Psalm 59 – Praise to My High Tower Against Assassins
The title of this psalm is To the Chief Musician. Set to “Do Not Destroy.” A Michtam of David when Saul sent men, and they watched the house in order to kill him. This refers to the incident in 1 Samuel 19:11-12, which was when the murderous intent of King Saul against David was openly revealed, and David began his long season of living as a fugitive.
A. David describes the bloodthirsty assassins.
1. (1-2) A prayer for deliverance and defense.
Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
Defend me from those who rise up against me.
Deliver me from the workers of iniquity,
And save me from bloodthirsty men.
a. Deliver me from my enemies, O my God: Many were David’s perils, many were his enemies, and many were the psalms that begin with this thought. We think it strange that the man after God’s heart, Israel’s greatest earthly king, had so many enemies. The idea is less strange when we think of how many enemies the Son of David had.
i. David cried out, O my God, meaning it in the most reverent way. Through this psalm David declared his close and personal connection with God.
· My God (Psalm 59:1).
· My Defense (Psalm 59:9, 17).
· My God of mercy (Psalm 59:10, 17).
· My Strength (Psalm 59:9, 17).
ii. We wish that those who thoughtlessly exclaim O my God today would change and do so with the heart and sense of personal trust that David had.
b. Defend me: The sense of this ancient Hebrew word is to lift up, as into a safe and defended place. It says, “Lift me up to Your high tower where I am even higher above those who rise up against me.” This idea is repeated three more times in the psalm (59:9, 16, 17).
i. “The word protect [defend] (59:1), like the kindred word ‘fortress’ [defense] (59:9, 16, 17), contains the thought of what is set high up, out of reach.” (Kidner)
ii. “He is a high tower or place of refuge and retreat to the soul in trouble and danger.” (Morgan)
c. Save me from bloodthirsty men: David was the target of a focused assassination plot that came from the highest levels of Israel’s government. Many felt they could advance their favor before King Saul by shedding David’s blood. Knowing the danger, David looked to God for rescue and defense.
2. (3-5) Describing the need.
For look, they lie in wait for my life;
The mighty gather against me,
Not for my transgression nor for my sin, O LORD.
They run and prepare themselves through no fault of mine.
Awake to help me, and behold!
You therefore, O LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel,
Awake to punish all the nations;
Do not be merciful to any wicked transgressors. Selah
a. For look, they lie in wait for my life: The circumstances of 1 Samuel 19:11-12 must have amazed David. Assassins came against his own home, hoping to surprise him in the routines of daily life. David saw the mighty gather against him and looked to God for help.
b. Not for my transgression nor for my sin, O LORD: David didn’t make a claim to sinless perfection. He simply understood and said to God that there was no justified reason at all for Saul to send the bloodthirsty assassins against him.
i. They run and prepare themselves: “The zeal and diligence of the wicked in the cause of unrighteousness might well reprove the languor and tardiness of saints in the work of faith and labour of love. In the church of God nothing is the source of more mischief than the want of true zeal and liveliness.” (Plumer, cited in Spurgeon)
c. Awake to help me, and behold: David feared he would die if God were asleep to his need. He asked God to be active for him and to look (behold) upon his crisis.
d. O LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel: David appealed to God with a variety of His names and titles.
· He was Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel (LORD).
· He was Elohim Sabaoth, the commander of heavenly armies (God of hosts).
· He was Elohi Israel, the God of His chosen people (God of Israel).
i. “The petitions in Psalm 59:5 are remarkable, both in their accumulation of the Divine names and in their apparent transcending of the suppliant’s need…. Each name suggests something in God which encourages hope, and when appealed to by a trusting soul, moves Him to act.” (Maclaren)
e. Awake to punish all the nations: The hope of God setting things right in David’s cause made the psalmist think of God setting things right on a global scale. David looked to the God of angelic armies (LORD God of hosts) to judge the nations and all wicked transgressors.
i. “The psalmist looks for his own deliverance as one instance of that world-wide manifestation of Divine justice which will ‘render to every man according to his deeds.’” (Maclaren)
ii. Selah: “‘Selah,’ assuredly God will have them in derision; ‘Selah,’ assuredly God shall shiver their bones, shake their best actions, and discover their impurity; ‘Selah,’ assuredly God’s hand shall be heavy upon them, and they shall not discern it to be his hand till they are consumed. ‘Selah,’ assuredly, verily, amen, this is a faithful, an infallible truth; as the Lord liveth it shall be so.” (Wright, cited in Spurgeon)
3. (6-7) The proud arrogance of David’s enemies.
