April 7, 2016

Tom Lowe



A Psalm of David, a wisdom psalm, to the choirmaster (a lament)

Theme: The evil may win, but God will judge them


Psalm 64

1 Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy.

2 Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity:

3 Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words:

4 That they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not.

5 They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them?

6 They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep.

7 But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded.

8 So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves: all that see them shall flee away.

9 And all men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God; for they shall wisely consider of his doing.

10 The righteous shall be glad in the Lord, and shall trust in him; and all the upright in heart shall glory.



All we really know about this psalm is that it follows the pattern of a lament, and that it was one of David’s.  Opinions differ as to when he wrote it.  Some place it during his youthful, fugitive days when he fled from Saul.  David’s spectacular rise to prominence in the kingdom, after his conquest of Goliath, earned him as many foes as friends.  His marriage into the royal family likewise evoked bitter feelings in the hearts of some. No doubt there had been many who had aspired to the hand of the king’s daughter.


The historical records confirm that Saul’s ears were filled with lies about David.  Doeg, the Edomite, for instance, did incalculable harm with his tongue.  Not even Jonathan’s impassioned defense of David at court could offset the fuel with which David’s foes constantly fed the fires of Saul’s suspicions.  In more than one of his psalms David pours out his heart to God about the falsehoods being spread about him.  Saul never did forgive David for being God’s chosen future king, destined from on high to set upon the throne which he himself so shamefully filled.


The psalm could equally well have been written at the time of the Absalom rebellion. In this study we are going to put it into that setting.  Long before things came to such a point that David was forced to flee Jerusalem; the conspiracy against David had been initiated and escalated by malicious tongues.  The names of men like Absalom, Ahithophel and Shimei all come to mind when we put the psalm into that context.  They all blackened David’s name to further their own selfish goals. To describe his situation the psalmist uses a series of metaphors drawn from the practices of those who stalk wild animals.  People give us all kinds of trouble, but our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against Satan and his hosts (Ephesians 6:10).  This psalm instructs us what to do in the battles of life.


Two archery contests emerge in Psalm 64.  The preliminary event is between the wicked and the righteous (vs. 1-6). The main event is between God and the wicked (vs. 7-10). 



1 Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy.

“David’s detractors” is the focus of verses 1-6.  David was afraid of them.  He was afraid of their hatred and their methods.  David was not afraid of any man he could meet in a fair and open fight.  But he did not know how to fight a smear campaign mounted against him with cunning, viciousness, persistence, and success.  People are all too willing to believe the worst.  Just one malicious piece of gossip is all it takes to ruin a reputation and tear to shreds the consistent testimony of a godly life.


The psalm opens with an appeal to God, a cry for help: “Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer,” that is, grant me the things I pray for, and this is it, Lord “preserve my life from fear of the enemy,” that is, from the enemy that I am in fear of (better, “afraid of”).  He makes a request for his life (soul), which is, in a particular manner; dear to him because he knows it is designed to be very helpful to God and his generation.  The word translated “prayer” (KJV) also means “complaint” or “trouble” (see 142:2).  His complaint being that a crowd of evil-doers had conspired against him; he told God he needed His protection. David didn’t ask God to change the circumstances but to fortify his own heart and deliver him from fear.  The fear of the Lord mobilizes us, but the fear of man paralyzes us.  The question comes up now and then, “Is it wrong to complain to God?” To express a complaint to God, provided one does so in the manner modeled by Scripture, is not only an acceptable part of worship (Psalm 10:1-11; 28:1-2; 142) but is also an essential part.  You can sense that David understands this when you read Psalm 28:1-2: To you, Lord, I call; you are my Rock, do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the pit. Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place.” It is Scripture like this that gives the child of God a healthy release for the concerns that inevitably accompany living in an ungodly world—But the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Mark 4:19; see also, John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12), and in the process it strengthens the bonds of intimacy and dependence on one’s heavenly Father.


“Hear my voice”: The use of the word “voice” would seem to imply that this was audible prayer, or that, though alone, he stated his petitions aloud. We have this same use of the word often in the Psalms, making it probable that even private prayers were uttered in an audible manner. In most cases, when there is no danger of being overheard, or of its being construed as pompousness or Pharisaism, this is favorable to the spirit of secret devotion. 


