When you are in a threatening situation, the last thing you want to do is freeze up in fear. Take a young, single woman in my last church as a case study.
Driving along a levee road near water which was over 30 feet deep, she suddenly had a blowout. Immediately, her car careened off the road. To her horror, the vehicle flipped upside down as she headed for the dark water. Hitting the water at 50 miles an hour jarred her, and the inverted status disoriented her as the car bobbed momentarily in the cold water. Within a minutes, water began pouring into the cab through various openings, and slowly and surely the car began to sink into the black abyss.
“What did you do at that point?” I asked the humble, gentle lady.
“Well, I knew I couldn’t open a window or door until the water completely filled the car, thereby equalizing pressure. So, I waited until the very last moment, took a quick breath, and then unrolled a window and swam to the surface.”
Wow. What bravery. I told her I, who don’t like dark water, wouldn’t have made it. I know I would have frozen in fear down in that deep darkness. She, conversely, swam to safety even though seemingly insurmountable odds were stacked against her. How did she do this? She accomplished this feat, which would bring the smile to the face of a hardened, highly trained Navy Seal, by not permitting fear from keeping her from doing the right things.
Ever encountered a situation you didn’t think you were going to live through?
Ever been in a threatening situation where the odds makers would not ever dream of betting on the likes of you?
Ever experienced a scary, frightening situation which came on you all of a sudden like a blow out?
David did. For him, the unexpected blowout had King Saul written all over it. The jealous, power-hungry king wanted to send David to the dark abyss of death so his kingdom would not be threatened by this “inferior” political interloper. To accomplish his blood-thirsty personal political goal, he and his troops hunted David. After receiving fresh intel from Doeg concerning David’s whereabouts, Saul readied his team, I’m sure, to eliminate his opposition.
David countered the King’s next move by doing the unthinkable. He fled to the last place he thought Saul would look for him. The Philistine town of Gath, which had been the home town of their former war hero, Goliath, whom David, as a youth had valiantly terminated. Sometimes blow outs in life send you in directions you NEVER thought you’d head. Gath was that place for David. It had the darkness of the watery abyss written all over it.
Since David knew the Philistines would probably kill him on sight, he approached the city gate like some kind of madman:
13 So he changed his behavior before them, feigned madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, "Look, you see the man is insane. Why have you brought him to me? 15 "Have I need of madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?" (1 Sam. 21).
The Philistines didn’t kill him because in their culture they viewed a crazy man as having an evil spirit, and the last thing they would want to do was to provoke the spirits. So, they let David live, but from what we read in Psalm 56, which recounts David’s time in godless Gath, he faced stiff opposition on a daily basis.
Do you have a blowout experience, one which has thrust you unwillingly into a predicament you don’t you can survive personally or professionally? Are you in Gath right now, wondering how you are going to make it? Are you despondent, disoriented, maybe even fearful? If so, the last thing you want to do is freeze up. On the contrary, we can learn from David’s life from this historical snippet how to function to God’s glory and our spiritual maturation. A question drawn from the content of Psalm 56 set us on our journey of discovery as the hostile waters begin to converge from all life angles.
How Do You Have Confidence When Facing Hostile Situations? (Psalm 56)
Our superscription, as I’ve said before, is verse one in the Hebrew text. These opening words give us the historical setting of this powerful and emotionally charged psalm:
1 To the Chief Musician. Set to "The Silent Dove in Distant Lands." A Michtam of David when the Philistines captured him in Gath.
Interesting. David pictures himself, a war-scarred warrior, as a dove, not a hawk, as he hid out in Gath. Doves are soft, white, somewhat helpless, and innocent. What a perfect metaphor for a godly man in a godless, mean-spirited, ruthless city.
The way David rhetorically structured this poetical piece it contains two statements detailing the type of opposition he face in Gath. Verses 1 through 3 and 5 through 9 contain these details descriptions. Each of these snapshots end with a positive pedagogical refrain. We encounter this thematic shift in verse 4 and verses 10 through 11. The psalm builds to a climax in verses 12 and 13 where David underscores the importance of keeping vows you made to God as the hostiles ganged up against you.
With this structural analysis before us, I propose we principalize each of them and see how they collectively teach us to not freeze up in fear when confronted by wicked people with wicked designs.
Tell God About Your Trouble (Psalm 56:1-3, 5-9)
By way of the law of proportion, David spends the most of his time in this psalm/song recounting what he faced as the Saul blowout flipped him upside down in the dark world of Israel’s archenemy the Philistines. And this is how it goes, isn’t it? When your enemies who oppose your faith come at you from all sides like water rushing into a porous car, when light is quickly replaced with deep and foreboding darkness, you don’t ever forget the finer details of this experience. David’s words here show the truth of this life observation:
Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up; fighting all day he oppresses me.
