Psalm 57: Exalting God Despite Testing & Humiliation
Author: Jody Green
It is one thing (and a good thing) to humble yourself before God and others – since humility is a Christ-like virtue. However, it’s quite another to experience humility’s distant cousin – humiliation. A scene from my own life still brings tears of laughter and mortification to my mind:
Image a woman - 8-months pregnant on an elevated platform speaking to 100+ young people preparing for short-term missions. In shorthand, one teenager told a joke, followed by another hilarious comment, and a co-teacher chiming in with his own playful banter. As the room broke into hysterics, my womb-child responded to my hilarity with a solid kick to my bladder. Though my modesty was protected by my floor-length skirt, nothing could hide the ‘squishy-shoes’ sound or the roar of laughter as I exited the stage. Humiliation.
Scripture’s narratives also include humiliating events when Bible characters are tested by God. We can assume Noah’s 120-year sermonic warnings were met with mockery, ridicule and public roasting from his pre-flood listeners. Moses, as well, must have been hurt and humiliated, feeling his “soul [was] in the midst of lions” (v. 4) when the Israelites begged for a new leader to take them back to the ‘good ole days’ in Egypt.
However, Nebuchadnezzar’s beastly days suggest days of humiliation and testing by God may pre-date exaltation in some cases … much like David’s days as Saul’s spear-throwing target and wilderness prey, prior to taking Israel’s throne. Devastating events can have significant impact on the human soul. They have the potential to destroy us, increase our fears and anxiety, warp our identity with shame or - like David - to bring glory to God (v. 5) by trusting Him to ‘fulfill His purposes” (v. 3), even when our “souls are bowed down” (v. 6).
Some commentaries suggest David wrote Psalm 57 when hiding in a cave from Saul - who hunted him often. David begs for Yahweh’s mercy (v. 1) and voices his fervent desire to ‘exalt God’ (v. 5) despite the evil people ‘trampling’ him (v. 3). David cries out to God, his real refuge (not the cave), “to send out His steadfast love and His faithfulness … in the midst of lions - the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords” (vv. 3-4). David was acquiring a steadfastness faith in caves of persecution; he was learning where to go when distraught or discouraged: “in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge” (v. 1).
David’s faith grew to persevering strength through affliction, unjust suffering and deceptive lies; he learned to “cry out to God Most High … till the storms of destruction passed by” (vv. 1-2). David’s life-storms, at the hands of Saul, lasted thirteen years after Samuel anointed him future King of Israel. During those long and difficult years, David clung to God’s mercy and faithfulness, believing “Yahweh will send from heaven and save me … [for] His “faithfulness [reaches] to the clouds” (vv. 3, 10). It was during this time, David became a ‘man after God’s own heart,’ so he could testify: “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast” (v. 7)!
J. Oswald Sanders reminds us about the uphill path God’s people must take to be formed into Christ’s image: “No one attains full maturity without the experience of sorrow.” (Spiritual Discipleship)
David’s devotion to God, honor for His Name and commitment to His glory were put to the test many times. The NT wisdom book of James puts “the testing of our faith” (1:3) in a very positive light, instructing believers to “count it all Joy” (1:2) when various trials join us on our life-journey. When our hearts long for God, more than a comfortable, cave-less and trouble-free life, we may have the response James is suggesting. He informs us, “the testing of your Faith produces steadfastness” (1:3). Like a muscle strengthened by use, Faith grows into deep conviction when it is regularly exercised. Ultimately, believers must learn to trust God during trials, suffering and afflictions. It is not when problems are absent, but present, that God’s greatness shines bright and His glory is best revealed: “Be exalted, O God … Let your glory be over all the earth!” (v. 11)