At evening they return,
They growl like a dog,
And go all around the city.
Indeed, they belch with their mouth;
Swords are in their lips;
For they say, “Who hears?”
a. At evening they return, they growl like a dog: The men sent to watch David’s house and kill him were determined. They didn’t give up quickly and they growled like dangerous dogs, going all around the city to find and murder David.
i. “David called them dogs, and no doubt a pretty pack they were, a cursed cursing company of curs.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “They make a noise like a dog;either when he is hungry and pursuing his prey, and howls for meat; or when he is enraged, and grins and snarls where he cannot or dare not bite.” (Poole)
iii. “There is some uncertainty over the word growl, which is the expression used for the Israelites’ ‘murmuring’ – one might almost say ‘whining’ in the wilderness, and makes excellent sense.” (Kidner)
b. They belch with their mouth; swords are in their lips: Perhaps David actually saw and heard such a belch as he watched those who watched him. He heard their sharp words against him, and their disregard for God or David or any authority (Who hears?).
i. They belch: “The word rendered (A.V. [King James Version] and R.V. [Revised Version]) ‘belch’ means to gush out, and is found in a good sense in Psalm 19:1. Here it may perhaps be taken as meaning ‘foam,’ with some advantage to the truth of the picture.” (Maclaren)
ii. “The root idea is of bubbling up and bursting out; so in terms of dogs jb [Jerusalem Bible] has ‘See how they slaver at the mouth.’” (Kidner)
iii. Who hears: “David doth not hear us, either to discover, and so to prevent our plots; or to punish us for them; and God either doth not hear or not regard what we say and do against David; and therefore we may speak and act what we think fit.” (Poole)
B. God’s response to the bloodthirsty men.
1. (8-10) David’s strong confidence in God.
But You, O LORD, shall laugh at them;
You shall have all the nations in derision.
I will wait for You, O You his Strength;
For God is my defense.
My God of mercy shall come to meet me;
God shall let me see my desire on my enemies.
a. But You, O LORD, shall laugh at them: David’s danger from the assassins was real and fearful. Yet he understood that they were nothing against God. The LORD could simply laugh at them and their arrogant claim that God did not hear or care about their evil.
b. You shall have all the nations in derision: David saw God’s laugh against the men who waited outside his house to kill him in connection with God’s triumph over all the nations. All who opposed God would be held in derision.
c. God is my defense: The word defense has the idea of a high tower or fortress. David believed that God was like a strong, high tower for him. It seemed impossible for David to survive against such a powerful conspiracy against him, but God would be his defense, his high tower.
i. “‘For God is my defence,’ my high place, my fortress, the place of my resort in the time of my danger. If the foe be too strong for me to cope with him, I will retreat into my castle, where he cannot reach me.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “There is perhaps no more beautiful description of what God is to His tried people. The phrase suggests at once strength and peace. A tower against which all the might of the foe hurls itself in vain.” (Morgan)
d. My God of mercy shall come to meet me: David didn’t only believe that the LORD was the God of mercy in a distant, theoretical sense. He could confidently say, My God of mercy. He knew that God would be merciful to him and that God would meet him, even lead him, in his need.
i. Shall come to meet me: “The word meet (59:10a) is vivid: It is based on the idea of what is ‘in front’ of someone, usually in the sense of confronting them by coming to meet them, as in the beautiful phrase of Psalm 21:3. But it can alternatively imply going in front to lead the way.” (Kidner)
ii. Meyer considered that Psalm 59:9-10 uses three titles for God that are precious for the troubled believer: my God of mercy, my defense [high tower], and strength.
iii. “Meditate on these three attributes. He is the God of your mercy, the Fountain from which pure mercy flows, and nothing but mercy; He is your High Tower, whom you may put between yourself and Saul’s hate, He is your Strength, not that you receive strength from Him, but that you appropriate Him as your strength.” (Meyer)
iv. God shall let me see my desire on my enemies: “Observe that the words, ‘my desire,’ are not in the original. From the Hebrew we are taught that David expected to see his enemies without fear. God will enable his servant to gaze steadily upon the foe without trepidation; he shall be calm, and self-possessed, in the hour of peril.” (Spurgeon)
2. (11-13) David asks that his enemies be defeated to bring God glory.
