A number of commentators label this Psalm as one of the penitential psalms. David appears to be repenting for some sin he had committed which resulted in discipline in the form of physical illness. Yet there is no obvious confession of sin or request for forgiveness. However the symptoms he describes, agony, anguish, feelings of pain, sorrow, weeping and sleeplessness are all indicative of depression. Depression sometimes, though not always, results from unconfessed sin and failure to repent. We do not know what David did to bring on these feelings, but implied in the message is a request for forgiveness. After praying in anguish for some length of time, he experiences God’s mercy.
Perhaps David was enduring what is commonly called “the dark night of the soul,” a term coined by John of the Cross, a 16th century Catholic monk. When a person is in the midst of severe physical pain or intense emotional distress he or she will often experience this dark night. The person will pray with passion and fervor yet feel that powerless and empty and will often become convinced that the Lord neither listens or cares. That person will experience doubt and become depressed sometimes thinking that the Lord is punishing him or her for some heinous or unforgivable sin. Such times are designed to bring us closer to the Lord, for regardless of the causes of our feelings, it is okay to tell Him about them, to complain to Him about our pain, and to ask for relief and healing. Even though He seems far away, our faith tells us He is always right there with us.
David comes to the Lord in prayer. He cries out for deliverance from his enemies. He does this as he awakens in the morning. He pleads to God for judgment on them. There is urgency in his plea accompanied by a sense of expectation that the Lord will listen and reply. David complains that his enemies are slandering him and speaking all manner of untruths about him. He describes these enemies as wicked, arrogant, liars, bloodthirsty and deceitful. For these reasons he knows that his enemies are also the Lord’s enemies for the Lord cannot abide the evil and wicked in His holy presence.
David knows his own weaknesses as well. He knows he can come to the Lord not based on his own merits and good deeds, but only by means of His mercy. He has fear and reverence for the Lord. He has a humble teachable spirit for he knows his limits and God’s greatness. He knows that assurance and victory come from the Lord’s hand not his own.
It may feel odd for us to pray against our enemies. We are commanded by Jesus to love them and not wish them harm and certainly not to take vengeance against them. However, we can pray that their deceitful plots against us will fail and fall upon themselves, as David does. And we can and should pray that their downfall leads them to the Lord and to salvation. The path to salvation as we should know from our own experience is difficult, painful and humiliating for all of us are consumed with self-righteousness that refuses to yield to the Lord, to admit to defeat or failure. Thus we know that our “enemies” are arrogant, self-centered, rebellious and stubborn just as we were. If they remain steadfast in their ungodliness their ultimate end is out of our hands. Until then we must extend God’s lovingkindness to them at all times.
This Psalm is a psalm of lament, the first of many we will encounter. King David pleas for the Lord to reach out to him in the midst of his distress. But the distress comes not from his circumstances or from fear. He is discouraged because he is surrounded by pessimistic and scornful people who see only dreadful things, defeat and disaster. Such feelings are often contagious, hence David’s concern for such behavior does not reflect the confidence and faith of a believer who has placed his trust in the Lord and maintains that He is the only one who can help him even in the worst of times. David prays with confidence, in the language of faith and trust that characterizes his intimate relationship with the Lord. In his prayer David calls on his pessimistic associates to look with confidence to the Lord as he does. Because he trusts, he can rest easy even when surrounded by his enemies.
Many times we look upon circumstances and get discouraged. After all, we live in the real world where we see life as it actually is. What makes discouragement easy is that we are surrounded by prophets of doom, critics and meticulous realists who lack faith. Most of these nay-sayers are worldly people but many are believers, or claim to be. Such pseudo-believers try to convince us that we need to look at the worst and that the Lord does not speak or act today as He has in the past. Consequently we will not see miracles, or experience deliverance at the eleventh hour. When we listen to such talk we often fail to place absolute trust in the sustaining power of the Lord. Thus we cannot rest easy in times of adversity. At such times we must, like David, call out to the Lord and confess our doubts and fears.
This Psalm was written by King David as he fled from the murderous rebellion of his son Absalom who sought to usurp his authority and take over the kingdom of Israel. David knew that he needed the Lord’s help. He was in grave danger, on the run and surrounded by people who had given way to despair. Unlike David, they could not see by faith that Yahweh was trustworthy and would fulfill His promises to His chosen servant. David had faith, prayed and acknowledged he needed help during this trial.
In our society those who seek help and guidance from anyone including God are usually considered to be weak. Now many seek help from the government or psychologists or physicians but these all affirm the individual for self-sufficiency and personal ability are promoted as the highest values. We are told to stand on our own two feet, “Man up!” or that old saying: “God helps those who help themselves.” These are unquestionably ungodly statements that have no basis in God’s word. God helps those, like David, who cannot help themselves. The flaw in every world religion other than Christianity is that they teach that man can reach heaven or achieve divinity based on his own efforts and abilities. Christianity teaches that all such efforts fail. We cannot even enter into a relationship with God or attain eternal life without the help of the Lord. So in the midst of any crisis, our first thought should be to seek comfort from God.
