As you open to Psalm 64 let me tell you how excited I am to be here this evening. Usually on Wednesday nights you can find me in the youth house with our junior high. It's going to be a welcomed thing for me to speak to you and not be dodging projectiles thrown at my head, I hope. I was just joking with Ligon yesterday about the choice of this Psalm and its timing. We thought it strange and humorous that this Psalm, a Psalm that David utters in the midst of being conspired against and plotted against by evil men, should fall on the night before taxes are due.
But in spite of that, the question that I want you to think of tonight as we approach Psalm 64, before I read it, is that we do live in a world of injustice; not just a few isolated occurrences that happen in front papers but really there is injustice all around us: globally, world, state, and even our families and our friendships. There are times when we are plotted against and we are conspired against, and people really do seek to do us ill and to do others ill and to do injustice.
And so the question we have as we approach this evening Psalm 64, a Psalm in which David is contemplating injustice and really praying to God about injustice, is: What kind of hope do we have as we look to the future, as we deal with injustice in our lives? What kind of hope do we have and confidence in our God that He will bring all things to a conclusion in righteousness? That for all the wrongs that have been done, they will be undone because our God is just and right–where is our confidence in that?
Let me make one more comment before we read Psalm 64 and that just about the beauty of Hebrew poetry. A professor of mine said, “You can't be a Christian and not love poetry, considering how much of the Bible is poems.” And one of the things you need to understand about Hebrew poetry that will help you tonight as you look at this Psalm is that the Hebrews weren't very concerned about rhyming, as you can see–at least rhyming in the sense of words sounding alike–but they were concerned with rhyming thoughts. And that really unlocked the Psalms for me when I started to read them that way, when you start to realize that what they are doing as they progress is they’re taking contrasts or comparisons and continually weaving them in and out of the Psalm. And so what I want you to see as I read this, this evening, God's word, is the contrast that David does between his adversaries and between his God. And so with that, let us give attention to God's word. Psalm 64:
For the choir director. A Psalm of David. 1 Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; Preserve my life from dread of the enemy. / 2Hide me from the secret counsel of evildoers, From the tumult of those who do iniquity, / 3Who have sharpened their tongue like a sword. They aimed bitter speech as their arrow, / 4To shoot from concealment at the blameless; Suddenly they shoot at him, and do not fear. 5They hold fast to themselves an evil purpose; They talk of laying snares secretly; They say, “Who can see them?” / 6 They devise injustices, saying,“We are ready with a well-conceived plot”; For the inward thought and the heart of a man are deep. / 7 But God will shoot at them with an arrow; Suddenly they will be wounded. / 8 So they will make him stumble; Their own tongue is against them; All who see them will shake the head. / 9Then all men will fear,And they will declare the work of God,And will consider what He has done. / 10 The righteous man will be glad in the LORD and will take refuge in Him; And all the upright in heart will glory.
This is the word of our God. May He bless our meditation upon it.
David is pretty worried in the front end of this Psalm, especially as we see in those first two verses. He brings a complaint to God–and this isn't in the sense that David is whining to God, that he's complaining to God. This is more in the sense of a legal term, a plaintiff laying before a judge the case of someone who has wronged him. And David has every right really to be concerned, especially when we think back on what it was like to be a king in the time that he was living. Becoming king really reduced your life expectancy by a great deal. I didn't do any study on it but once you became king you usually had somewhere between 3 and 10 years before you were dead, and it wasn't just on the battlefield that kings had to be worried, for certainly there were plenty of things to be worried about with their own health and danger, and in other Psalms David talks about that. But a king in David's time was in just as much danger in his palace as he was on the battlefield, because there was always a minority who were willing back room caucuses, who were willing to have night meetings, who wanted to see regime change, wanted to see the king ousted.
