Calvary Road Baptist Church

“IN THE SHADOW OF THY WINGS”

Psalm 57

 

David, who would become king over Judah and the rest of Israel following the death of King Saul, has already been anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king.[1] As well, he has already faced the giant Goliath and defeated him in a fight to the death.[2] By this stage of his life he is a heroic figure among his people, has married the king’s daughter Michal, has provoked the jealousy of King Saul, has escaped attempts to take his life, and is now a fugitive with a band of men hiding in the wilderness to escape Saul’s soldiers. David is a very important figure in the Word of God, who is in some places shown to prefigure the Lord Jesus Christ who would be born a thousand years later, in that he is both an anointed king to be and a prophet. However, in other respects David is shown to be a child of God who experiences the highs and the lows, the victories and the defeats, the achievements and the disappointments, the loyalties and the betrayals, that are the lot in life of each person who has been justified by faith and who then experiences all the difficulties that God in His wisdom has set before each of His children.

In our text for today, which is the 57th Psalm, we see David the believer, the child of God, the man of both prayer and praise. When you have found the 57th Psalm, please stand for the reading of God’s Word:

 

1      <> Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.

2      I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me.

3      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.

4      My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.

5      Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; let thy glory be above all the earth.

6      They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down: they have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves. Selah.

7      My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.

8      Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.

9      I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations.

10    For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth unto the clouds.

11    Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: let thy glory be above all the earth.

 

This is a poem in which David’s supreme confidence in the Lord is expressed in the midst of terribly discouraging circumstances. Though he finds himself hiding from King Saul, David knows that his real refuge is not in the walls of some cave, but in the shadow of God’s wings. The psalm is divided into two parts, a prayer in which David pleads for God’s protection, verses 1-6, and David’s paean of praise, verses 7-11:

 

First, WE CONSIDER DAVID’S PLEA FOR GOD’S PROTECTION

 

Though there are elements in this Psalm that are clearly messianic foreshadows of the Lord Jesus Christ, allow me today to focus on setting before you a consideration of only those parts of David’s faith-inspired plea as a means of seeing his life as a believer and applying what he has written to your life:

 

Verse 1:  “Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.”

 

Three observations: First, “Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me.” This is David’s heart cry to God. Though he is God’s and God is his, he still pleads for mercy, recognizing that the entirety of his relationship with God is based upon grace, since it is entirely undeserved. Crying for mercy twice shows how desperately he wants what only God can provide him in his time of distress and danger. Most of us are very familiar with such episodes in our own lives. Next, David declares his faith in God: “for my soul trusteth in thee.” David’s relationship with God, as is anyone’s relationship with God who has a relationship with God, is a relationship that is both established and maintained by the instrumental means of faith. The Lord Jesus Christ once said, “Have faith in God.”[3] Thus has it ever been, and thus will it ever be. Your soul does not trust in God unless you have trusted in Christ, because it is by and through Jesus Christ that a person believes in God, First Peter 1.21. Third, “yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.” Using imagery that is first found in Ruth 2.12, David uses the metaphor of chicks who flee to their mother hen’s protection, being shielded from both birds of prey and inclement weather until the danger be past. It was this same imagery that our Lord Jesus Christ used as He approached Jerusalem during His triumphal entry, in Matthew 23.37:

 

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”

 

It is in the shadow of God’s wings that His children find both comfort and protection.

 

Verse 2:  “I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me.”

 

The title “God most high” first appears in Genesis 14.22 when Abram made reference to “the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth” after his encounter with the priest-king Melchizedek. Thus, David very consciously determines to pray in his time of difficulty and distress to the One who he knows is all-powerful and to the One who he knows must do what he cannot himself do to effect his deliverance. “God that performeth all things for me.”

 

Verse 3:  “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.”

 

This verse is rich with anticipation of fulfillment in Jesus Christ as God’s means of answering David’s prayer. Who did God send from heaven but Jesus Christ, the virgin born Son of God? Who saves from the reproach of him that would swallow up the believer, but Jesus Christ, our Lord? Who is the personification of mercy and truth sent forth by God, John 1.17? The Lord Jesus Christ. Granted, the Lord Jesus Christ suffered ignominy and reproach when He was crucified. Granted, God did save Him from reproach when He raised His beloved Son from the dead on the third day. Granted, this would provide a wonderful Easter Sunday text to preach from. However, for our purposes at present let us focus on the reality that the Lord Jesus Christ was sent by God as the answer to David’s prayer. Of this answer to prayer, though it came a thousand years later, David had no doubt whatsoever.

