“How to Put an Idol to Good Use” (Psalm 59, 1 Samuel 19)

So, you think you’re having a bad day? Do you think you’re being treated unfairly, or not getting credit for what you have done?

Consider this Psalm 59 that we read today, and let us study it after we are reminded of the historical situation that generated it. This is really helpful for our understanding.

As we’ve noted before, the superscriptions (the little background info at the top before verse 1 of some of the Psalms) is part of the original Scripture and is therefore inspired. Verse numberings are not inspired and were added later. In fact, in Hebrew Bibles, these superscriptions often count as verse #1.

The Psalm begins by saying: For the director of music. To the tune of “Do Not Destroy.” Of David. A miktam. When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.

The story behind this Psalm is found in 1 Samuel 19 where it says …

1 Samuel 19

8 Once more war broke out, and David went out and fought the Philistines. He struck them with such force that they fled before him.

9 But an evil spirit from the Lord came on Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the lyre, 10 Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape.

11 Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you’ll be killed.” 12 So Michal let David down through a window, and he fled and escaped. 13 Then Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed, covering it with a garment and putting some goats’ hair at the head.

14 When Saul sent the men to capture David, Michal said, “He is ill.”

15 Then Saul sent the men back to see David and told them, “Bring him up to me in his bed so that I may kill him.” 16 But when the men entered, there was the idol in the bed, and at the head was some goats’ hair.

All David had done was be successful in battle on behalf of the nation and King Saul, but back at the royal house, while David was serving as “minister of music” – something that soothed Saul’s darkness – a time came when Saul’s jealousy overwhelmed him. He took a sword (and remember that Saul was a big, big dude – like a head taller than all around him) and zipped it past David’s head into the wall. David made an escape from this attack (something ministers of music have been doing ever since when the congregation gets angry at their song selections).

At home that evening, David’s wife helps him escape. Recall also that this is the daughter of King Saul. He slips out the window while his wife uses an idol – apparently life-sized – to put under the covers of the bed with some goats hair to complete the ruse. (This is how we know that David had curly hair.)

But seriously, have you ever heard of a better use for an idol?

And more seriously, imagine how David must have felt at this time. Having done nothing but good, he is accused of wrong and then becomes the object of murderers seeking to unjustly take his life. He has to sneak out of his own house in order to save his life.

Now read the Psalm …

Psalm 59

1 Deliver me from my enemies, O God; be my fortress against those who are attacking me.
2 Deliver me from evildoers and save me from those who are after my blood.

3 See how they lie in wait for me! Fierce men conspire against me for no offense or sin of mine, Lord.
4 I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me. Arise to help me; look on my plight!
5 You, Lord God Almighty, you who are the God of Israel, rouse yourself to punish all the nations; show no mercy to wicked traitors.

6 They return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city.
7 See what they spew from their mouths—the words from their lips are sharp as swords, and they think, “Who can hear us?”
8 But you laugh at them, Lord; you scoff at all those nations.

9 You are my strength, I watch for you; you, God, are my fortress, 10 my God on whom I can rely.

God will go before me and will let me gloat over those who slander me.
11 But do not kill them, Lord our shield, or my people will forget. In your might uproot them and bring them down.
12 For the sins of their mouths, for the words of their lips, let them be caught in their pride.
For the curses and lies they utter, 13 consume them in your wrath, consume them till they are no more. Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob.

14 They return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city.
15 They wander about for food and howl if not satisfied.
16 But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.

17 You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.

Twice in the Psalm the agents of King Saul are seen like a pack of wild dogs. Don’t be picturing your pet Fido here; think more like a pack of coyotes. I was talking this week with an old friend who lives in the mountains outside Roanoke, Virginia. He was telling me that there are no more outdoor cats in the area; and if you don’t walk your dog at night and bring it safely inside, it will be gone – victims of the coyotes that have taken over the area and hunt at night.

That is a picture of what David was facing. But he was safe in God’s hands. God had a plan for him. He was anointed to become the King of Israel, and it was going to happen. Though surrounded by the worst of dangers, David was safe in God’s hands.

I went to college in downtown Philadelphia. It was not a horrifically unsafe area, but those sorts of neighborhoods weren’t too far away. Many families were unwilling to send their children to a college in the inner city. And I well remember the school officials saying in frustration that the same people who would on Sunday sing the familiar hymn “Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go, anywhere he leads me in this world below (except Philadelphia)” would on Monday send their college kids to a rural campus.

We live in a dangerous world surrounded by injustices and evil. But we are safer in God’s will and God’s hands in the most dangerous location than we are locked in our room at home, though outside of God’s will and pleasure. God is our fortress on whom we can rely (verse 17).