So David was always concerned about a certain minority (especially here he talks about them) who would like to see him dead. And really that's what he comes to God talking about in this Psalm because he also knew that the king was a spiritual rudder of a nation. David isn't just concerned about his own hide, which was important and would prompt prayer certainly, but he knew that the king set the pace for what was going to happen for the Israelite people.
Good kings usually meant devotion and obedience and love for God; bad kings result in apostasy, worshiping of pagan idols. And so David realizes in this complaint as he comes to God…all of these things are coming together, and he issues in these first two verses that you see here a complaint, a request to God to save his life from these men who are plotting against him.
David has set the field for what is a battle. It's a battle scene. And like most of the wars that are fought today, it's going to be a battle that's fought between special forces. There aren't going to be huge amounts of armies on either side. They aren't going to come about in the open. They are going to be fought in shadows, adversaries seeking to get upmanship through secrecy and through surprise. And so what David describes the two people who are fighting one another. First, he talks about the adversaries, and then he talks about his God and how this war is going to be fought at David's request and his prayer. And so we jump in now to look here at verses 3 through 6, and what I want you to see, what I want to point out about the way that these adversaries wage war…Three things: First of all, they wage war painfully; secondly, they wage war suddenly; and thirdly, for the goal of brash injustice.
I. David's adversaries: They wage war painfully, suddenly, and with brash injustice.
So if you would look with me at verse three: “Who have sharpened their tongue like a sword. They aimed bitter speech as their arrow.” We don't know exactly what the plot was that David was dealing with. He had plenty of people over the course of his life that wanted him dead. We don't know if this was Saul or his own son Absalom. He doesn't give any hint to that in the title of this Psalm but what we do know is this (and we know this from our experience), that David knows a lot about what he is describing. He knows a lot about what it means to have people speak poorly against you and a lot of what that pain is in your heart, and the reason he knows that is the weapons he assigns to the words of his enemies, swords and arrows. When you think about the possible weapons, especially at this time, swords and arrows were really the ones you feared the most. You had bludgeoning weapons like clubs and fists and things like that, and those served the purpose really to knock someone senseless. They had somewhat of a numbing effect on you. You could be beaten in a battle and walk away and still recover from your bruises and broken bones, but swords and arrows, now those are something different. Those were piercing wounds. They didn't numb your sense at all. When you were shot with an arrow or stabbed through with a sword you had time to think about it; you had time to suffer. If you walked away from a battle, you would continue to bleed and continue to suffer for weeks on end after that.
And so we know as David poetically describes what it was like to have people plot against him, to maybe bring up rumors or lies about his kingship, to try and bring the people which he ruled to have a lack of confidence in him…we know that he was acquainted deeply with being talked about maliciously by the weapons that he chooses and assigns to these men, and that they were out to painfully do away with him in the plots that they chose.
Secondly, if you look with me at verse 4, “To shoot from concealment at the blameless; Suddenly they shoot at him, and do not fear.” I was thinking about this as I prepared, that “suddenly factor.” David wrote a lot of Psalms and I think in part the reason that this Psalm made it in was the fact that it was going to be a surprise attack and that made a king fear because he didn't know when it was coming. He didn't know where it was coming from. He might not have known exactly who was plotting against him but maybe had heard rumors through some of his counsel that there was a conspiracy afoot, and that made him afraid because that's something a king can't combat. He can't go into the battlefield and raise his sword against someone who is not there. And it led him to pray to his God. And I think we see here the devotion of David, his intimacy with his God in heaven. That this great king, who could have sent out spies into all of his kingdom to try and get in on this plot, prays to his God in heaven in worry and despair knowing that at this point in the Psalm, at least from what he says, that David is in the sights of a sniper. He knows that it is coming and he doesn't know from where, and so he cries out to his God because he knows that it's coming painfully and it's coming suddenly.