 

Verse 4:  “My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.”

 

Though David is here putting voice to his dilemma of being sought by Saul’s soldiers bent on killing him, men whose ferocity was like lions, men who pursued him like a devouring flame, and men whose weapons were capable of inflicting mortal wounds, there is so much here that reminds us of those who seek to do us harm with words. Are not we who know Christ as our Savior oftentimes situated among predators at work and at home who seek our harm, even sometimes our own unsaved family members and unconverted spouses and children who so often work to bring us down or cruelly trap us in our fleshly inconsistencies? Is it not terrible to be married to someone, to be the child of someone, to be the sibling of someone, whose teeth are like spears and arrows that are let fly to wound you, and whose tongues are wielded like a sharp sword to emotionally cut and slash? Oh, how they love it when you are anything less than perfect, despite the fact that the very profession of being a Christian is an admission of sinfulness, First John 1.8 and 10. They love to point the finger at you and at your Christian friends and say, “Aha, aha.”[4] Let us not deny reality here. Let us not pretend that the child of God’s life is not fraught with unpleasantries and persecutions. Anyone who does not name the name of Christ is an avowed enemy of your Savior and Lord. And if they are determined enough to strike at Christ, they will also lash out at anyone who is Christ’s, even seeking your own harm. Let me remind you what the Savior said in John 15.20:

 

“Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.”

 

Verse 5:  “Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; let thy glory be above all the earth.”

 

What does David do when surrounded, when beset on every side, when his situation seems quite hopeless in human terms? Why, he turns to God, of course. His prayer begins, “Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me.” However, it continues here in verse 5. The phrase “be thou exalted, O God” literally means “exalt thyself, O God.”[5] This is what every believer should do when he feels surrounded, hounded, and under siege. It matters not whether we as individuals rise or fall, really. What truly matters is the exaltation of God and the display of His glory over all the earth. In ways we rarely understand when we are in the thick of it, God makes use of His children to reflect well on His divine person. He did so with Job. He did so with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. He did so with Ruth, and Esther, and Mary the mother of our Lord, and with Martha and her sister Mary. He did so with Jeremiah and Daniel. Why not also with you and me, by God’s grace? Why not turn our concern from ourselves to God’s glory in the midst of it all? Why not cry out to God for His glory, for His plan, for His purpose as we seek shelter under the refuge of His wings? Beloved, if you are not living your life so as to need to pray such prayers, if in your exhibition of Christian joy and meekness you do not from time to time meet with fierce opposition from the enemies of God and His Son, it may be you are doing something wrong, because all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution, Second Timothy 3.12. When such opposition comes, consider “Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; let thy glory be above all the earth” as a prayer that is very much worth praying.

 

Verse 6:  “They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down: they have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves. Selah.”

 

Back in the day hunters would use bows, arrows, and spears for fighting. For hunting they would often as not make use of nets and pits dug for larger animals to fall into. Here David likens his experiences to that of an animal being hunted, who must be on the lookout for nets and pits. Two observations about the peril David, and we, find ourselves in: First, “my soul is bowed down.” It becomes discouraging to be surrounded by people who want to trap you in your words, who are always looking for something in your life they can point the finger at, or who are just waiting for the opportunity to make an accusation about a Christian friend or about your church. Second, “into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves.” Amazing, is it not, that those who would accuse you of being unloving are unloving themselves, that those who accuse you of being judgmental are so profoundly judgmental themselves, and those who are so incredibly intolerant of you and your Christian friends accuse you of being intolerant? It is of no comfort to my soul, just as it was no comfort to David’s soul, to reflect on these hypocrisies. Therefore, when your soul is bowed down by their fiendishness while they at the same time are doing worse and will end up trapped in the same devices they build to trap others, cry out to God and then take a moment. Pause. Reflect. That is what David means when he writes these two times the word Selah.