David, the lesser, appeals to the greater, God for mercy in a situation he cannot control. Such are the ways of God. He allows a blowout of sorts to thrust your life in an unwanted direction in order to use the opposition you will encounter to move you to see you must move from fear to faith, you must see the utter need of depending upon Him above all else. Mercy is what God wants in a situation where destruction and death are imminent. And it is important to mark which name of the divine One he selects to use predominately. It is Elohim ( אֱ֭לֹהִים ), the creator God (Psalm 56:1, 7, 9, 12, 13). Why did he employ this name? The simple answer is this: Since God can effortlessly bring order out of chaos (which He, by the way, created), He can without doubt use His unlimited creative power to create a way forward for the beleaguered, battered saint.
The prepositional phrase denoted by ki ( כִּֽי) introduces us to the evil activity of the Philistines David walked among.
for man would swallow me up; fighting all day he oppresses me.
Man, here, is the Hebrew enosh (אֱנוֹשׁ). It denotes the frail nature of man, a temporal being, in the face of God who is eternal. What does mere man attempt to do to God’s chosen saint? “Swallow” him. The Hebrew word here is shaph (שׁאף) and it describes someone who, like a hungry beast, pants hard as they constantly and relentlessly pursue you, the prey. The final clause, which is built around the Qal participle in Hebrew which means to fight in close quarters, lacham (לֹחֵ֥ם ), reveals these people live for your personal destruction, and they don’t mind getting up in your face to do their dirty work. The goal of their warring ways is expressed in the word oppress, lachas ( לָחַץ), which literally means to purposefully squeeze something into another shape. Think of using the force of your grip to re-shape a ball of Play Dough, and you have the idea.
How do they squeeze you?
- Stigmatize your belief in God.
- Drive you from the public scene because you are problematic.
- Hurl pejorative terms or names at you.
- Threaten you with job loss if you don’t support their ideology.
- Inform you that Christian thinking will not be permitted in the classroom, or on campus.
- Laugh at you when you stand up for traditional beliefs like marriage.
- Call you hateful for actually daring to think a biological man and woman are our only gender options.
- Threaten you with a lawsuit for espousing Christian concepts in a public capacity.
- Get the masses to think you are the problem, when it is they who are the problem.
You get the drill. The squeeze is on all the time with these ferocious folks, and it has been going on for a long time. David faced it, and you will face it to when you stand up for your Christian beliefs in godless Gath (2 Cor. 1:5; 1 Thess. 3:3).
With the next verse, David underscores the relentless opposition from those who can’t stand or tolerate a godly man among them:
2 My enemies would hound me all day, for there are many who fight against me, O Most High.
David’s uses the word, shaph, again. It doesn’t just mean to hound someone, it means to pursue them and snap at their heels while they are running. The concept of “all day” merely serves to highlight how these folks are always looking for ways to hunt you down and tire you out so you finally fall. They are like the Terminator robot: relentless. Evidence doesn’t stop them. Facts don’t matter. Logic is completely lost on them for they are only interested in using all the weapons in their arsenal (disinformation, gossip, misrepresentation, etc.) to dominate and destroy you so they can maintain their grip on power.
Think of the life of your Lord and you’ll see them in action. Their names? The Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders. They were the people who should have been for Him and with Him, but they couldn’t stand him because he was a threat to their power and source of wealth and control of the people.
Listen to them after He miraculously raised Lazarus from the grave:
47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, "What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48 "If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation." 49 And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, 50 "nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish." 51 Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. 53 Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death (Jn. 11).
Not even hard evidence of a RESURRECTION from the dead altered their desire to eliminate the greater David, Jesus, the Christ. They hounded him before He raised Lazarus, and they really hounded him after He showed He was the Messiah by means of this proof of all proofs. Oh, how wicked and hard the heart of the godless can be. David saw that same hard heart in Gath. Perhaps you see if where you have fled to.
As David states, and as we see in the life of our Lord, persecutors tend to run in packs because they have more power and protection, plus it’s harder to stop them when they gang up on you and your faith. How they operate is denoted by the closing phrase of verse 2. I believe the KJV, NKJ wrong translate the final prepositional phrase li marmot ( לִ֣י מָרֽוֹם ) as Most High, as if it refers to God. I think the preposition should be classified here as a specified use, meaning it informs us how these people function. Based on this grammatical observation, the sentence would then read, “
“for there are many who fight against me, with reference to their lofty [social] position.”
The NIV picks up this nuance:
2 My adversaries pursue me all day long; in their pride many are attacking me. (Ps. 56).
Whatever their social standing is, viz., boss, CEO, school superintendent, Colonel, Under Secretary, coach, professor, Senator, priest, these carnally minded people use that position to arrogantly attempt to silence you by making life hard for you. Again, that is exactly with the religious leaders did to Christ in His day, and it is still going on in our day . . . really at an alarming rate. Why do they do it? Because they pridefully think they are right, and you, the Christian and God-fearing person are dead wrong about most everything . . . so you must be hamstrung so they can build a wild world to their liking.
