"Deliver Me From My Enemies, O My God" (Psalms 58-60) August 1-4
Psalm 58, the third miktam of David out of five in a row, addresses human misrule and injustice. He may have written this before he was king-while on the run from Saul, as in the preceding psalm and the one that follows. However, even while king, David could not completely control every judge under his authority and certainly not the rulers of enemy lands outside his empire.
In verse 1, the NKJV calls the offenders "silent ones," a valid translation, because they remain silent when it comes to saying what needs to be said and rendering appropriate judgment. Verse 2 appears to say that those being addressed commit evil and violence themselves. Yet it may mean that by failing in justice, they promote these things in society.
The beginning of verse 3 says, "The wicked are estranged from the womb..." This is an odd turn of phrase in English but is clearly explained by the next line, an example of Hebrew poetry's repetition: "...they go astray as soon as they are born"-that is, they are drawn away from God early in life.
In positions of judgment and leadership, the wicked are dangerous-compared to a cobra that can't be mesmerized by a snake charmer (verses 4-5). David further compares them to ravenous lions and urgently calls on God to break their fangs-that is, their power to hurt people (verse 6). He also asks that they be swept away as running water and that their "arrows," or means of dealing out destruction, be rendered useless (verse 7). In verse 8, when David asks that they melt away like a snail and that they are not brought to term like a stillborn child, it is not clear if he means the wicked themselves or their arrows of verse 8. Either way, the point is to neutralize the grave threat they pose.
In verse 9, the added italicized words "the burning" before "thorns" gives the correct sense here, as is made clear by other verses: "Twigs from wild thornbushes were used as fuel for quick heat (see 118:12; Ecc 7:6)" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 58:9). The meaning of the verse is that God's judgment will come suddenly on the wicked.
In its note on verse 10, The Expositor's Bible Commentary states: "The joy of the righteous comes to full expression when they see evidences of God's justice. It is not so much the case that they are bloodthirsty [as might appear here at first glance] but rather that they delight in justice. The reign of terror must come to an end! Isaiah portrays the Lord as the Divine Warrior coming with red garments, stained by the blood of his enemies (Isa 63:1-6). Here the godly join in the victory march, as they too have been granted victory. The imagery of feet in blood portrays the victory (cf. Isa 63:1-6; Rev 14:19-20; 19:13-14), rather than the gruesome picture of people relishing the death of the wicked. The godly share together with the Lord in his triumph over evil."
The injustice of human misrule will at last be overturned and righted when God brings His true and righteous judgment (Psalm 58:11). The message will be clear: righteousness pays; wickedness doesn't.
Psalm 59 is the fourth in the sequence of five Davidic miktams here. We earlier read it in the Bible Reading Program in conjunction with the event mentioned in the superscription-when Saul sent assassins to stake out David's house and kill him (see the Bible Reading Program comments on 1 Samuel 19; Psalm 59). Yet the request in verse 5 to "punish all the nations" does not appear related to that episode (see also verse 8). The Zondervan NIV Study Bible suggests: "If originally composed by David under the circumstances noted in the superscription, it must have been revised for use by one of David's royal sons [i.e., descendants] when Jerusalem was under siege by a hostile force [compare verses 6, 14] made up of troops from many nations-as when Hezekiah was besieged by the Assyrians (see 2Ki 18:19). (Some, however, ascribe it to Nehemiah; see Ne 4.)" (note on Psalm 59).
There appear to be four stanzas in the song (verses 1-5, 6-10, 11-13, 14-17). The first and third are related thematically-asking for God to punish and how to punish and each ending with selah. The second and fourth both begin with an identical characterization of the prowling enemy (verses 6, 14) and end with a similar refrain about God as the source of strength, defense and mercy (see verses 9b-10a, 16b-17).
The request at the end of verse 5 that God not be merciful to wicked transgressors should not be understood as a prayer that God would never grant them repentance so as to show them mercy, but that He would not leave them unpunished for their sins so long as they persisted in them.
