Series: Psalms for the Summer
Peace in the Love of God
July 02, 2023 | Peter Rowan
Passage: Psalms 59:1-17
Psalm 59 continues on with the theme that we have been in through most of the 50s, namely David fleeing from Saul and finding refuge in God. The title of Psalm 59 tells us that it was written when Saul sent men to watch David's house to try to kill him! People are out for him. A whole group of people are out for him. And they are people that have the backing of the king. Some of us know this kind of experience, others of us may not know that exact kind of experience. Either way, what this Psalm tells us is that we can both cry out to God for help and that will sing to him because of his steadfast love for us. His steadfast love for us is so often seen in how he comes.
There’s a brilliant SNL skit with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake all about hashtags. Jimmy walks into the room where Justin is siting on a coach.
“Hey Justin, what’s up?”
“Not much, Jimmy, #chillin. What’s up with you.”
“Just busy working, #riseandgrind! #isitfridayyet?”
“Hey, I brought you some cookies. #homemade, #oatmealraisin, #showmethecookie!”
“Don’tmindifIdon’t. These are good. #gettinmycookieon, #I’mtherealcookiemonster,
I saw a t-shit the other day. A woman likely in her late 60 was wearing it. She was clearly a grandmother and she wanted the world to know it. It said this: Love them, spoil them, give them back and in a nod to Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, it ended with #gramdmalife.
I think it’s our temptation at times, to think of God the same way. We walk into a room and God is sitting there and he asks us what we are doing and we say, “Man just grinding and is it the weekend yet, because this life is hard” and God just says, “yo, here man, I made you these cookies. #whateveryouwant, #justwanttoseeyouhappy, #yourheavenlygrandfather. Or we want God to be this heavenly grandmother who “loves” us and the way God expresses that love to us is just by giving us whatever we want. #grandmalife.
Of course, there is a huge problem with that and that is this: that’s clearly not the way the world is and God clearly doesn’t do that.
Again, we are in the Psalms this summer and now for the fifth time in the 50s of the psalms we’ve heard David tells us what’s been going on that’s invited him to write a psalm.
(52) To the choirmaster. A Maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.”
(54) To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, “Is not David hiding among us?”
(56) To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.
(57) To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.
(59) To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him.
Not one of these psalms, in fact, not one of the psalms in the 50s gives you any reason to believe that God is the great cookie-giver or the grandchild-spoiler, mostly just there to make sure that you are happy and content.
David had been anointed by Samuel (God’s prophet) as the next king of Israel and for the most part it seems like things haven’t really been going his way. Doeg the Edomite came with King Saul’s blessing and killed the high priest Ahimelech and all of the other priests in the town of Nob.David had fled to area of the Ziphites and there we can read that David’s men did everything they could to help the Ziphites, but they still betrayed him to Saul, a situation a lot worse that your little brother betraying your hiding spot to your dad when you are playing hide and seek!
Then David is hiding in Philistia with his enemies and acts like he’s going mad and crazy in order to escape.
Then David is hiding in the Caves of Adullum.
And now finally we have a Psalm about the event when Saul sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him. This actually happens before the other events of the previous psalm, which leads some commentators to think David is just building up the events one after another to make a real point.
Listen to 1 Samuel 19 and the event that David is describing here:
11 Saul sent messengers to David’s house to watch him, that he might kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, told him, “If you do not escape with your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” 12 So Michal let David down through the window, and he fled away and escaped. 13 Michal took an image and laid it on the bed and put a pillow of goats’ hair at its head and covered it with the clothes. 14 And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” 15 Then Saul sent the messengers to see David, saying, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” 16 And when the messengers came in, behold, the image was in the bed, with the pillow of goats’ hair at its head. 17 Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me thus and let my enemy go, so that he has escaped?” And Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, ‘Let me go. Why should I kill you?’ ”
Here’s what I’m getting at: at least in these Psalms here what we have is a constant message that all around us things are not as they should be and yet God’s steadfast love remains.
Listen, Psalm 58 cried out for God to do something about the abuse of power that leaders so often exercise and it said loud and clear and in a way that made us fairly uncomfortable, “vengeance is mine says the Lord, and I will repay.”
Psalm 57 told us that we can still sing to our Lord about his salvation in the midst of the violence of this world because he hears our cries for mercy and his steadfast love will never end and his glory is above the heavens.
Psalm 56 told us that the Lord sees all of our tears and he doesn’t just see them but he keeps them in his bottle. None of them are lost on him.
Psalm 55 told us to cast our burdens on the Lord for he will sustain us.
54 told us God is our helper and he upholds our life when it feels it is falling apart.
53 told us that when God looks down on the earth he sees that none are seeking after him and yet his promise is that he will restore his people.
52 told us God will not let those who love to devour others with their words and their actions have the final say.
And Psalm 51 told us that we are accomplices in the sin and the brokenness and the violence of the world.
Why do I go in to all of this, recounting all of these psalms? Because there is no way that you can come to the Bible and really read it and leave with the idea that God is the great Cookie-Giver and Grandma-in-Heaven. Right? Abuse of power, violence, tears, burdens, life falling apart, no one seeking him, words that devour, everyone is at fault. And, it seems to me that David knew full well what he was doing when he put this event as the last in the 50s.
What do we have here in Psalm 59?
