Psalm 59: Fortress

Deliver me from my enemies, O God;
    be my fortress against those who are attacking me.
Deliver me from evildoers
    and save me from those who are after my blood.
See how they lie in wait for me!
    Fierce men conspire against me
    for no offence or sin of mine, Lord.
I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me.
    Arise to help me; look on my plight!
You, Lord God Almighty,
    you who are the God of Israel,
rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
    show no mercy to wicked traitors.

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Psalm 59

In my classroom there is a poster with a quotation from a London headteacher. The gist of it is that the purpose of education is to make children more human. The context is that the headteacher was a survivor of the Nazi death camps. He points out that the gas chambers were built by educated architects, the deadly chemicals created by trained scientists. It is a reminder that good gifts such as intelligence can be badly misused.

All gifts can be misused, not just intelligence. Humour can bring a smile to our face and help us to cope in difficult circumstances but humour can also be used to wound and humiliate, to crush and destroy. In Psalm 59 the abused gift is that of power. Power is simply the ability to get something done. When wielded well it can help all to flourish but throughout human history it has often been abused.

The theme of the abuse of power crops up time and time again in the Psalms. According to the heading of the Psalm it recalls the time when Saul sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him, an incident recorded in 1 Samuel 19.

Twice David compares his would-be assassins to wild dogs that snarl and prowl about the city streets (vv. 6, 14). As well as the physical danger that they represent they also damage David’s reputation (vv. 10, 12), words spew from their mouths (v. 7). Their assassination of David’s character may be designed as a precursor to the real thing. The twentieth century shows how words can be weaponised to strip people of their humanity and can eventually lead to mass murder and to genocide. The Bible reminds us to be careful with our words (James 3:3–10).

Twice also there is a refrain that God is the Psalmist’s strength and fortress, the one on whom he can rely (vv. 9, 10, 17). Trouble doesn’t always disappear forever – just like the villain in the film who you think is over and done with and drowned in the bath, but suddenly they return, alive and kicking and threatening all sorts of mayhem. We are easily intimidated by the evils around us, but God laughs at the forces who oppose him (v. 8, see also Psalm 2:4). The reality is we cannot escape trouble in this life but with God as our refuge and our strong tower we, like David, can raise our voices above the whinging and howling to sing of the God who loves us.