Complaint, Psalm 64

spotted leafIn the Literary Study Bible’s introduction to Psalm 64, editors Leland Ryken and Philip Graham Ryken call it the “prototypical” lament psalm, the “specimen in which the conventional elements stand out highlighted” with “vivid poetic texture and memorable imagery” (p. 815). An awareness of this psalm’s lament construction and literary techniques helps us derive more meaning from David’s “complaint” (verse 1). We should never examine the psalms as a purely literary exercise. All scripture is the very word of God and is profitable for our instruction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). But while the psalms teach our minds, they also touch our hearts.

Like most laments, this psalm begins with a cry to God: Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint (Psalm 64:1a, ESV). We know that God hears and answers prayer, yet he wants us to call to him. This complaint doesn’t equate with our modern understanding of complaining. It doesn’t mean whining about everything, never being joyful or content. It’s expressing your problem to God and your recognition that you need his divine help.

David strongly expresses his need for deliverance: preserve my life from dread of the enemy. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers (verses 1b-2, ESV).

The problems in David’s life are real and immediate. He expresses urgency as he begs God for help with imperative verbs: preserve, hide. His enemies fill him with dread, they plot secretly, and they are many (a throng!).

Like most laments, this psalm begins with a cry to God:

who whet their tongues like swords,
    who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless,
    shooting at him suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
    they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, “Who can see them?”
   They search out injustice,
saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.”
    For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep (verses 3-6, ESV).

These enemies are not obvious foes on a battlefield. They excel at manipulation and behind-the-scenes schemes. They stealthily attack innocent people without cause. Rather than simply slipping into sin or falling in with a bad crowd, these guys commit themselves to evil and conspire to trap others. They doubt anyone would catch on to their plans because they’re careful to cover their tracks. They pour their time and intelligence into searching out injustice, looking for ways to beat the system. They focus on criticizing and bringing down other people. They are verbally, emotionally–perhaps even physically and spiritually–abusive. The mind and heart of a person is very deep. No one knows the depth of depravity in some minds or the extent of evil in some hearts. Some people devote God’s good gift of mental acuity to scheme against others.

What a depressing description! Maybe David’s vivid picture of his enemies reminds you of someone you know. A verbal bully who rudely criticizes you in front of others, a manipulator who secretly persuades others that you’re not trustworthy or competent, a hypocritical person who acts friendly to many while refusing to smile or speak to you, or an intelligent and articulate person who manufactures narratives against you and God’s truth. These situations are enough to make a person feel hopeless. Within the context of the church community, they can make you want to leave, shaking the dust from your feet (Matthew 10:14).

Before you get too depressed, please read the next section of the psalm, which begins with these crucial words: “But God”!

But God shoots his arrow at them;
    they are wounded suddenly.
They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them;
    all who see them will wag their heads (verses 7-8, ESV).

These people won’t get by with their schemes forever. Their tongues cut like swords? Their words wound like arrows? (See verse 3.) God shoots his arrows at them! He wounds them suddenly and brings them to ruin, using their own back-stabbing tongues to cut them down to size. People will see it and shake their heads.

But the purpose isn’t your personal vengeance, attractive as that might seem. God brings them down to show his divine power and generate our human praise (verses 9-10, ESV):

Then all mankind fears;
    they tell what God has brought about
    and ponder what he has done.

Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord
    and take refuge in him!
Let all the upright in heart exult!

People who see God destroy the enemies of believers will revere the Lord and witness to his deliverance. They’ll meditate on his amazing works. Believers can rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him.

Ponder what God has done and rejoice! If you haven’t seem him bring down your enemies yet, trust that no enemy of God will ultimately succeed. Let your heart, brought low by the schemes and insults of others, exult in the Lord!

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Poured out complaint, Psalm 142

While David was hiding in a cave, he poured out his heart in this lament to God. Most of us become uncomfortable when praying aloud, but David emphasizes that this prayer is vocalized.

With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
   with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
I pour out my complaint before him;
   I tell my trouble before him (Psalm 142:1-2, ESV).

God hears both our audible and internal prayers, but when we speak them aloud they become more meaningful to us. We add two sensory dimensions to the prayers, speech and hearing, which makes more of an impression on us.

David pours out his complaint before the Lord, telling him all his trouble. Ryken and Ryken write, “When he adds that his complaint is poured out, we catch the essential nature of the lament psalms—poems about a distressing situation uttered without inhibition” (The Literary Study Bible ESV, p. 908). What a great description of a lament psalm!

The writer of a lament psalm bares the naked emotions of his soul. He is not afraid to tell God how he really feels. Those who disparage even Christian counseling that incorporates general and special revelation ought to read the psalms. God created humans with emotions, which need to be worked through during times of distress.

Those distressing times often make us feel totally weak and completely isolated.

When my spirit faints within me,
   you know my way!
In the path where I walk
   they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
    there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
   no one cares for my soul (3-4, ESV).

But God knows our way. He sees us and knows our way even when the devil and other people have hidden traps along our path, even when we are ignored on every side, even when we see no place of safety and no one seems to care for our souls. Even then, we can cry to God.

I cry to you, O LORD;
   I say, “You are my refuge,
   my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry,
   for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
    for they are too strong for me!
Bring me out of prison,
   that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
   for you will deal bountifully with me (5-7, ESV).

God is our refuge and our portion not only for the future, but now as we live among people. He hears our cries when we are brought down to the dust. He will deliver us from persecutors who are too strong for us. He will bring us out of literal or figurative prisons. And when he delivers us, we must give thanks to his name. Then the righteous will surround us and God will deal bountifully with us.

No one loves to live through trials. Nothing makes us long so much for Christ’s return as a difficult and chronic struggle. God will deliver us from all our trouble when he takes us home to glory or when Christ returns in glory. But in this psalm David confesses, under inspiration of the Spirit, that God is our refuge while we live. He is our place of safety.

Every person, not matter how close we are to them or how godly they seem, will disappoint us and hurt us. We can’t completely depend on another person or place our hope in someone else. Our hope must be only in God. Through our struggles, God continually teaches us to become more and more dependent upon him, not another person or our own abilities—only God.

May God deliver you from your persecutors, may he bring you out of prison, and may the righteous surround you with God’s love. Then you will be able to see and feel and say, “The Lord has dealt bountifully with me!”