July’s Psalm of the Month: 54

The seventh installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

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See how God has been my helper,
How my Lord sustains my soul:
To my foes He pays back evil—
In Your truth destroy them all!

Does it seem strange to sing Psalm 54? This song of lament and imprecation, calling down God’s judgment on the psalmist’s enemies, may feel out of place on Christian lips. However, as this month’s study aims to show, Psalm 54 is both a song of comfort and a battle cry for faithful believers in a faithless world.

In the Psalm Proposal, the minor key and rolling triplets of the Welsh tune EBENEZER (TON-Y-BOTEL) capture the turmoil of this psalm’s spiritual battlefield as well as the psalmist’s passionate prayer. The text of this setting, drawn from the Book of Psalms for Singing, is a literal and straightforward versification. Sing Psalm 54 not vengefully but confidently, recognizing that a righteous God sits on the throne.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: Psalm 54B in The Book of Psalms for Singing and The Book of Psalms for Worship, Psalm 54 in the Trinity Psalter

Tune only: Blue Psalter Hymnal 360, Revised Trinity Hymnal 283, 535

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 54

  • A cry for help (vv. 1,2)
  • The treachery of strangers (v. 3)
  • The trustworthiness of God (vv. 4,5)
  • A response of thanksgiving (vv. 6,7)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 54

The occasion for this psalm was David’s betrayal to Saul by the Ziphites, foreigners to whom he had fled for protection. Christ, too, “endured from sinners such hostility against himself” (Hebrews 12:3). In fact, Jesus quoted a line from a similar psalm, Psalm 41, in reference to his betrayal by Judas (see John 13:18). Psalm 54 alludes not only to Jesus’ innocent punishment at the hands of “ruthless men” (v. 3) but also to the colossal battle between God and the devil. Like the psalmist, we can give thanks that God’s victory is certain.

But there is encouragement in Psalm 54 for us, 21st-century followers of Christ, as well. Although suffering is an expected part of the Christian walk, we confidently await the return of Jesus when we will be “delivered from every trouble” (v. 7). After warning believers about their “adversary the devil,” the apostle Peter concludes his first letter with a comforting doxology that reinforces the psalmist’s closing words: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:10,11).

Applying Psalm 54

  • Why does David pray to be saved by God’s name (v. 1)? What attributes does God’s name express (cf. Heidelberg Catechism LD 47)?
  • What enemies do you face (v. 7, cf. Catechism LD 52)? How do they seek to take your life (v. 3)?
  • How can God’s punishment be a sign of his faithfulness (v. 5)?
  • Is it wrong to pray for vengeance on one’s enemies?

David did not direct his prayers randomly into the air, but offered them in the exercise of a living faith.…It is as if he points his finger directly to that God who stood at his side to defend him. Is this not an amazing illustration of the power with which faith can surmount all obstacles, and glance, in a moment, from the depths of despair to the very throne of God? He was a fugitive amongst the dens of the earth…he was pressed down to the very mouth of the grave…he was trembling in the momentary expectation of being destroyed; and how can he possibly triumph in the certain hope that Divine help will soon be extended to him?…Even in the complete absence of all human defenders, David asserts that the help of God would abundantly compensate for all.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 54:4

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

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