by James M. Flanigan, N. Ireland
MY STRENGTH; MY SHIELD; MY SONG
THE FUGITIVE IN THE WILDERNESS
David was the eighth and youngest son of Jesse the Bethlehemite and as Alexander Maclaren remarks, “It was a prophetic instinct which made Jesse call his youngest boy by a name apparently before unused – David, Beloved” for down the ages the shepherd lad who became king has indeed been beloved by the people of God everywhere.
It may seem a rather cold thing to try to analyse the prayers of the sweet psalmist of Israel and perhaps an in-depth consideration of this good man’s prayers would read almost like another commentary on his many psalms. Indeed so many of David’s psalms have the character of a prayer that it would be, in the space of this short meditation, a practical impossibility to consider them all. Yet, since so many of his prayers have been recorded in other places too, and preserved for us, there must be a reason. There must be some spiritual guidance and profit for us in the reading and consideration of David’s prayers so that we are surely justified in this present exercise.
The expression which heads this article, “the prayers of David”, is found only once in Scripture, in Ps.72.20, which, significantly, is not only the closing verse of this delightful millennial Psalm but also the closing verse of the Second Book of Psalms (Psalms 42-72). Psalm 72 is the ultimate, a companion to Psalm 24, a crescendo in which are foretold the glories of the coming reign of Messiah, the greater Son of David, and when the conditions here described are realised David has nothing more to pray for. The end of all his prayers is the enthronement and rule of the Son of David on the very earth in which He was once rejected and crucified. In anticipation, the Psalmist has sung of these days and when once they come to pass “the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended”. He can ask no more; he desires no more.
THE SCOPE OF DAVID’S PRAYERS
In a letter to Timothy, Paul writes “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men” 1Tim.2.1. Most expositors will admit to a difficulty in defining any major difference between these four words, supplications, prayers, intercessions, giving of thanks. Perhaps there is an overlapping but they do intimate different aspects of prayer. “Supplication” suggests an earnest pleading in view of some particular need. “Prayers” appears to be a more general word signifying a communing with God concerning matters of all kinds. “Intercessions”, as the prefix “inter” indicates, is a making of request on behalf of others, intervening for them in prayer. “Giving of thanks” needs no explanation.
It has been helpfully suggested that prayer is a man upon his knees; supplication is a man upon his face; intercession is a man upon his feet with hands upraised to heaven; giving of thanks is a man seated, with head bowed in sincere gratitude before God. Some have seen in the four words a suggestion of the four ingredients of the holy incense of Ex.30.34, where galbanum, stacte, onycha and frankincense combine in a sweet fragrance for God’s pleasure.
David knew all of these exercises, and more besides. Some of his prayers were personal, some were prophetical; some were practical, and some were devotional; others, sadly, had to be confessional or penitential, acknowledging shortcoming and sin. Some were for himself or his family, especially for Solomon, some were for his friends, and some for the nation. Then at times David’s prayers were, like some of his psalms, imprecatory, calling for judgment on his many enemies. The “man after God’s own heart” Acts 13.22, seemed to be constantly in communion with the Lord about some matter, anxious to do God’s will, and his psalms are permeated with his prayers. His prayers were not sporadic for as he says himself, “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and He shall hear my voice” Ps.55.17. How very like that other man of prayer, Daniel, of whom it is written, “his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God” Dan.6.10. What examples!
