This one is labeled as “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.” I know that lots of psalms are attributed to David as having written them but that many are also meant to denote that they use David’s chords or instrumentals but that the lyrics were written by someone else. This seems fairly specific in that it was written by David himself.
7Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
8Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people! Selah
So the first thing that stood out to me was the word “Selah” and I found it interesting that BibleHub had it highlighted with a footnote that reads like this:
The meaning of the Hebrew word Selah, used frequently in the Psalms, is uncertain. It may be a musical or liturgical direction
My husband took a class on the Psalms last year for his theology degree and laughed when I asked what it was, explaining that his teacher also went into an explanation about how no one really knows how to translate it or what it may have originally meant. People can guess but that’s all it can be for now, so let’s move on.
The body of the psalm seems consistent to me with the note that was given at the beginning between what the author is writing about and the events it refers to. If you want to take a look at the story of David and Absalom, my notes here.
It seems close to universally agreed that psalms are songs or poetry. There are many kinds and this one feels to me like a worship song that could easily be adapted to some modern music and sung by a modern congregation. It’s all about God’s protection, which has always seemed like a favorite for Christians to talk about.
Fundamentally, I don’t have an issue with it establishing that God protects His people, but I have felt like that sentiment has been taken too far to mean that bad things don’t happen to good Christians (much in the same way Job’s friends insist he must have done something to deserve his calamities, notes on that here). I feel like it’s been well established in the stories we’ve read so far that God didn’t necessarily put the personal touch on each person’s life. People lived and died in less than ideal circumstances but that much of it had to do with the asking of God in the first place and the impediment of another person’s free will.
I haven’t seen the insistence of free will thus far but I do see where God has rarely adjusted it, or rarely been accused of doing so. I believe I’ve seen it twice, once with Pharaoh and there was another that I can’t remember the specifics of just now. The point is that God protects what He will protect and save what He will save and our simply asking for it is a part of the getting there but not the whole thing. God has won the battle in some stories but still allowed a fight that still ended with tragedy for some families. This is not a perfect system and one of my pet peeves is when people treat it as one. Sometimes we ask God for things and the answer is no.
That said, the answer was rarely, if ever, no for David, so I can see why he is attributed as having written this with such certainty that God will keep him from harm and help him out of this situation.
As far as breaking people’s teeth, I do love that touch. Notice that part of the psalm is talking about how people are trash talking God’s willingness to save this author and how he ends it with God breaking in their teeth. I do love the imagery of someone trash talking and then getting a punch in the mouth. The idea that the punch comes from God is even better. It’s rather satisfying.
Then David ties it back to the people. They are all saved and blessed if he is…. I’m not entirely sure that everyone is good just because he is, but I get the sentiment as well. Everyone is better off with him at the helm than Absalom at this point, who is violent and has a tendency to overreact. The great thing is that it can equally apply to a group that is going through something together, particularly a group about to go into battle, as it suggests is about to happen. What else do foes rise to do? It sounds like it would be a great worship song to sing as the group prepares for battle, tying the personal and the group that way that soldiers do.
The mention of salvation is interesting to me given the different context that Christians have for that word. It is not necessarily an escape from bodily harm for Christians, but this clearly is. Not only will they escape bodily harm, but they will win the battle, it seems, no matter how many people are coming up against them.
It’s an interesting kind of certainty that everything will be okay that I haven’t felt in a long time. It may be a great psalm for working through that sort of thing.