We are in a stretch of the psalms which record David’s trials before coming to the promised throne. This psalm is a cry of faith from a very beleaguered and dark time. Since the reference is simply to “the cave,” this is probably the time when David and his six hundred men hid in the cave (1 Sam. 24:1-22), and David cut off the hem of Saul’s robe.
To the chief Musician, Altaschith, Michtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave.
“Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast . . .” (Ps. 57:1-11).
Summary of the Text
The inscription of this psalm locates it at the time when David hid from Saul in the cave. The psalm divides into two main sections—the first being prayer (vv. 1-6) and the second praise (vv. 7-11). In the first part of the psalm, he is deep in the cave, and at v. 7 he comes to the mouth of the cave and stands in the sunlight. He begins with a repeated cry for mercy (v. 1). He does not hide in the cave alone, but under the shadow of God’s wings (v. 1). David cries out, and does so in complete faith (v. 2). God is the one who performs “all things.” He shows his confidence (v. 3), knowing that God will send deliverance from heaven. God sends forth salvation, mercy, and truth. The devil has sharp teeth, as also his servants (v. 4). Whatever happens, David wants God to be exalted
and glorified (v. 5). Caught in a trap, David prays that God be glorified above heaven and earth. David mentions the trap prepared for him, and declares that he knows that his adversaries will fall in it themselves (v. 6). Saul pursued David, but David managed—more than once—to catch Saul. The prayer is offered, and David knows it is heard. He turns at this point in the psalm to praise the Lord. Where does his praise begin? He says “my heart is fixed” (v. 7). That is where praise begins. What is necessary to praise God rightly? Three times David exhorts himself to wake up (v. 8). David resolves not to limit his praise service to the back of the save, but rather to sing among all nations (v. 9), a thing which he has successfully done. His mercy is great, and his truth ascends to the sky (v. 10). Our praise of Him should do its level best to match that (v. 11).
Shadows and Shadows
Like a cloud overhead, David is dealing with various calamities. He is under the shadow of those calamities. When under this kind of shadow, he seeks out the shadow of God’s wings. There are two likely images here—like a chick in danger seeks out refuge under the wings of the mother hen, so we seek out God’s protection. Jesus used this image (Matt. 23:37). And because of the close association with the cry for mercy, remember that the mercy seat, the great mercy seat of the ark of the covenant, was covered over with wings—the wings of the cherubim. In that place we recognize that our troubles are temporal, and our safety is eternal.
Where Praise Begins
For David, his praise begins in the cave. God wants us to grow in our tests and trials by rejoicing before they are over. Always and for everything giving thanks . . . (Eph. 5:20). We praise God for the sunlight while we are still in the cave. We praise God for deliverance while we are still on the run. We praise God for the resurrection before we have died. We live and we die in faith. Praise and worship are not built on the foundation of sentiments; they are built on the bedrock of trust and faith.
A Fixed Heart
The right worship of God begins with resolve. Remembering what we have just said, it has to be a resolve to trust, a resolve to believe. Not only that, but it also has to contain a recognition that resolve is not something we are able to gin up on our own, but is rather the gift of God. So David says that his heart is fixed. Therefore he will sing and give praise. He emphasizes this, saying twice that his heart is fixed. The New Testament tells us a very similar thing about our praise. Singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:15). Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt. 15:18). This applies to praise and thanks as well as to sins.
Make the World
David tells his glory to wake up. He tells his musical instruments to wake up. And in a striking figure, he tells the dawn to wake up—he is up before the dawn, ready to use the day for praising God. Sluggishness is not a fit condition for praising God. Psalters and hymnals were not made so that we might have something to mumble into. Music should be skillful. Music should be robust. Music should be loud.
The Nations Praise
David wants his praise to extend vertically—he says this twice. This psalm is full of important repetitions. He wants God to be exalted and glorified above the heavens and earth (vv. 5, 11). But he also insists that God be glorified extensively, horizontally, in the presence of all the nations (v.9). Praise extends laterally, and not just vertically. This is a very common theme in the psalms (e.g. Ps. 18:49), one which the apostle Paul notes (Rom. 15:9). How will David do this? Well, we are Gentiles, we are living on the other side of the world from David and his cave, and we are living thousands of years later. What are we doing? We are rejoicing, together with David, and we are using his compositions, his praises, in order to do it. We are those nations, we are the fruit of David’s faith.
Under the Shadow of Thy Wings
A crisis reveals where a man’s faith is. When something threatens, where do we turn. When a hawk appears, no one needs to train chicks how to run for the mother hen’s wings. They know what to do. In the same way, a crisis reveals where a man believes his savior to be. Where does he turn? What name does he cry out? What temple does he go to? What wings does he seek shelter under?