DAVID’S FIRST RECORDED PRAYER
Perhaps it is not without significance that David’s earliest recorded prayers concern conflict with his enemies the Philistines. “Then they told David, saying, Behold, the Philistines fight against Keilah, and they rob the threshingfloors. Therefore David inquired of the LORD saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines?” 1Sam.23.1,2. Two verses later we read “Then David inquired of the LORD yet again”. David was indeed “a man of war” 1Sam.16.18, and sadly, while he fought so valiantly for Israel, it was this very thing that denied him the privilege of building the temple. As he himself records, “God said unto me, Thou shalt not build an house for My name, because thou hast been a man of war, and hast shed blood” 1Chron.28.3. Ever after, so many of David’s prayers have this character, asking for help and guidance in conflict. A similar prayer is recorded in 2Sam.5.19, “And David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go up to the Philistines? wilt Thou deliver them into mine hand?” And the LORD said unto David, “Go up: for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into thine hand.”” Again and again we read that David enquired of the LORD. At times he was answered immediately, and at times, as it is with ourselves, perhaps the answer was not what David expected, or wanted. When later the Philistines had come against him again we read, “When David inquired of the LORD, He said, “Thou shalt not go up; but fetch a compass behind them, and come upon them over against the mulberry trees”” 2Sam.5.23. How good to obey, even when the directions may seem strange to us.
INTELLIGENCE AND REVERENCE
Every exercised believer must surely desire to be both intelligent and reverent in drawing near to God, and such features are very evident in David’s address to Divine persons. His intelligent use of appropriate Divine titles does, in fact, indicate reverence and in our modern age we can certainly learn from David’s example in this respect.
How often does he exclaim “O God” as he approaches in prayer. “God” is, in the Hebrew, Elohim. It is the first Divine name used in our Bible, Gen.1.1. It is a plural name signifying One Who is not only mighty but almighty, absolutely supreme in His might. More than one hundred and forty times in the Psalms does David employ this great name. How this should engender confidence in us, to know that in prayer we come to the supreme and all-powerful Elohim. Of course we know that He is our Father, and this brings Him very near to us, but nevertheless, our Father is the mighty Elohim, Creator of the universe. How we should trust Him, as David did. And then, again, David often exclaims “O my God”. The personal pronoun “my” made Elohim very relevant to him and we can almost feel the pathos when he cries, again and again, “O my God [my Elohim]”.
Whether David actually and literally pronounced the great name “Jehovah” we cannot tell. Today Jews regard it as the unpronounceable name. Neither will they even write it in its fullness, but certainly David did in some way use or imply the great name and he employs it several hundred times in his psalms. And again, as with Elohim, he at times prefixes the name with the pronoun and cries “O my Jehovah“. As we contemplate David’s intelligent and reverent use of Divine titles in a past dispensation, how grateful we ought to be who sing, with greater light than David,
- So near to God, so very near,
- Nearer we cannot be,
- For in the Person of His Son
- We are as near as He.
For believers of the present age Elohim is not distant! Jehovah is not remote! Remembering our privilege, we draw near with boldness, but remembering Divine greatness we draw near with becoming reverence.
This title emphasises David’s intelligence in his prayers when, again and again he appeals to, “LORD God”, as for example in Ps.31.5. Here “LORD” is Jehovah and God is El (see Strong 410). This combination of titles conveys both the all-sufficiency and the strength of David’s God. We cannot believe that he used these titles indiscriminately, or at random, but with reverent intelligence, and it is touching to remember that the verse referred to above, Ps.31.5, was that used by the Lord Jesus in His last breath at Golgotha when He said “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” Lk.23.46, and was it in the mind of Stephen too in the hour of his stoning, Acts 7.59? David did not know God as Father for that relationship came later with the resurrection of Christ and the coming of the indwelling Spirit. Calvary and Pentecost have made such a difference! Nevertheless, David did know a Fatherly care. He appreciated that but addressed His prayers to Jehovah, to Elohim, or to El.
THE PRAYER OF THE PENITENT
It is difficult to imagine a greater extreme than that between the prayers of the man of war and the prayers and confession of David the penitent. What a difference in the atmosphere, the language and the heartfelt appeal. David had sinned grievously. He had broken the tenth, the seventh, and the sixth commandments in that order. The man who had subdued Philistines, Syrians, Amalekites, Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites, could not subdue his own passions. Idleness and sloth had led to covetousness, adultery, pretence, hypocrisy and murder. The man who had slain a lion, a bear, and a giant, had now been slain himself by his own unbridled lust. Poor David! The nation was singing his psalms but he was sobbing out his remorse. Let those who would be judgmental and critical of him first read Psalm 51 before voicing any cruel criticism. This is the sad prayer of a thoroughly repentant David and what an example for any believer with sin to confess.
