Questions about the psalms of David?

What do David's Psalms tell us about David, and us?

Question 1:

The Psalms of David seem to bounce back and forth between praising God for taking out his enemies, and then asking God where he went when his enemies are defeating him.  Who was attacking David?

Answer 1:

Like most people throughout the course of their lives, David experienced highs and lows.  There were times when he felt like he was victorious and things were going well, and there were times when it seemed like the whole world was crashing in around him.  David’s first attacker was King Saul.  David had been hired by Saul as a musician in his courts.  But following Saul’s rejection as King by God and David’s famous defeat of Goliath it slowly became clear to Saul that David would be a rival to his throne because he was so loved by the people.  David became a fugitive and was pursued by Saul (1 Samuel 19 see also 2 Samuel 3:1).  It was in the midst of this that David wrote many Psalms that spoke both of his triumphs and his defeats (see intro to psalm 18).

David was also a great warrior king, in fact David spilled so much blood during his reign that God would not allow him to build the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.  The primary enemy was the Philistines, but also included the Moabites, the Edomites, and other enemies of Israel.  David was victorious in almost everything that he did but he had trials too (see intro to Psalm 56)

Sadly, one of David’s final enemies was his eldest son Absalom, who rebelled against David to take the throne (see Psalm 3).

Question 2:

How should the Psalms be viewed? David comes off as prideful and unloving at many times. Building himself up in the sight of God. My thought was that they should be viewed as a study of how stress and constant anguish can take its toll on a person, and how humans cry out for vengeance, while God cries out for love. What’s the dilly?

Answer 2:

There is a bit more going on in this question.  The first issue “how should the Psalms be viewed?” is a question about interpretation.  It is important that we view the Psalms for exactly what they are, poems.  Some of them are songs, some of them are prayers, others are expressions of wisdom, while others are liturgies used for worship services.  Just like songs today, they capture the most raw emotions of the human spirit, and they run the range of human emotion.  One of the great things about the psalms is that they can help us find words for our own circumstances today.  If David seems prideful in one psalm and depressed in another, this does not advocate these feelings as virtues, rather, it speaks to issues and feelings that all people experience, and it reminds us that we can go to God as we are.

I would not be too quick to say that the psalms of David are a commentary on human anguish or a cry for vengeance, nor would I want to suggest that humans are all about vengeance while God ‘cries out for love’.  The narratives in 1 & 2 Samuel help us with the commentary of the psalms.  In 1 Samuel you see that David actually had mercy on Saul (his greatest enemy), sparing his life on multiple occasions (1 Samuel 24 & 26).  David never murdered Saul, Saul killed himself.  Similarly, David asked that his son Absalom not be hurt when David’s army went out to meet him (2 Samuel 18:12), and David grieved over his loss when Absalom was killed (2 Samuel 18:31-33).  So it must be more than a simple commentary on the vengeful nature of humans.  Likewise, it is God who is enables the victories of David (see 2 Samuel 5:9-10) so we cannot make such a simple commentary that God is love and humans are vengeful because God helped David win some bloody battles.  While God certainly is a loving God, he is also a God of justice, vengeance, and wrath (see post on Atonement).  Those are the ones that no one ever wants to talk about.

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3 Responses to “Questions about the psalms of David?”

  1. Andy Says:

    as i read through psalms, alot of it seems like David asks for his enemies to be taken down. I know that today we interpret our enemy as Satan but if you’re describing David’s enemies as actual people, doesn’t that mean that David was asking for his fellow man (child of God) to be killed? Regardless of tribal affiliation, beliefs, religion etc, I would think ALL humans are God’s children. Why are the enemies of David, the enemies of God as well?

  2. MetroBibleBlog Says:

    Thanks for the question. Here are my 3 main points based on the issues you raised…

    1. Remember that David was a man after God’s heart. In other words, David was a pursuer of God, a worshiper of God, and a lover of God. He did his best (though he sometimes failed) to align his will with God’s will. More importantly however was the fact that God had very specific plans for David’s life. It was through David that God would establish Israel as the nation God had promised it would be. It was through David, that the Temple project would be initiated, and most importantly, it was through David that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would come. Thus, while it is true that the enemies of David were the enemies of God, it is perhaps more accurate to say that the enemies of God were the enemies of David.

    2. When reading the Psalms or any part of scripture for that matter, it is important to understand the context before we begin to apply a meaning to our own lives. So we can’t be two quick to say that DAVID’s enemy was Saul, or the Philistines, but OUR enemy is Satan, Osama, Earthquakes, Economy, etc. Scripture is not meant to work like straight allegory for our lives. When looking at the Psalms though, what we CAN say are things like “when bad things happen I can trust that God is with me” or “when bad things happen it’s okay for me to get mad at God just like David and other psalmists did.”

    3. While it is accurate to say that ALL humans are God’s children, based on the fact that he is our creator, it is no less accurate to say that all humans are enemies of God. Remember the big picture situation that scripture is dealing with. Humans rebelled and ran from God (Genesis 3…). We chose our wills over God’s will. Even the few people in scripture who often did align themselves with God’s will (like David) still screwed up a lot. The status that we can now have as true “children” of God and “heirs” in his kingdom, is not by virtue of our merit OR our mere existence, rather it is by the work of Jesus Christ, through whom we are freely invited to be adopted as his children.

  3. Valarie Bagwell Says:

    I have often struggled with the very ideas this article addresses. As I read through the psalms I am sometimes taken aback by how accusatory and aggressive David is in wanting his enemies defeated. The verse “judge not least ye be judged” comes to mind, as well as “love your enemy as yourself”.
    But I liked your response. As a man after God’s own heart, David’s enemies were God’s enemies as well.
    I don’t think this means that just because we claim a relationship with God that our “enemies” automatically become God’s enemies. We may not like something a person says to us, but that doesn’t mean we should wish them dead and pray for God’s wrath to fall upon them.
    David’s enemies were enemies in the most literal sense. They were actually seeking his life to destroy him. I seriously doubt that the majority of people could claim this as their situation in life. We must keep the psalms in this context when we read them.

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