David was afraid of being afraid.  After all, his enemies did have fuel for their fires in David’s past life.  He had seduced Bathsheba, the wife of one of his most faithful soldiers.  He had arranged the murder of Uriah.  A guilty conscience can make cowards of us all.  But those sins were in the past, they had been confessed, they had been forgiven by God.  His guilt had been removed, but David knew well that the consequences of his sin could not be so swiftly removed.  The words of Nathan, the prophet, still ringing in his soul: “the sword shall never depart from thy house.” In his own judgment he had said: “He shall restore . . .  fourfold . . .” Four times the sword smote his own family.


David recognized that the perils he was now facing at the hand of Absalom were one of the consequences of his sin.  He had grounds to fear.  He was afraid of being afraid, which is a good thing.  It is one thing to be a coward; it is something else to be afraid of being a coward. David divulges this to the Lord, for he recognized that the fear of an enemy can be as destructive (or even more so) as an actual assault.



2 Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity:

“Hide me”or, more literally, you will hide me. There is both an implied prayer that this might be done, and a confident belief that it would be done. The idea is, protect me; guard me; make me safe; like one who is hidden or concealed so that his enemies cannot find him.


Two forces were at work against him—one was secret conspiracy, the other was open rebellion.


For a long time two men in the kingdom had nursed secret resentments against David; Absalom, the king’s favorite son, and Ahithophel, the king’s favorite senator.  Absalom resented David’s sentence (He banished him from court.); Ahithophel resented David’s sin.


You may recall that Absalom had been infuriated because his sister Tamar had been shamed by Amnon, another of David’s sons.  David, with his own guilty past still fresh in his mind, had hesitated to execute Amnon or even to punish him.  So Absalom took the law into his own hands, murdered Amnon in cold blood, and then fled into exile.  David grieved over him greatly; he had a special affection for his handsome-looking son.  Then David half forgave him, allowed him to return from exile, but banished him from court.  This enraged Absalom still more: down into his wicked and treacherous heart went the first seeds of all that followed.  He began to think of ways to get rid of his father and seize the throne for himself. That’s why he began a campaign to ingratiate himself with the people at David’s expense.  He went about it cautiously at first, using his charisma and charm and his noble birth.  He pretended to be more interested in the welfare of the people than David was.  Skillfully, with a cunning word here and a cautious word there, he stole the hearts of the people.  It was what David calls “the secret counsel of the wicked” (the ill effects of their plots against me.)  It was secret conspiracy and it was successful.


Ahithophel watched this with cautious optimism.  Although he was David’s most trusted friend and counselor, he nurtured a secret hatred of David.  The cause is not hard to find: Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather.  He never forgave David for his sin.  God could forgive him, but he never would.  Moreover, in the growing strength of Absalom, Ahithophel saw a golden opportunity for revenge.  Ahithophel, an astute statesman regarded by David as the cleverest man in the kingdom, kept in secret touch with Absalom.  When the time was right, he threw off all pretense, went over heart and soul to the rebellion, and gave it the national stature and prestige it needed to succeed.  It was what David calls in this verse “the insurrection of the workers of iniquity”; i.e., the “uproar,” “noisy assaults,” as well as their “secret counsels.”


David was afraid of their hatred.  He knew, now that the mask was off, how distorted with resentment, rage, and bitterness Ahithophel really was.  He also knew what he was up against.  Ahithophel was an able man.  For him to side with Absalom gave the rebellion enormous advantage, for when Ahithophel spoke he spoke with authority.  Ahithophel had a national reputation for speaking as the very oracle [A person through whom God was believed to speak.] of God. 


It was long odds for Absalom to take on David, but when Ahithophel came over to his side that changed the game.  David had profited from Ahithophel’s council often enough to know what he was up against now: the keenest mind in the kingdom, a mind sharpened now by wickedness and hatred.  No wonder David prayed as he did.



3 Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words:

“Whet their tongue” means to sharpen it like a sword is sharpened.  David compares their words to sharpened swords, and they aim them as one would point and shoot an arrow.  David’s character and reputation were being slashed to pieces. Forgotten were his greatness, his gifts, and his government.  Forgotten was the fact that he had made Israel great, defeated her foes, and made her a world power.  Forgotten was his statesmanship, his justice, his magnificent sense of fair play.  Forgotten was his selfless zeal for the things of God, for the well-being of his subjects, for the Glory of Israel.  Remembered only was his tragic sin.  This, perhaps, was why he wrote:


I hate the man who builds his name

On ruins of another’s fame.