David unreservedly acknowledges his sin. He acknowledges too the enormity of it. Of course he had sinned against Uriah, against Bathsheba, against his family and against the nation, but such is the enormity of his sin that he exclaims, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned” Ps.51.4. His sin was a deliberate transgression of Jehovah’s known law. It was not a sin of ignorance. It was rebellion and was therefore primarily a sin against God. If others were affected by his sin, and they were, that was grievous, but sinning against the God Whom he knew was the ultimate wrong. He uses the three great terms to describe his sin, calling it “my transgressions, my sin, my iniquity”. His confession is completely unreserved.
The prophet Nathan has reproved him and he bows to the reproof. He offers no excuse and makes no request for leniency. He desires deliverance from bloodguiltiness and pleads only the loving kindness and tender mercies of God as he asks “wash me; cleanse me; purge me”. Notice the relative absence of Divine names and titles in the penitential Psalm 51. Only six times in nineteen verses does David use the title Elohim and once only he uses the title Adonai. This is simply “Lord”, and is the title that Jews will use in their liturgies as a substitute for Jehovah. Do we sense an estrangement from his God here? How he dreads being left in his guilt. If the joy of salvation is not restored to him it will affect his testimony to sinners and will affect also the blessing of Zion. His only hope is in the magnanimity of the God of his salvation. If He in the great goodness of His heart would hear the confession of His servant and pardon his sin then all would be restored to what it had been.
Note that David confesses “I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” Ps.51.5. He had been born in sin and had inherited a sinful nature but he does not use this as an excuse for what he had done. He had sinned wilfully and his sin weighed upon his conscience; it was ever before him. He pleads “Wash me; cleanse me; purge me” because he feels like an unclean leper or like a soiled garment. He was stained and broken, but he prays what the believer in this age cannot pray when he pleads, “Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me” v.11. We have an indwelling gracious Spirit Who will never leave us. Otherwise, what an example for us when we sin! Let us bring a full, frank and sincere acknowledgement of the wrong, casting ourselves unreservedly upon Him Who is not only faithful in His judgment of sin but faithful also in forgiving the true penitent. In the blessings of our salvation in this New Testament era we do not need to beg for forgiveness, for “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1Jn.1.9, and in the Lord Jesus we have an Advocate, a Comforter Who will assist us back into communion with the Father Whom we have grieved, 1Jn.2.1. But when we remember that the man after God’s own heart could sin so grievously how it behoves us to pray as he did, “Preserve me, O God: for in Thee do I put my trust” Ps.16.1.
Psalm 32 is an associate Psalm with Psalm 51, believed to have been written after David’s restoration following his sin with Bathsheba. This is one of thirteen Maschil Psalms, which word means “instruction”, and who better to give instruction regarding sin, confession and restoration than the man who has been there. David reminisces. He remembers the pain of those days subsequent to his sin and prior to his forgiveness. Alternatively he suffered in pained silence or else groaned aloud in anguish under the hand of God. Inwardly his conscience was heavily burdened and outwardly his very physical frame was affected. Day and night he suffered in deep conviction about what he had done, until, as he says, “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” Ps.32.5. How sincere was his confession, for there followed immediately the “Selah”. There was pardon, peace and praise and he cries “Thou art my hiding place”. Now he can revel in the blessedness of forgiveness, for his transgression is forgiven and his sin is covered. This is blessedness indeed, true happiness. Now there are songs of deliverance and the psalm ends with shouts of joy.
David would teach us, from painful experience, the cost of sinning against the Lord, and the foolishness, when we have sinned, of trying to conceal it, or of remaining in silence and in stubborn refusal to freely acknowledge our sin. Still today there is blessedness in that true confession which is the prelude to forgiveness and restoration into the joy of communion. How instructive are David’s prayers!
