Psalm 59: Deliverance from Dogs

by James D. Oord & Michael R. Kearney

Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
protect me from those who rise up against me;
deliver me from those who work evil,
and save me from bloodthirsty men.

–Psalm 59:1,2 (ESV)

Psalm 59 was written by David in response to the events of I Samuel 19, particularly verses 11-17.  This episode in the life of David reads much like a madcap children’s cartoon: Saul has his men watching David’s house, ready to kill him if he should set foot outside.  So his wife, Michal (Saul’s daughter), comes up with a plan.  She puts a statue in David’s bed, makes a wig out of goat’s hair, and then covers it all with a blanket and tells Saul’s men that David’s in bed with a cold.  Meanwhile, David escapes out of the back window.  It was a narrow escape made during a time in David’s life where he was constantly in danger, always hounded by Saul and his men.

It is no surprise that the psalm David wrote during this time is a short, angry cry for deliverance and vindication.  Psalm 59 falls into two basic sections; verses 1-7 describe David’s situation while verses 8-17 contain his prayer for justice.

I’ll make four observations about the text that are important to keep in mind:

  • In section one, David describes his pursuers as dogs (verse 6) lying in wait (verse 3) to kill him.  In our day and age of pampered pooch pets, it’s important to realize that in the context of David’s day, there were packs of wild dogs that roamed the countryside (and sometimes the villages) looking for prey, much like jackals.  They were hideous and feared creatures.
  • In section one, it’s important to note that David’s cry springs from a situation in which he is not at fault (verses 3, 4).  Other psalms deal with personal sins and transgressions (e. g. Psalms 32 and 51), but this psalm is the cry of an innocent man pursued by the wicked on all sides.
  • The turning point of the psalm is verse 8: “But You, O LORD, laugh at them.”  In the midst of oppression that may seem overwhelming, our God is bigger than any of the powers of this world (cf. Psalm 2).  It is to this almighty God that the psalmist cries, knowing that he is our strength, our refuge, and our fortress (verses 16, 17).
  • David’s prayer in verses 11-13 is especially interesting.  He prays that God will not merely remove or kill his enemies.  Rather, he prays that his enemies might serve as an example of God’s vindication.  This is not a prayer of personal vengeance, but rather a prayer for the glory of God.  David desires that his enemies will fall in such a way that all witnesses may see and know that the triumph is God’s, that trusting in the LORD is not a waste.

This seems a hard psalm to apply.  We are not often pursued by physical enemies, and we are never totally above reproach.  What then, can we learn from this psalm?  How can we sing it?

First, and most importantly, we must turn our eyes to Christ.  He is the perfect Singer of this psalm.  The predicament of his ancestor David pre-reflected the sufferings of Christ during his Passion.  Christ was perfectly sinless, yet he who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf (II Corinthians 5:21).  For our sake, he was pursued to the death by dogs.  For our sake, he forwent the deliverance to which he was entitled (“He could have called ten thousand angels…”) and suffered the punishment for sins he did not commit.  Were the words of Psalm 59 on his mind as he prayed in Gethsemane?  He knew that Judas and his band “lie in wait for my life” and that “fierce men stir up strife against me for no transgression or sin of mine” (verse 3).  This psalm is the song of Jesus on our behalf.

Because Christ sang this song on our behalf, we too can sing this psalm in response to our “many dangers, toils, and snares.”  We are daily pursued by temptations, by sins “that so easily ensnare us” (Hebrews 12:1), by a devil who “seeks whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).  Although we are often at fault, although we often slip, we can still sing this psalm as a prayer for deliverance from these enemies.  Because of the righteousness of Christ, we stand faultless before God’s throne and can pray for salvation with confidence.

Indeed, because of Christ, we can have the same confidence that God will protect us as our shield, our fortress, our rock.  Why?  Because of His “steadfast love” (verse 17) that is ours in Christ.  And “though the wrong seems oft so strong,” we have confidence that in the end, God and His people will be vindicated.  God laughs at the puny attempts of the powers of evil, and in the end He will show forth His triumph to all.  There will be no doubt at the last judgement as to who has the last laugh.  “God will let me look in triumph on my enemies” (verse 10).  Their fall will be a reminder to all that the Lord is our shield (verse 11).


107, “Protect and Save Me, O My God”

Psalter Hymnal number 107 is best described as a summary versification.  Although some compacting of the text is understandable when versifying a 17-verse psalm, I would have to argue that this setting is oversimplified.  The vivid image of howling, prowling dogs, occurring not once but twice in Psalm 59, is completely omitted from the text, as are the references to the “swords in their lips” (v. 7) and “the sin of their mouths” (v. 12).  However, in the psalmist’s passages of praise, number 107 still shines.  My favorite stanza is the eighth:

When all the night of woe is past
And morning dawns at length,
Then I shall praise Thy grace, O God,
My refuge and my strength.

I’m undecided about the tune KATHRINE.  While it may be redeemable if played “slowly” as directed, the jaunty eighth-note rhythms and brilliant key of C seem out-of-place in this doleful lament.  Perhaps the simplest solution would be to exchange this tune with DUNFERMLINE, number 108, on the following page.  After all, singing a lament like Psalm 59 is useless if neither text nor tune conveys its lamentation.


1 Response to “Psalm 59: Deliverance from Dogs”

  1. 1 Deliver Me From the Wild Dogs | Heidelblog Trackback on October 9, 2012 at 11:24 am

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