Thirdly, if you’ll look with me at verses 5 through 7…Let me just say before I go through these again, we have had opportunity in history to look upon men who have done evil things, and rightly so. You could probably do a pretty good study tracing evil men of the past and comparing their deeds and trying to come about with maybe a “top-ten-list of the most evil men that have ever existed” and the things that they have done–whether it be Hitler or Saddam Hussein or Nero or whoever you were to say. And what I want you to see in these verses 5 through 7, and what David categorizes here, these are some of the things that we consider when we look upon evil men of the past as some of the most evil and devious things men could do, and some of the benchmarks we use to judge someone's evilness, someone's wickedness.
If you look through the verses you see, “They hold fast to themselves an evil purpose; They talk of laying snares secretly.” There is intentionality to the way that they’re seeking to tear down King David. It wasn't that they were greedy and after riches. Maybe, you know…”Well, the king might go. He might get knocked off in the process.” They were counseling. They were talking with one another in back rooms. They sat down together. They must have had the conversation of “how can we do this evil thing and tear down God's anointed king?” On to verse six, “They devise injustices, saying, ‘We are ready with a well-conceived plot.’” We may have evil men in our categories, in our head, of evil men through history, and we may say that they kind of blundered in some of their evil deeds. They didn't mean to be that bad; it just so happened that it snowballed and ended up. But it's not the people here. They took time to study evil, to study wickedness to the point they can say, ‘We have a well-conceived plot. We've done it. We figured out the worst way, the best way to take out King David and this is what it is.’ And they would have long counsels about it, maybe over coffee or whatever they drank back then.
And, lastly, David adds this little comment about them, a little narrative “For the inward thought and the heart of a man are deep.” David's just saying, ‘You know, yeah, they thought out their hearts and their hearts were pretty deep, and so they came up with something pretty bad.’ And so we stop here and we've seen the adversaries of David shown for what they are, the men that are plotting.
II. David's God: He works for justice and forgiveness and for righteousness.
And now we move in to talk about David's God, the God to whom he prayed, the God whom he depended on. What I want you to notice (and I don't know if you noticed the similarities between verses 4 and 7 when I read them)…and this…I think this is just great. God really goes toe-to-toe with these men that were after David. He really comes to battle them on their terms. I mentioned three things that these men, these adversaries did: painfully, suddenly, and with brash injustice. And God has at least two of those in common with them. And somewhere in my heart, that comforts me: that our God is not One who stands far back or just kind of squashes them from a distance or causes pianos to fall on their heads when they aren't looking, that our God is intentional about battling the enemies of the church, that He was intentional in this verse about battling David's enemies on the same terms that they battled David. So look at that with me. In verse 7, “But God will shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly they will be wounded.” You’ll notice there that said, “God will shoot at them.”
You are told in seminary (which wasn't that long ago for me) never to make comments about Hebrew grammar when you’re preaching because it will just bore everybody to death…but I'm going to do it anyway. And so I hope I don't bore you to death. But I find it kind of interesting here (and it's something that you wouldn't get just reading the English), there was a way that Hebrew writers wrote, when they were writing narrative, so that you knew it was history. You would read, “such and such happened” on “such and such date,” and “King so and so went here and conquered this people.” And you would read it not just for content but from the way that they wrote you knew it was historical fact.
And here when David's writing, he writes this like it's historical fact but it's going to happen in the future. So he's not saying, ‘God will, God might, God could’; he's saying, ‘God absolutely, beyond a doubt, will shoot His arrows at these men.’ And we see there a similarity of arrows to arrows. Verse 4 said “arrows” and God now shoots His arrows. And if you think about the beauty of that and the swing of biblical history, how often God's words are likened to arrows.
You’re probably familiar with Balaam who the talking donkey. You probably knew that from Vacation Bible School. But Balaam was hired by a king to prophesy against the Israelites as they walked along. And so Balaam, a bad prophet, went to prophesy and when he opened his mouth, only good things came out even though he tried to kind of curse the Israelites. And in the process of that, one of the things that Balaam says in talking about the Israelites coming out of Egypt was that God struck down the Egyptians with His arrows.
