As I read Psalm 57 today, I recognized this line from a song we sing at church: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth.” (Psalm 57:5 NRSV). It’s a song that gets stuck in my head for weeks every time we sing it. I noticed the context was not what I would consider a happy occasion for the man who wrote it (King David). Just before he wrote that line, he had written this line. “I lie down among lions that greedily devour human prey; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords.” (Psalm 57:4 NRSV). The line that comes after it is just as bad “They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down…” (Psalm 57:6 NRSV). I wondered what was going on in David’s life at the time.
A quick check of a commentary told me the psalm was written while David was on the run from King Saul. He was spending a lot of time in caves hiding from the King and his soldiers. In the dank darkness of a cave David had pleaded with the Lord for mercy because as he put it, “I lie down among lions that greedily devour human prey.” The words he used tell us how real and scary the danger was to him.
Then, as was earlier pointed out, glorious words of exaltation mixed with prayer come out of him and something happens in him. He begins to first feel and then know he will be alright. God will act. How did he know that?
I came across this interesting fact in the Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament Vol. 5: Psalms
(Note: With reference to the above passage in the Psalms, the Talmud, B. Berachoth 3b, says, “A cithern used to hang above David’s bed; and when midnight came, the north wind blew among the strings, so that they sounded of themselves; and forthwith he arose and busied himself with the Tôra until the pillar of the dawn ( הׁשחר עמוד ) ascended.” Rashi observes, “The dawn awakes the other kings; but I, said David, will awake the dawn ( הׁשחר את מעורר אני ).”)
The idea which might not be clear to everyone is that King David would awaken when he heard the sound of the strings on his guitar like instrument during the night and begin meditating on the Law of God. He would realize again and again what God was like, that God would not abandon him, that God had shown himself again and again to be merciful. His plea for help was going to be heard. And as he continued in prayer and contemplation through those hours, he became filled with energy and hope. So filled with hope was he that he didn’t wait for the dawn, he awakened it instead. And at the end of the psalm he repeats those great words: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth.” (Psalm 57:11 NRSV)
While David was not perfect, he did seem to understand that seeking after the Lord’s heart has many benefits including a 180 degree turnaround in attitude about one’s life. It seems an intriguing thought (challenge?) to be so closely connected to the Lord, even in the night time that the hope we then feel seems to bring the sun out hours ahead of schedule.