The word “bitter” suggest something venomous. “Bitter words” means the slanderous and malicious speeches made against David by his enemies.  These are represented here by the poisoned arrows shot at him.  They use their tongue like a sword, and its words are like arrows.  One ancient Hebrew commentary paraphrases the verse: “They have anointed their arrows with deadly and bitter venom.” To shoot at someone with an arrow calls for little courage.  It can be done reasonably safely, secretly, and suddenly.  It is very hard to fight that kind of thing.



4 That they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not.

To spread lies and rumors about a person is cruel and cowardly, especially when it is done with malicious intent.  We have no idea of the harm we do when we gossip.  A person who would not dream of robbing a bank or of picking a pocket will often think nothing of destroying a person’s character.  We can imagine the lies that were being circulated about David.  We have some idea of the venom which those arrows were dipped in when we listen to the spiteful words of Shimei as he ran alongside David, at a safe distance of course, and cursed him, calling him a bloody man and a child of the devil.  David felt more intensely the loss of his integrity from lies spread about him, than he did the loss of his kingdom.


Those that are whole, sound, and complete are here called “the perfect.” Men of low character are rarely the objects of slander. “That they may shoot in secret at the perfect,” becomes “so that they may shoot from secrete places at the upright man,” when put in the language of our day.



5 They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them?

To make things worse, the evildoers serve as consultants for one another, encouraging each other and discussing their plans for creating mayhem in the future.  It is bad to do something that is wrong, but worse to encourage ourselves and others to do it; this is doing the devil’s work for him. 


In Hebrew, the phrase “They encourage themselves” means they strengthen or fortify themselves, by firm resolutions, by assured confidence of success, by uniting their council’s and forces together, and by mutual encouragement.  The wicked do not fear God but believe they are invincible.


Absalom’s men were drawn to him by their dislike (even hatred) of David and in their plans to get rid of him.  “They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them?” Secure in the thought that their evil will never be found out, “they commune of (discuss) laying snares privily” (secretly).


It is hard for decent people to recognize that there are some people like that—people who deliberately sit down to plot another man’s destruction.  We know that it happens.  We see it all too often in politics, business, and even our churches; it takes the form of character assassination.  It happened to the Lord Jesus Himself.  At His trial all manner of perjured testimony was sworn against him.  Someone has said, “Tell a lie often enough, and people will believe it.”


So David told the Lord about it.  His character was being systematically torn to shreds.  His enemies were united in their malicious intent. The psalmist lets us listen to the triumphant exclamations which these crafty schemers utter.  They are supremely confident of their own safety and of the inability of their victims to ferret out their dastardly plots.


“Who shall see them (the snares)?” is a question which reveals disbelief of God’s omnipotence; it is at the bottom of all the wickedness of the wicked.  The answer is “God sees everything; nothing can be hidden from Him.”  But many things can be hidden from David: their snares are so secretly laid that David cannot see them, and therefore he cannot avoid them.  They thought they had committed the perfect crime, assuming they could sin without being discovered.  The wicked do not know, or do not care, that there he is One who sees (73:11), and who will repay (75:7).



6 They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep.

It was beyond David.  He had never experienced such deliberate, painstaking falsehood.  He did not have either that kind of mind or heart.  David’s observation that the human mind and heart are cunning is an understatement.  He affirmed that the inward thought and the heart of a man are deep, too deep for David to discern (and to take up his guard against), but never too deep for God who knows the innermost secrets of all men’s hearts—Thoughyou probe my heart, though you examine me at night and test me, you will find that I have planned no evil; my mouth has not transgressed.” (Psalm 17:3) (also see Psalm 44:21; 139:1-4; Acts 15:8). 


“They search out iniquities” means that they take a great deal of pains to find out some iniquity (wickedness, vice, sin, crime) with which to charge me; they dig deep, and look far back into my life, and then they exaggerate the matter, so that they may have something to accuse me of.


David knew that “the heart, is deep” (“cunning,” NIV; see Jeremiah 17:9), and that there are always new dangers to avoid, so he constantly sought the Lord’s wisdom as he made decisions.  James 1:5 is a great promise to claim!


The Berkeley Version renders verse 6:

They work out wicked schemes;

they are ready with a well-conceived plan;

for the inner man and the heart are fathomless.



