by Gordon Franz
Have you ever been in a dangerous situation and wondered if you would ever get out of it alive? God often uses danger and adversity in our lives to remind us of what is important and this gives us an opportunity to contemplate the shortness of life and focus our minds on what really matters: our desires and goals for this life in light of eternity.
King Saul hounded David like a fox hunter; chased him as one hunts a gazelle; tracked him as if he was a common criminal; and made war on his son-in-law as if he was a threat to his kingdom. David fled from Saul, not knowing his future fate, nor if his next step would be his last. There was always the possibility that in his haste to flee from Saul, he would slip on a rock and fall in the treacherous terrain of the Judean Desert, or that Saul would have an ambush prepared for him in the Shephelah.
What kept David going in this dangerous and difficult time? What was his focus, and priorities in this life? Psalm 27 recounts David’s supreme and sole heartfelt desire to worship the Lord even in the midst of warfare.
Some of the psalms of David have superscriptions that give the historical circumstances that prompted David to compose the psalm. In Psalm 27 the superscription states “le-David” in Hebrew and is translated, “to or by David.” The Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, adds the words: “before he was anointed.” If this addition is historically accurate (and I suspect that it is), the question is raised: “Which anointing?” David was anointed on three separate occasions during his life. The first time he was anointed was by Samuel in Bethlehem before the battle with Goliath in the Elah Valley (1 Sam. 16:13). The second time was after the death of Saul when the men of Judah anointed David in Hebron (2 Sam. 2:4). The final time was seven and a half years later when he was anointed king over all of Israel in Hebron by the elders of Israel (2 Sam. 2:11; 5:3).
Most commentators that venture a historical setting for this psalm usually suggest it was composed during the rebellion of Absalom (Perowne 1976: 265). Thus, the false witness against David (27:12) might have been the slander by Ahithopel (2 Sam. 16:1-21; cf. Ps. 55:4-6, 23), but this was after David was anointed all three times. So most likely this is not the historical setting for the psalm.
I suspect, however, David composed this psalm earlier in his life. It had to be after his first anointing because we have no record of David engaged in military conflicts while he was a shepherd in the Wilderness of Judah. Most likely it was during his flight from Saul and before he was anointed for the second and third time. A possible setting could be in the cave at Adullam or the one at Ein Gedi. David uses an interesting phrase in verse 5, “He [the LORD] will hide me in His pavilion.” The Hebrew word translated pavilion is “sucah”. The same word is used in Psalm 10, “He lies in wait secretly, as a lion in his den (sucah),” which is most likely a cave.
After David fled the palace at Gibeah of Saul, he bid farewell to Jonathan and then headed for Nob (1 Sam. 21:1-9). Most likely Nob is located at Ras el-Mesharif, althought it lacks pottery from the Davidic period (Barkay, Fantalkin and Tal 2002: 65-66). There he got provisions (bread) for his flight and also the sword of Goliath. Doeg the Edomite, the chief of the herdsmen, ratted on David to Saul (1 Sam. 22:9-10). Saul summoned Ahimelech to his palace, a mere 2 ½ kilometers away (just over 1 ½ miles) and interrogated him and his family. Saul accused them of being involved in a plot to overthrown him and to help place David on the throne of Israel. They denied this accusation. (David carefully worded his statements to Ahimelech so as not to let them know what his real intentions were.) Saul ordered his men to slay Ahimelech and his family, but they refused. Doeg the Edomite ended up carrying out this barbaric deed (1 Sam. 22:11-23), and the only priest to escape was Abiathar (22:20). This incident lead David to compose Psalm 52 about the evil words and deed of Doeg. The superscription of the psalm says: “To the Chief Musician. A Contemplation of David when Doeg the Edomite went and told Saul, and said to him: ‘David has gone to the house of Abimelech.’”
Psalm 52 may provide a clue to the time setting of Psalm 27. There are distinct similarities in words and thoughts between the two psalms. Psalm 52:1-4 describes the evil, lying tongue. In Psalm 27, David mentions the false witnesses, presumably witnesses that lie with their tongues (27:12). In 52:5 the wicked are removed from the land of the living; yet in 27:13 David anticipates the goodness of God in the land of the living. In 52:7, the evil man did not make God his strength (maoz), yet David declares the LORD is his strength (27:1, 14). David trusts in the mercy of God in Psalm 52:8, and in 27:7 he prays for God’s mercy. In Psalm 52:9 David declares that he will praise the Lord forever. In 27:6 he vows to sing praise to the Lord. He concludes both psalms by saying he will wait upon the Lord (52:9; 27:14). The mention of violence by the false witnesses (27:12) may be a hint of the slaughter of the priests and inhabitants of Nob by Doeg the Edomite (1 Sam. 22:18-19). This was a barbaric crime that even Saul’s men would not do (1 Sam. 22:17). David could have composed both psalms within a short period of time while his mind was thinking similar thoughts.
