PSALM 57 OVERVIEW
Title. To the Chief Musician. So glad a song as this becomes ere it closes, should be in the keeping of the most skilled of all the temple minstrels. Altaschith, i.e., DESTROY NOT. This petition is a very sententious prayer, as full as it is brief, and well worthy to be the motto for a sacred song. David had said, "destroy not," in reference to Saul, when he had him in his power, and now he takes pleasure in employing the same words in supplication to God. We may infer from the spirit of the Lord's prayer, that the Lord will spare us as we spare our foes. There are four of these "Destroy not" Psalms, namely, the 57th, 58th, 59th, and 75th. In all of them there is a distinct declaration of the destruction of the wicked and the preservation of the righteous, and they all have probably a reference to the overthrow of the Jews, on account of their persecution of the great Son of David: they will endure heavy chastisement, but concerning them it is written in the divine decree, "Destroy them not." Michtam of David. For quality this Psalm is called golden, or a secret, and it well deserves the name. We may read the words and yet not know the secret joy of David, which he has locked up in his golden casket. When he fled from Saul in the cave. This is a song from the bowels of the earth, and, like Jonah's prayer from the bottom of the sea, it has a taste of the place. The poet is in the shadow of the cave at first, but he comes to the cavern's mouth at last, and sings in the sweet fresh air, with his eye on the heavens, watching joyously the clouds floating therein.
Verse 1. Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me. Urgent need suggests the repetition of the cry, for thus intense urgency of desire is expressed. If `he gives twice who gives quickly,' so he who would receive quickly must ask twice. For mercy the psalmist pleads at first, and he feels he cannot improve upon his plea, and therefore returns to it. God is the God of mercy, and the Father of mercies, it is most fit therefore that in distress he should seek mercy from him in whom it dwells.
For my soul trusteth in thee. Faith urges her suit right well. How can the Lord be unmerciful to a trustful soul? Our faith does not deserve mercy, but it always wins it from the sovereign grace of God when it is sincere, as in this case where the soul of the man believed. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness."
Yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge. Not in the cave alone would he hide, but in the cleft of the Rock of ages. As the little birds find ample shelter beneath the parental wing, even so would the fugitive place himself beneath the secure protection of the divine power. The emblem is delightfully familiar and suggestive. May we all experimentally know its meaning. When we cannot see the sunshine of God's face, it is blessed to cower down beneath the shadow of his wings.
Until these calamities be overpast. Evil will pass away, and the eternal wings will abide over us till then. Blessed be God, our calamities are matters of time, but our safety is a matter of eternity. When we are under the divine shadow, the passing over of trouble cannot harm us; the hawk flies across the sky, but this is no evil to the chicks when they are safely nestling beneath the hen.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. This Psalm was composed, as the title notes, by David prayer wise, when he hid himself from Saul in the cave, and is inscribed with a double title, Altaschith, Michtam of David. Altaschith refers to the scope, and Michtam to the dignity of the subject matter. The former signifies destroy not, or, let there be no slaughter; and may either refer to Saul, concerning whom he gave charge to his servants not to destroy him; or rather it hath reference to God, to whom in this great exigence he poured out his soul in this pathetic ejaculation; Altaschith, destroy not. The latter title, Michtam, signifies a golden ornament, and so is suited to the choice and excellent matter of the Psalm, which much more deserves such a title than Pythagoras' golden verses did. John Flavel (1627-1692), in "Divine Conduct, or the Mystery of Providence."
Title. A Psalm composed when David fled from Saul in the cave, which is referred to in Psalm 143, and which, because it is without any other distinction called "the cave," is probably that celebrated cave where David with his six hundred followers lay concealed when Saul entered and David cut off the skirt of his robe. The king, accompanied by three thousand followers, chased him to the loftiest alpine heights -- "to the sheepcotes," where the cattle were driven in the hottest summer months only -- to hunt him in every hiding place. There was a cave, in the darkened cool of which David and his men were hid. Such caves in Palestine and the East are frequently enlarged by human hands, and so capacious that they accommodate thousands of people. This song of complaint was written during the hours of suspense which David spent there, to wait until the calamity was overpast ( Psalms 57:2 ); in which he only gradually gains a stout heart ( Psalms 57:8 ). His life was really suspended by a hair, if Saul or any of his attendants had espied him! Agustus F. Tholuck.
