Save Me, O God!

Reading: Psalm 54
Not all the Psalms have headings, and many of the headings donít mean a great deal to us. It may be announced as a maskil, but we are told no more than that the obscure word was "probably a literary or musical term". Occasionally the heading gives an instruction to the "director of music" about the instruments on which the tune is to be played. Sometimes the translators are fairly certain the name of the tune is given - but we donít have the music.

With a few of the Psalms, the heading records the occasion that led to the writing of the Psalm. So, in Psalm 54 - "When the Ziphites went to Saul and said, ĎIs not David hiding among us?í " That is very helpful information because we can go back to the story of David and find out what major trouble had led him to this prayer for help.

Saul had begun his reign as the first king of Israel with real promise. However, increasingly, he became a real disappointment, failing to trust in the Lord, making unwise decisions...

The Lord sent the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king in Saulís place. It was the youngest son, David the shepherd boy, who was chosen. It would be many years before he was ready and able to take up this new role.

Meantime, David was brought into Saulís household as a personal musician. He also earned a key place in Saulís army with his victory over the giant Goliath. In the midst of all this a close friendship developed between David and Saulís son Jonathan.

Increasingly, Saul became restless, suspicious and unpredictable. He boiled over into violent anger against David - and also against Jonathan for speaking up on Davidís behalf.

From that time, David had to spend his life on the run. A small band of loyal soldiers gathered around him to protect him. Though pursued by Saulís army and though the Lord had promised him kingship, David had no intention of ever acting aggressively against the king in order to fulfil his own destiny.

David and his men delivered the inhabitants of Keilah from a Philistine attack. But the only thanks they got was betrayal of their whereabouts to Saul.

So David and his men took refuge in "the desert strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph". There was the village of Ziph and David and his men were at nearby Horesh - a desolate, hilly and wooded area between Hebron and the Dead Sea.

The Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah and said, "Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hakilah, south of Jeshimon? Now, O king, come down whenever it pleases you to do so, and we will be responsible for handing him over to the king" (1 Sam. 23.19-20). Betrayal again! The people of Ziph seemed to be looking for some benefit from King Saul.

"Save me, O God, by your name; vindicate me by your might. Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth. Strangers are attacking me; ruthless men seek my life - men without regard for God" (Ps. 54.1-3). He was in a perilous situation from which he wanted to be "saved" (delivered) and "vindicated" (judged to be in the right).

"Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me" (v. 4). He depends on the Lord to support and uphold him. Just as the laws provided that a person making a false accusation against someone should suffer the penalty they were trying to bring on someone else, so David asks, "Let evil recoil on those who slander me" (v. 5a). It would be divinely consistent for God to destroy them.

David was on the run. He couldnít get anywhere near a "regular" place of worship. But he expresses his desire, "I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, O Lord, for it is good. For he has delivered me from all my troubles..." (vv. 6-7a).

As we read about Davidís response to his situation, we may be inclined to place ourselves above such feelings. After all, didnít Jesus tell us, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Mt. 5.44-45a)?

Or we think of what Paul wrote - "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for Godís wrath, for it is written: ĎIt is mine to avenge; I will repay,í says the Lord. On the contrary: ĎIf your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his headí. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12.17-21).

Remarkably, that is just what we see David doing in his relationship to Saul. True, we need to hear his prayer in the light of the teaching of Jesus and Paul. But we are seriously mistaken if we think ourselves able to take the "high moral ground".

How do we take betrayal? Iím unqualified to pass judgment on anotherís experience. However, I know one who was betrayed - and went to a cross for my sins. I do right when I call out to him for deliverance and vindication.

Prayer: Eternal Father, there are times when we feel disappointed and betrayed by the actions of others on whose support we were depending. We remember Jesus, betrayed by Judas, deserted by his friends, crucified by those who should have welcomed him as the Messiah - and finally overwhelmed with the loneliness of separation from you. We come to you alone to be saved from our own sins and delivered from the sins of others. Thank you that you help and sustain us day by day. In Jesusí name, Amen.

The Sign of Love

"Et tu, Brute",
Shakespeareís Caesar said,
by "supporters"
and this "friend".

we know
no deeper hurt
than betrayal
by a friend.
It is
a stabbing wound
that brings
sharp pain
to the very depths
of our being.

are you betraying
the Son of Man
with a kiss?"
He knew
his betrayer,
yet felt
deep hurt
at betrayal
with a sign
of love.

He was taken -
he died
and rose again.
His cross,
sign of human hatred,
is supremely
the sign
of divine love.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin BlueCare Devotions, 21 September 2003.
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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