THE PRAYERS OF THE FUGITIVE
David had two periods in his life when he was an exile and a fugitive. He was of course a fugitive from the jealous Saul who lived in fear of David’s accession to the throne. Saul hunted David “as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains” 1Sam.26.20. David sojourned in the wilderness of Ziph, several miles south-east of Hebron, where on more than one occasion he spared Saul’s life when he could very easily have slain him. Most honourably he refused to harm him whom he called “the LORD’S anointed” v.11.
But undoubtedly David’s most painful period of exile was when he had to flee Jerusalem from his own son Absalom. Absalom was a usurper, a rebel, assuming the throne which belonged to his father. With his life in danger David fled and with head covered and feet bare he crossed the brook Kidron over to the mount of Olives with some faithful followers. He sent the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem and began his sad exile in the Judean wilderness. He was, as Maclaren says, a “discrowned King”, and it was during this period that several of his psalms were born, incorporating in them some touching prayers of the fugitive.
The first of these is Psalm 3, where the superscription distinctly tells us that it was composed “when he fled from Absalom his son”. It commences with a heartfelt cry to Jehovah, “LORD, how are they increased that trouble me! Many are they that rise up against me.” Absalom had, by guile, gathered so many around him and such was David’s position now that they said “There is no help for him in God”. But in his lament there is hope too and he could exclaim “But Thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head”. He confidently believed that the Lord would protect him like a shield, so that he would yet lift up his bowed head and be returned to his former glory. Confident that the Lord would both preserve and deliver him, he could lie down and sleep. He could not trust and fear at the same time so he says calmly, “I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me … I will not be afraid” Ps.3.5,6. Jehovah was mightier than his foes.
Psalms 3 and 4 form a pair. Continuing his confession in Psalm 4 David now pleads “Hear me when I call”, and his appeal is to Him Whom he calls “O God of my righteousness”. He recognises his own unrighteousness. In his distress he freely acknowledges this and his plea is to the righteous One by Whom righteousness can be restored. David has been sore pressed by the remembrance of his sin and the trauma of his conviction and confession, and he now says, in Mr. Darby’s beautiful rendering of Ps.4.1, “In pressure Thou hast enlarged me”. Pressure usually constricts and suppresses but the pressure of all that he has been through since the prophet Nathan challenged him has had the effect of enlarging David’s thoughts of God. He can only ask for mercy and grace but such is his confidence as to Jehovah’s mercy that he concludes his prayer saying, “Thou hast put gladness in my heart” and yet again he declares, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for Thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety” vv.7,8. Jehovah is his strength and in Him he can rest in confidence, and sleep in safety from those who hunt him.
CONFESSION AND MEDITATION
Although it is not specifically stated in the psalm it is generally believed that Psalm 25 is also related to David’s sin and confession. As in the great penitential Psalm 51, David again appeals to “the God of my salvation”. He speaks of pardon and preservation, of tender mercies and loving kindnesses, and he asks for leading and guiding. He professes his trust in Him Who can deliver him from his enemies. There are many, he says, who hate him without a cause, and he appeals to his God for necessary help in his affliction. How fully submissive he is in his contrition as he appeals to Jehovah, “Show me … lead me … teach me … I trust in Thee”. How relevant are these requests for present day believers. If, however, the requests are really genuine then the suppliant must be prepared to accept and act upon the Divine answers. Whatever He may show me; wherever He may lead me; whatever truth He may teach me, I must trust and be willing to accept His plan for me. It is the way to blessing and as believers often sing:
- Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
- To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
- (J. H. Sammis)
MY STRENGTH; MY SHIELD; MY SONG
In Psalm 28 David’s plea continues and he now dreads the awful consequence if Jehovah does not answer. “Unto Thee will I cry, O LORD my rock”. Already, in Psalm 18 David has used this great title of God, “My Rock”, and associated with that title so many other titles of Jehovah, so comforting to a fugitive, as he then was, “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in Whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” What strength is depicted in all of these reverent descriptions of God and what comfort for a fugitive.
