The Lord is My Helper (Psalm 54)
The Lord is My Helper
Have you ever felt betrayed? Have you ever been betrayed? You had someone you thought was a friend, you did things with them even, but then when “push came to shove,” they weren’t present to be of help to you? Even worse, perhaps, they stabbed you in the back and took advantage of you. Maybe they had some bad things happen to them and rather than taking responsibility for their own actions, they blamed you?
It is hard to get over those types of betrayal. Sometimes betrayals like that affect your own self-image. You think, “What did I do to deserve that type of mistreatment? Am I a bad person?”
No treachery is worse than betrayal by a family member or friend. One of the most famous betrayals in world history had to do with Julius Caesar. Among the conspirators who assassinated the Roman leader on March 15, 44 BC was Marcus Junius Brutus. Caesar not only trusted Brutus, he had favored him as a son. According to Roman historians, Caesar first resisted the onslaught of the assassins. But when he saw Brutus among them with his dagger drawn, Caesar ceased to struggle and, pulling the top part of his robe over his face, asked the famous question, "You too, Brutus?”
One of the worst acts of betrayal in American history was that of Benedict Arnold. Benedict Arnold had graduated from West Point but then in 1780, in the heart of the American Revolutionary War, he tried to surrender West Point to the British. Now there is a plaque in Old Cadet Chapel where Benedict Arnold’s name use to be. But his name is scratched out. Our family visited West Point a few years ago and you can tell it was Arnold’s name. The school could have taken the plaque down but they decided to leave it up - not to whitewash history but to remind future graduates that you have to be constantly alert to your own sense of fallibility and your need to continually renew your commitment to your highest goals and ideals.
A few weeks ago when we had our Spiritual Saturday for our young adults on stress, one of our young adults said that to help her deal with stress, she will read the psalms. I want us to study one of the psalms today, a psalm that was written in the heart of David’s experience of betrayal - Psalm 54.
You will notice that the superscription identifies this psalm as being written when the Ziphites thought they would turn David over to King Saul. King Saul was wasting his reign trying to kill David and chasing him over the countryside because King Saul was envious of David’s success and David’s popularity. Rather than repenting of his own sins, King Saul wanted to blame David for his problems and he thought if he could get rid of David, then his problems would be resolved.
In 1 Samuel 23, David was in the wilderness of Ziph at the village of Horesh. Thankfully, David had an encourager - Jonathan, King Saul’s own son. And 1 Sam. 23:16 says that Jonathan encouraged David “in God,” which means Jonathan appealed to God and His nature and His promises in order to encourage his friend, David. Jonathan assured David that David would, in fact, be king just as God had promised and that Jonathan would be by his side the whole way. Don’t we all need a friend like Jonathan? Don’t we all need an encourager like Jonathan?
Jonathan left David in the village of Horesh and went home. But then the other people who lived in the wilderness of Ziph, known as the “Ziphites,” decided that they would betray David and turn him over to King Saul. This part of the event is told in 1 Samuel 23:19-23. They go to King Saul and “tattle” that David was hiding among them at Horesh. They tell Saul, “Our part shall be to surrender him into the king’s hand” (ver. 20). Saul prayed that God would bless them for betraying David to him! (ver. 21) David was able to escape by the grace of God, but at some point during that ordeal, David wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Psalm 54.
I think we also can find some points for our encouragement when we are stressed from Psalm 54. Let’s feed our spirits on the words of this psalm this morning…
GOD HAS THE POWER TO SAVE AND TO HEAR - verses 1-3:
Verses 1 and 2 both begin in the original language with the word “God.” David prays, “God, by Your name, save me! And by Your power, vindicate me!”
For God to save “by His name” means that God would save consistent with His name, or consistent with His nature. We should not and dare not ask God to do something that would violate His nature. When we entrust ourselves into His hands, as Peter encourages us to do in 1 Peter 4:19, we should pray that God will treat us in keeping with His nature - His holiness, His faithfulness (the attribute Peter uses), His love, His grace, His perfect knowledge.
Here, David mentions God’s “power.” David asks God to “vindicate” him; the Hebrew verb is to “to judge.” That is, David asks God to “judge” him and declare him innocent of any wrongdoing relative to King Saul. If we are dealing with false accusations, we should pray and ask God to vindicate us, to reveal in some way to our persecutor - whether it is family or friend or stranger - that we did not mean any harm and that we were not trying to do anything wrong. Pray that God will vindicate you against false accusations.
In verse 2, David asks God to hear his prayer (the word is singular so it must refer to his prayer for salvation he just mentioned). He asks God to listen to the words that are coming from his mouth. When I see this verb used in the Scriptures - “Give ear” - it reminds me of a little child who is having trouble getting mom or dad to listen to them (I remember my younger brother doing this), and they’ll take their parent’s face in their hands and turn their head to face the child, so that they will listen.
