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Here is yet another psalm from yet another time when David was in trouble. The inscription says that it was the incident in which Saul’s daughter, Michal, helped David to escape when Saul’s men were watching their house.
To the chief Musician, Altaschith, Michtam of David; when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him. “Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God: defend me from them that rise up against me . . .” (Ps. 59:1-17)
Background to the Text
Let’s begin by reading the account of this incident in 1 Sam. 19:8-17. We can tell something of the generally low spiritual condition in that time by the availability of a teraphim, a household idol that Michal could use. Samuel had rebuked Saul four chapters earlier, and used this word to do it—stubbornness is “as iniquity and teraphim” (1 Sam. 15:23). Rachel had stolen the teraphim of her father in Gen. 31, a smaller one, that she could hide under a saddle. This one that Michal used was apparently much larger, the size of a man. The thing to note here is that David was delivered by the Lord, and he was delivered by means of his wife’s cunning and trickery. She helps David escape by means of a trick, and protects herself from her father’s anger by means of a lie.
Summary of the Text
In vv. 1-7, he prays, setting forth his woes. In vv. 8-10, he declares his confidence in the Lord. In the remainder of the psalm, he renews his petitions, singing with joy as he does so (vv. 11-17). Saul had been stirred up by an evil spirit “from the Lord,” and yet David was still able to cry out to God for deliverance (v. 1). Those seeking him were intent on murder, they were bloody men (v. 2). They were waiting for him (v. 3), and not because he had done anything wrong. They are industrious in their evil (v. 4). He asks God to withhold mercy from the wicked, as they are being wicked (v. 5). For the first time, David compares his enemies to prowling scavenger dogs (v. 6). Their mouths spill out violence (v. 7). But David knows that they are going to be laughed at (v. 8). “Saul’s daughter put an idol in the bed, and then used goat hair . . .” God would defend David (v. 9). God would let David see his enemies thwarted (v. 10). David then asks God to prolong the existence of his enemies, so that God’s people would not get too much out of spiritual shape (v. 11). David asks that their lying and deceitful ways would result in them being taken in their pride (v. 12). Consume their lying works (v. 13). Let them prowl, and growl, unsatisfied (vv. 14-15). David escaped by night; he would sing in the morning (v. 16). He will sing to the God of all mercy (v. 17).
Envy is a Form of 20/20 Blindness
In the historical background to this psalm, we learn that David was a faithful warrior, fighting Saul’s battles, and that God had given him success. He was then used as a musician to play in a way that might comfort Saul. But Saul was tormented, and tried to pin David to the wall with a javelin.
Noise Like a Dog
We are accustomed to think of dogs in the way we use them as domestic pets. We have very little experience with dogs of the ancient near East, dogs that were vicious scavengers, hunting in packs within the city limits—a very dangerous form of garbage disposal. David compares the stake out team outside his house to such dogs, and he does so twice. The first mention is in v. 6—they make a noise like a dog, and go around the city. The second is in v. 14, with the detail added that they should resent it if they are not satisfied, if they do not get what they want (v. 15).
Life is Not a Game
In football, everything is as level as you can make it. If one team is not allowed to clip, the other team is not allowed to do so. If one team has four plays to make a first down, the other team doesn’t get six attempts. From this, too many Christians have concluded that if the Pharisees don’t get to call Jesus demon-possessed, then we shouldn’t be able to call the man living among the tombs demon-possessed. But in warfare, and in life, there is a little matter called the truth. And there is also an important question about whether or not there is a condition of war. Deception is in war what killing is in war.
Deception and War
Saul sinned by believing lies about David. The wicked men who sought David’s life in this incident were characterized by their lies (v. 12). So how was it God’s deliverance that enabled David to get away by means of deception and trickery?
In a state of peace, lying is a great evil. The lake of fire is reserved for liars (Rev. 21:8). We are told not to lie to one another (Col. 3:9). We are commanded not to bear false witness against our neighbor (Ex. 20:16). But in this fallen world, some people so behave (by their lies) as to forfeit their right to the truth.
In a condition of war, deception is not the kind of lying we just noted. It is not a sin to paint your tank to look like a bush when it is in fact not a bush. But you are deceiving the enemy pilots . . . The Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh, and so God greatly blessed them (Ex. 1:17-19). Rahab hid the spies, sent them out another way than she said she did, and James tells us that this deception was what vindicated her faith as true and living faith (Jas. 2:25). In her case, faith without such a deception would have been dead. David pretended to be mad when he was not (1 Sam. 21:15). God told Joshua to deceive the soldiers of Ai with a fake retreat (Josh. 8:1-2). We could make a very long list if we wished. We want to be righteous, not over-scrupulous.
The issue is God’s law. Those who won’t deceive when God’s law requires it are likely to be the same ones who will lie when His law forbids it.