But what a tragedy if Jehovah failed to answer! “Be not silent to me: lest, if Thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit”. What a tragedy indeed it would be for any saint if Jehovah remained silent and did not answer! David fears that in such circumstances he would become just like the masses. They are workers of iniquity who with their tongues speak peace but in their hearts devise mischief. It is pretence; it is hypocrisy, and he has had enough of that. He had behaved exactly as the workers of iniquity “which speak peace to their neighbours, but mischief is in their hearts” Ps.28.3. David had indeed spoken of peace to Uriah while at the same time he was devising mischief in his heart towards him. “Shalom”, he had said to Uriah while plotting his death. “And when Uriah was come unto him, David demanded of him how Joab did (shalom), and how the people did (shalom), and how the war prospered (shalom)” 2Sam.11.7. It cost him the joy of his salvation and his usefulness as a testimony for God. David sinned in his weakness but the Lord was his strength and he will go to Him.
Now, forgiven, David can sincerely pray for his people, whom he calls “Thy people, Thine inheritance”. “Save them”, he prays; “bless them; feed them; lift them up.” “The LORD is my strength” he has just said, v.7, and now he says, “The LORD is their strength” v.8. Being now himself right with God, David’s concern is for the nation.
THE FUGITIVE IN THE WILDERNESS
Psalm 63 was born during David’s exile in the wilderness and his physical condition and surroundings were but a reflection of his inner feelings. Waking early in the morning in a dry and thirsty land he had strong desires and longings. Physically he must have yearned for water and for food but his physical desires were little compared with his longing to see the power and the glory of the sanctuary which now must have seemed so far away. But the loving kindness of the mighty Elohim was better than life itself and he would never cease to offer praise. While he lived he would daily bless the Lord. Early in the morning he would offer his praises and even upon his bed in the night watches he would meditate on the Lord. In spite of his unfavourable circumstances in this inhospitable wilderness he could say: “Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.” Like a little bird he could nestle in the shadow of Jehovah’s wings. There he was assured of safety and shelter, and there he could rest, protected, contented, and satisfied. What an exhilarating example David has left us. Most of us live in much better conditions than this poor fugitive, but even in our days of darkness and sorrow or in our seasons of loneliness we do well to imitate this good man and keep on praising.
For a moment he thinks of his enemies. They will go into judgment. They will fall by the sword, but he will rejoice. He remembers, even in his imposed exile, that he is the king, and that the right hand of the Lord will uphold him. Let us, like David, fill our prayers with praises and keep on rejoicing.
While many of David’s prayers have the kingdom, and the nation, in view, yet he also does pray much for himself. In Psalm 31 he speaks of “my trust; my trouble: my times”. He recognises that his times are in the hand of the Lord, but even in such times, ordered by Jehovah, there are troubles, and in such troublous circumstances he must trust. “Be Thou my strong rock” he cries again, and once more he introduces a lovely title of his God saying, “Thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth”. Jehovah Elohim was indeed a God of truth. He could be trusted by His people. All that He planned for them, all that He did, all that He said, was in keeping with this character. There was nothing devious in Him and no vacillation. With this James concurs in the New Testament, calling Him “the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” Jms.1.17, and He had begotten His people by the Word of truth. So, like David of old, we can trust the Lord God of truth, and rest.
PRAYERS OF THE SUFFERER
It has been said that poets learn in suffering what they teach in song and this is certainly true of David. So many of those psalms of his which incorporate his prayers, have been conceived in suffering and are now greatly blessed in the comforting of other sufferers.
Whether David was fully aware of it or not, some of his prayers, arising out of his sorrows, were anticipative and prophetic of the suffering Messiah and perhaps also of a persecuted remnant of a day to come. Of these, Psalms 22 and 69 are supreme examples.