The wicked blasphemously think they are getting away with something (see verse 7), but God will have the last laugh (verse 8). Starting with this verse, the song moves from a plea for help to assurance that God will intervene.
Verse 11 asks that the enemy not be instantly slain but scattered and abased. This was so the Israelites would not forget the punitive humbling of the enemy. Great men may fall on the battlefield and still be remembered as heroes. But if they are brought down to destitution and vagrancy, people would more readily deem them cursed. Moreover, if they were simply wiped out, people might soon forget them and what had happened to them, whereas if they were alive but shamed and disgraced, they would be around for some time as an object lesson.
Yet what are we to make of verse 13's request that the enemy be consumed in wrath till they are no more? Does this contradict verse 11? No, it is simply a matter of timing. The prayer is that the enemy would undergo a period of humiliation and scattering and only then, after the lesson had sunk in among God's people, be destroyed. And note that this is not for personal vengeance but as a witness of God's ultimate rule (verse 13)-and of His protection and care for those who trust Him (verses 9-10, 16-17).
Other scriptures explain that God will resurrect the wicked, giving those who previously lacked adequate understanding the opportunity for repentance and salvation. "The Lord is not...willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). For a more complete picture of what lies ahead in the afterlife, see our booklets What Happens After Death? and Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?
Singing of God's mercy "in the morning" (Psalm 59:16) could mean every morning, but it seems more likely that morning here is figurative-meaning the end of this dark "day of my trouble" (same verse).
Psalm 60 is the last miktam in the series of five here as well as the last in the sequence of seven prayers for help against enemies at the center of Book II of the Psalter. The superscription notes that it is "for teaching."
The setting of the psalm is not entirely clear. The superscription says that David "fought against Mesopotamia and Syria of Zobah." This would seem to be the war described in 1 Chronicles 19, where Syrian and Mesopotamian forces assisted the Ammonites against Israel (see especially verse 6), which in the end became a long Israelite siege against the Ammonite capital of Rabbah. The parallel account of this episode is in 2 Samuel 10, though the Mesopotamian forces are not mentioned there. It was with these chapters that we earlier read Psalm 60 (see the Bible Reading Program comments on 2 Samuel 10; 1 Chronicles 19; Psalm 60; Psalm 108; Psalm 83).
However, the superscription's further note about Joab killing 12,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt (likely the desert south of the Dead Sea) seems more closely related to events in 1 Chronicles 18 and 2 Samuel 8, concerning an earlier conflict with Syria that ended with David killing 18,000 Syrians in the Valley of Salt (2 Samuel 8:13) and Joab's brother Abishai killing 18,000 Edomites there (1 Chronicles 18:12)-Joab being over the army (verse 15).
In fact, these earlier chapters concern Israel's campaigns against and subjugation of the Philistines, the Moabites, the Syrians and the Edomites. With that in mind, consider that the enemy nations mentioned in Psalm 60 are Moab, Edom and Philistia (verses 8-9). There is no mention of Syria, Ammon or Mesopotamia-though Ammon could be indirectly indicated in stating that Gilead (the area the Israelites took from Ammon) belongs to God (verse 7). Nevertheless, considering that formerly subjugated Syria rebelled against David in the later conflict, it could well be that these other nations also rebelled at this time, given the powerful assistance of the forces of Mesopotamia (and that this could also be the setting for the international coalition of Psalm 83). Psalm 60:10 indicates that Israel initially suffered a period of defeat-the occasion for the psalm-which is new information, as such defeat is not recorded in the accounts of either of the two conflicts mentioned above.