Title. The cave. There appear good grounds for the local tradition which fixes the cave on the borders of the Dead Sea, although there is no certainty with regard to the particular cave pointed out. The cave so designated is at a point to which David was far more likely to summon his parents, whom he intended to take from Bethlehem in to Moab, than to any place in the western plains... It is an immense natural cavern, the mouth of which can be approached only on foot along the side of the cliff. Irby and Mangles, who visited it without being aware that it was the reputed Cave of Adullam, state that it "runs in by a long, winding, narrow passage, with small chambers or cavities on either side. We soon came to a large chamber with natural arches of great height; from this last there were numerous passages, leading in all directions, occasionally joined by others at right angles, and forming a perfect labyrinth, which our guides assured us had never been perfectly explored -- the people being afraid of losing themselves. The passages are generally four feet high by three feet wide, and were all on a level with each other." ... It seems probable that David as a native of Bethlehem, must have been well acquainted with this remarkable spot, and had probably often availed himself of its shelter, when out with his father's flocks. It would, therefore, naturally occur to him as a place of refuge when he fled from Gath. John Kitto (1804-1854), in "A Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature."
Whole Psalm. Mystically this hymn may be construed of Christ, who was in the days of his flesh assaulted by the tyranny both of spiritual and temporal enemies. His temporal enemies, Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and people of Israel, furiously raged and took counsel together against him. The chief priests and princes were, saith Hierome, like lions, and the people like the whelps of lions, all of them in a readiness to devour his soul. The rulers laid a net for his feet in their captious interrogatories, asking (Mt 22:17), "Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?" and ( John 8:5 ) whether the woman taken in the very act of adultery should be stoned to death or no. The people were "set on fire," when as they raged against him, and their teeth and tongues were spears and swords in crying, "Crucify him, crucify him." His spiritual enemies also sought to swallow him up; his soul was among lions all the days of his life, at the hour of his death especially. The devil in tempting and troubling him, had laid a snare for his feet; and death, in digging a pit for him, had thought to devour him. As David was in death, so Christ the Son of David was in the grave. John Boys, 1571-1625.
Verse 1. Be merciful unto me, O God, etc. This excellent Psalm was composed by David when there was enough to discompose the best man in the world. The repetition notes both the extremity of the danger, and the ardency of the supplicant. Mercy! Mercy! Nothing but mercy, and that exerting itself in any extraordinary way, can now save him from ruin. The arguments he pleads for obtaining mercy in this distress are very considerable.
- He pleads his reliance upon God as an argument to move mercy. My soul trusteth in thee, etc. This his trust and dependence upon God, though it be not argumentative in respect of the dignity of the act; yet it is so in respect both of the nature of the object, a compassionate God who will not expose any that take shelter under his wings, and in respect of the promise, whereby protection is assured to them that fly to him for sanctuary. Isaiah 26:3 .
- He pleads former experiences of his help in past distresses, as an argument encouraging hope under the present strait ( Psalms 57:2 ). John Flavel.
Verse 1. Be merciful unto me. According to the weight of the burden that grieveth us, is the cry that comes from us. How do poor condemned prisoners cry to their judges, "Have pity upon us, have pity upon us!" David, in the day of his calamities doubles his prayer for mercy: Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee, etc., Until these calamities be overpast. It was not a single calamity, but a multitude of calamities which compassed David, and therefore he compasseth the Lord about with petitions. His spirit being up in prayer, like a bell that rings out, he strikes on both sides, Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me. Joseph Caryl.
Verse 1. Be merciful unto me. The first clause contains the prayer itself in a very forcible word ygnx, properly, "Show thy most tender affection to me," such as animals, with a humming sound, show to their young. Hermann Venema.
Verse 1. For my soul trusteth in thee. The best reason with God, who "taketh pleasure in those that hope in his mercy." Psalms 147:11 . Poole's Synopsis.