Some commentators and critical scholars have suggested Psalm 27 was originally two psalms: 27:1-6 is seen as a psalm of confidence, while 27:7-14, is an individual lament psalm. Some of the reasons for this suggestion is that in verses 1-6, the Lord is addressed in the third person (Lord, He); but in verses 7-14 He is addressed in the second person (You). In the first section, we see the psalmist’s confidence, and the second, his prayer (Craigie 1983: 230). But if we look at this psalm closely, these are two halves of the same psalm. Both halves compliment each other and are linguistically related. If we put them in chronological order, they would be reversed. Verses 7-14 would come before verses 1-6.
The psalmist’s supreme and sole desire in life is to dwell in the house of the Lord in order to worship Him, behold His beauty, and meditate on His Word (27:4), yet he is battling enemies around him that prevents him from accomplishing his goal. He expresses his confidence in the Lord that one day this goal would be attained. Until that day, his desire for worship sustains him as he goes through conflicts in his daily life. In other words: Worship in the midst of warfare.
An Exposition of Psalm 27
The psalmists desire for worship leads to confidence in the Lord during daily conflicts. 27:1-3
The Apostle Peter, on the day of Pentecost in AD 30, stated that David was a prophet (Acts 2:30). He predicted the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus more than a millennia before it happened (Ps. 22; cf. Matt. 27:35-50; John 20:20), as well as His subsequent resurrection (Ps. 16; cf. Acts 2:25-33). David had an understanding of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. How much he comprehended, we can only venture to guess (I Pet. 1:10-11).
David describes the LORD three different ways in the first verse. First, he says the LORD is “my light.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, God is never called Light. The closest it comes is the “Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings” (Mal. 4:2). However, in the New Testament John the Baptizer, introduces Jesus as the Light. The Apostle John records in his gospel: “In Him [the Word, the Lord Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John [the Baptizer]. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (1:4-9). The Apostle goes on to say that He came into the world, but His own did not receive Him. But John holds out the promise: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (1:12).
Jesus Himself said when He was in the Temple for the Feast of Succoth in AD 29, “I AM the Light of the World” (John 8:12; 9:5). This statement was made in sharp contrast to the four large candelabras that lit the Jerusalem sky at night during this festive holiday. During Passover of AD 30, Jesus said: “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (12:46). The Apostle John continues with the light theme in his first epistle. He states: “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1:5; cf. 1 Tim. 6:16).
The second way David describes the LORD is that He is “my salvation.” The word salvation is “yeshua,” the Hebrew name of Jesus! Recall the words of one of the angels of the Lord who appeared to Joseph in a dream. “And she [Mary] will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
The third description of the LORD by David is that he is the “strength of my life.” The word strength (maoz) is often translated fortress or stronghold. In Psalm 31:3, David describes the Lord as his Rock (zor) and Fortress (maoz).
David also asks two rhetorical questions in this verse: “Whom shall I fear?” and “Of whom shall I be afraid?” The obvious answer for David was no one because the LORD is his light, salvation, and fortress. The only Person he was to fear was the Lord Himself.
In verse 2, David demonstrated his confidence in the Lord by describing his enemies, and what they planned to do to him, but also what the Lord does to them. The wicked (maraim) wanted to eat David’s flesh, like a lion or a leopard would do of the prey that was caught. I’m sure David was using this in a metaphorical sense. Saul was not a cannibal. Yet a distressing spirit came upon him and Saul tried to kill David with a spear (1 Sam. 18:5-16; 19:1-24). His enemies (zar) [Same word in use in verse 12] and foes (ayv) would eventually stumble and fall. That was the case of King Saul when he finally realized David was more righteous than he was (1 Sam. 24:17-22).
David makes a bold assertion of his confidence in the Lord by saying that even when an organized army came against him, he would not be afraid of them (27:3). King Saul led his army against David and his band of men, chasing them throughout Judah. Yet David was confident when he said, “In this (the Lord is my light, my salvation and the strength of my life) I will be confident.” David was fearless in the face of danger because his desire for worship, even in the midst of warfare, lead him to a greater confidence in the Lord.
