7-2 Case Study: David and the Ziphites
Psalm 54 was written when David received the news that the Ziphites had betrayed him. The reference to oppressors ‘seeking after my soul / life’ (Ps. 54:3) uses the same Hebrew words as in 1 Sam. 23:15, where Saul seeks for David’s life at Ziph. It gives an insight into the mind of David; how he perceived himself, how he understood God. He was obviously in a desperate situation- he’d been betrayed, and Saul appeared certain now to corner him and kill him. He asks God of course to save him; he doesn’t just resign himself to what looked like an impossible situation. He had the vision to believe that God can do miracles. He asks God to ‘judge’ him, to ‘plead my cause’ (Ps. 54:1 Heb.). There he was, just having received the news… and he prays, and composes a Psalm, right there and then. Composing poetry in the heat of the moment was his way of calming down and focusing his faith. That’s not to say, of course, that he didn’t later refine it and ‘write it up’ as it were. In passing, note how Ps. 59 is another example of David composing a Psalm in the heat of the moment- it was written, according to the [inspired] introduction, whilst Saul’s men were watching his house planning to kill him. And there he was in his bedroom, praying and composing a Psalm…
He so often refers to the court of Heaven; he imagined his enemies, perhaps represented by an Angel in the court of Heaven. And yet he asks God, the judge, to plead his cause to Himself, like an advocate. He grasped what Paul later did- that the Father and Son are both our judge and also our defending lawyer, pleading our cause. And he goes on: “Hear my prayer…give ear to the words of my mouth” (Ps. 54:2). He saw prayer as some kind of a judgment experience. And again, the New Testament has the same idea- for the “boldness” with which we come before the “throne of grace” right now, is the “boldness” with which we will come before that same throne at the final day of judgment (Heb. 4:16; Eph. 3:12 cp. 1 Jn. 4:17). Therefore answered prayer is in a sense a foretaste of judgment. The Gentiles who ‘rose up against me’ (Ps. 54:3) are likened to the accusers, ‘rising up’ in a court of law. He had the vision of all actions here on earth being played out before the Heavenly court, presumably by Angelic representatives of each side. The same thing goes on more obviously in the book of Daniel and in the record of Job’s sufferings. The idea of his oppressors [i.e. Saul and his supporters] ‘seeking after’ him is again a legal concept- the same Hebrew word is translated ‘to make inquisition’, ‘to make request’, to ‘ask for’ in a legal sense. David expected God’s response to be a ‘delivering’ of him from ‘trouble’. But again, the Hebrew words used are judgment words- a ‘defence’ of him from his ‘adversary at law’ (Ps. 54:7). And in the end, the God who is his legal defence will turn into the judge, who will ‘reward evil unto mine enemies’ (Ps. 54:5). The enigmatic conclusion to the Psalm is perhaps explained by David’s vision of his representative Angel in the court of Heaven, as God’s eye, looking forth in judgment upon his enemies, just as the Angel did at the Red Sea : “Mine eye hath seen upon mine enemies” (Ps. 54:7).
So to David, the idea of a ‘court of Heaven’ had real meaning. In the panic moment of distress, in the adrenalin rush of the crisis moment, he was immediately aware of it. He thought deeply about it, and it was the basis for his faith. He reflects that his persecutors were acting as they were because they did not set God before them (Ps. 54:3, cp. Ps. 86:14). Their sinful behaviour was because they refused to accept the implication of a fundamental first principle- that God sees and knows all things, and is therefore truly present ‘before our face’. By contrast, David can say that he set the Lord always before his face (Ps. 16:8). And as Ps. 54 indicates, David was thoroughly aware that what he saw happening on earth, was being reflected in the Heavenly court; for God was and is present in every aspect of daily life.
In passing, note the division of this Psalm, hinging around the ‘Selah’ [pause] at the end of v. 3. David can speak from then on in the past tense. He was so certain that God would hear his prayer, that he speaks about the answer in the past tense. He had the attitude taught by the Lord in Mk. 11:24– that we should believe that we have received what we ask for, when we pray. God gave David an opportunity to demonstrate again that he had learnt his lesson. Some time later, the Ziphites yet again betrayed David to Saul. This time, David goes out with Abishai to where Saul was sleeping, but doesn’t kill him. He takes Saul’s spear, and then calls out to Saul, making the claim that God will “deliver me out of all tribulation” (1 Sam. 26:24). The Hebrew word he uses for “deliver” is just that he used in Ps. 54:7, which he spoke at the time of the first crisis with the Ziphites: God “hath delivered me out of all trouble”. He means: ‘I believe that God will deliver me’. But David was so certain of receiving that deliverance from the court of Heaven, that he used the past tense. Yet God made the situation repeat, as He does in our lives; so that we put into practice the faith we learnt in our earlier experience of the same situation.