The Story of Psalm 57
Saul was king of Israel. David was one of his servants. David’s job was to make music when Saul was sad. This happened often. People liked David very much. Saul did not like this. He tried to kill David. David ran away. He hid in a *cave. Saul did not find him. Bible students think that David wrote Psalm 57 at this time. They also think that he wrote it so that people could sing it to music that they called "Do not destroy". Psalm 57 is a *miktam. This means that it had a hidden meaning, or had special teaching in it. There are two stories in the Bible about David hiding in a *cave. One is in 1 Samuel 22, the other in 1 Samuel 24. We do not know which one this psalm is about.
What Psalm 57 means
The psalm is in two parts: verses 1 - 5 and verses 6 - 11. Both end with the words "God, lift yourself above the skies. Lift your *glory above all the earth" (verses 5 and 11). God is already above the skies, in his home in *heaven. These two verses mean "God, show everyone that you are *Lord of everything".
Verses 1 – 5: Here David is asking God for help. He asks God to be *gracious, or to "have *mercy". (Look at Psalm 56.) He wants God to be kind to him and save him from Saul. In verse 1 he says that he will hide under the shadow of God’s *wings. This is *like a mother bird hiding her babies under her *wings. She hides them from danger. This is a picture of God hiding David from danger. In verse 2 "his plan for me" means "all the things that God wants to happen to me". In verse 3 *heaven is where God lives. His word is what he wants to happen. His *truth is everything that he says. In verse 4 David sees Saul and all his other enemies as wild animals: they want to eat him *like a *lion eats smaller animals. "Their *tongues are *like *swords" probably means the *unkind things that they say. They hurt David.
Verses 6 – 11: Here David is thanking God because God saved him. Saul did not find David in the *cave! In verse 8 David tells his *harp and his *lyre to wake up. This means that he has not made music on them. They have been quiet, or "asleep"! Now he wants them to make music to *praise God. He will start so early in the morning that he will "wake up the dawn".
Something to do
Read Psalm 36. Is there anything in it that makes you think of Psalm 57?
Snakes That Will Not Listen
Jesus said, "These people are *like children that are sitting in the market place. They say to the other (children) there, 'We made music for you, but you did not dance'". (Matthew 11:16-17)
Jesus said, "Why do you call me *Lord, but do not do the things that I tell you (to do). (Luke 6:46)
(This is) for the music leader.
He must use (the music called) Do Not Destroy.
(It is) a *miktam of David.
v1 Do you rulers really say what is fair?
Do you say what is right when you *judge people?
v2 No! You do not! You think of *evil in your *heart.
Your hands weigh out *cruelty to the land.
v3 *Wicked people are bad from their birth.
From the *womb, they start doing wrong and saying *lies.
v4 Their poison is *like the poison of a snake.
They close their ears *like a *deaf *cobra.
v5 It does not hear the voice of the *charmer, however well he charms!
v6 God, break their teeth in their mouths!
*LORD, destroy the teeth of those *lions!
v7, v8 May they:
· become weak and *flow away *like water
· be *like grass that dies after people walk on it
· be *like an *abortion that people forget
· be *like a child born dead that does not see the sun.
v9 Before their pots can feel (the heat of burning) wood
I want God to blow them away, *like the wind would in a bad storm.
v10 *Righteous people will be very happy when (God) *punishes (the *wicked).
They will wash their feet in the blood of the *wicked!
v11 People will say, "There is a reward for the *righteous.
There is a God that *judges what happens on earth".
The Story of Psalm 58
People are *cruel to David. They are also *cruel to other people in the land of Israel. This was probably when Saul was king of Israel. David asks God in this psalm to *punish these *wicked people. But he does not ask God to let him, David, *punish them.