The psalmists desire for worship leads to a more intense desire to have fellowship with the Lord. 27:4-6
The Lord is omnipresent (everywhere present), but was also localized in one place at times in Biblical history (cf. 1 Kings 8:23, 27). When the Children of Israel were redeemed out of Egypt, God led them by a pillar of clouds by day and a pillar of fire by night. He resided in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness. When David fled from Saul, the Tent of Meeting was at Nob (1 Sam. 21:1-9), just 3 ½ kilometers to the north of the Jebusite city of Jebus / Salem. Perhaps before he fled, while David was staying at King Saul’s palace at Gibeah of Saul he would make frequent visits to the Tabernacle at Nob, just a 20 minute walk from the palace.
Hebrew worship was sensual: all five senses were involved in worship. One could see the beauty of the Tabernacle and observe the sacrifices being offered. One could hear the beautiful music sung by the Levites accompanied by harps and other musical instruments in praise to the Lord. One could handle the sacrifices before they were given to the priest to be offered. One could smell the sacrifices roasting on the altar. One could taste the offerings after the sacrifices were “bar-b-qued.” One could sing praises to the Lord with the mouth, or thank God for fulfilling a vow that was made. On occasion, the feet were involved when the people danced before the Lord. David made his contribution to Hebrew worship by composing songs that were later gathered together to comprise the Hebrew hymnbook, the book of Psalms, for worship in the Temple.
This section begins by David saying, “One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek” (27:4). What will follow is David’s supreme, sole, and only desire in life. It was his priority in life, it was everything he lived for, and it was the focus of his entire being. He sought it because the Lord had earlier challenged him to “Seek My face” (27:8). His supreme and sole desire was to dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of his life, a reference to the Tabernacle at Nob. This is in contrast to the end of Psalm 23 when David wants to “dwell in the house of the LORD forever,” a reference to heaven.
Two reasons are given as to why David wanted to dwell in the House of the LORD. First, he wanted to behold the beauty of the Lord; and second to inquire in His Temple.
When David visited the Tabernacle he was awestruck by its beauty because it was a reflection of the Person of the Lord Himself. It was constructed of acacia wood overlaid with silver and gold. It also contained finely woven tapestries with beautiful colors and designs. Within the Tabernacle were vessels made of finely crafted gold. All these things reflected the beauty of the Lord, as well as His ways in redemption. Apparently the Glory of the Lord, the Sheikana Glory, was there as well. The beauty of the Lord reflects the Person of the Lord.
The second thing David wanted to do in the House of the Lord was to inquire of the Lord. The word inquire has the idea of meditation on, or contemplation of, something. This would be done with the Word of God. While God’s revelation to humanity was not complete at this time, the priests at Nob would have had copies of the Torah with them, as well as the books of Job, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. David would have been able to read the Word of God. He could meditate on His ways and discern His will from the Scriptures that had already been written.
In verse 5, the psalmist states that the Lord will protect him. Three times David says that “He shall …” do something to protect him. Twice “He shall hide” David and once “He shall set him on a high rock.” The Lord would hide him in His pavilion (sucah), a word that is used of a lions den, most likely a cave, possibly at Ein Gedi (Ps. 10:9; 1 Sam. 24:3). The Lord would also hide him in the secret place of tabernacle (ohel). The Lord also set David high upon a rock (zor). I would like to suggest that this is a reference to Masada because after David and Saul depart at Ein Gedi, David went to the “stronghold”, a reference to the high plateau overlooking the Dead Sea (1 Sam. 24:22; Cf. Ps. 18:1-2; 28:1; 31:2; 89:26).
During David’s flight from Saul, He made a vow to the Lord that when the Lord delivered him he would go to the Tabernacle and offer thanksgiving offerings to the Lord and publically thank Him for the deliverance (27:6; Num. 10:10). When God answered his prayers, and the warfare had ceased, David offered his vows to the Lord as he worshiped.
A more focused prayer life leads the psalmists to an intense desire for worship. 27:7-12
This section (27:7-12) seems to be a reflection on some past experience that prompted David to seek the Lord and to fulfill his desire to worship the Lord in the midst of warfare. What the historical circumstances were, we are not told. Chronologically, this section would come before verses 1-6.
