Imagine David wilting under a bush or slumped in a cave, pouring out his feelings in Psalm 54, begging the Lord for help. The first three verses are a prayer with emphasis on the enemy.
Imagine David wilting under a bush or slumped in a cave, pouring out his feelings in Psalm 54, begging the Lord for help. The first three verses are a prayer with emphasis on the enemy. The spotlight then turns to the composer's divine defender as the next two verses form a picture. The last two verses are words of praise as David focuses on his own history with God.
Save me, O God, by Your name,
And vindicate me by Your power.
Hear my prayer, O God;
Give ear to the words of my mouth.
For strangers have risen against me
And violent men have sought my life;
They have not set God before them. Selah. (54:1–3)
Verses 1 and 2 appear differently in the Hebrew Bible than in our English rendering. Literally, they read: "O God, save me . . . . O God, hear my prayer."
Normally, the verb appears first in the Hebrew sentence, but in this case, each cry for help begins with "O God . . . " By rearranging the normal word order, David emphasizes his utter dependence upon God. And the emphasis is further strengthened by the repetition of His name, "O God . . . . O God . . . "
We discover immediately an example in David for when we find ourselves under attack or emotionally distressed by people: Pray first! Don't wait! Ask for His strength and stability. Normally, we pray last, don't we? Instinct almost compels us first to fight back. We retaliate or develop resentment for the one who makes life miserable.
Observe that David requests deliverance and vindication on the basis of two things: God's name and God's power.
Throughout the Old Testament, God is called by at least twelve different names, each one highlighting a particular aspect of His character. As David called to mind God's attributes, he settled on the Lord's power—His omnipotence. When attacked by people, our imagination tends to stretch the truth; we begin to think our enemies have unlimited power. David found comfort in the reminder that God is more powerful than anyone or anything in the universe.
David went on to describe his problem in detail.
For strangers have risen against me,
And violent men have sought my life;
They have not set God before them. Selah. (54:3)
He gives his enemies two descriptive names: "strangers" and "violent men." The first refers to the people living in the region of Ziph. Normally, people are known by their heritage. For example, the Moabites are descendants of a patriarch named Moab. The Amalekites were descendants of Amalek. But the Ziphites were of unknown origin. The term "strangers" comes from a Hebrew word that means "to scatter, disperse," characterizing them as random people known only by their current place of residence. David struggled to understand why these strangers would bother to take sides in his dispute with Saul, why the Ziphites would become spies.
I mention this because I may be writing to someone as innocent as David was, but perhaps you, too, are being "spied upon," sold out by people who have no known motives to betray you. It is a frightening experience to be falsely accused, especially when the accusations come from strangers. It makes you wonder if the whole world has turned against you.
It's even worse when the enemy is someone you once trusted as a friend! "Violent men" refers to Saul, whom David once served as both musician and soldier, and Saul's troops, whose mission was to bring back David's head. Other than roughly six hundred loyal soldiers, David had no support, either in Israel or among Israel's neighbors.
David further states that his enemies did not have God set before them. The Lord didn't prompt their insidious actions; fulfilling the will of God was not their motivation. They acted in self-interest without regard to "right" or "wrong," which brings up a very practical point. When people turn against you, and you are in the right, it's like being kicked by a mule. Consider the source! You were kicked by a creature whose nature is to kick.
In another psalm, a composer observes that resisting God's will is not only futile, it is to invite one's own destruction. "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?" (Psalm 2:1 ESV) he asks. He took comfort, not only in the futility of their attacks, but in the realization that they opposed God. It's hard to take personally the attacks of someone who opposes the almighty Creator! So, when you're wrongly treated, consider the source. They have not set the Lord before them. He doesn't energize their actions. In the words of Psalm 46, "Cease striving." Relax!
Verse 3 concludes with that command, "Selah." Pause to consider the wisdom of David's perspective in the first three verses of Psalm 54.