 

Next, WE CONSIDER DAVID’S PAEAN OF PRAISE

 

Verse 7:  “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.”

 

Remember David’s predicament. He is being chased. He is in hiding. His situation seems hopeless. Therefore, as an act of faith he cries out to God for mercy, seeks refuge under the shadow of God’s wings, acknowledges that it falls to God to perform on his behalf, acknowledges that God’s answer to his prayer is forthcoming, all while clearly taking stock of his terrible circumstance. His soul is truly bowed, his adversaries are in reality in just as bad a situation as he is, yet without his consolation in God. So, he pauses in his praying. Now what is he to do? Now that he has taken stock of his situation and theirs, has cried out to God in faith believing, what does he do now? When your situation seems utterly hopeless, and you cry out to God as you seek refuge in the shadow of His wings, what do you do next? Ah, this is the time for verse 7:

 

“My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.”

 

Has David’s situation changed? Are his circumstances altered? Not in the least. Yet he has gone from a spiritually defensive posture to a spiritually offensive posture. He declares to God (this is not prayer, mind you, which is asking) that his heart is fixed. Just as he pleaded for mercy twice he now declares his heart is fixed twice. Therefore, with a heart that is fixed, despite circumstances to the contrary, he determines, “I will sing and give praise.” Who does this remind you of? This reminds me of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail house.[6] This also reminds me of Adoniram Judson who once became so discouraged that he hid in the jungle for six weeks until his friend brought him a letter telling of the conversion of his brother. That letter was just enough from the hand of the Lord that he fixed his heart despite terrible circumstances and determined, “I will sing and give praise.” His life was never the same after that. That is precisely what you and I should do. Fix your heart and determine to sing and give praise to God no matter what! Amen?

 

Verse 8:  “Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.”

 

The words “my glory” may be David’s reference to his own soul, that which bears the image and likeness of God. He is rousing himself from spiritual lethargy, don’t you see, and removing from himself any consideration of victim status. He knows God is in control of all things and that his present predicament is the result of a divine appointment. His situation is of God’s design. Therefore, he rouses himself for psaltery and harp, which is to say to recite the Psalms and to sing the songs. Yet he finds that it is still in the darkness of night. As is so often the case, we find these times of fearful prayer to God taking place in the middle of the night when everyone else is fast asleep, while we are experiencing terror and feeling all alone. Yet we are not alone. We trust God. So David sets an example we should follow. He decides not to wait for the sun to rise in the morning: “I myself will awake early.” This phrase literally means “I will awake the dawn.”[7] Thus, David, raising himself above the level of brute animals, brings to bear his musical ability as a lyrist and as a singer, and shows he is not limited to the schedule of nature to worship and praise his God. He does not wait for the sun to wake him up, but in poetic fashion decides to wake up the sun.

 

Verse 9:  “I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations.”

 

Here we see David’s declaration of purpose and also his determination of place: First, he writes “I will praise thee, O Lord.” The question, of course, is what is meant by this phrase “I will praise thee, O Lord.” Different Hebrew words are translated by our English word praise. This Hebrew word has the flavor of giving thanks.[8] So, what is David thanking God for in light of the fact that his situation is dangerous and his prayer has not yet been answered? He thanks God for who He is. He thanks God for comfort in affliction. He thanks God in advance for answering a prayer that has not yet been answered. Perhaps, most important of all, he thanks God for being his God and for him being God’s child. Being a psalmist, it is no surprise that he does this by singing. He has purposed to praise the Lord, which is to say to thank Him. Notice now the places where David will utter his praise of thanks to God: “among the people” and “among the nations.” The people, of course, is a specific reference to the children of Israel, the Jewish people, those in covenant relationship with God. The nations refers to everyone else, the various ethnic groups, the Gentiles. In other words, David has no design to limit his praise and thanks to God to his bedroom, to his closet, to his bathroom, or to his basement. Or to the company of his fellow believing friends, for that matter. No. He plans on telling both the people of God and the unbelievers of this world that his God reigns.

 

Verse 10:  “For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth unto the clouds.”