In Psalm 22, he compares himself to the hind of the dawn, for such is the meaning of the Hebrew words in the title Aijeleth-Shahar. The hind of the dawn, so called because as a gentle creature it was hunted even as it came to drink, and nibble grass by the water’s edge in the early morning. Only at dawn did it have any rest at all but soon after daybreak it was encompassed by enemies. David knew the experience and so it was too with our blessed Lord. Strong bulls and fierce dogs gathered about Him, proud Jewish leaders and merciless Gentile mercenaries. They gaped upon Him with their mouths and stared upon Him in His weakness. David could not have known the details of Christ’s sufferings but these are portrayed in Psalm 22. These details are now recorded in the gospels for His people’s wonder, and for their adoration and appreciation of One Who was indeed the Man of Sorrows.
That faithful remnant of a coming day, suffering under the tyrannical reign of the man of sin will likely use the language of David’s Psalm 22 as they maintain a testimony to the Lord. Surrounded and hunted by enemies as He was, they may well take comfort in the language of this and other psalms of the sufferer.
Psalm 69 is also a prayer of the sufferer. One commentator calls it a “Prayer of the Suffering Servant of God” (W. T. Davison1). A Jewish writer calls it a “Prayer of the Persecuted” (Dr. Cohen2). There are perhaps six references to reproach in the psalm. David cries, “Save me, O God”, and at once proceeds to enlarge upon his deep suffering. Soon he will cry, “Deliver me”, and more than once he cries, “Answer me, O Jehovah”. He feels as if he is sinking in deep mire, and then compares his sorrow to floods of waters which threaten to overflow him.
- 1 Davidson, W.T. “The Psalms (I-LXXII)”. The Century Bible, T.C & E.C. Jack, Edinburgh.
2 Cohen, Dr. A. “The Psalms”. The Soncino Press, London, 1945
The entire burden and theme of Psalm 69 is suffering and the psalmist just longs for relief. It is, from beginning to end, a prayer for Divine intervention in his distress and yet, as in Psalm 22 there shines through at times that assurance that Jehovah does hear the cry of the needy and will indeed save. So there can be cause for praise, even in sorrow. “I will praise the name of God with a song” v.30.
Then, in Ps.4.1, as has already been mentioned, David says to the God of righteousness, “In pressure Thou hast enlarged me”(J.N.D.). David has learned that the pressure of suffering will but enlarge him, not only in his thoughts of God but in his attitude and ministry to his fellow-men. So it is still, that suffering saints who understand that there is a reason for their suffering often exhibit a sweetness which many others do not have.
LOVE AND TRUST
Like all men, David had his faults and failings, some of them grave indeed, but there can be no doubt whatever of his deep love for Jehovah. In prayer, throughout his psalms he expresses this affection freely. Although Psalm 116 is anonymous yet the opening words “I LOVE the LORD” may well have been on David’s lips often and the psalm continues with a multitude of reasons for the psalmist’s love, to all of which David could have added a sincere and hearty “Amen”. Jehovah was gracious and merciful; He inclined His ear to His people; He heard and answered their prayers and dealt bountifully with them; He saved them and kept them so that it all demanded a “Hallelujah” v.19.
David’s love for the Lord engendered a corresponding trust in Him and this is expressed in many of his psalms. How beautiful in this respect is Ps.18.1,2 “I will love Thee, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in Whom I will trust”.
It is at times difficult to disentangle the prayers and praises in David’s psalms. Sometimes he will make sincere and earnest request and then, almost immediately, burst into paeans of praise as if he already had the desired answer. This is love and trust combined. Love for Jehovah encourages him to come and make his request and trust enables him to believe that his prayer is heard and will indeed be answered. It is as though he lived in the enjoyment of that assurance written for a people of another age, “before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” Isa.65.24.
PRAYERS OF THE PILGRIM
Although in his later years David knew much of opulence and wealth, with every creature comfort available to him, yet still he considered himself a pilgrim. His early years had perhaps been simple and frugal enough as he watched over his father’s few sheep in the wilderness, 1Sam.17.28, but he was destined to be called from the sheepcotes to the throne and that brought the luxury of those latter years. But in the spirit of his great predecessors he knew that this was all temporary. They “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” Heb.11.10.