In the sixth chapter of Job, Job talks about the wrath of God upon Him and he says, “The Lord's wrath is to me like arrows in my flesh.” We see swords too–Maybe Hebrews 4, the sword of God dividing bone and marrow; or Revelation, “our King cries coming on His horse with a sword in His mouth and a sword in His hand,” which is another sermon altogether. But it's interesting to me that these two are compared here, arrows to arrows; that the arrows that those who hate the church and seek to tear them down, seek to tear David down here; that the same pain that was caused to him by injustice and wickedness is the same pain that the wicked feel from God's word and God's wrath. That is comforting to me as we see here the battle played out of God fighting for David against these evil men.
We also see in the second part of verse seven (really on into eight) that God strikes suddenly as well. And when you combine that with the second part of verse 8 that “their own tongue is against them,” we start to see the way that God likes, enjoys, to tear down those who are opposed to Him. You’re familiar with maybe with the Proverb, “the evil man who digs the pit will fall into it himself.” Maybe you’re familiar with Haman and Esther who had built gallows to hang Esther's uncle and he gets hanged on them himself. That part of God's way of dealing with those who are opposed to Him all through Scripture is to take wicked men and at the height of their pride, at the height of the point they think that they have everything worked out…and ‘This is a seamless plan, and we are about to do this terrible thing that's going to make us wealthy and kill these people,’ that God brings their own plan down on their own heads. That the repercussions of their plans that seem so beautifully wicked, if I could use such a phrase, is the very thing by which they fall. And so you see it as their tongues are turned against them, that God uses their own plots–not pianos falling from the skies, not just spontaneous combustion which He could have done, which He could have done.
That isn't the way He works because we see the last part and this is the difference: God works painfully; He works suddenly just like David's adversaries did…but He worked for justice and forgiveness and for righteousness. And we see that in the last verses with what happens. “Then all men will fear, and they will declare the work of God, and will consider what He has done. The righteous man will be glad in the LORD and will take refuge in Him; and all the upright in heart will glory.” We see things are right, that it's right when wicked men fall for the rest of the world to look at them and shake their heads. When men fall from the heights of their pride to the lowness of being stricken by God, it is right for men to consider and fear God. It is right. And that last part of verse 10, which is really beautiful when you consider the church, it is right for the church to look on, as David did and as the Israelites did when God wrought justice on wicked men…for them to be glad, for them to have a dependence in God (which really they did seek Him as their refuge) and for them to worship His name. That's a good thing and that's God bringing about justice at just the right time.
Application for Today
But for my application, as we start, we've now scene what it meant to David. As we think about it for us, I think it would be an injustice to you if I ended here. Because what we're prone to do is to read Psalms like this, which I’ll admit are difficult for us to understand, and what we take away is this, “Good for David. Yea, good for David. He was the king. He was a good guy and God came through for him in the clutch.”
But the thing that you and I struggle with is when God doesn't seem to come through in the clutch. And I wonder how many martyrs knew Psalm 64 on the night before they were martyred for their faith. I wonder how many times men saw injustice and cried out Psalm 64 never to see it brought about in our lifetime. We can't leave this Psalm and just say, “Good for David,” because that's not the big picture of God's justice and how it's wrought in our lives.
Because I know something of you and your lives. The corporate ladder is built on rungs of conspiracies and plots and backstabbing. The worlds that you live and work in…and I know the cruelty that can happen. And social groups…maybe some of you have been the object of that when friends you've trust have turned against you, injustices have been done, people have been shut out. Where is God's justice then? Is it in Psalm 64? Do we just leave saying, “Good for David but what about me?”