Many question the scriptural validity of the superscriptions of the psalms, often deeming them later midrashic additions. Yet we need not ignore the superscriptions to explain apparent discrepancies. A number of possibilities exist for the current one. Perhaps Psalm 60 concerns the earlier conflict mentioned above and, though unrecorded in the account of that conflict, Mesopotamian forces were then involved as well. The differences in numbers killed in the Valley of Salt is reconcilable given that different numbers are attributed to different commanders-David, Abishai and Joab. Alternatively, Psalm 60 could exclusively concern the later conflict, meaning that Moab, Edom and Philistia revolted and that Joab conducted a new campaign against the Edomites in the Valley of Salt. A further possibility is that the superscription is referring to the later conflict occurring after Joab's return from the earlier conflict. In the overall picture, these could be viewed as two phases in the same war.
Perhaps most likely, given that neither Ammon, Syria nor Mesopotamia are mentioned in the text of Psalm 60 itself-and that Mesopotamia and Syria are solely mentioned in the superscription-is that the psalm was initially composed during the earlier conflict but then used as a rallying or marching song during the later conflict (perhaps at a point when things did not seem to be going so well). It seems highly unlikely that a forger would have read this psalm about fighting against Moab, Edom and Philistia and then written Mesopotamia and Syria into a fake title. A forger would rather have attempted to undo any confusion. Once again, what appears to be a contradiction is instead a mark of genuineness.
As mentioned, things did not seem to be going well for David's army for a time. Perhaps in the case of the later conflict it was because the nations where David had garrisoned forces were nevertheless able to stage an international rebellion. David complains to God: "You have rejected us...and burst forth upon us.... You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger" (verses 1-3, NIV). The Israelites were reeling, wondering how this could be happening.
But David encourages his troops, confident in victory through God. The Expositor's Bible Commentary states in its note on verse 4: "The Lord has raised a 'banner' (nes; cf. Isa 5:26; 13:2; Jer 4:6 [and Exodus 17:15]) designating a place where the godly may find refuge under the protection of the Divine Warrior. The godly, those who 'fear' (cf. [Psalm] 34:7, 9) him, will find protection from the attacks of the enemy."
The section of Psalm 60 that follows the selah ending verse 4 (i.e., verses 5-12), is later reused as the latter half of Psalm 108 (verses 6-13)-the first part of Psalm 108 coming from Psalm 57:7-11.
In Psalm 60:6, the phrase "in His holiness" can also be translated "in His holy place"-probably designating Israel as the land of His sanctuary. Dividing Shechem and measuring out the Valley of Succoth represent God apportioning and parceling out the inheritance of the Promised Land to His people. "Shechem and the Valley of Succoth represent regions west and east of the Jordan River in the central parts of the land. Gilead and Manasseh are also regions east and west of the Jordan; Ephraim and Judah are regions in the north and south. The Lord was asserting His sovereignty over the entire land of Israel" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 6-8).
Moab being God's "washpot" (verse 8) or "washbasin" (NIV) refers to that used for washing the feet, which became rather dirty in a time of wearing sandals. The meaning? "Moab was doomed to the most abject and degrading servitude" (Barbara Bowen, Strange Scriptures That Perplex the Western Mind: Clarified in the Light of Customs and Conditions in Bible Lands, 1944, p. 25).
God next says He will cast His shoe over Edom (same verse). It could be that Edom is likened in this metaphor to the threshold of a house where shoes, considered dirty and defiling, were removed and left (Bowen, Strange Scriptures, pp. 67-68). Recall God demanding the removal of shoes in His presence (Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15). Yet it might refer "to the conventional symbolic act by which one claimed possession of land (cf. Ru 4:7)" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 60:8).
The final line of verse 8 is literally "Over me, Philistia, shout in triumph" (Green's Literal Translation). Perhaps the meaning is "Over me, Philistia, [is a] shout in triumph"-meaning by God's people. Yet the Jewish Tanakh renders the verse, "Acclaim me, O Philistia!"
David further proclaims that God, who for a time seemed to have abandoned Israel, would now lead them to victory (verses 9-10). And as we face enemies today, especially those spiritual forces that seek to destroy us, let us remember, as David said in the concluding verses, that only God can help us win the battle and grant us ultimate victory.