Psalm 140 For the director of music. A psalm of David. (1) Rescue me, LORD, from evildoers; protect me from the violent, (2) who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day. (3) They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent's; the poison of vipers is on their lips. (4) Keep me safe, LORD, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent, who devise ways to trip my feet. (5) The arrogant have hidden a snare for me; they have spread out the cords of their net and have set traps for me along my path. (6) I say to the LORD, "You are my God." Hear, LORD, my cry for mercy. (7) Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, you shield my head in the day of battle. (8) Do not grant the wicked their desires, LORD; do not let their plans succeed. (9) Those who surround me proudly rear their heads; may the mischief of their lips engulf them. (10) May burning coals fall on them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise. (11) May slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down the violent. (12) I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. (13) Surely the righteous will praise your name, and the upright will live in your presence.
Psalm 140 is titled, Prayer for Deliverance from Evil Men (NKJV); Prayer for Protection against the Wicked (NASB); Deliver Me, O LORD, from Evil Men (ESV); and A Prayer for Protection (ICB).
Some Bible scholars see Psalm 140 as an extension of David’s previous song, Psalm 139. The ideas and the writing style are definitely similar, and we have seen this idea with other psalms. But David was a writer and a singer. I wonder sometimes if he journaled regularly, and these are his daily prayers or thoughts. So it would make sense that yesterday he felt one way, and today he had similar style and worries and thoughts. Someday we can ask him.
Also, some scholars believe this particular psalm, due to the content, was one David wrote while running and hiding from king Saul. There is a sense of peril in his writing here. He is in fear for his life, running, fleeing, and hiding from some great danger.
O LORD, keep me out of the hands of the wicked. Protect me from those who are violent, for they are plotting against me. Psalm 140:4 NLT
Rescue me. Protect me. Keep me out of their hands.
David had reason to fear for his life, many times. And, although he did not know the prophet Isaiah, he believed these words about his Father in heaven,
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
David was a renowned warrior. Men followed him, even as a young man. The Bible records what people would say about him,
As they danced, they sang: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands." 1 Samuel 18:7
David had strength and experience; he had warriors watching his back, yet the strength he sought was from the Lord. This is humility. This is what the Old Testament description that often confuses us; “poor in spirit.” This is meekness. And, ultimately, this is faith.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10
Whatever the specific occasion for its writing, Psalm 140 is David’s cry for help and mercy and also an expression of his great anger. David shares his fear and frustration at the circumstances he finds himself in. Righteous anger.
The Message (which is one man’s modern-day paraphrase not an actual translation of the Bible) can be a useful tool when used in comparison with other versions. Here it is,
These troublemakers all around me- let them drown in their own verbal poison. Let God pile hellfire on them, let him bury them alive in crevasses! These loudmouths- don't let them be taken seriously; these Savages- let the Devil hunt them down! Psalm 140:9-11 MSG
David calls for justice. He calls for God to destroy his enemies. He calls for God to do to his enemies what they did to him. But despite all of that (in this psalm and others), David is not remembered as a revengeful king. History does not record that about him; he never took matters into his own hands. He could have. He had the power and resources to.
But instead, he put his trust in God. Psalm 140 (among others) is his words crying out to his Father in heaven whom David knew would have justice. David knew that God would have the final say, and he fully believed that God would avenge the wrongs done to his son, David.
It may be that his appeals to the great King cooled his anger and enabled him to leave his wrongs unredressed by any personal act of violence. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord;” and David when most wounded by undeserved persecution and wicked falsehood was glad to leave his matters at the foot of the throne, where they would be safe with the King of kings.Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
If scholars are correct and David wrote Psalm 140 during the time that he fled king Saul’s wrath (or journaled it as a prayer to God), the story is told in the first book of Samuel (1 Samuel 20-31).