The psalmist begins this section by pleading, “Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice!” (27:7). The word “hear” is the Hebrew word shema. The same word that is used in Deut. 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” David pleaded to the Lord for His mercy in answering his prayer for deliverance from his enemies.
God responds to David’s request by saying, “Seek My face” (27:8). Whether this was an audible request, or the still small voice, or something David had read, we are not told. But David got the message and knew the Lord was right. He responded, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.” David knew God’s presence was in the Tabernacle, so he sought the Lord there.
David pleads for mercy and petitions the Lord not to do three things (27:9). The first is: “Do not hide Your face from me.” The word hide is the same word used in 27:5, “He shall hide me [in His Tabernacle].” When God hides His face, He removes His blessings from a believer (cf. Psalm 22:24; 30:7; 143:7).
The second petition is “Do not turn your servant away in anger.” David reminds the Lord that He has been his help.
The third petition that David prays is for the Lord not to leave him nor forsake him (27:9). In verse 14, David was aware of the “Be strong and of good courage” phrase from Deuteronomy 31 and Joshua 1. Within these verses, Moses wrote “He [the Lord] will not leave you nor forsake you” (31:6, 8). The LORD also promised Joshua, “I will not leave you nor forsake you” (1:5). Of course, every AWANA clubber in Sparks knows Hebrews 13:5, quoting Joshua 1:5: “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” David addresses this petition to “O God of my salvation.” David began this psalm by saying: “The LORD is my light and my salvation” (27:1)!
When David fled from Saul, he took his parents to Moab and left them there with distant relatives, descendants of Ruth (1 Sam. 22:3-4). His parents did not forsake him, but rather waited for David to return to get them. David’s statement “When my father and mother forsake me” should be taken as a hypothetical construction, such as “Even if my father and mother forsake me.” If that ever happened, the Lord in His infinite love would take up David as a loving father lifts up his child in order to take care of him (27:10).
The second part of this stanza is a prayer for God to teach David His ways, or guidance (27:11-12). This prayer was answered in David’s desire to inquire of the Lord in His temple, which is the second reason David wanted to dwell in the Tabernacle (27:4). He goes on to pray, “Lead me in the smooth path, because of my enemies.” The smooth path is the level road. When travelling in the Hill Country and Wilderness of Judah, the easiest, most convenient lines of communication are the ridge routes. If David went into the valleys his enemies could attack him from above.
The next prayer was for victory over his enemies. “Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries.” The word “adversaries” in this verse is the same as enemies in verse 2. As mentioned before, the reference to the violence by the false witnesses (27:12) may be a hint of the slaughter of the priests and inhabitants of Nob by Doeg the Edomite (1 Sam. 22:18-19). David would have been saddened by this event because this was the place for him to worship, even in the midst of warfare.
The psalmists desire for worship leads to patience as he waits on the Lord to answer prayers. 27:13-14
The words “I would have lost heart” (NKJV) is in italics which means it was added by the translators. The idea that the translators were trying to convey is “I can not even think about this possibility.” So sure was his confidence, or trust, in the Lord that He would deliver him from the life-threatening situation that he found himself in.
David was anticipating the goodness of God in the land of the living. In this passage, the “land of the living” is not referring to the “pie in the sky, sweet bye-and-bye” – heaven – but rather to his deliverance in the nasty here and now – life on earth! His attitude was not one of cockiness, but rather of confidence in the Lord as seen in the beginning of this psalm. There is a difference between these two attitudes.
David concludes this psalm by twice admonishing his hearers to “wait on the LORD!” (27:14). While they were waiting, they were to be of good courage so that the Lord would strengthen their hearts. Courage and strength are linked together in other contexts, as well. Just before the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land, Moses, in his farewell address, instructs them to be strong and courageous as they battled for the Land (Deut. 31:6). He then commanded General Joshua, “Be strong and of good courage” (Deut. 31:7, 23). Just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land, the LORD commanded General Joshua three times to be strong and courageous (Josh. 1:6, 7, 9). The Israelites also commanded General Joshua to be strong and of good courage as he led them into the Land (1:18). Later, during the Shephelah Campaign, Joshua admonishes the Israelites to be strong and of good courage (10:25). Each time the admonition was given, it was in a military context. David took this phrase and applied it to the military conflict that he was involved in when he composed this psalm. David also used the phrase to encourage his son, Solomon, to build the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Chron. 22:13; 28:20).
