In this psalm, young David is wandering in the wilderness, still on the run from King Saul’s men. With his life in the balance, David yearns for YHWH’s protection like a cool drink of water in the desert. “My soul thirsts for You,” says the warrior-poet and future king. “My flesh longs for You.”
Good God Almighty, what a pickup line! And have you seen his sculpture in Florence? Jeez, I wonder if David used that come-on later to get Bathsheba into bed (or maybe “Hey, baby, how you doin’?” is all any king needs to say). Anyway, much of the imagery in this psalm is like that.
David is “satisfied as with marrow and fatness” (he likes a little meat on their lovely bones). He praises them “with joyful lips” (any mention of lip-smacking joy is always hot). And he thinks of them “on my bed … in the night watches” (the they/them/theirs can be either singular or plural).
But wouldn’t you know it, right when young Dave’s nocturnal meditations start getting good, he remembers the king’s men on his tail, and he goes off half-cocked, saying he wishes they’d all be ripped to pieces by jackals. He ends with something like, “Liars, liars, pants on fire.” Amen.
Divided, our world shakes as things fall apart. Cold, hard facts confuse us. Good or bad, rich or poor, right or wrong. On top today, on the bottom tomorrow. One side is up, the other side down. The key questions are: Who’s the judge? Will justice prevail? And what the hell’s taking so long?
Here’s another psalm about young David being pursued by King Saul’s men. They want to kill him, but he sees himself as special — don’t we too? — and he expects his god to keep them from doing what they want to do.
“Do not slay them,” David tells YHWH, “lest my people forget.” Instead, he orders his lord most high to “scatter them … [a]nd bring them down” basically for the way they speak. But come on. Isn’t that what anti-Semites seek?
“For the sin of their mouth, and the words of their lips, / let them even be taken in their pride, / And for the cursing and lying which they speak,” David spells out. So this guy hates bigmouths and liars? What is that all about?
Isn’t this the same future ruler who later gets in trouble for lying (in more ways than one) and for getting the old man of the girl he laid erased? Then why doesn’t David himself get scattered and laid low? Dave just gets chased.
I hope you read that right — chased, not chaste, because David certainly wasn’t the latter. But he was certainly special. He was a man after YHWH’s own heart, or so say another king’s men. And that’s the heart of the matter.
What did young David mean when he said, “I lie among the sons of men / Who are set on fire, / Whose teeth are spears and arrows, / And their tongue a sharp sword”? Are we to interpret that literally? Or was David — unlike his contemporaries — given to abstract thought? Why was he lying with other men? And why was he thinking about their teeth and tongues? Was he awake?
Well, actually he did say, “Awake, my glory! / Awake, lute and harp!” Whatever was going on, he felt like singing. Does that mean David was woke? No, this short psalm is like so many others — not in length, but in subject matter — in which the singer obsesses over his enemies, and David prays that YHWH will trap them as they try to trap him with their Jungian nets and Freudian pits.
This psalm deals with young David being “captured” by the Philistines in the city of Gath — this according to the psalm’s heading. David had run away from King Saul, who was trying to kill the young rival for his throne; and had taken refuge with these “Cretans” who worshiped other gods.
“In God I have put my trust,” David the refugee says twice, early and late in this psalm. “I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Well, if what David himself did to his rivals means anything, then the answer to his question is, “A lot,” and much of it was barbaric, even to his own people.
“Vows made to You are binding upon me,” young David prays to YHWH. I guess that changed after he left Gath, returned to Jerusalem, and became king of Israel. I guess “Thou Shalt Nots” don’t apply to kings. After all, they aren’t really vows, as such; they’re rules made to be broken.
I could just scream. It’s like everybody is against me. I’m scared to death, and — like Forrest’s little friend Jenny — I want to be a bird so that I can fly far, far away from here. I’d rather live in the middle of nowhere, and then maybe I can outrun this big dark cloud hanging over my head.
I really do need to get out of town. The people working against me aren’t any ordinary enemies; they’re my so-called friends. For all I care, they can drop dead and go straight to hell. They’re a bunch of smooth-talking phonies who pretend to pat me on the back so they can stab me again.
“Cast your burden on the Lord,” says the psalmist, “[a]nd He shall sustain you.” Yeah, well, how do I do that? Is that just another way of saying, “Don’t worry about it, ol’ buddy. Ain’t nothing you can do, anyway”? They may finally fail, but how many of their poor victims did nothing but pray?