Christ's footprints mark this messianic Psalm from beginning to end. David, the author, recorded his own feelings, prayers and expectations through a time of great distress for the Lord's sake (v.7). Under the Spirit's influence, David incorporated phrases into the poetic text which would find literal fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ (Mk 12.36; Acts 1.16-20; 2 Pet 1.21). Thus, David was not just a model of a godly man suffering out of his zeal for God (v.9), but also an Old Testament foreshadowing of our Saviour's experiences. Though every detail cannot be applied to the Lord Jesus - for example, David confessed personal folly and sin (v.5) - even the imprecatory component (which was contrary to the character and conduct of Christ, who prayed for His enemies, Lk 23.34) found fulfilment in Judas' death (v.25; Acts 1.20), in Jerusalem's destruction in AD 70 (v.25), and in the judicial blindness that has fallen on that nation because of their rejection of Messiah (vv.22-23; Rom.11.9-10). Ultimately, it is God's beloved Son who will answer these prayers for vengeance on the ungodly, because He has been entrusted with all judgment (Jn 5.22). Following the general pattern of other Old Testament prophecies which predicted "the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow" (1 Pet 1.11), this Psalm moves from suffering to glory and from crying out for deliverance (vv.1-22) to a song of praise (vv.29-36). It begins with the hatred of the ungodly (v.4) and ends with those who love God's name (v.36). It opens with one godly man praying for God's salvation (v.1) and climaxes with God saving Zion (a poetic description of Jerusalem, v.35).
Crying for help (vv.1-22)
The reader is plunged immediately into deep suffering comparable in its severity to drowning at sea or helplessly sinking in quicksand (vv.1,2,14,15). With his life on the line, David cried out, "Save me, O God" (v.1). And he continued to cry till his body was wearied and his throat parched (v.3). He kept looking out for God's salvation till his eyes failed him (v.3), for "the more death was in his view the more life was in his prayers".1
David's affliction came from a number of sources. First, "They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head" (vv.4,14). His powerful enemies were bent on his destruction. They plotted to poison him (v.21), and through false accusations wrongfully demanded the restitution of things he had never taken (v.4). David, as with many of God's servants, when confronted with causeless hostility found some solace in God's knowledge of his enemies (v.19). The Lord Jesus was a prime example of a good man subjected to this world's hatred and persecution (Jn 15.18,20,25). Though innocent, Israel treated Him as guilty. And in His cross He restored what He "took not away" (v.4); for He [gave] back to the injured honour of God, recompense, and to man his lost happiness.2 Roman soldiers inadvertently contributed to fulfilling the prophetic element of this Psalm when, in mockery, they offered the Lord Jesus vinegar to drink (v.21; Lk 23.36; Jn 19.29).
Second, David's zeal for God provoked widespread ridicule (v.9). All levels of society, from them "that sit in the gate" to "the drunkards", scorned his spiritual devotions (vv.10-12). "He was the talk of the town."3 And although David valued the Lord's knowledge of his reproach, he still found it heart-breaking and discouraging (vv.19-20). David longed to build a house for God (2 Sam 7.2), and although forbidden from doing so because of his military engagements, yet he eagerly collected materials for it before his death (1 Chr 22.5-8). When our Lord Jesus Christ, in righteous anger, irresistibly cleansed God's desecrated temple He displayed in full measure this statement: "the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up" (v.9; Jn 2.13-17). He, too, felt men's hatred of God being vented on Him: "the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me" (v.9; Rom 15.3). Let us take heart when slandered for Christ's sake; the Master has trodden this road before us, and "though we may be jeered for well doing, we must never be jeered out of it".4 Let us also challenge ourselves. How zealous are we for the local assembly, which is "the house of God" (1 Tim 3.15)?
Third, David suffered from isolation. His family rejected him (v.8), and when he looked for pity, no comforters were forthcoming (v.20). Initially, Christ's half-brothers did not believe on Him (Jn 7.5), nor did the Jewish nation as a whole (Jn 1.11). Even the Saviour's disciples forsook Him and fled (Mt 26.56; Jn 16.32). It is true that "the failure of our friends is often harder to bear than the fury of our foes".5
Fourth, David's troubles were compounded by recollections of his own failures (v.5). His agonising ordeal triggered memories of past foolishness and sin, which he truly regretted. And yet, with typical selflessness, knowing that his failures might discourage other saints, David prayed, "Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake" (v.6).
Out of the depths of his suffering David kept praying for deliverance: "Save me" (v.1); "hear me speedily" (vv.13,16,17); "Deliver me" (vv.14,18); "turn unto me" (v.16); "hide not thy face from thy servant" (v.17); "Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it" (v.18). He pleaded God's mercy and truth (v.13), lovingkindness and tender mercies (v.16). May every Christian remember that it is always an acceptable time to pray, and follow David's example and the exhortation of the Lord Jesus: "Watch and pray" (Mt 26.41). David's language depicts suffering so intense that it possibly prefigured the awful storm our Redeemer endured on the cross, when, in the words of Jonah, "all thy billows and thy waves passed over me" (Jonah 2.3).
Praying for vengeance (vv.23-28)
New Testament believers may, at first glance, be disturbed by reading about godly David praying for his enemies to be snared in their prosperity (v.22), to be judicially blinded and consumed with terror (v.23). He asked God to "pour out [His] indignation upon them" (v.24), to make their homes desolate (v.25), to spiritually harden them that they might sin more and more (v.27), and thus be irreversibly severed from all hope of God's blessing (v.28). However, David lived under Mosaic Law, which unashamedly meted out the death penalty - e.g. adulterers (Lev 20.10); blasphemers (Lev 24.11-23); idolaters (Deut 13); rebellious sons (Deut 21.18-21) - and this at a time when God's enemies often faced total annihilation (Deut 7.1-2). The Lord Jesus taught His disciples to "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Mt 5.44). The Christian believer is exhorted, "Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath" (Rom 12.19). Bear in mind, however, that the final outcome of praying such things as, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Mt 6.10), and "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Rev 22.20) is God's judgment on the ungodly. Furthermore, the same Lamb of God who brings salvation (Jn 1.29) will unleash God's full wrath on this planet (Rev 6.1). He is the King of kings who will destroy all adversaries at His coming (Rev 19.11-21). He is the judge who will condemn men to eternal punishment (Rev 20.11-15).
Singing praise (vv.29-36)
David's tone suddenly changed. His despondency and prayers for vengeance gave place to a firm expectation of salvation. And this led to wholehearted praise, which in every dispensation means more to God's heart than any number of animal sacrifices (vv.30,31; Mk 12.33). David trusted that his deliverance would encourage others, especially the humble and poor (vv.32,33), for whom God graciously provided in His Law (Lev 19.9-10; Deut 15.7-11; 24.14-15). David's spirits continued to lift. His outlook expanded. He anticipated a day when God will be universally adored, when "God will save Zion" (v.35) and Israel will dwell safely in rebuilt cities. All this will be gloriously accomplished when our Lord Jesus Christ returns in triumph as Israel's Messiah, "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth" (Zech 14.9). Maranatha.
1 Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible.
2 Spurgeon C H; The Treasury of David.
3 Leupold H C; Exposition of Psalms.
4 Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible.
5 Clarke A C; Analytical Studies in the Psalms.