7 But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded.

Everything seems to be on the side of the villains so far.  But the righteous claim the promise, “The Lord will fight for you while you hold your peace” (Exodus 14:14).  “For the battle is not yours but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15).  Verse 7 makes it clear that the weapons of the psalmist’s enemies are to be countered by God’s “arrow.” If they shoot arrows at him, God shall shower arrows upon them and wound them.  In verse 3 their weapons are said to be their tongues and their bitter words, which are like a sword or like arrows.  God’s arrow, then, might be assumed to be some formidable word of God.  Some believe that the destructive words which the psalmist’s enemies let fly against him are curses or spells uttered by persons who practice black magic, and that the psalmist invokes for his protection a counter-curse from God.  The arrows of God, as Old Testament history demonstrates, include natural judgments such as deadly disease, defeat, and calamity.


There is such a thing as poetic justice in God’s dealings with men, that is, the punishment suits the crime.  David’s foes had shot at him with the poisoned arrows of wicked words; they had slashed at him with their tongues.  Now notice the poetic justice: “But God shall shoot at them (from ambush) with an arrow (singular); suddenly (soon and unexpectedly) shall they be wounded.” It’s a bulls-eye.  But the end has not yet come. Over against these godless and malicious plotters and in scornful opposition stands the psalmist and he declares his wish for them in the spirit of just retaliation.  Intentionally he uses the very words by which he described their evil deeds to portray the wrath of God coming upon them. Just when they are jubilant in the apparent success of their secret schemes, may the Lord’s arrows meet them just as suddenly and unexpectedly as was their onslaught upon the innocent!  The works of God are sudden, but not necessarily immediate. 


The words of this verse recall what David had said to Goliath: “This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike [lit., “smite”] you down and remove your head from you” (1 Samuel 17:46).  The battle indeed was the Lord’s, and He quickly gave the giant into Israel’s hands (vs. 47-51).



8 So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves: all that see them shall flee away.

When we go back to the history of the Absalom rebellion, we find that was exactly how the retribution came.  It was a matter of words which set in motion a course of events over which the participants had no control.  Take Ahithophel, for instance, he hanged himself with his own foul and filthy tongue.


There were two things for which Ahithophel wanted revenge—the seduction of Bathsheba and the death of Uriah.  This passion for vengeance became burning acid on his heart.  Once David was safely out of the way, a fugitive on the green hills of distant Mahanaim, Ahithophel began to talk: “Now then, Absalom, this is what you must do.  It is important that the people understand that there is no hope of a reconciliation between you and your father so you must do something publicly which will demonstrate to the mob that the break is complete, something which will alienate you forever from David.  David has left some wives in Jerusalem.  Spread a tent on the roof of the palace, have those women in one by one and shame them in the sight of the whole city.” That was Ahithophel’s first piece of advice.  But it was his way of avenging the seduction of Bathsheba.


He had more advice for Absalom: “Killed David!  Give me 12,000 men and let me march at once against David.  I will fight only David.  Once he is dead the nation will come to heal.  Just let me kill David.” That was Ahithophel’s way of avenging the death of Uriah.


Thus it was that Ahithophel dug his own grave—with his tongue.  Those two pieces of devilish advice, that Absalom should commit public incest and then patricide, arose out of the deep things of Satan in Ahithophel’s heart, and Ahithophel knew he could expect no mercy if the rebellion failed.


Words too, destroyed Absalom—the words of Hushai, David’s friend, sent by David right into the enemies camp to give Absalom wrong advice and lead him into making the wrong moves.  It was Hushai’s council that Absalom followed—to his doom.  It was Hushai’s words that tipped the scales, in Absalom’s mind, against Ahithophel.  Thus God turned into foolishness the counsel of Ahithophel, so much that he went out and hanged himself.  God shot at him with an arrow.  He made his “own tongue to fall upon” (bear witness against) himself.  Those who look on will “flee away,” in terror or as the Hebrew may be translated, “shake their heads.” Moreover, it was with words that Absalom was lured to his doom.  Now David was sure that God would reward the sinner and that His judgment would be both poetic and perfect.