We have David crying out for Deliverance in verses 1 and 2. And then we have him describe his situation, “They lie in wait for my life” (v. 3) “they run and the make ready” (v. 4) “they plot evil” (v. 5). But what I really want you to see is that when we are surrounded by the evil of this world, when we are overcome with the brokenness of this life, when we find ourselves questions why in the world is sin allowed, God’s love isn’t absent. It’s not missing and nowhere to be found.
Look, look with me at the structure of this Psalm. Look with me first at fees 5-7 then at verses and 12-15:
Awake, come to meet me, and see!
5 You, Lord God of hosts, are God of Israel.
Rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah
6 Each evening they come back,
howling like dogs and prowling about the city.
7 There they are, bellowing with their mouths
with swords in their lips—
for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”
For the cursing and lies that they utter,
13 consume them in wrath;
consume them till they are no more,
that they may know that God rules over Jacob
to the ends of the earth. Selah
14 Each evening they come back,
howling like dogs
and prowling about the city.
15 They wander about for food
and growl if they do not get their fill.
I want you to feel this a little bit. David both times is crying out for God to do something. And the pause of “Selah” (which, again, we don’t exactly know what it means, but it probably means “peace” or “rest” or “pause”) is just a little pause before he gets back into how bad things are.
It’s like you and your siblings got into some crazy fight and your mom and dad sent you to your rooms for a time out and then immediately after they let you get out of your room your back at it again. Or, it’s like the fighting and the anger and the grudge-harboring in your marriage finally got so bad that you agreed to go to a counselor and then the next day you were right in the thick of things. Or, you’ve become so aware at how incredibly detrimental social media is to your sense of self and self-worth that you’ve called it quits with FaceBook and taken a break to only then get on Instagram and get all angry at the world and discontent with who God has made you to be and the place he has put you in and the people he has put you with.
The dogs just keep coming back! And they aren’t like our pet dogs!
(1852) The whole city rang with one vast riot. . . . The yelping, howling, barking, growling, and snarling were all merged into one uniform and continuous even sound, as the noise of frogs becomes when heard at a distance. For hours there was no lull. I went to sleep and woke again, and still, with my windows open, I heard the same tumult going on; nor was it until daybreak that anything like tranquility was restored.
The evil of this world, the sin-infected nature of our existence just seems to be everywhere and I know, I know, sometimes it feels like it is all too much. And one of the big big lessons of the Psalms is being taught right here. Thomas Merton says “There is (therefore) one fundamental religious experience which the Psalms can all teach us: the peace that come from submission to God’s will and from perfect confidence in HIm.”
And Merton and this Psalm (placing the Selah right in the midst of the crazy!) does not allow us to diminish all of the anguish, the torment, the turbulent, the war, the defiance, the mob, the violence, the questions, the sorrow and all of the rest of this life. But, in the midst of those things, we are invited again and again and again to surrender ourselves to the mysterious will of God and his lovingkindness to us.
And so this psalm ends :
16 But I will sing of your strength;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
and a refuge in the day of my distress.
17 O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love.
So many of you know and have wrestled with and I image continue to wrestle with what is known as the problem of Evil. I understand that wrestling.
How can a loving and all-powerful God allow the evil of this world. Don’t think for a moment that the Bible just turns a blind eye to all of the evil and certainly don’t think that God himself is blind to any of it. But I think we often mistake the idea of love in the problem of evil with the kindness.
Listen to how C. S. Lewis talks about this in his book The Problem of Pain:
[B]y Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness- the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven- a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. . . . I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.
Friends, brothers and sisters, here is what I am saying and that I believe David is saying: You may be tempted to come to God as the great Cookie-Giver or the great Grandma or Grandpa in Heaven, just thinking that his loving you means that he just wants you to have a good time, to be affirmed in whatever supposedly makes you happy. It’s very clear from the Psalms and from this psalm that that is not the world we live in and yet, what we have in the gospel is that God’s perfect will is still the best place for us and that his loving-kindness, his hesed love, will one day be shown for all of the glory that it is.
This is the story of Jesus. The mob surrounding him like dogs. Betrayal by his own people. Leaders out to get him. The religious folk fighting among themselves. But it was in submission to God’s will and perfect confidence in the love of the Father for him that he actually became the hope for us in the midst of the problem of Evil. It was in submission to the Father and the experience of evil on the cross that Jesus shows us real love. And when he hung there on the cross with the religious leaders having just plotted his death and Pilot still ruling over Judea and Caesar still on the throne in Rome, his followers would have questions the love of God and the faithfulness of God, and the goodness and kindness of God. And when Paul completed his letters to the churches he was often in prison and awaiting his death, and the Temple in Jerusalem still stood, and persecution of this little sect of Christians was beginning around the Roman world. If you had taken a poll at any of those times or maybe even today about the lovingkindness of God, or the success of the church or the promises of God, it may have looked pretty dim. But God was and is just getting started!
How do you have peace in the midst of the mess of this life? It’s not in some Grandma -in-Heaven, but it is because of the Loving kindeness of God. It is because of the Never-Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.
Every summer Peter and an occasional guest speaker take us through the Psalms. Of the Psalms Luther said " the Psalter is a book of all the saints, and everyone, whatever his situation may be, finds psalms and words in it that fit his situation and apply to his case so exactly that it seems they were put in this way only for his sake..."