion and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, And walked to the house of God in the throng” (Psa. 55:12-14). The shock of such a reversal pierces the soul, but trust in the LORD ever remains the response (Psa. 55:15-19).

There will always be people who make themselves your enemies, breaking covenant with you and with God (Psa. 55:20). There will always be people who say all the right things to you and about you while internally plotting against you (Psa. 55:21). However, rather than becoming bitter and embroiled in controversy, rather than allowing an emotional betrayal to become your focus, cast your burden on the LORD and trust in Him (Psa. 55:22-23), because—no matter what anyone else might do—He will never fail you.

God Is My Helper

There are few feelings to compare with having your life threatened. The victim of a hold up while working retail during college, I can understand in a very small way what some have felt often. It can produce a piercing sensation that reaches down deep within, challenging your purpose, your direction, and your preparation. In those moments you must come to grips with the distance between what your priorities are and what they should be. But most of all, you simply feel helpless and alone. But you have Someone who can help, and that is the real key to get through not only threats to your life and their aftermath, but all of life itself.

David had more than his share of peril throughout his life. From the early dangers he faced serving as a shepherd for his father to the violence he encountered on the battlefield to the persecution he faced at the hand of Saul, David knew from an early age what it felt like to have his life threatened. The loneliness and helplessness that such circumstances naturally created must have been tremendous. Even when you have friends and family that support you, feeling like you have a target on your back has an isolating effect that few can imagine. When David was running from Saul, he sought refuge in an isolated area among the Ziphites only to have those people report his presence to the king. When he spotted Saul and learned how his location had been revealed, it must have been frustrating and frightening. Yet, this occasion provided the backdrop for reflection when he penned Psalm 54. Rather than panic, he trusted in God to deliver Him (Psa. 54:1), listen to him (Psa. 54:2), and save him from the treachery of the Ziphites (Psa. 54:3). He then penned these words, “Behold, God is my helper; The Lord is with those who uphold my life” (Psa. 54:4). This perspective, a perspective that had confidence in victory because of God (Psa. 54:5), confidence in God’s goodness (Psa. 54:6), and confidence in deliverance because of faith (Psa. 54:7), is the mindset that offers peace in the midst of turmoil and serenity in the midst of life’s storms.

This was no blind expectation or self-delusion. David’s faith was justified entirely. In this instance he even had opportunity to take Saul’s life but refused to do so…because of the same faith that expressed confidence in deliverance. Had he struck Saul himself, he would have violated a principle of respect for the LORD’s anointed, and his faith trusted that God would provide the way, knowing that killing Saul himself was not in accord with the Lord’s will. God is our helper, but His help will come in His way according to His will.  Therefore, our faith must be strong enough not only to trust in the possibility of deliverance, but to trust God’s means as well. All of us will face times of turmoil and peril. We may even have enemies who make our lives extremely difficult. But even if our problems stem from health issues or economic woes or persecution on the job, David’s answer is still our answer: God is our helper. When we have that thought firmly planted in our soul, the greatest attack Satan may bring will not put a dent in our faith.

A Comparison and Contrast

If Psalm 53 sounds familiar, there is a good reason for it. It is practically identical to Psalm 14.   Rather than considering such an inclusion redundant and unworthy of study, or perhaps assuming that the second offering means nothing more and teaches nothing more than the first, people often simply skip over the fifty-third psalm since they have studied the fourteenth previously. While repeating so much material might appear odd on the surface, a careful consideration of the differences, along with its placement in the book of Psalms, offers numerous insights worthy of consideration.

First, the inscription of the two psalms differs slightly. Other than a musical notation most likely establishing the tune, the difference lies between the notes calling Psalm 14 “A Psalm of David” and Psalm 53 “A Contemplation of David.” This latter designation is applied with some consistency to particular circumstances that brought the thoughts to mind in a way that events today might draw the mind to certain spiritual lessons. This indicates that Psalm 53 grew out of some event in David’s life. Second, the differences in words chosen provide meaningful clues. In the first verse, Psalm 53 uses the word “iniquity” rather than Psalm 14’s more general “works.” The word translated “iniquity” emphasizes injustice. In verse three in Psalm 53 David uses the singular “Every one of them” rather than the plural “they,” indicated an individual application. Third, four times (53:2, 4-6) in the fifty-third psalm refers to deity as “God” (Elohim) while the fourteenth refers to Him as “Lord” (Yahweh). Thus, Psalm 53 emphasizes the failure to respect God’s authority and will in general. Fourth, the differences between Psalm 53:5 and Psalm 14:5-6, which display the most divergence, reveal that in Psalm 53 the emphasis is on the attitude and end of the fool while Psalm 14 emphasizes the faith and protection of the righteous. Therefore, Psalm 53 was a contemplation of an event in David’s life where injustice had prevailed due to an individual’s behavior because he failed to respect God’s authority and will by the way he conducted himself and was brought to justice by God in the end.

While some have speculated that this psalm fits well with the Israelites view of Babylon when overcome by the Medo-Persians, that would deny David’s authorship of the psalm as a whole, perhaps surmising that Psalm 14 was simply adapted by a later writer and applied to the Babylonians. Such an approach does happen to some degree in later psalms, where borrowing is clear, but the designation here argues against that in addition to one more piece of evidence. The position of Psalm 53 in the book, lying between a Contemplation regarding Doeg (from 1 Samuel 22) and a Contemplation about the Ziphites (from 1 Samuel 26), if we accept a chronological framework within sections as definitely occurs elsewhere, would cause Psalm 53 to align with 1 Samuel 25:2-43 and the account of Nabal, whose attitude, arrogance, and end fit perfectly with the description provided in this psalm, and whose name means, interestingly enough, fool (1 Sam. 25:25).