Do not slay them, lest my people forget;
Scatter them by Your power,
And bring them down,
O Lord our shield.
For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips,
Let them even be taken in their pride,
And for the cursing and lying which they speak.
Consume them in wrath, consume them,
That they may not be;
And let them know that God rules in Jacob
To the ends of the earth. Selah
a. Do not slay them, lest my people forget; scatter them: David didn’t only want the defeat of his enemies. He wanted them defeated in a way that would do the most good for God’s people. If those enemies were kept alive but scattered, the lesson would last longer.
i. Lest my people forget reminds us that whenever David prayed for the destruction of his enemies (and sometimes he prayed quite severely), he had in mind not only his personal deliverance but also what the display of Divine justice would teach God’s people.
ii. “Hereby it most plainly appears that David, in these and the like imprecations against his enemies, was not moved thereunto by his private malice, or desire of revenge, but by the respect which he had to God’s honour and the general good of his people.” (Poole)
b. For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips, let them even be taken in their pride: David seemed especially offended at the proud words he overheard from the men who hoped to ambush him. With cursing and lying they boasted of David’s death and their own advancement through it.
c. Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be: Just a few lines before David prayed that God would not slay them; now he repeated the prayer consume them twice for emphasis. There is no contradiction; we see that such prayers simply expressed David’s desire that God “get them,” and he didn’t care much about how God got them.
d. Let them know that God rules in Jacob to the ends of the earth: What David did care about was God’s honor and glory. David prayed that the way God dealt with these bloodthirsty assassins would tell the ends of the earth something about God’s righteous rule in the world.
i. Let them know that God rules in Jacob to the ends of the earth: These words are very similar to what David said to Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:46, an event that happened not very long before Saul sent the assassins after David. He discerned that these enemies acted very Goliath-like.
3. (14-15) The abiding danger.
And at evening they return,
They growl like a dog,
And go all around the city.
They wander up and down for food,
And howl if they are not satisfied.
a. At evening they return, and growl like a dog: The line from Psalm 59:6 is repeated for emphasis. We sense David peeking through a window at the assassins surrounding his house and seeing them for the pack of dangerous dogs that they are.
b. They wander up and down for food, and howl if they are not satisfied: As David watched them, he noticed them wander the streets around his house the way hungry dogs hunt for food.
4. (16-17) Singing praise despite the danger.
But I will sing of Your power;
Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning;
For You have been my defense
And refuge in the day of my trouble.
To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises;
For God is my defense,
My God of mercy.
a. But I will sing of Your power: The murdering dogs howl in the street, but David will sing of God’s power and mercy. They wait for him in the evening, but David was confident that with God as his defense and refuge, he would survive until morning and survive singing.
i. “While the wicked are howling, growling, and snarling (vv. 14-15), the servant of God praises the Lord instead.” (VanGemeren)
b. To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises: Though a conspiracy to kill him still existed in the highest places of the kingdom, David’s heart was filled with songs of praise instead of dark fears. He started the psalm asking God for His defense (Psalm 59:1); at the end of the psalm he was so confident that God is my defense that he could sing about it.
i. It is easy to read I will sing and I will sing aloud and I will sing praises and assume that the same wording is repeated. Kidner observed that these three phrases used three different words. “Three different words are used for this, which might be rendered ‘I will sing…I will shout (59:16); I will raise a psalm (59:17).” (Kidner)
ii. When King Saul sent assassins to David’s house, he openly revealed his desire to kill David. From then on, for the next many years (perhaps 10 to 15 years), David had to live as a fugitive, constantly in danger of his life. It’s interesting to notice that David entered that period singing praises and was still able to pour out his heart to God in song at the end of that period (2 Samuel 1:17-27).
©2019 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission