>Lying Amid Lions (Psalm 57)

>Way back when, before my lengthy posts about becoming a discerning reader and before my lengthy post-surgical absence, my last devotional post was on Psalm 56, “Tears in a Bottle.”

This week marks my effort to get back into pre-surgical work mode, which means I’m blogging as the first work segment of my day. And I’m picking up my devotional blog thread by looking at the subsequent Psalm 57.

One of the best Mother’s Day gifts I received this year was the Literary Study Bible (ESV) from my daughter, Ariel. Leland Ryken and Philip Graham Ryken are its general editors. It’s a wonderful resource and a source of great blessing.

The brief introduction to each Psalm helps the reader recognize its literary pattern. Psalm 57 contains “conventional lament motifs” that include an introductory cry to God, a statement of confidence in God, a definition of the crisis, a petition (reiterated in two subsequent refrains), a repeated definition of the crisis, and a vow to praise God.

David wrote this Psalm while hiding in a cave when he fled from Saul. Like the previous Psalm, this one abounds in imagery. The descriptions of David’s plight (definitions of the crisis in verses 4 & 6) are particularly vivid:

My soul is in the midst of lions;
I lie down amid fiery beasts–
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
who tongues are sharp swords (v. 4).

They set a trap for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my way,
but they have fallen into it themselves (v. 6).

None of us is God’s appointed (and annointed!) ruler, fleeing from someone intent on killing us. But we all have enemies. We may not be waging war against a physical army, but we all fight daily battles against our sworn enemies: the devil, the world, and our own flesh (Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 127).

One of the most difficult battles we face is when others attack us with words. David literally is facing the sharp point of a spear, but it is the words of others that wound him by crushing his spirit.

He describes his soul as being “in the midst of lions.” He cannot sleep in safety or peace; he feels as if he lies down “amid fiery beasts.” David defines these “lions” and “fiery beasts” as people whose teeth are “spears and arrows” and whose tongues are “sharp swords.”

It is obvious that David is being greviously wounded by the malicious words of others. And these people are not merely engaging in harmful speech; they are actively working behind the scenes against him. They are setting a “trap” for his steps and digging a “pit” in his way. They lie with their mouths and lie in wait with their hands.

Is it any wonder that David’s “soul was bowed down”? Few things crush the spirit like knowing that others are speaking ill of you and actively working against you.

But David doesn’t only describe the “pit” being dug before him. He doesn’t only express his prayer that these “fiery beasts” fall into the pit they have dug. David’s hope in the Lord is so strong that he expresses his confidence that “they have fallen into it themselves.”

He’s still hiding in the cave, he’s still running for his life, but David is so confident that the Lord will eventually cause righteousness to prevail that he considers their fall a sure thing.

He can be so confident because his soul takes refuge in “the shadow” of God’s “wings” until the “storms of destruction pass by” (v. 1). He can be so confident because he knows that “God Most High…fulfills his purpose” for him (v. 2). God will save him; God “will put to shame” the one who “tramples” on him; “God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!” (v. 3).

In the middle of his lament, splitting the two verses describing his crisis, David bursts into praise: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (v. 5).

The rest of the Psalm is a reminder that because God is in control and his righteousness will prevail, we can have calm hearts and joyful spirits.

David proclaims that his heart is “steadfast” and he will “sing and make melody” (v. 7). In the midst of his affliction, when he is bowed down by the beastial behavior of others, David is able by God’s grace to have a calm heart. His heart is so calm, in fact, that he is able to write this beautiful Psalm of assurance.

He may not have slept through the night, but he will greet the dawn with musical praise (v. 8). He will “give thanks” to the Lord “among the peoples” and “sing praises” to him “among the nations” (v. 9). This Psalm is an enduring testimony that continues to encourage suffering believers during the trials of this world.

In contrast to earlier expressions of his bowed down soul, David concludes this Psalm with uplifting praise:

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds (v.10).

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

Even if we don’t face physical enemies or malicious machinations, we wrestle daily against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). But our hope is not in our own abilities or even the strength of our faith. Our hope is only in the Most High God, who rules over all the events of our lives and loves each one of us as his own dear child.

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