This is David’s request from God - please turn your head and listen to me; hear the words of my mouth.
David’s persecutors are identified in verse 3, which likely refers to the people of the wilderness of Ziph - “foreigners” have arisen against David. “Violent men” pursue him - David saw something in the people of Ziph that cautioned him against them. Notice that they arose against his “soul,” against his “life.” David felt threatened by them. These were godless men; they had no scruples, no moral qualms at all. Just what would they benefit for themselves in turning over David to King Saul? They did not know the story did they? Did they know that King Saul’s envy was given birth when David saved Israel from Goliath? Instead, David says, they had not put God before their faces. Being righteous in the eyes of God was not their prime motivation.
It is hard for us sometimes to grasp the fact that there is evil in the world and sometimes evil is found in the hearts of people who are closest to us. Sometimes, even evil in the heart of fellow Christians who are being motivated by something besides brotherly love.
GOD IS THE HELPER - verses 4-5:
In this paragraph, David stops speaking to God and makes a couple statements about God. First, he says, “God is my helper.” We say that often, don’t we? How much do we believe it? Do we believe that God is our helper? That God will do good for us? That God will work things out for our good? Now, incidentally, I want to point out that feminists criticize the biblical teaching on the role of women, among other ways, by criticizing Genesis 2:18 which says that Eve was a “helper” suitable (or “helpmeet”) for Adam. Well, that word “helper” is this same word “helper” which says God is our “helper.” So, being a “helper” is not degrading! God is our helper!
I also love the next expression in verse 4: “The Lord is the sustainer of my soul.” This word “soul” is translated as “life” in verse 3. God is the sustainer of the world, but He is also the sustainer of my “soul.” He cares. He holds my life in His hands. If He does that, then what shall I fear? What can man do to me? If God is the one who sustains my soul. It is not Rachel or my daughters who sustain my soul. This illustrates how important it is for me to walk with God myself, to have my own relationship with God myself.
Then we see in verse 5 the indication that God is the one who will take revenge. God has told His people from the very beginning not to take vengeance in their own hands. In Deuteronomy 32:35, God tells Israel: “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution” (see Rom. 12:19-21). God is the only one who can balance the scales of justice and He knows how to do it at the exact right time and to the exact proper amount. That’s why we need to leave justice and vengeance in the hands of God.
David prays, “God will return or recompense the evil to my foes / enemies.” If you feel compelled, pray that God will take proper vengeance. Pray that God will bring about justice at the right time and in the right way. Sometimes we are mistreated. To the extent we can use human laws or rules at work to bring about justice, perhaps we should do that. But in those instances where evil uses the rules of man for their own selfish purposes, then we need to pray that God will work to bring about justice and fairness.
That’s the context of the last phrase in verse 5. Notice how David prays for the destruction of his enemies. Could David be praying for the destruction of King Saul? It might not be him since David had the opportunity twice to kill King Saul and he did not. However, David might have been praying against King Saul, with the intention that God would take care of King Saul in the way and manner that God would see fit - which God did through the Philistines rather than through David himself.
“In your faithfulness” literally means “by Your truth…” In other words, David still recognizes that all truth flows from God and David does not see everything and he does not know everything. God does. God knows all truth and all God’s behavior is constant with truth, so we too need to pray that in whatever way God answers our prayers - especially if it comes to vengeance - that God needs to do so in a way that validates and supports truth.
WHEN GOD HELPS, WE WORSHIP - verses 6-7:
The primarily motivation for worship is thanksgiving. When God helps David, when God saves David, when God answers David’s prayer, then David responds in worship.
First, note that David’s worship is freewill worship. It is not forced nor compelled. He responds to God out of love and thankfulness.
Secondly, David sacrifices to God. This refers to animal sacrifices.
Thirdly, David praises God’s name - that is, His nature, His character, His reputation. We ought to regularly thank God for Who He is, not just for what He does for us. Here, David specifically mentions that God is “good.” God never does anything that is not good. He always does what is consistent with His nature and that is always good. We might not understand what God is doing but we need to trust that all God does is good.
The reason why David worships is summarized in verse 7: “Because from all trouble, He has delivered me,” and the last phrase says, “and my eyes saw my enemies.” That is, David saw that God had conquered David’s enemies, if not in reality, at least by faith. David trusted God so much that David knew that if he prayed to God in truth and faithfulness, God would respond and God would deliver David from His enemies.
This statement is similar to Jesus’ statement about faith in prayer in Mark 11:24: “all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”
Take home message: When you feel betrayed, the Lord is your helper. When you are delivered, respond with worship.