Psalm 59: The Bigger Picture

Read Psalm 59.

Reading the book of 1 Samuel, Saul’s attempts to get David can start to feel like Wile. E. Coyote chasing the roadrunner. According to the psalm’s title, the situation behind Psalm 59 is: “When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.” The account can be found in 1 Samuel 19:11–17. If you were to count all of King Saul’s failed plots up to this point, you’d discover this is his sixth try to kill young David (see 18:11, 17, 25; 19:1, 10). I wonder if Saul ever thought of wearing roller skates and strapping a rocket to his back…

You might think David would be ready to fight back, to give Saul a little of the eye-for-an-eye treatment, but he refuses to take Saul’s life, even when he has a clear opportunity (24:1–13; 26:1–12). In Psalm 59, he doesn’t even want God to do the deed: “But do not kill them, Lord, our shield, or my people will forget. In your might uproot them and bring them down” (v. 11).

David doesn’t want Saul dead; he wants him humbled. He wants the people of Israel to look upon Saul and see what happens to those who commit acts of evil and thumb their nose at God. He’s afraid that if Saul were to simply die in battle or keel over from a divinely-gifted heart attack, the people would soon forget. Saul needs to linger around for a while, humbled and broken, so that people take the lesson to heart.

David’s reasoning reminds me of one of those demotivational posters—the one that has a picture of a sinking ship and reads, “Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.” But isn’t that how Saul’s story has come down to us? No one reads Scripture and looks to emulate Israel’s first king. Instead, we usually compare Saul’s heart with David’s, and we contrast Saul’s lack of obedience with David’s faithfulness. Saul’s life is a caution sign to other travelers on the road.

What’s remarkable to me is that for David, Saul’s death would be a windfall. He wouldn’t need to spend his life trying to stay one step ahead of his would-be murderer. He wouldn’t have to keep looking over his shoulder. He would have the throne of Israel. Samuel had already anointed David and rejected Saul as king. If Saul were to die soon, David would go from persecuted fugitive to triumphant royal.

Yet David doesn’t long for Saul’s death—and when Saul does die years later, David mourns him as a loss in his life (2 Samuel 1:11–12). David is a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). He sees the bigger picture and wants the outcome that will glorify God, not what will bring him personal comfort or prosperity. He wants people to avoid the pride and arrogance of Saul and his men. He wants to see his fellow Israelites turn and give their hearts to God. That’s why he wants Saul humbled, not killed. It’s a “Not my will, but Yours” moment for David.

Being sold out for Jesus means putting the glory of God above everything else, and it’s not optional for those of us who call ourselves His followers. It’s the mark of a true disciple (Matthew 16:24–26). It’s what it means to be a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). It’s the power to say along with the apostle Paul, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).

Lord, give us eyes to see the bigger picture. 

What is this all about?

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