 

Notice David’s poetic expressions of God’s boundless mercy and inexhaustible truth. It reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s comment in Ephesians 3.20:

 

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”

 

Do you have such expansive thoughts about God? Do you have those expansive thoughts about God even when you are in a narrow place, when you are beset by bad circumstances and wicked adversaries? Imagine yourself in the living room with an unsaved husband squabbling with an unsaved kid, and both of them trying to get you to side with them. What do you do? Praise God and rejoice in His great power and protection of His own. Be thankful that even then you can hide under the shadow of His wings. In order to do what David did, to seek refuge under the shadow of God’s wings, to cry out to God for mercy, to then determine to praise and thank God before your prayers are answered, you must cultivate such thoughts as these about your great and glorious God, the One who presides over mere circumstances even when circumstances are bad.

 

Verse 11:  “Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: let thy glory be above all the earth.”

 

With this verse, which only differs in one letter from verse 6, David returns to the language of prayer.[9] Thus concludes five verses in which words are used to convey the fullness of delight and the confidence of a delivered soul, which owes everything to God.[10] Notice that I said a delivered soul. Yet David’s circumstances as yet remain unchanged, while his soul has been set free from worry, from fretting, and from anxiety, as he relocates his concern for his own welfare to God’s glory.

 

Don’t you feel sorry? Not sorry for David, mind you, the child of God who comes to experience great victory while in narrow circumstances while his circumstances remain narrow. Hounded and persecuted, his life literally hanging by a thread by all human reckoning, he has taken refuge under the shadow of God’s wings, cried out to God to do what only God can do, and then determines after praying that it is time to praise and give thanks. The ones to feel sorry for are those hunting David, those who sought to entrap him and do him harm, those who wrongly figured from circumstances that David was outnumbered, on the run, and about to go down. Little did they realize that David with God on his side meant David had a decisive advantage, and that it was they who would be caught by their own traps.

Perhaps you are an onlooker and you see these types of dramas. You observe a Christian hounded by an unsaved spouse, by an unsaved mother or father, by an unsaved brother or sister, or by an unsaved friend or coworker. Based upon this Psalm, please do not feel sorry for the Christian, who can cry out to God for mercy, who can flee to the safe refuge of the shadow of God’s wings, and who despite circumstances she has no control over can choose to praise and thank God in the midst of what appears to be a dark place and adverse circumstances. Life is hard. Since the Fall of Adam life has always been difficult, with sin taking its toll on every life. However, the child of God has a refuge to flee to, and the answer to David’s prayer that God would send from heaven? That answer arrived in the form of the virgin born Son of God, Jesus Christ the righteous, come to bear my sins on the cross of Calvary to pay my penalty by shedding His precious blood for the remission of all my sins.

Would David trade places with those who hounded him? Would he become the one who tried to trap others in exchange for better circumstances? Not in a million years. The same is true for the Christian who has trusted Jesus Christ. Blood bought and blood washed, we sometimes find ourselves beset on every side, with those you might think would be kind to us instead having teeth that are more like spears and arrows, and tongues that too much resemble a sharp sword. What we have that makes it all worthwhile is the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ, reconciliation with God through faith in Christ, eternal life by the miracle of the new birth wrought by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ, and so much more through faith in Christ. You see, Jesus Christ is the difference maker.

Whereas David’s faith was fixed upon God and the provision of Jesus Christ in answer to his prayer that would come a thousand years after he died, our faith is fixed upon God and the provision of Jesus Christ the answer to David’s prayer who has already come two thousand years ago. I urge you to exercise that same type of faith in Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven, so that you become a child of God, and so that you can flee to the refuge provided by God in the shadow of His wings.



[1] 1 Samuel 16.13

[2] 1 Samuel 17.50

[3] Mark 11.22

[4] Psalm 35.21; 40.15; 70.3

[5] A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book Of Psalms With Introduction And Notes, (Cambridge: The University Press, 1902), page 323.

[6] Acts 16.25

[7] Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury Of David, Volume I, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), page 483.

[8] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver & Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), page 392.

[9] C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT, Vol 5, (Peabody, MA: reprinted by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996), pages 397.

[10] J. Elder Cumming, The Psalms: Their Spiritual Teaching, Vol II, (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909), page 83.


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