Verse 1. Soul. His soul trusted in God; and this is a form of expression the force of which is not to be overlooked; for it implies that the trust which he exercised proceeded from his very innermost affection -- that it was of no volatile character, but deeply and strongly rooted. He declares the same truth in figurative terms, when he adds his persuasion that God would cover him with the shadow of his wings. John Calvin.
Verse 1. In the shadow of thy wings I will trust; properly, I will seek for protection. The very delightful figure here employed, is taken from the chicken lying safely hid under the mother's wings; at the same time it seems to have reference to the wings of the cherubim, by which the mercyseat was covered. Simon de Muis, 1587-1644.
Verse 1. The shadow of thy wings. Compare Psalms 17:8 61:4; and Matthew 23:37 ; and the Apocalyptic imagery, describing the church fleeing from the dragon in the wilderness; and "to her are given the two wings of the great eagle," and she is delivered from the dragon, who desires to swallow her up. See Revelation 12:6 Revelation 12:15-16 . Christopher Wordsworth, 1868.
Verse 1. Until these calamities be overpast. He compares his afflictions and calamity to a storm that cometh and goeth; as it is not always fair weather with us in this life, so not always foul. Athanasius said of Julian furiously raging against the Lord's Anointed, "Nubecula est, cito transibit," he is a little cloud; he will soon pass away. Man is born to labour and dolour, to travail and trouble; to labour in his actions, to dolour in his passions; and so, "Great are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of all." If we put our trust in him and cast all our care upon him, he will in his good time bring it to pass, that all our afflictions shall overpass. He will either take them from us or us from them, and then we shall assuredly know that the troubles of this life present are not worthy of the glory which in the life to come shall be showed unto us. For as the globe of the earth, which improperly for his show of bigness we term the world, and is, after the mathematician's account, many thousand miles in compass; yet, being compared unto the greatness of the starry sky's circumference, is but a centre or little prick: so the travail and affliction of this life temporal, in respect of the joys eternal in the world to come, bear not any proportion, but are to be reputed in comparison a very nothing, as a dark cloud that cometh and goeth in a moment. John Boys.
Verse 1-3. In the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast, etc. As if he had said, Lord, I am already in the cave and in the holds, and in the shadow of it, but yet for all that I think not myself safe indeed, till I have made my refuge in the shadow of thy wings: that is therefore the course I resolve and build upon. It was wisely done of him: and mark what course he takes to do it, Psalms 57:2 , I will cry unto God most high, I will by prayer put myself under the shadow of God's wings: and mark what success should follow, Psalms 57:3 , He shall send from heaven, and save me from the reproach of him that would swallow me up. God shall send forth his mercy and his truth. When we send prayers up to heaven, God will send help down from heaven. But yet David prays to God, as well as trusts in God. And unless we pray as well as trust, our trust will fail us, for we must trust to God for that we pray for. Jeremiah Dyke, 1620.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. (first clause). Repetition in prayer.
- Its dangers. May degenerate into "vain repetitions." Carried to excess painfully suggests the idea, God is unwilling.
- Its uses. Eases the soul like tears. Manifests intense emotion. Enables those of less mental activity to join in the general supplication. R. A. Griffin.
Verse 1. Here are --
- Sin, greatest of all.
- Curse of a broken law.
- Here is a refuge from these calamities.
- In God.
- Specially in the mercy of God.
- There is flying to that refuge.
- By faith; My soul trusteth in thee; Under the shadow, etc.
- By prayer; "Be," etc.
- Here is continuance both in faith and prayer;
until, etc. G. R.
Verse 1,4,6-7. Note the varying condition of the same heart, at the same time. My soul trusteth in thee... My soul is among lions... My soul is bowed down... My heart is fixed.
WORKS WRITTEN ABOUT THE FIFTY-SEVENTH PSALM IN SPURGEON'S DAY
The Works of JOHN BOYS, D.D., "Deane of Canterburie," 1629, folio, pp. 834-40, contains an Exposition of Psalm 57.
In CHANDLER'S "Life of David," Vol. 1., pp. 176-9, there is an Exposition of this Psalm.