King David is the author of these 2 imprecatory Psalms. David is calling on God to punish people who are oppressing him. In Psalm 54, those who trouble him are strangers. This is quite difficult to face because when we face slander and persecution from strangers, we feel we should retaliate. We think we ought to fight back with arguments that overwhelm and humiliate them with their logic and power, or we want to do them bodily harm or, like David, curse them out. As Christians we know that we should be kind to them and seek to present the gospel in a loving and merciful way.
In Psalm 54, however, those who oppress David are close friends or relatives, perhaps Saul or Absalom. Like David, when a close friend or relative attacks us we feel hurt and betrayed. A person we thought loved and cared for us, whom we loved and cared for has turned against us. Since that one knows us so well, he or she knows how to say things that are guaranteed to really hurt us. We do not know what to do in response, except perhaps to go around feeling sad and hurt. Yet David shows us what to do. He prayed confidently for he knew that the Lord would deal with them and defeat their evil intents. This is how he dealt with Absalom and Saul. He did not seek to hurt or kill them. He hoped they would see their wickedness and repent for he loved both men. Perhaps that is what we should do when our oppressors are those who love us. Pray that the Lord would grant them wisdom. This would then lead them to repentance and faith in Christ as well as to the realization of the terrible injury they have done us.
These 2 Psalms share the theme of the exaltation of the King in Mt. Zion. They are prophetic in nature for they look toward the day when the Lord shall reign supreme over all the nations and peoples of the earth. Thus, in that day, all will acknowledge Him as Lord, Savior and God and all will worship Him. There will be no strife caused by hatred over race, nationality, color, or creed for in fact there will be other nations, no Kingdoms besides the Lord’s and no other religions, no worship of other gods, no exaltation of the self. All people will either look to the Lord for salvation or else suffer the eternal losses of hell.
These Psalms were welcome comfort to the ancient Israelites whose lives were filled with a great deal of upheaval, change and violence. They are welcome words to us as well whose lives are filled with discomfort caused by terrorism, violence, mass murder, genocide and warfare. Many claim that peace is something they ardently desire, but few work hard to seek it by being kind and merciful to their fellow human beings. Many others still are at ease in this world or pretend to be, thinking that if they deny what is going on around them, it will disappear. Many are uncomfortable with the situation and fight to end cruelty violence.
Christians too are affected by what the world’s strife. Even those who rest in the Lord find it hard to rest in this life. Perhaps that is as it should be: this world is scarred and dominated by sin. It is not our home. It is not wise to get too comfortable here because that would mean we are compromising with the world and Satan. It is better to feel ill at ease here so that we will look forward with joy to our eternal home with Jesus.
The Psalm describes a great calamitous event, the details of which can fit almost any great trouble: sickness, plague, war, political upheaval and any number of “natural” disasters. The most devastating event that has occurred during my lifetime was the great Tsunami of 2004. Certainly the events described here fit that great disaster. There was a gigantic earthquake which caused waves to travel across the Indian Ocean inundating many lands, drowning hundreds of thousands and disrupting the lives of millions. Volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, hurricanes and cyclones also fit the category of which the Psalmist speaks as do wars, 9/11, the H bombs dropped on Japan, and the various genocides of the majority world nations. And certainly now the mind of man can conceive of even greater disasters than these caused by both the wicked hand of terrorists or by “natural” events.
The Psalmist is confident that the Lord upholds His own through even the most chaotic of events. He preserves them from harm or gives them the strength to endure. In addition, it is the Lord who controls the flow and ebb of all these events. The “natural” disasters that have so disrupted life within the last few several years demonstrate His mighty power and are a testimony to His greatness. Even “man-made” events are limited and shaped by His Almighty will. Many curse God because of them, but often they lead many to Him. God uses all these calamities that we dread and fear to exalt Himself. Thus we too should exalt Him rather than join the chorus of voices who see Him either as uncaring or impotent.
