George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 2

Psalm 57

1. Structure

Verses 1-6 are appropriate enough to the historical title. But not so the rest of the psalm (vv. 7-11). However, these latter verses occur also in 108:1-5, a triumph psalm after a different crisis (as 108:6-13 = 60:5-12 makes clear). So it seems probable that the short psalm (vv. 1-6) describing David in a tight corner was later combined with another short psalm (vv. 7-11) in memory of another deliverance (see on Psalm 60 about this).

2. Titles

Michtam (as in Psalms 16, 56, 58, 59, and 60) is usually taken to mean “Engraven”, perhaps with the idea of a lasting memory.
When he fled from Saul in the cave. A specific allusion to 1 Samuel 24. These words imply that David’s distressing crisis was the pursuit organized by Saul, and that it was as a desperate last resort that the hunted hero took refuge in the cave of En-gedi (cp. Heb. 11:38). The ensuing opportunity to slay Saul when the king came unsuspecting into the cave must have presented a powerful temptation and an intense psychological crisis. This consideration makes David’s honorable behavior in sparing Saul’s life more than ever a thing to be marveled at. Yet, crisis over, “David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt” (1 Sam. 24:5).
Al-taschith (subscription) = “Destroy not”, with reference not only to David’s determination that Saul not be slain, but also as a prayer, with reference to the critical situation which came near to destroying David (vv. 2-4,6). See Psalm 56, Par. 2.

3. Historical exposition

For my soul trusteth in thee. Few Old Testament worthies showed their abiding faith in God as did David; yet there were times when even he wilted.

In the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge. This is an allusion probably to the cherubim (Psa. 17:8; 36:7; 61:4; 63:7; 91:1; cp. also Deut. 32:10,11 and Ruth 2:12). Though he was hiding in a dark and outwardly forbidding cave, David’s faith kept him as close to his God as if he were in the Holy of Holies of the sanctuary.

Calamities is, literally, “wickednesses”. So 1 Sam. 24:13: “Wickedness (not s.w.) proceedeth from the wicked.”
Him that would swallow me up. In Psa. 56:1 the danger was from the Philistine warriors of Achish, king of Gath. Here, the danger is from Saul and his men.

Selah (see Introduction, Chapter 7) might suggest the rock of the cave where he had taken refuge, or the sacrifices gladly offered at God’s altar-rock in thankfulness in later days.

God shall send forth his mercy and his truth. As in v. 10 also. The phrase regularly means God’s promises (e.g. 89:14,24; Mic. 7:20; Gen. 24:27; 2 Sam. 7:15). Here it alludes either to 1 Sam. 16:13 or (if inserted in later days) to 2 Sam. 7.
My soul is among lions. A figure suitable to the wild wilderness where David now was.

I lie even among them that are set on fire. Had Saul’s men been setting fire to the scrub bushes in an attempt to smoke out David and his men?

Spears... arrows... a sharp sword. The words tell their own story.

Arrows: Psa. 120:4; Jer. 9:8.

Their tongue a sharp sword. James 3:6. Consider 1 Sam. 24:9, where David asks Saul: “Wherefore hearest thou men’s (evil) words?” Also see Psa. 55:21.
From this point the tone of the psalm is different. David has come through, and now thankfully praises God.

Be thy glory above all the Land. The Land over which David now, in later days, is king.
The verbs look back to the earlier, evil, time: they have prepared a net... my soul was bowed down... they have digged a pit.

Selah. In his thankfulness, David offers sacrifice.
Awake up, my glory. That is, my tongue (Psa. 16:9). David’s (and any other man’s) chief glory is to glorify God. “A well-employed tongue for praising God, and edifying others, is indeed a man’s commendation and glory above other creatures” (Dickson). See Psa. 30:12, note.

Awake, psaltery and harp. Not at all suitable to the environment described in vv. 1-4. But David is now, after his trials, settled in his capital.

I myself will awake early. “I will awake the dawn” (RSV, NIV, Delitzsch). ‘The dawn awakes other kings,’ says David, ‘but I awake the dawn!’ Here is unwearied earnestness in the service of God: Psa. 63:1; 78:34.
The people. That is, am, ‘my people Israel’.

The nations, who have now (as of 2 Sam. 8) come to acknowledge David as God’s king in Zion.
For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth unto the clouds. God’s promises (cp. note, v. 3) are the greatest thing in the world (cp. also Psa. 36:5; 85:10,11; 103:11).

4. Messianic reference

Corresponding to the cave is the rock-hewn tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and the counterpart to Saul the hunter is Sh’ol (Sheol) the grave (in unpointed Hebrew the two words are identical).

In the shadow of thy wings. By a slight reversal of this familiar figure, Jesus becomes the mother hen under the shadow of whose wings Israel may find refuge: Matt. 23:37.

Until these calamities be overpast is Passover language (Isa. 26:20,21; Exod. 12:22). The garden tomb, sprinkled with the blood of the true Passover lamb, and overshadowed by angels, was the counterpart of the dwellings of the Israelites in Egypt. The one who was inside (though already dead!) was nevertheless safe under the sheltering arms of the Almighty.
I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me. He shall send from heaven, and save me from the reproach of him that would swallow me up. Selah. God shall send forth his mercy and his truth. As David was not prepared to work out his own salvation, by slaying Saul, so here Christ puts the emphasis on God’s saving power. He, too, was justified by faith (v. 1: my soul trusteth in thee), and most of all in his hour of extreme need.
Save me from the reproach of him that would swallow me up. The revilings directed toward Jesus on the cross: Matt. 27:39-44.

God shall send forth his mercy and his truth. The suffering of Christ was to be the means of the fulfillment of the declared purposes of God.
My soul is among lions. The “lions” of the tribe of Judah: Psa. 22:12,13; cp. Prov. 28:15.

Whose teeth are spears, and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword. Luke 22:52. Eph. 6:13,16,17 uses, in a contrasting vein, the very words of the LXX here.
Let thy glory be above all the earth. At the crucifixion, while the whole land shuddered under an unnatural darkness, for Jesus there was the sustaining brightness of the Shekinah Glory (Whittaker, Studies in the Gospels, pp. 780-783).
They have prepared a net for my steps. As in Psa. 56:6, the numerous attempts to entrap and/or arrest Jesus (cp. also Job 18:8; Psa. 9:15; 31:4; 140:5; Prov. 1:17).

They have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves. The destruction of city, temple, and nation followed on inevitably from the crucifixion of Jesus. See Psa. 7:15, notes.
As David came to the throne and to victory over his enemies, both Jewish and Gentile, so also Jesus will do in his coming again in power.
I myself will awake early. (1) “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day” (Mark 1:35)? Or (2) “As it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1)?

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