As a shepherd himself David knew the value, indeed the necessity, of being safely led along the way. There were many problems and dangers, both seen and unseen, and the shepherd’s rod and staff were a comfort for guidance, protection, and correction. How often David prayed for that guidance along his pilgrim pathway. Here is just a selection, from the Psalms, of his pleas for the Lord’s guidance that will be evidence of the sincerity and constancy of his desire to be led.
- 5.8, “Lead me, O LORD … make Thy way straight before my face”;
- 25.5, “Lead me in Thy truth, and teach me”;
- 27.11, “Lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies”;
- 31.3, “Lead me, and guide me”;
- 61.2, “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I”;
- 139.24, “Lead me in the way everlasting”;
- 143.10, “Lead me into the land of uprightness”.
Then, in testimony to Jehovah he can say, “He leadeth me beside the still waters … He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness” Ps.23.2,3. How applicable is all this to present-day pilgrims, who ever need to be encouraged along the way.
PRAYERS THAT ARE PROPHETICAL
As there were two psalms that were pre-eminently psalms of suffering, Psalms 22 and 69, so there are two psalms which stand out as psalms of coming Kingdom glory, Psalms 24 and 110. Psalm 110 concludes with the words quoted earlier in this paper, “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended”. Prophetically David envisages the reign of the greater Son of David and when that comes to pass and the whole earth is filled with Messiah’s glory, David has nothing more to pray for. His prayers are ended.
Psalm 24 is full of praise for the glory of the Creator but there is implicit in the psalm a spirit of prayerful anticipation. Historically the psalm is believed to have been composed for, and sung at, the bringing back of the holy Ark of the Covenant to Zion after its long exile. By interpretation, some commentators, including the respected Spurgeon, see in the psalm a picture of Christ’s ascension into the heavens after His resurrection. This might indeed be a fine application of the psalm but the ultimate true interpretation is of the entrance of the King of Glory through the gates and into the millennial Jerusalem. The King of Glory is none other than Jesus, Who with clean hands and a pure heart, strong and mighty in the battle of Armageddon, takes His rightful place on the throne.
This psalm is a majestic and fitting prelude to Psalm 110 which, as has already been noted, is the great millennial psalm anticipating the glorious reign of Messiah, the Son of David. It may be objected that this psalm is not, essentially, a prayer, and yet several times in the psalm David does address the Lord and His Anointed, so that the spirit of prayer and praise does pervade the seven verses. The psalm is pure, poetic prophecy, unique in all literature, and even in the Psalter.
PRAYERS OF THE WORSHIPPER
David knew how to worship. It would not be possible or practical, in the bounds of one short paper, to refer to every instance of David’s worship. Intelligent worship requires some knowledge of, and experience with, the Lord, and it is evident that when David was but a shepherd boy he had a knowledge of God above many of his contemporaries. In his challenge to Goliath he could say “I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel” 1Sam.17.45. Several times then he used the great name Jehovah (Strong 3068) as well as Elohim, (Strong 430) saying so confidently, “All this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD’S, and He will give you into our hands” 1Sam.17.47. With such knowledge David indeed became a worshipper and this reveals itself in many of his psalms. One has said that “Worship is the honour and adoration rendered to God for what He is in Himself and for what He means to those who render it” (J.N.D.). All this was true of David.
As early as the lovely eighth Psalm David’s worship is manifested. Psalm 8 both begins and ends with a rather majestic outburst of praise and worship. “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth! Who hast set Thy glory above the heavens” Ps.8.1,9. Excellence in the earth and glory above the heavens demands worship! Expressions of worship are enclosed between the identical first and last verses of this psalm just as a jewel might be encased in golden clasps. David recognises the greatness of the Creator and worships. And again there is a spirit of prophecy in the psalm relating as it does to Messiah, the Man Who will one day rule and reign in the creation, Heb.2.6-8.