These 2 Psalms share the same theme. They are both Psalms of mourning, of feeling sad, of depression and despair. Apparently the Psalmist is in the midst of some deep trouble caused by harsh events and circumstances. At first we see that he feels like he is in a desert and is thirsty. He is in a spiritual drought thinking the Lord is far from him. Then he talks about deep calling to deep and the rush of a waterfall. These may seem to be positive images but they are not. Essentially the Psalmist feels overwhelmed by rushing waters like those of some great waterfall as Niagara, or of the raring waves of the sea. The raging tumultuous waves of trouble, the rushing torrents of God’s discipline have swept over him, tossed him chaotically, crushed and plunged him underneath. He yearns for the Lord who seems so far off.
We have all been there. The troubles of life pour over us and we feel swept away, out of control and lost. There seems no respite from them. Sometimes they are caused by the natural forces of the weather and the earth. Sometimes they are caused by our sins. Then we may be aware that we are being disciplined and shaped by God. Yet we still call out to Him wondering what is going on, why He does not answer our prayers, why He does not help us, and why He does not relieve our pain and despair. We think that the people in the world seem to prosper, to live without a care while we who worship the Lord are overcome by the floods of His discipline. But therein lies our hope: though we are tossed about we are still in the merciful hands of a loving Father who will not fail to come to save us. The people who do not know Him will fail to understand. Yet this suffering is designed to bring them to Him.
Sometimes when we are going through a trial or difficult circumstance, we feel as if we are all alone. We may feel that no one understands us or cares about us. Everyone is against us. Our trusted friends prove to be unfaithful and non-supportive. The skeptics and non-believers all see our misfortune as proof that the God we worship is a fraud. The wicked set themselves against us as their enemies. They seem to prosper and proceed in life without little or no troubles while they gleefully gloat over our setbacks and pain. God Himself seems far away, or angry so He does not care about us or what we are going through.
One way to deal with such times of self-pity is suggested by David: consider the needs of the poor. He means that the Lord will deliver those who look kindly on the poor, but I also see here a cure for self-pity. We think we have it bad and we are going through tough times. Pity me. But consider the poor and needy of this world, particularly the millions of people living in Africa. Check out the website of Compassion International for some eye opening facts about the needy there. The quality of life for most people in Africa is horrendous. The annual income is equal to or less than most Americans spend each year just on entertainment. People there do not have access to the medical care we have here. They live in unsanitary conditions. They are prone to infections and debilitating diseases which lower and the life expectancy to far less than what it is in industrialized nations. Millions eke out a marginal existence by farming. Too much or too little rain means they face starvation. When we compare what we have to what millions across the globe do not, we will feel ashamed of our whining. We will thank God for His blessings to us and use what He has given to bless those in need.
Once again David calls out to the Lord in a time of trouble. This time, however, he begins in faith by acknowledging the Lord’s past deliverance from a slippery pit. Now that pit could be the pit of circumstances, those times of illness, fear, family troubles, loneliness, despair or legal or financial difficulties that come upon us all. As we struggle to maintain our hold on reality in this pit, we find that we lose balance and sink deeper. None of our efforts bring us relief, just more stress and trouble. Or that pit could be the pit of sin. Sin forms a pit that is impossible to escape. As we know, one sin leads to another. The liar has to keep telling more lies to cover up previous ones. The person involved in pornography or immoral sexual relationships and activities finds that he/she is addicted, and enslaved and cannot break free.
People stuck in such slimy pits find that all their own efforts, their attempts at reform, their promises, their vows, their religious rituals and righteous deeds only cause them to sink deeper. Sooner or later they have to realize that they need someone from above to lift them out. They need a deliverer. Many people would prefer the status quo rather than admit that. And so many continue to be enslaved by sinful lifestyles. Or worse: they kill themselves.
Only those who do realize they need help call out to the Lord Jesus find a way out. They cease struggling and find that they are lifted, supported and freed by the everlasting arms of Jesus the Lord. Since every believer has been so lifted, we ought always to show kindness, understanding, mercy and grace to those still stuck in that mire. Our efforts should help lift that one, not cause him/her to remain stuck and sink further.