“O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might. O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen against me; ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before themselves. (Selah) Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life” (Psalm 54:1).
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5)
Psalm 54 was written by David concerning the events in 1 Samuel 23:15-29. David was on the run from Saul and hiding in strongholds in a place called Horesh. During this time, the Ziphites reported back to Saul that David was hiding in the region. Ziph was a city in the region of Judah, which was also the tribe of David’s family. David was being betrayed by men he did not know from within his own tribe. Even Jonathan, Saul’s own son, had shown more loyalty to David than the Ziphites from within the same tribe as David (1 Samuel 23:15-18).
Knowing this background, we can imagine the fear that David must have felt in this situation. Even strangers were not leaving him alone but seeking to destroy his life. These individuals were not merely doing their civic duty in reporting the location of an outlaw. Rather, as David describes, they were ruthless and seeking his life.
In this psalm, like many others, David knows desperate times. With all that is happening, David has only the Lord as his refuge. He pleads with the Lord to save him. He asks the Lord to vindicate him. While the wilderness should have been a safe place for David to hide, it was not. His only safety was in the Lord.
David does three things in this passage: (1) he appeals to the Lord and the Lord’s name (vv.1-2); (2) he specifies his trial (v.3); and (3) he affirms his trust in the Lord (vv.4-7). In David’s dire circumstances, he knows that only the Lord is the one who upholds his life. He fears no evil because the Lord is his shepherd. He is protected by the rod and staff of the Lord.
Trials often ambush us in ways we did not see coming. Even Paul had opponents who preached the gospel out of an intense rivalry just to try to make it worse for him in prison (Philippians 1:17). Think of it: it was not enough that Paul was suffering in prison. These individuals were so bent on bitterness and making things miserable for Paul, they sought to drive the knife further into his back by preaching the gospel. The more they preached publicly the more he would suffer in prison so they preached with a zeal to see Paul’s suffering increase. How hardened must a heart be that they would seek to use the good and true preaching of the gospel as a means of making life worse for a fellow minister?
How often in the midst of life’s hard circumstances do we feel forsaken? We make our plans as best we can, we pray, we dedicate them to the Lord, and then tragedy strikes. Maybe the tragedy is a bad turn of circumstances or an unexpected life event. Maybe the tragedy has a human element like when someone close betrays us. Maybe someone opposed to the gospel seeks to thwart a faithful ministry.
In all the trials, betrayals, attacks, and rivalries we might face, there remains one constant. The Lord does not forsake us. The Lord hears our prayers and pleas. He is the Helper who is above all helpers. Our life is nestled securely in the palm of his hands. He draws us close to his bosom and brings us into sweet fellowship. And even when the Lord lifts the corners of his hands that cover us and allows the wind of a trial to blow in on us, he is still holding us entirely as his own. The Lord upholds our life even in the darkest of days. Like David, our vindication in trials and conflict does not come from our own ability or because of our own righteousness. Vindication comes from the Lord.
With the Lord, even death does not defeat us. When he calls the precious saint home to heaven, he is persevering them eternally. The Lord will not allow death to permanently triumph over his beloved. With our bodies in the grave, the Lord does not forsake us. We wait in heaven with him for that glorious reunion of body and soul in the resurrection.
With this perspective, what can another human really do to us? Wicked people do horrible things. Betrayals rock us to the core of our being. Opponents are merciless in their slander of our character. Evil people engage in violence and the taking of life. And yet, God remains. And God remains faithful. With the magnitude of God’s grace shown to us in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, what can man really do to us? With the love of God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), what can we ever say to be lacking even in the midst of trials and tribulation? What can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:31-39)?
Let us not pretend these lessons are easy. It can be easy to say with rhetorical flourish, “What can man do to me?” It is much harder to focus on the Lord’s protection in a trial where we feel the weight of someone aligned against us. Man can do a lot. Again, God remains. He is completely faithful. He truly does not forsake us. Above all else the Lord is trustworthy and keeps his word.
Keep these truths always before you. Repeat it to yourself even in those moments where at first you do not feel like it is true. Believe his Word in the darkness and ask him to help your unbelief. The Lord is faithful and delivers his children from their trials and brings them into his eternal kingdom.
“I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies” (Psalm 54:6b).