Psalm 54 – Help When Abandoned and Betrayed
This psalm is titled To the Chief Musician. With stringed instruments. A Contemplation of David when the Ziphites went and said to Saul, “Is David not hiding with us?” There were actually two times when the Ziphites betrayed David unto King Saul, first in 1 Samuel 23 and the second in 1 Samuel 26. David escaped both times, but the circumstances of this psalm seem to best fit the circumstances of 1 Samuel 23, when David learned of the Ziphite betrayal but before the deliverance of God was displayed (1 Samuel 23:26-29).
This is one of the few psalms with a specific musical direction: With stringed instruments. It is also called A Contemplation. The Hebrew word for Contemplation (maskil) might be better understood as instruction (James Montgomery Boice).
A. David’s danger.
1. (1-2) Looking to the name and strength of God.
Save me, O God, by Your name,
And vindicate me by Your strength.
Hear my prayer, O God;
Give ear to the words of my mouth.
a. Save me, O God, by Your name, and vindicate me by Your strength: In his distress, David relied on both the name and the strength of God. Name speaks of the nature and character of God; strength speaks of His great power. David knew that God’s strength could respond to his need by what he knew of God’s name.
i. By Your name: “Nothing less than the whole fulness of the manifested God is enough for the necessities of one poor man.” (Maclaren)
ii. David’s rescue would be his vindication. His enemies would have greater evidence that David was in the right and they were in the wrong when God answered this prayer and preserved this man after His heart.
iii. God gave David a remarkable vindication after each time the Ziphites betrayed David. Shortly after both times the Ziphites betrayed David, he had the opportunity to kill King Saul. Both times he spared Saul’s life (1 Samuel 24 and 26), and both times Saul admitted his great wrong.
b. Hear my prayer, O God: It was common for David and others in their prayers to merely ask for God to hear or give ear to their cry. It was assumed that if the good and merciful God heard, He would act.
2. (3) The description of the need.
For strangers have risen up against me,
And oppressors have sought after my life;
They have not set God before them. Selah
a. For strangers have risen up against me: David’s troubles came from the Ziphites, as noted in the title of this psalm and in 1 Samuel 23:14-24. The Ziphites were Israelis; they were even of the same tribe as David (Judah). Yet their betrayal of David was so contrary to both David and God’s cause that David could rightly refer to them as strangers, as oppressors who sought David’s life.
i. “The Ziphites, though David’s countrymen, acted the part of ‘strangers’ or ‘aliens,’ in seeking to deliver him up to his unjust and cruel enemy.” (Horne)
ii. Today some who are outwardly counted among the people of God will act as strangers as they betray the Son of David to gain the favor of those allied with the king of this world, the Prince of the Power of the Air.
b. They have not set God before them: Their problems were not only in relation to David, but also in relation to God. Their rejection of David was just another way that they rejected God. We don’t know if David specifically had Saul in mind, but it certainly fit the jealous king.
i. “David felt that atheism lay at the bottom of the enmity which pursued him. Good men are hated for God’s sake, and this is a good plea for them to urge in prayer.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “This was a bad period for David. It was a time when seemingly he had nowhere to turn. He was unsafe even in the wilderness, and there was hardly anyone he could trust.” (Boice)
B. Proclamation and prayer.
1. (4-5a) The proclamation.
Behold, God is my helper;
The Lord is with those who uphold my life.
He will repay my enemies for their evil.
a. Behold, God is my helper: Though a hunted man, David could confidently expect God’s help. His present adversity had not led him to question the goodness of God, but to appeal to it.
i. “David was bringing himself and then his enemies to God’s attention; he now brings God before his own attention.” (Kidner)
ii. Maclaren had in mind that David said, Behold, God is my helper to his enemies. “The suppliant rises from his knees, and points the enemies round him to his one Helper.” (Maclaren)
iii. “Little care we for the defiance of the foe while we have the defence of God.” (Spurgeon)
b. The Lord is with those who uphold my life: The sense of this remarkable statement is that Adonai is among those who help me by upholding my life.
i. “In 4b the ancient versions, followed by most modern ones, seem to have found the Hebrew text too startling, where it numbers God ‘among’ the upholders of my life. But this is not belittling Him; it is seeing His hand behind the human help.” (Kidner)
ii. He will repay my enemies for their evil: “They worked for evil, and they shall have their wages.” (Spurgeon)
2. (5b-6) The prayer.
