It doesn’t take more than one reading of Psalm 57 to see similarities between it and Psalm 56: both begin with a cry for mercy, both describe the enemies arrayed against the author, and both proclaim their trust in God. Yet, for all their similarities there is a subtle difference in their focus. Psalm 56 expresses trust in God even while in the midst of persecution and strife as it repeats the phrase “In God I trust and am not afraid, what can man do to me?” The author explains that his trust is expressed by his fulfillment of vows and the offering of thanks to God, reminding us that we should also respond according to God in the midst of our suffering. But Psalm 57 steps beyond these personal vows and thank offerings.
If we believe the introduction to Psalm 57 describes an accurate historical context, we find it is written while David is under attack, on the run from his enemy, and hiding in a cave hoping to not be discovered (see I Samuel 23-24). It is not, therefore, difficult to understand why he cries for mercy. But, instead of twice asking what can man do to him and then promising to fulfill vows and present thank offerings as he did in Psalm 56, David responds by singing God’s praise to the nations (57:7-10) and twice repeats the phrase “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” (57:5, 11) This is not to be missed: while hiding in a cave and on the run from his enemies, David sings the praise of God.
Far too often, when I find myself struggling with the attacks from others as well as my own doubts and guilt, I focus on the pain. As a result, it is easy to spend full days, weeks even, bemoaning the way in which I am being attacked, oppressed, and otherwise persecuted. But the only result of such a negative focus is that the pain becomes more oppressive permeating every aspect of my life making me, I’m sure, pretty difficult to live with at times. But David’s response to suffering shows a way out of such a spiral of self-loathing: David sings God’s praises.
Last week I did something I have not done for a very long time: during my devotional time I closed my Bible, closed my notebook, put down my pen, and turned on some worship music. Then for 45 minutes I did nothing but listen to and follow along with the worship songs. I would be less than honest if I said it wasn’t a somewhat uncomfortable experience. I wanted to engage the scripture through reading and writing, as is my usual approach to devotions, but I pushed through the uncomfortable awkwardness and found that such a time of private worship did wonders to alleviate the oppression of life’s troubles and pains. They certainly didn’t go away, as they were still waiting for me when at the end of the worship time, but they didn’t seem as important anymore and they began to lose their grip on my daily life. I think this happened because having had a glimpse of God’s glory, however small and for however brief a time, I began to see them in their proper perspective. I don’t mean to say they got ordered and prioritized, but in the presence of the almighty God, I realized they weren’t as strong and important as I thought they were.
I think it is this to which Peter also points when he wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5:6) Worship does just that: humbles us before the almighty God who is above the heavens and whose glory resides over all the earth. In that time of humility, we wait for God to take us, lift us up, and carry all our anxieties and troubles upon his shoulders. He does this because he is not benignly indifferent (as Camus would say of the universe), but is loving and compassionate, caring for us even to the point of becoming like us and sacrificing himself on our behalf.
Therefore, Psalm 57, along with Psalm 56, presents a template, so to speak, of how to respond in the face of troubles: continue living the sanctified life of a believer, thank God for all he has done and will do, and sing his praises, elevating your vision from the world of your troubles to God in heaven who sends us love and faithfulness.
I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts –
men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.
I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of your among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.