“So shall they make their own tongue to fall upon themselves.” The poet succeeds in conveying to us a real sense of horror, so that we can identify with him in his fear and dread of his foes; his political enemies, or whoever these ruthless persons are. May their own insulting and ruinous speech, which trapped their victims, come back upon them, causing their fall! May they whose schemes were hidden and secret be destroyed before the jeering eyes of men!  God would use their own sword-like tongues to fight against them, and they would end up in shame and disgrace.  However, for all their many harsh and malicious words, these people will not have the last word.  God will step in with perils of his own—He turns the schemes of the cruel and the criminal back on their own heads—and the aggressors will be the ones struck down.  No one is capable of foreseeing and protecting himself or herself from all the plots of evil-doers.  Only God is a sufficient defense.  So he cries (vs. 9 & 10):



9 And all men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God; for they shall wisely consider of his doing.

As is usual in a lamentation, a wish stands at the close of the psalm.  It is a striking fact that the psalmist’s wish does not limit itself to his friends or to the congregation of the Lord, but embraces all mankind.  It is his strong desire that even those who do not acknowledge God as their Lord may nonetheless be impressed by His dealings.  May the ruin of these godless schemers, accomplished before the eyes of mankind, cause all humanity to note and ponder the mighty works of God.  It isn’t enough to know the works of the Lord; we must also seek to understand His way and learn how to please Him (103:6-7).  David’s greatest concern was that the Lord be glorified, and that was why God blessed him.  Rejoice!  Believers should glorify God, not only for His love and mercy, but also for His marvelous acts of judgment on the wicked.


God will suddenly shoot his arrows at such people (v. 7).  God will let them bring ruin upon themselves (v. 8), when their secret plans are found out, or show them up even to people who live in distant places (v. 8).  The result will be what they had not intended to happen, that “all men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God.”  That is to say (a) God acts for me when I can do nothing for myself; (b) God actually acts in the evil-doers by letting them overstep their authority; (c) the result is unexpected.  Instead of destroying the innocent, they lead the latter to a new grasp of faith!  (d) People then lose their fear of man, but discover a new fear of God.  (e) Such people then ponder, or think their way through, theologically, the acts of God.  For God is not known just through speculative or rational thought; you cannot find faith in God merely with the help of the so-called “proofs” of God that theologians have produced.  (f) The outcome will be the final vindication of God’s justice before the eyes of all. As the nation watched the defeat of David’s enemies and his exultation as king, it all brought great Glory to the Lord. You can know God only as you “see” what He has done both in history and in your own private life: For the work of evil-doers is secret, but the work of God is in the open for all to understand. 


There is nothing like a sudden demonstration of the judgment of God to bring people to their senses.  At least for a while. 


The work of God,” refers to the admirable work of Divine power, and wisdom, and faithfulness.



10 The righteous shall be glad in the Lord, and shall trust in him; and all the upright in heart shall glory.

From all the world impressed by God’s retaliation upon wicked man, the psalmist turns to the “righteous” and the “upright in heart,” the congregation of the Lord.  May they not merely be impressed, but may they rejoice and Glory in their God, and take refuge in Him from all malicious speech or so-called magic spells.


“The righteous shall be glad in the Lord,” not glad of the misery and destruction of their foes, but glad that God is glorified, and His word fulfilled. Those who observe God’s judgment of the wicked will have two responses.  At first they will experience a scornful satisfaction because the evil people have gotten what they deserve.  More importantly, they will then turn their attention to God, giving much thought to His justice and proclaiming the good things He has done.  After realizing that evil does exist, but only for a short time, righteous people can then satisfy themselves with God’s protection and learn to rejoice (“glory”) in their relationship with Him; that they are loved by Him and that Jesus died for them.  “Let him that glories Glory in the Lord,” that is, in God, as their sure Rock and all-sufficient Portion.  The result is that a sense of awe comes over the populous.  Word spreads quickly, and men realize that righteousness has triumphed.  This causes righteous people to be glad, of course, and to trust in Jehovah.  All those who love what is right will celebrate.


God is still on the throne!  Sooner or later, God turns our times of testing into times of triumph; and the saints rejoice.  When Jesus died on the cross of Calvary the message seemed all too clear: “God Defeated.” The disciples went into mourning.  We only have to read the sad confession of the disciples on the road to Emmaus to see how deep and hopeless was the fog that had descended on their hearts.  Then came the third day and the resurrection of Christ.  The complete message came through: “God Defeated Satan.” The joy bells rang in the hearts of the people of God.  They have been ringing ever since.


David was sure that God would cause the saint to rejoice, and that victory would come.  The psalmist puts his trust in God, in Him who can do all things by the power of His word. Victims may not find it easy to wait.  But the retribution, though slow, is sure to come. Let us remember that when things go wrong.