Cut them off in Your truth.
I will freely sacrifice to You;
I will praise Your name, O Lord, for it is good.
a. Cut them off in Your truth: David came to prayer again. He asked God to kill or cast out his enemies, and to do it in Your truth. David could pray such bold prayers against his enemies because he believed more than his self-interest was at risk; so was God’s truth.
i. Cut them off: “He desires that God would destroy them with a death-dealing blow, which is the force the word contains; its primitive sense is to be silent, to keep silence, whence it is transferred to a stroke penetrating deeply and striking fatally, such as is called a silent blow, opposed to a sounding one, which is wont to rebound and not pierce deeply.” (Venema, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. “Thou hast promised to save me; these have purposed to destroy me. Thy truth is engaged in my defence; they will destroy me if permitted to live; to save thy truth, and to accomplish its promises, thou must cut them off.” (Clarke)
iii. Some are uncomfortable with prayers that ask for the doom of enemies. It’s true that Jesus told us to pray in a more generous way for our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44). Yet there is nothing wrong with the basic principle of wanting to see good triumph and for God to do His work against those who do evil.
iv. David lived out another aspect of this prayer. He prayed, Cut them off in Your truth but refused to take vengeance in his own hands. Immediately after the second betrayal of the Ziphites (1 Samuel 26:1) David had the opportunity to kill King Saul in his sleep and he refused to do it. David would not cut him off; he waited upon God to do it.
b. I will freely sacrifice to You: This described what is sometimes called a freewill sacrifice – one that is given to God without specific reference to a previous vow made. It was a sacrifice that didn’t need to be made; it was done freely out of gratitude.
i. “Freely sacrifice; not by constraint, as many do, because they are obliged to it, and cannot neglect it without shame and inconvenience to themselves; but with a willing and cheerful mind, which thou lovest in and above all sacrifices.” (Poole)
c. I will praise Your name, O Lord, for it is good: David said this in anticipation of God’s rescue, but not in a demand for the rescue. He was able to praise God while the problem remained and before the prayer was answered.
i. “Christians should follow his example: they should consider how great things God hath done for them, and should never suffer the voice of praise and thanksgiving to cease in the church of the redeemed.” (Horne)
3. (7) The confident conclusion.
For He has delivered me out of all trouble;
And my eye has seen its desire upon my enemies.
a. For He has delivered me out of all trouble: David confidently brought his request to God, knowing that many times before God had delivered him. God’s past faithfulness became the ground for future faith.
i. “This is the language of faith; this is the triumph of trust.” (Trapp)
ii. It is likely that David said this in faith, in anticipation of deliverance. When it came, it was remarkable. After the Ziphites betrayed David in 1 Samuel 23:19 Saul came very close to capturing him. When David was almost in Saul’s grasp, the king learned of a Philistine invasion and had to break off his pursuit (1 Samuel 23:27-28).
iii. “David lived a life of dangers and hair-breadth ‘scapes, yet was he always safe.” (Spurgeon)
b. My eye has seen its desire upon my enemies: David knew what it was like to defeat his enemies before (Goliath is one example); he trusted that he would know it again.
i. “As admiring God’s justice on his enemies, and love towards his people, he was well pleased with such a providence, and beheld it with comfort.” (Trapp)
ii. There is a sense in which David in this psalm prefigured his Great Son. Jesus was the anointed King yet to come into the fullness of His kingdom. He came to rescue and lead God’s people, and when He did, some among God’s people betrayed Him unto death. We can easily see these lines from the psalm in the mouth of Jesus, praying to His Father:
Save Me, O God, by Your name,
Strangers have risen up against Me.
Behold, God is My helper;
He has delivered Me out of all trouble.
(c) 2019 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org