Well, what I want to step back and say is to consider our lives, to consider Psalm 64 in light of really what Christ is doing in history. Because David's good to look at like a man or a king and to say, ‘We can learn things about manhood. We can learn things about being a ruler and ruling well and being in authority and things like that,’ but that wasn't the ultimate purpose of David's life. The ultimate purpose of David's life was to point to Christ, to be almost a mold and an example of foreshadowing of what Christ would be like when He would come, and what kind of justice He would bring about on the earth. And so we can rightly step back from this Psalm and say, “Is this the only way that God brings justice? Is there any hope for us when we see injustice in our lives, in our world, in our families?” My opening questions, what are we to do with a just God when we see so much injustice? How can we have any confidence in Him? How can we end this Psalm with gladness, dependence on God, praise of His name?
Let me mention three places in history that will help us come to grips with that and walk away from Psalm 64 with gladness, praise, and dependence in our God. Ever since the Fall our world has been against God. It's been a land of enemies encamped against the Lord. And God ever since then, in small ways and large ways, has started to bring His kingdom about and has started to set things right. And so we have through history, not just biblical history but our history, places where justice broke through, where God's kingdom and all of its light and glory did the right thing and wickedness was cast out and justice was put down at least for a moment. That's what we have here in this Psalm. David prayed to God and he was saved from plots and conspiracies. But that's not always how God works, that's not always how Christ brings about justice.
The second thing, we could fast forward from this Psalm to the cross of Christ. Justice was done there, because if we're honest with ourselves, before our conversions, we were just as much enemies of God as these adversaries were of David. And the interesting thought when you think about it was on the cross of Christ, this God, this warrior with arrows and swords and things like that, instead of bringing His arrows on enemies, let them fly at His Son. For the full weight of His wrath and His pain–those darts, arrows, and wounds–fall on Christ on our behalf. That justice was done, that there are wrongs we have done that weren't righted before God by us but were righted by Christ. Justice was done then. And so I hope that you, Sunday mornings, whenever you praise God, can have gladness, dependence on Him and praise because you look at the cross and can say, “Justice was done there.” And even more than that, this is what I want you to think about when injustice is done to you, when you suffer at the hands of someone else–what if the sin that was perpetrated against you, whatever it was, whatever words were uttered, whatever offense is given, what if there's that very sin that God uses to show someone his depravity, his need before God and they come to salvation? Would you be willing to bear that pain? Would you be willing to be sinned against, that someone might see the weight of their sin and come to salvation? Surely there's gladness and there's dependence on God and there is praise and worship there, the cross of Christ, that justice was done.
And lastly, there are things that are done that will not be remedied on this earth or in this lifetime. And that's the hardest thing we struggle with. There are people here tonight who will struggle with offenses for the rest of their lives and they will not be remedied, and that pain will remain from arrows flung by someone else. But one day Jesus will come again and He’ll right all the wrongs. When our King, the Lord our righteousness, comes upon His horse with the armies of heaven behind Him, He will bring about justice. He will make sure it's done and we’ll have reason to be glad. We’ll have reason to depend on Him. We’ll have reason to praise His name.
Justice, and righteousness will be done whether it turns out like Psalm 64, turns out on the cross of Christ, or turns out on that last day that you know justice will be done. And you can leave this Psalm not just saying, “Good for David,” but, “Praise to our King and Lord who is righteous and just and who will right all wrongs in the end.”
I am going to close with the last verse of For All the Saints. It's one of the favorites of our youth group (which really says a lot about your youth, by the way, that they would enjoy and really latch on to a hymn like For All the Saints.) I was sitting with Derek Thomas when he spoke at Insight and we were in the midst of singing this hymn. And at the end, towards the end of this hymn, he turned to me and whispered as we were singing, “These are some of the greatest words in all of hymnody.” And I agree with him. I think they fit well here as we talk about Psalm 64. “From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast / through gates of pearl, stream in the countless hosts / singing [to] the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, ‘Alleluia! Alleluia!’” We look forward to that day. We look forward to that day.
Let me close with God's benediction upon us. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us now and forevermore. Amen.
© First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.