Being a worshipper himself David many times exhorts others to worship too, saying “Give unto the LORD the glory due unto His name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” Ps.29.2. “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our Maker” Ps.95.6. And again, “O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” Ps.96.9. “Exalt ye the LORD our God, and worship at His footstool; for He is holy. Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at His holy hill; for the LORD our God is holy” Ps.99.5,9.
David finds other reasons too to worship, apart from the creatorial power and glory of Jehovah, and in what is perhaps his last reference to worship in the Psalter he says, “I will worship toward Thy holy temple, and praise Thy name for Thy lovingkindness and for Thy truth: for Thou hast magnified Thy word above all Thy name” Ps.138.2. That the mighty Creator should show loving kindness, mercy, pity, toward His creatures was a cause for worship, as was His truth and the greatness of His Word. All this is true for present-day worshippers who have indeed more light than David had and an access into the Lord’s immediate presence which David never had. We may come boldly, but with becoming reverence, into that very presence with our prayers, and our expressions of praise and worship.
David had much in his life to make him a mourner but there were three occasions in particular when he shed bitter tears, in a sad mingling of prayer and lamentation. He wept at the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, at the treacherous death of Abner, and at the death of his son Absalom.
In 2 Samuel chapter 1 the news came to David that Saul and Jonathan were both dead, slain on Mount Gilboa in a battle with the Philistines. “And they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son.” Saul had been an enemy of David in his jealousy. Jonathan had been a close companion and friend, but it is a testimony to the noble spirit of David that he lamented over both. His lament was both a prayer and an elegy as he said “The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen! Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil. From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty. Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places. I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” 2Sam.1.19-27. What a prayerful lamentation was this, recorded forever in the sacred record.
Abner was Saul’s uncle, and the general of his armies, 1Sam.14.50. For seven years after Saul’s death, he was a supporter of Ish-bosheth; Saul’s son, in his assumption of the throne while David reigned at Hebron. But after a sharp disagreement with Ish-bosheth he then undertook to unite the whole kingdom under David. He was, however, treacherously slain by Joab, either to revenge the death of Asahel, Joab’s brother, whom Abner had formerly killed, or perhaps more probably from jealousy. David abhorred this treacherous act, and composed an elegy on his death, 2Sam.2.8; 3.33.
“And David said to Joab, and to all the people that were with him, Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn before Abner. And king David himself followed the bier. And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept. And the king lamented over Abner. And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept. And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth? Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou. And all the people wept again over him” 2Sam.3.32-34.
In 2 Samuel chapter 15 David’s estranged son Absalom was crowned king in Hebron as a usurper. David knew that his own life and the lives of those who were faithful to him would be in danger and he decided that they must flee Jerusalem. It was with heavy hearts that they left the city to cross the Kidron valley to the mount of Olives and over to the wilderness. “And David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot: and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up” 2Sam.15.30. It was a hard thing for him to have to flee from his own son and Psalm 3 records his prayers and feelings on the occasion. How sadly the psalm commences, “LORD, how are they increased that trouble me! Many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God”. Yet, he can soon say that with confidence in Jehovah he can lie down and sleep, and awake sustained so that he need not fear though he be surrounded by tens of thousands of hostile people.
It was but a short time after this that there was occasion again for David to mourn. News had come that his beloved but wayward son Absalom was dead. It wrings from his heart a pathetic dirge of a prayer. “And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2Sam.18.33.
How touching the account is of the last words of David in 2 Samuel chapter 23. “Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and His word was in my tongue. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain. Although my house be not so with God; yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire” 2Sam.23.1-5.
May the prayers of David, the shepherd, the king, the warrior, the worshipper, the sufferer, the pilgrim, the penitent and the mourner be an example to us all in our times of need, whether they be of joy, or of sorrow. David had disappointments in the nation, in his family, and in himself, but he was indeed a man after God’s own heart and we may well treasure his memory and follow his example. What a holy blending of prayer and praise, of suffering and solace, of worship and weeping, of remorse, restoration, and rejoicing, of tears, triumphs and tragedies.