There are many places in the Book of Psalms where the *psalmist prays that God will *punish the *wicked. The *psalmist is the person that wrote the psalm. Psalms where the *psalmist asks for bad things to happen to people we call Psalms of *Imprecation. Other psalms of *imprecation include parts of 5, 10, 17, 54, 55, 59, 69, 109 and 137. Christians have always found them hard to understand. The important thing to see is that the psalm asks God (not us) to *punish people. *Saint Augustine wrote 1 600 years ago that here, in this psalm, Christ was speaking to God through the *psalmist. 60 years ago, a Christian whose name was Bonhoeffer wrote the same. He wrote "Christ prays the psalms". Both these men were writing about the Psalms of *Imprecation. They tell us that because Jesus was human, he knows how we feel about *cruel people. He prays to God (the *judge) to *punish these *cruel people. A *judge is someone that decides if a person is good or bad. Bonhoeffer wrote "a psalm can become our *prayer only because it was Jesus’ prayer". If we want to do these bad things ourselves to *wicked people, then that makes us bad. But if we ask God to *punish them, then we are praying with Jesus!
What Psalm 58 means
It is a help to see the psalm in 4 parts:
· Verses 1 – 2: Human *judges in Israel are bad.
· Verses 3 – 5: They have been bad from birth and will not listen to God.
· Verses 6 – 9: The *Imprecation, or *prayer that God will destroy the *wicked *judges.
· Verses 10 – 11: What everybody will say when this happens.
One important thing about Psalm 58 is this. Some of the verses are very hard to translate. Some Bible students say that they cannot translate at least one verse (the end of verse 9)! So if you read other Bible translations, you will find some of the verses very different. For that reason, it is the meaning that is important here, not what the words say.
The important word in verses 1 and 2 is "weigh" in verse 2. This is because the two verses are all about *judges in courts of law. A court of law is where the *judge says if people are good or bad, right or wrong. He says whether they have broken the laws (rules) of their country or not. If they have, he *punishes them. The *judge weighs the evidence (what people say) before he says whether people have broken the rules or not. We say that the *judge weighs the evidence because in old pictures they drew weighing machines! We call them balances. On one side was the good evidence, on the other the bad. If the bad was heavier than the good then people had broken the rules! Here the *judges themselves are bad. They do not weigh out *justice (or what is fair), but injustice (or what is not fair). They *punished the good people that had not broken the rules of the country. The *judges did not have real balances, they thought about the evidence in their minds.
The important word in verses 3 - 5 is snake. "*Wicked people" means the bad *judges and leaders of verses 1 and 2. They have always been bad, from when they were very young. They are *like snakes in two ways:
· they hurt and kill people *like a snake hurts and kills people with its poison
· *like all snakes, they are *deaf, but also they will not obey the *charmer.
These *wicked people are not really *deaf, rather, they will not listen to God. God is telling them to do good things, but they do not obey him. The *charmer charms the *deaf snake by moving about in front of it. Even when God shows them the right thing to do, they do not do it. God cannot "charm" them!
In verses 6 - 9 we find the *imprecation, where David asks God to *punish these bad people. In verse 6 David says that they are *like *lions. Because *lions eat animals and people using their teeth, David asks God to break their teeth. Then they cannot eat anybody, or hurt anybody. If "break their teeth" sounds a bad thing to pray, remember that it means "stop them hurting good people". Verses 7, 8 and 9 are parts of the psalm where the Hebrew words are difficult (even impossible) to translate. I have put what I think the words mean. David wants the *wicked *judges to be *like:
· water when you pour it on the ground ... soon it has gone
· grass that dies ... when a lot of people have walked on it
· a baby born much too early ... people throw it away and forget it
· a child born dead ... it will never see the sun.
These are all pictures that mean this. The *wicked *judges will die, and not hurt or kill people any more. The last picture is of a pot on a wood fire. David wants something to happen soon ... before the fire can warm the pot! He wants God to blow away the *wicked *judges *like the wind blows things away in a bad storm. God does answers *prayers *like this. History gives us many examples. The thing to remember is this. "Soon" to God may be much longer than "soon" to us! To him 1000 years is just *like a day, Psalm 90:4.
But, in the end, God will answer us when we pray. That will make good people very happy. We find this in verses 10-11. "They will wash their feet in the blood of the *wicked" is a line many people do not like. It just means that the *wicked will die and the *righteous will not! Some translations have "They will wash the blood of the *wicked off their feet". Here, "the blood of the wicked" would be the bad things that the *wicked *judges did ... or weighed out ... to the good people. The word "reward" means that God will give something good to the people that have prayed to him and listened to him.