Appreciating Psalm 54 is all about knowing what was happening when it was written. The notes for the psalm explain that it was written, “When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, ‘Is not David hiding among us?’”
So we have to read about David’s encounter with the Ziphites. This story is in the last part of I Samuel 23, but we can get an even better picture of what’s going on by reading the whole exciting chapter! I know, I know. You’re short on time. I’ll summarize it for you.
David at this point is with a group of about 600 men who have thrown in their lot with him. They are playing a deadly game of hide and seek with Saul and his army. And then David hears that the Philistines are raiding one of the Jewish border towns, Keilah,and stealing their grain.
David has such an awesome heart. He wants to take his band of men and rescue the people of Kielah. But his guys are like, “What? We’re quaking in our boots because Saul’s army is breathing down our necks, and you want to take on the whole Philistine army?” So David consults the Lord, twice, and the Lord assures him that he will totally win.
Thus they engage in a skirmish with the Philistines. David’s forces pound them and free the town of Kileah. Yay!
Of course, just as his men feared, this puts David on Saul’s radar. Saul’s rubbing his hands together with glee, thinking, “Ha! I have David in a walled in city now. Now I can finally get him!”
Saul sends his army in that direction. David realizes Saul is coming, and knows this will put the people of Kielah in a dicey situation. Will they stand with him, or give him over to their king? He asks the Lord, and the Lord lets him know it’s time to cut and run. So David and his men manage to slip away before Saul’s army arrives. They hightail it to the hill country of Ziph.
Foiled, Saul’s army keeps looking for David to no avail, because God is helping David out. But then the residents of Ziph betray David, and clue Saul in to David’s location. Armed with this new information, Saul closes in on David. He’s on one side of the mountain and David’s on the other. It seems like it’s all over. David will finally be captured. And then, just in the nick of time, Saul gets an urgent message that he has to go fight the Philistines. So he and his army exit the area. Whew!
Here’s the first half of the psalm David wrote when he was going through all of this:
Come with great power, O God, and rescue me!
Defend me with your might.
Listen to my prayer, O God.
Pay attention to my plea.
For strangers are attacking me;
violent people are trying to kill me.
They care nothing for God.
Can’t you just pictures the situation from what David says here? He’s like, “Please help me, God. And I’m going to need you to bring the big guns because I’m in this barren desert place, and it’s not just Saul and his army who are after me, now the local bad guys, who don’t even know me, are against me!”
Psalms 54 goes on:
Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.
Let evil recoil on those who slander me;
in your faithfulness destroy them.
I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you;
I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good.
You have delivered me from all my troubles,
and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes
Notice how proactive David believes God will be. God is the one who will help him, defend him, deliver him, sustain him, and destroy the enemy. Not once does David ask God for the ability to do these things himself. He believes God will do them.
In the end David says his eyes have looked in triumph on his foes. He could have been remembering past victories given by God. But I like to think David wrote this at the end of the present story. I envision his scouts coming and reporting, “We can’t figure it out, but Saul’s army is headed the other way. They’re leaving.”
David does a fist pump. “Yes! Praise God!” And he turns and shouts to the hills, as if the people of Ziph can hear him, “Hey, chumps. You thought you were going to mess with me, but you were messing with the Lord! You picked the wrong side!”
It’s fun to think about, but whatever happened, we know that David gave God the total glory. He attributed victory to the Lord, and exalted him.
So here are four things we can take away from this story and psalm:
Pray before taking action. When we’re making decisions about which way to go, we need to remember to first pray about it and ask God for guidance.
Be God reliant, not self reliant. David didn’t depend on his own wisdom or power. He put all his eggs in God’s basket. God was his resource for guidance. God was his strategy. God was his weapon. God was his solution.
Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me. . . (Jeremiah 9:23-24a)
Deliverance often comes when things seem at their worst. David wasn’t rescued until the 11th hour. It’s often the same for us. I was just thinking over my life, and remembering some of the most encouraging ways God acted. Some of the greatest things from God came on the heels of my greatest times of trial.
I have an illustration I want to share. Last year we had some tremendous blessings in our church, but there were also some challenging times. In the fall, several of our members who were dear friends and hard workers moved away or quit coming. And then another church started meeting at the same hotel where we had been meeting for the past eight years. We were happy to share our space. But this church took up the common areas, and played loud music that invaded our services. Loud bass was vibrating while we were trying to take communion.
It was a low point. We saw the writing on the wall — we would have to find a new place to meet. We prayed that we could somehow find a location that would be cheap, close to the interstate, and amenable to us bringing food for fellowships. This was a tall order!
And then, out of the blue, our women’s leader, Marge, was getting a rental car and happened to see the VFW building next door. “I wonder if we could rent that?” she said to herself. It took a lot of tracking down to find the right person to talk to, but when we did, they said they were looking for renters!
So two weeks ago we had our first service in our new location, and we loved it!
It was warm and homey. We had coffee and snacks as we fellowshipped. What had seemed like a setback had turned into a new start. Our hearts were full of gratitude to God.
And that brings me to my last point about Psalms 54 —
Give total glory to God. When things work out, let David be our inspiration. Let’s break out into wholehearted praise! How can we give the credit to anyone or anything but the Lord? It is God who gives us the victory. He will continue to do so, as we completely rely on him. And when he does, we will lift up his name with thanksgiving.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. II Cor 2:14a