Then David fled from Naioth at Tamah and went to Jonathan and asked, "What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?" 1 Samuel 20:1 David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Abdullam. When his brothers and his father's household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him. 1 Samuel 22:1-2 David stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands. 1 Samuel 23:14 But David thought to himself, "One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand." 1 Samuel 27:1
Then the second book of Samuel begins with the death of king Saul and his sons, including Jonathan whom David had grown up with and loved as a brother.
David called, many times, for the Lord to save him and strike down his enemies. To have justice served. To see the Lord’s anger burn and destroy those who have done David wrong. And often, in his early years, the “enemy” he referred to was king Saul and his followers.
The shepherd boy David was a teenager when he killed the giant Philistine named Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Some say a young teen, maybe only thirteen years old. Samuel anointed him as future king of Israel when he was approximately fifteen years old.
Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, "The LORD has not chosen these." So he asked Jesse, "Are these all the sons you have?" There is still the youngest," Jesse answered. "He is tending the sheep." Samuel said, "Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives." So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, "Rise and anoint him; this is the one." So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. 1 Samuel 16:10-13a
Finally, David was crowned king after Saul’s death at the age of thirty (2 Samuel 2).
That’s fifteen years or so (approximately, no ages are known for certain). What was happening to David during that time? Was David running in fear for his life all those years? Maybe. For some of it, he was part of Saul’s household guard and like an adopted son to the king. But even then, David was watching his back from that volatile king Saul.
Fifteen years is a long time to wait on God and His promises.
There are two points that we can take away from this psalm and this reminder of the life of David. The first, is to wait on the Lord.
Have you been waiting? Has been a long time? Years maybe that you have been waiting for Him to answer a prayer. Especially when it comes to the salvation of someone we love, this is hard. Waiting is hard.
But God is faithful. Even when we are waiting, He is working. All we see is silence on a matter, but God is never still. He is working. While David waited (fifteen years!), he grew in strength, in faith, and in spirit. God prepared him to be the king that the people needed. As David waited, God brought more and more warriors (and probably their families) into community with David and therefore into God’s presence.
Waiting for the Lord is hard. We want to see change, and we want to see it quickly. But we do not know all that God will do or is doing for us or for others while we wait. So let the story of David and his fifteen years of waiting be a reminder that God is present, active, and we must respond with faith.
but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 NKJV
And, maybe, the second point we can learn from David and this psalm is how he acted toward Saul. His words to God are the words and prayer of a man calling to his Father for help. Like a prayer journal. His actions toward Saul are different, set apart. We are called to be different. We are in this world, but we are not to be of this world. David had opportunities to kill Saul and end his exile, but he was set apart (1 Samuel 24 & 26). God called him to be different.
And when it was all over, and Saul was dead, David did not rejoice. He tore his clothes, wept, and wrote an elegy for Saul found at the beginning of 2 Samuel,
David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow 2 Samuel 1:17-18
Tell God how you feel. When you’re angry and wish to have him strike your enemies with lightening, tell Him. When you grieve the loss of someone or something, tell Him. When you’re angry and wondering where He is in all your worries, tell Him.
When all is well and goodness surrounds you, tell Him!
God can handle our grief, our anger, our joy, our fears. He wants to hear it all. But, like the story of David, He certainly expects us to handle our actions differently. Our feelings are all okay with God. Tell Him.
David had great faith as he waited on the Lord. Let’s renew our faith as we wait.
I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted and will execute justice for the needy. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence. Psalm 140:12-13 ESV
On earth ere long, and in heaven forever, the pure in heart shall sing unto the Lord. How loud and sweet will be the songs of the redeemed in the millennial age, when the meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace!Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
Father in heaven, thank you for the promises we find in your word. Thank you for your faithfulness throughout time and even today. Thank you that you are present and active always, even when we do not see or feel it. Help us to have faith like David. Help us to bring our prayers and our worries and our joys to you and set them at your feet. And help us as we wait for you. Give us strength today to do all that you put before us. Amen.