Songs of Greatness is a sermon series on the greatness of God from the Psalms. Be Exalted O God (Singing in the Dark) — How are we supposed to worship God when things aren’t going well for us? When we’re in the midst of trouble, difficulty, hardship, or pain? The greatness of God is such a comfort when we’re in the dark. God was faithful then, will he not be faithful now? Recorded on Aug 8, 2021, on Psalm 57, by Pastor David Parks.
For the next year, in our preaching ministry, we’re focusing on The Greatness of God. After all the turmoil of the last year and a half, it was obvious to me that way too many Christians have way too small of a view of who God is. So we started this annual theme with a sermon series from the Psalms in the Bible called, Songs of Greatness. And the Psalms are a collection of songs/poems that the people of God have used in the worship of God for 1000’s of years. They cover the whole range of human experience, but a number of the psalms are all about the greatness of God. Today, we’ll consider Psalm 57 and I’d like to start by presenting a problem that every one of us will face at some point in our lives: How are we supposed to worship God when things aren’t going well for us — when we’re in the midst of trouble/difficulty/hardship/pain?? How do we sing songs of praise before we see the victory? Before we see the fruit of God’s goodness? Before our problems have been solved or our mess has been cleaned up? Psalm 57 shows us what to do. And I hope this will be helpful for you, but especially if you feel like this is where you’re at today. Please open your Bible/app to Psalm 57 starting with v. 1. We’re going to read through this first, and then we’ll unpack it together.
Psalm 57:1-11, “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. 2 I cry out to God Most High, to God, who vindicates me. 3 He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me—[c] God sends forth his love and his faithfulness. 4 I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. 5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. 6 They spread a net for my feet—I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path—but they have fallen into it themselves. 7 My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. 8 Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. 9 I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. 10 For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. 11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.”
So the sub-heading of this Psalm says, “For the director of music. To the tune of “Do Not Destroy.” I really wish we knew what that tune was. Of course, it wouldn’t be anything like the music we listen to today, but that’s ok! It says this psalm is “Of David. A miktam.” Now that’s King David who lived about 3,000 years ago — the most powerful and influential king of ancient Israel. And, we think a miktam is a musical term but we aren’t really sure. There are five different psalms with this term and all five seem to be crying out to the Lord during a time of danger or battle. Finally, the sub-heading gives us an occasion for when this psalm was composed, or perhaps what David was thinking about if he wrote this song later. It says, “When he had fled from Saul into the cave.” Let’s come back to that as we work through the text. So back to v. 1.
Psalm 57:1, “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” Ok, let’s pause here. Who is David singing to here? To God! He’s crying out to God. Have mercy! Lord have mercy on me! So David’s in what kind of circumstance here? He’s in trouble. Things are not going well for him. Now, we don’t have a lot of details, yet in the Psalm, but this much I know: you don’t typically need a refuge/shelter in a time of peace/prosperity. Have you ever been in this type of situation? When your prayers are all just “Lord, please help me, have mercy on me! I need a miracle from you right now!” I’ve been there — especially over the last year or so. This is a Hosanna type of prayer. Hosanna means, “Lord save us!” in Hebrew. And what happens when David cries out to the Lord? How will God respond? Does he care about us? Does he get involved in our lives? v. 2.
Psalm 57:2-4, “I cry out to God Most High, to God, who vindicates me. He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me—God sends forth his love and his faithfulness. I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” So here, David moves from crying out to the Lord (Have mercy on me, my God!) to how God responds. David says it is God “who vindicates me,” that is, he proves me to be in the right. This isn’t a disaster that David caused through his own sin or foolishness. This situation isn’t a consequence of his actions, it’s underserved/unjust. And we know from last week that God loves justice. So God sends from heaven and he saves David. God sends out his love and his faithfulness. And this sounds like good news! But then, in v. 4 David says, that he’s in the midst of lions. Literally, he says, “My soul is in the midst of lions.” Notice he doesn’t say he was in the midst of lions. Which means there’s still a threat to his very life. So what’s going on here? Well, in the drama of the life of David, before he became the king of Israel, David had become famous for slaying the giant champion, Goliath, of the Philistines. After that, David became very close to the family of then King Saul. David became the closest friend of Saul’s son, Jonathon, and married Saul’s daughter, Michal. But these family relationships didn’t prevent Saul from becoming jealous of David as a rising star. David showed himself to be this brilliant and successful military leader, and the people loved him all the more. But Saul saw him as a young, rising star, as a threat to his dynasty. So as David became more and more famous, Saul became more and more unhinged and tries to murder him. Eventually, David flees for his life, but Saul puts together an elite fighting force of 3,000 of the best warriors, in order to hunt David down and kill him. These warriors are the “men whose teeth are spears and arrows,” that David so poetically mentions here. So! Has God rescued David or is David still in need of rescue? Let’s keep going with v. 5.