When Sennacherib, the king of the Assyrians, entered the Land of Judah he threatened Jerusalem with total destruction. King Hezekiah made military preparations for the upcoming battle and encouraged his army by saying, “Be strong and of good courage” (2 Chron. 32:7). He applied the words of the Lord, Moses, Joshua and David to the desperate military situation that Judah was facing, but his confidence was ultimately in the Lord (32:8).
In this psalm, David’s confidence was in the Lord, and he rested in His sovereignty, knowing that the LORD was his light, salvation, and the strength (fortress) of his life. So he could, wait – be of good courage – and strengthen his heart, knowing that God would answer his prayer to worship Him even in the midst of warfare.
There are several applications we can draw from this psalm for our daily life. First, the LORD is my salvation. David realized he could not save himself, both in a spiritual sense as well as a physical/political sense. He could only depend upon the Lord for his salvation.
The same is true of each and every one of us. We have a problem called sin (Rom. 3:23). In order for us to enter Heaven and have fellowship with a holy God, we must be as perfect as God (Rev. 21:7). None of us are. That is why the Lord Jesus came to earth and lived a perfect life, never sinning once because He was sinless. When He died upon the Cross, He paid for all our sins (1 John 2:2) and offers us His perfection and His righteousness, if we would trust Him as our Savior (Phil. 3:9; Rom. 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-9). Like David, we can truly say, “The LORD is my salvation” because, by faith alone in Christ alone, He paid for all my sins, gives me His righteousness, the forgiveness of sins, and a home in Heaven.
Second, we have confidence in the Lord in our daily struggles when we know who He is and what He has done for us. David’s prayer to the Lord was “Teach me Your ways, O LORD.” The way to know the ways of God is revealed in His final revelation, the Bible. David had to go to the Tabernacle in Nob to read the Word of God, but we just need to go to our bookshelf and pull down a copy of God’s Word. It is imperative that we know our Bibles, and that can only be accomplished by studying and memorizing it.
Finally, we need to develop a heart for worship like David had. His desire was to behold the beauty of the Lord in His Tabernacle. This is the one application that I would like to focus on. Most of us will not find ourselves in harms way in a military conflict such as David experienced. For those believers in the Lord Jesus who are in the military and serving overseas, they could relate to David’s personal experience and emotional feelings better than most of us. However, the Apostle Paul says of Christians, that we are engaged in a spiritual warfare. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Thus, he encourages the Christian to put on the whole armor of God and engage in this spiritual warfare in the power of the Lord’s might (6:10-20).
While we are engaged in this spiritual warfare, this psalm asks one question of us. Do we have the single minded and focused desire that David had to worship the LORD and to meditate on His Word as we are engaged in this spiritual warfare? David’s sole desire was to dwell in the Lord’s Tabernacle so he could behold His beauty, and to contemplate Him. But today we do not have a Tabernacle to go to, but instead, a Table (1 Cor. 10:21).
On the night in which the Lord Jesus was betrayed, He instituted the Lord’s Supper and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And again, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24, 25). The command given by the Lord Jesus was to remember Him when we gather to worship.
When we gather corporately to worship the Lord and remember His Son we do not come to remember our sins, but rather, the Savior of sinners. We do not come to remember and recount our blessings for that week, as many as they may be, but rather to remember the Blesser Himself – the One who has already blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). We do not come together to remember the dumb sheep that we are, but rather the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep (John 10:7-18). Nor do we come together to remember the Bride of Christ, but rather the Bridegroom. As the hymn writer so eloquently and profoundly wrote:
“The Bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of Grace.
Not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.”
We come together to remember the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29, 36); the Bread of Life who came down from Heaven (John 6:22-59); the Light of the Word who shines in darkness (John 1:7-9; 8:12); the Prince of Peace who brings peace with God to sinful humanity by faith alone in Christ alone; and the peace of God to His children who walk by faith and not by sight (Isa. 9:6; Rom. 5:1; Phil. 4:7). We remember the Bright and Morning Star who shines in our hearts (Rev. 22:16); and the Son of Righteousness with healing in His wings (Mal. 4:2).
The subject of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ is inexhaustible in God’s Holy Word (for a limited, yet excellent attempt, see Lockyer 1975:93-280). This gives us unlimited facets of the Person of the Lord Jesus to focus on at the Lord’s Supper. The worship service is not about us; it’s about Him! That was David’s supreme heart’s desire and should be ours as well, even in the midst of spiritual warfare.
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