When, not if, this occurs, how should you respond? David gives you a flash of much needed insight in verse 3:
3 Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.
Translated, when your tire blows out and you hit the water and start sinking is not time to be frozen in fear. No, it’s time to tell God, “I will trust in You no matter what.” This is just a short way to say, “God, I know you are with me and will help me through this, so I’ll cling to belief in you.” Are you freezing up in fear or are you flowing out with faith in the living God who is with you in this?
Skipping over the refrain of verse 4, David continues to pull the mask back on the activities of the non-Christian world which is set against Him and His teachings.
5 All day they twist my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil.
Again, they relentless twist David’s words to cast him in a bad, evil light so they can control and jettison him from their culture. The Hebrew for twist is asav (עצב), and it means “to find fault in something, or to be [perpetually] offended.” Again, as the rest of the clause demonstrates, these evil people live to take words from godly people like David and find fault with them. Believe me, they listen to you for only one purpose. Not to be swayed by your life or logical proofs for the faith but to find a word they can alter and exploit to denigrate you.
- You say you are for the traditional family, and they immediately take issue because you apparently don’t embrace any and all forms of families.
- You are, therefore, a hateful person and they can use hateful speech to put you in a box.
- You say you believe in absolute truth, especially where morals are concerned and they will go apoplectic on you for not embracing the supposed fluid nature of morals.
- You say you are pro-life and immediately you are classified as a person who hates women.
Once more, I’m sure you get the drill. While you are for good, they are for evil masquerading as good. And when they are in power the false tolerance which held them in check quickly evaporates and is replaced by a seemingly religious zeal to squelch those, like you, who go against the ideology of the carnal culture. How dare you to resist us is the maniacal mantra.
David is spot on in describing how they function and operate in verse 6:
6 They gather together, they hide, they mark my steps, when they lie in wait for my life.
Outwardly, they appear, like the Pharisees did, as great, caring, concerned people. Inwardly and privately, they are the opposite of those admirable character traits. They secretively scheme how to deal with you by watching where you, who you talk to, what you read, and so forth, so they can send you to a dark abyss where you will not be a threat to them anymore.
Jumping to the New Testament, we see these crafty people in action in Luke 5 where Jesus heals the paralyzed man.
17 Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was present to heal them. (Lk. 5).
Note well how the religious leaders came to see Jesus in action. He, conversely, went on the offensive in this healing. After the paralyzed caring buddies lowered him through a hole in the ceiling so Jesus could see and heal him, Jesus said something amazing:
20 When He saw their faith, He said to him, "Man, your sins are forgiven you." (Lk. 5).
Interesting. Jesus purposefully picked at the thought processes of the religious leaders. He could have just healed the man, but He first forgave his sin, which was the greater form of paralysis. This wording set their unholy hunters off:
21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
Their quick statement that Jesus blasphemed will ill-timed, but their question was correct. Only God can heal. How did Christ answer them? Wisely.
22 But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, "Why are you reasoning in your hearts? 23 "Which is easier, to say,`Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say,`Rise up and walk '?
It is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” for how do you really validate whether that occurred or not? Jesus, then, turned and did the harder/greater thing:
24 "But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"-- He said to the man who was paralyzed, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house" (Lk. 5)
Verse 25 tells us what happened next:
25 Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. (Lk. 5).
The point could not be missed: Jesus was, in fact, God in the flesh who was qualified to forgive sins and heal at will. It was a message the religious leaders didn’t want to hear for they were only present at the home that day to gather information to convict Jesus of blasphemy. How sad when your presuppositions (as godless, immoral, and illogical as they are) get in the way of cold, hard facts.
What happens to people who live like this? David tells us in verse 7:
7 Shall they escape by iniquity? In anger cast down the peoples, O God!
The answer to the first question is a resounding, “No! No, they will not escape God’s judgment by means of living wickedly.” On the contrary, God, the living God, will deal with them in due time. Paul says this much:
6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 1).
If you are from Gath, you should probably take note of what’s coming down the prophetic pipe.
Closing out this section on pouring out his complex situation to God, David introduces us who are weary from battling an ever-darkening culture, to the utter compassion of God for us:
8 You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book? 9 When I cry out to You, then my enemies will turn back; this I know, because God is for me.
What does this mean? Three things.
One, it means that God, who is omniscient and omnipresent, knows exactly what has happened to you as you headed into Gath because of a blowout. He know every evil word spoken against you, ever foul word directed your way, every plot people have hatched to silence you, and so forth. Actually, it is as if has it all written down in a book, a book which he will use on Judgment Day when He calls individual Christ-rejectors before His holy throne (Rev. 20:11-15).