Psalm 57:5-6, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. They spread a net for my feet—I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path—but they have fallen into it themselves.” Now, v.5 is exactly the same as v. 11, which I think means it’s like the chorus of Psalm 57. If this were a modern worship song, we’d add at least a couple of bridges before repeating the chorus at the end. But if verse 5 is the chorus or the repeated refrain of this song, what’s it about? The exaltation of God, “Be exalted, O God,” that is, lifting up God to the highest place! David repeatedly says, “Let your glory [God] be over all the earth.” Which means that Psalm 57 is all about the greatness of God. But how does that relate to the very real threat to David’s life? Let’s come back to that question. For now, let’s keep going with v. 6. David changes the imagery of Saul’s warriors from one of lions to one of hunters, setting a trap for their prey. That’s what the net and the pit are: traps set for him. And all this running and hiding is taking a toll on David as it would on any of us. He says, “I was bowed down in distress.” again, literally means, “My soul was bowed down in distress.” David was a brave man and a mighty warrior — but the weight of this ongoing threat was taking a toll on his emotions/mental health/whole inner person.
But then, there’s a twist in v.6. They dug a pit in my path, David says, but they have fallen into it. What’s happening here? Most commentators think David is referring to what happened in 1 Samuel 24, which is where Saul and the cave come into play. So David and his warriors were vastly outnumbered and hiding deep in a cave far from home, in the Desert of En Gedi. King Saul had pursued him there with his warriors, but Saul needed to relieve himself, so he went into the very cave where David was hiding to use the bathroom. This is one of those, “I can’t believe it’s in the Bible” stories. So David is presented with the opportunity to take Saul’s life. And just think, his problems, this exhausting pursuit, would’ve been done. But instead, David refuses to kill Saul. And he did this to prove he was in the right. He wasn’t the one who wanted to kill Saul, Saul was the one who wanted to kill David. And when Saul had realized what had happened, and that David spared his life, he seems to regret what he had been doing and he goes home. So this was the trap that Saul set that Saul had fallen into. This is the turning point that David was praying for! Or was it? If you keep reading in 1 Samuel, the truth is that Saul only briefly gave up on trying to kill David before sending his special forces out against him once again. In fact, it would be years before Saul’s death finally removed this threat from David’s life and David became King. Whether or not v. 6 was actually the turning point that David was praying for, or whether David simply chose to make it a turning point, either way, it marks a change. Psalm 57 starts out with David crying out for help/mercy/deliverance from death. His soul is weary and heavy-laden by this life of running and hiding from the king and his warriors. But then, after v. 6, the tone shifts. Look at v. 7.
Psalm 57:7-8, “My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.” And what does it mean to awaken the dawn? It means to get up really really early. It means to David is going to get up while it’s still dark out and bring his guitar, and make some music and sing praises to the Lord. Even though his problems aren’t gone entirely. Even though Saul would change his mind and pursue him once again. Even though things weren’t resolved for David — while it was still night out, David decided/chose to worship. His soul was bowed down under all the stress and the pressure of his circumstances. But he decided to lift his soul up. How? By choosing to sing. But it was still night? It was still dark out. Why didn’t he wait until the sun came out? Why didn’t he wait until everything was resolved? Why didn’t David wait to worship until he felt like it?? Because David trusted in the love and the faithfulness of God. He had faith that God would save him. Why? Because that’s who God is. That’s who God was when he saved his people from slavery in Egypt. That’s who God was when he saved his people over and over during the time of the judges. That’s who God was when he saved David from the hand of Goliath. And that’s who God would be for David with his current threat. So David could sing songs of praise — even in the dark. Awake my soul. I will awaken the dawn. And you know what? You could do this. There are many things in this world that as a human being, you cannot control. You can’t control all of your circumstances/health/career/what other people think of you or even do to you most of the time. And any or all of those things might bring difficulty/hardship/pain into your life. Any or all of these things might weigh you down to the point where it feels like your very soul is bowed down and you’re in the darkness. But you know what you can control? You can decide to worship. You can choose to sing songs of praise, even in the dark! You can wake up your soul with a reminder of who God is and what he has done in the past and what he has promised for your future in Christ — with the glory of God! You can’t always control what happens to you but you can choose how to respond. You can choose faith. You can choose to worship. Let’s finish with v. 9.
Psalm 57:9-11, “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” The reason why the chorus of this song is about the glory of God and the exaltation of God is because, to remember that God is big is the most helpful thing when your life is hard. The greatness of God is such a comfort when we are in the darkest valley. David responds to the stress, exhaustion, and the chaos of his night by putting full stock in the love and the faithfulness of his great/exalted God. God was faithful then, will he not be faithful now? And this is such a wonderful pattern for us today. How are we supposed to worship God when things aren’t going well for us — when we’re in the midst of trouble/difficulty/hardship/pain?? How do we sing songs of praise before we see the victory? Before we see the fruit of God’s goodness? Before our problems have been solved or our mess has been cleaned up? Here’s the answer of Psalm 57. We can choose to worship because we trust in him. And how much more so for us as Christians today? The threat to David’s life had his soul bowed down, but in the garden of Gethsemane, facing his death on the cross for the sins of the world, Jesus said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” David’s life was threatened, but Jesus laid down his life by enduring the darkness of the cross. But on the third day, he rose again from the dead. David knew of God’s faithfulness to save him from the hand of Goliath. But in Christ, we know that God was faithful to save us from the power of the giants of sin and death. So can we sing songs of praise in the dark? Yes. Why? Because in the gospel we see that our God is great and he is faithful and even the darkness of the night of the cross only served to reveal the light of the glory of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ all the more. Do you believe that? Do you trust in him?