These first two Psalms describe for us the benefits that come upon those who walk in accordance with the Lord’s commands. They show the sharp contrast between the righteous and the wicked. The unrighteous lack wisdom because they ignore the Lord and all He has said. They ridicule and mock Him as well as those who put their trust in Him. The Lord commands the righteous to avoid associating with such people, imitating them or seeking their counsel. The wisdom and strength of the righteous come from the Lord.
The righteous put their trust in the Lord and find Him to be a rock, a sure and steadfast anchor. Although the righteous will suffer persecution, pain, and trials, they are well prepared for them. Their confidence and trust is in the Lord so when they suffer, they do not suffer alone. He is the first one they turn to in time of crisis. He never deserts those who trust Him even though He is silent. The Lord is a sure comfort who will uphold them and carry them through these bitter storms of life.
Not so the wicked. They put their confidence in themselves and in the wisdom of man. Unfortunately, they have placed their trust in shifting sands. The wicked may prosper in this life, but they are not prepared for its storms. They will be blown away by strife, fear and adversity unless they would turn to God. Those who scorn the Lord, who seek to do things their own way will lose the eternal joy that comes from knowing God. He rules the world despite what rulers, politicians, presidents, generals, kings and armies think. He determines the course of world events and history. What ultimately matters is following His way, seeking His counsel and serving Him alone. Nothing else counts for eternity.
Yahweh now speaks of Leviathan, a greater and more fearsome creature than Behemoth. Leviathan was a figure of Hebrew myth, a great sea serpent or dragon based perhaps on any one of several species of whales or sharks, crocodiles or possibly even a giant squid or octopus. Exactly what it was is not important. What does matter here is that the Lord uses Leviathan to teach Job wisdom. In order to understand this teaching we must remember that to the ancient Hebrews the sea represented chaos, the domain of all that was opposed to Yahweh. Thus the raging waters of the sea brought great fear to the ancient peoples as they were overwhelming, unpredictable and uncontrollable. A creature which was at home in the raging waters of chaos, that seemed to reign over them and subdue them for his own use was thus considered to be the master of evil, as uncontrollable and fearsome as they.
What Yahweh makes clear is that Leviathan is but one of His creatures. Leviathan is not master of chaos because the Lord is his master. Even the most ferocious, untamable beast, even Satan himself is subject to the laws and limits of Yahweh. The lesson He teaches Job and us is that He, Yahweh, is master of all that exists and no one may challenge Him or criticize the way He runs the universe. We do not have the wisdom or strength to even begin to know an iota of all He knows. We may not like this because we assume that we have the right to criticize and offer our opinions, to determine and manage the course of our own lives.
Rather than see this as unfair, we should derive great comfort from God’s sovereignty and our dependence. We may fear the unpredictable and unrestrained activities of depraved and wicked individuals who would seek to harm and kill, or the brutal destructive chaos wrought by storms, earthquakes and volcanoes but they are nothing in the hands of the Lord. He has set limits on them all and nothing happens that He cannot or will not contain, restrain or use for His glory. Even in regard to Satan may fear His onslaught. Yet when we consider his assaults and temptations in the light of God’s omnipotent control over the world, we must begin to realize that God can help us to overcome them all. There is nothing that God cannot protect us from or carry us through.
Yahweh now asks Job to respond, but he is overcome by what the Lord has said. He suddenly realizes that his own wisdom and knowledge are small and insignificant when compared to the Lord. Job is beginning to realize that he should not have called God to answer him. He senses that he spoke hastily when he accused the Lord of wrong doing. Now he chooses to remain silent so the Lord can continue his instruction and teaching. And the Lord again calls on him to behold the deeper mysteries of all that He has created. Job had questioned God’s judgment in maintaining that God had done an injustice against him. The Lord’s however replies that Job cannot even begin to judge God because he cannot even begin to judge his fellow human beings fairly and justly.
The Lord then brings up the example of Behemoth, an animal which is a great and powerful creature, one which the Lord labels as the first of all beasts. Behemoth has been variously identified as a dinosaur, an elephant, a hippopotamus or a mystical beast from Jewish tradition. Whatever the case, this beast is powerful and beyond human control. Again the point is the same that the Lord has brought out before: there is so much in the world and the universe beyond human control and knowledge that we really cannot compare our human sense of fair play and justice with God’s. Therefore, no human can really complain about how He formed us or any aspect of creation. We cannot even complain about what He does in our lives because our ideas and plans do not take into account the entire universe, how our behavior affects everyone else on the planet, or even how we fit into God’s sovereign providence. We must admit in every case that we do not know better than God.