Two, it means God IS desirous of catching all the tears you cry and putting them into a bottle as it were to remember what you went through. What did you go through? What are you going through as a member of the White House, a worker at the FBI building, a school board members, a student at George Mason, a parent with children in the Fairfax school system, at Lieutenant with a new assignment at the Pentagon, and so forth? Note well. The pain you are experiencing, the tears you cry in private because of how you are mistreated and maligned are important to God, and they will not be forgotten by Him on Judgment Day.
Three, it means when you cry out to God, when you share with Him, as David did, what you are going through for His name, He not only listens intently, but He will be moved to act in your behalf in due time. Why will He do this? Because He IS for you, despite how you might feel right now. Rescue and relief IS coming.
In any event, the first step in dealing with hostiles is to have a little informative talk with Jesus.
Turn And Feed On The Word (Psalm 56:4, 10-11)
Moving from a prayer full of specificity and evidence, David sheds light on what we should do next:
4 In God (I will praise His word), in God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?
10 In God (I will praise His word), in the LORD (I will praise His word), 11 In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Mark well the cause/effect relationship between being a person in the Word of God and having a strong, resilient faith which is not frozen in fear, but which moves onward and upward. David’s insight here is most helpful. The more the people from Gath came after him, the more he poured over the pages of holy writ. That reading, I’m sure, showed Him how God deals with His people when they are up against the proverbial wall. He tends to eventually part the Red Sea for them. When they are thrown into the lion’s den on trumped up charges, He, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, controls the lions so they don’t eat the prophet. He, who made fire, controls the fire in a furnace when three god-fearing, carnal culture rejecting Jewish young men are hurled into the flames. Yes, to be in the Scriptures is to be fortified for life in Gath.
To read about the character and actions of God, from Genesis to Revelation is to be left with one provocative, powerful question which demands a negative for an answer, “What can flesh do to me?”
- He can kick you off Facebook or Twitter.
- He can cancel your job.
- He can make it difficult for you to find a job.
- He can force you into early retirement.
- He can cancel your life insurance policy.
- He can mark your paper down a grade.
- He can even take your life, as he does to Christians around the world.
He can wreak a lot of havoc in this temporal life, but that is it. He cannot touch your spiritual life, your inner man, and he certainly can’t do anything to cancel you in eternity. On the contrary, he, or she, is the one who should fear for Christ’s words are most sobering:
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10).
Hopefully, this statement makes you run to the Savior and not away from Him. What are you waiting for? And if you are a believer, have hope in the living God who is with you in the thick of the action.
What should you be doing in the meantime? Doubling down on your reading of the Word. It will feed your soul, it will give you hope in hopeless times, it will show you your sin so you can confess it, it will how you how to live among the hostiles, and it will give you great, inexorable hope for you will see God’s grand kingdom plan in bold relief.
Third, David tells us what is important to do as you deal with opposition to the faith:
Take Time To Fulfill Your Word (Psalm 56:12-13)
His counsel here and short and to the point:
12 Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God; I will render praises to You, 13 For You have delivered my soul from death. Have You not kept my feet from falling, that I may walk before God In the light of the living?
David is so sure God will deliver him while in Gath he prays to and praises God as if it has already happened. What spiritual confidence. He, like my friend in the out-of-control car, wasn’t frozen in fear, but was focused on placing His faith in the God of all hope and help.
In the confidence of his prayer, David tells us what we should remember. When you are in godless Gath, when your tire blows out and throws you into the proverbial river, this is when you typically call out to God in desperation and say things like . . .
- Lord, if you get me out of this, I’ll be the best husband a man could ever be.
- Lord, if you get me out of this, I’ll never miss church, a women’s study, a special church event, or my daily Bible reading.
- Lord, if you get me out of this, I’ll share my faith every chance I get.
- Lord, if you get me out of this, I’ll make sure my children are in Sunday School.
- Lord, well, you can fill in the blank, can’t you?
David’s point is well-taken. Whatever you vow to God in the heat of the hostiles, you should carry out for He is a God who remembers your vow. Have you fulfilled it? And if you haven’t made a vow, it’s a good thing to do for it will be that which will take your life in a whole new direction when, not if, God delivers you.
Until the Lord moves you out of Gath, I think it’s time you had a little heart-to-heart talk with Him, don’t you?
Sometimes my path seems drear without a ray of cheer
And then a cloud of doubt may hide the light of day
The mists of sin may rise and hide the starry skies
But just a little talk with Jesus clears the way
Now let us have a little talk with Jesus
Let us tell Him all about our troubles
He will hear our faintest cry
He will answer by and by
Now when you feel a little prayerwheel turning
And you know a little fire is burning
You will find a little talk with Jesus makes it right