Cush the Benjamite was among King Saul’s fawning flatterers. He was one of a group of evil men from Saul’s tribe who reported what they heard about David during those years when Saul was out to capture and destroy his rival. Saul played on the sympathy of his leaders and bribed them into serving as spies (1 Sam. 22:6ff; 23:21; 24:8ff; 26:18–19). To earn the king’s approval and rewards, they even lied about David, and Saul believed them. We don’t know what lies Cush told Saul, but David was concerned enough to cry out to God for deliverance and vindication. “Shiggaion” is used only here in the Psalms (but see Hab. 3:1) and could mean “a passionate psalm with strong emotion.” Some believe it comes from a word meaning “to wander, to cry aloud.” The theme is God’s vindication of His servant and judgment on his enemies (vv. 6, 8, 11). The psalm described four different judgments.
Other People Judge us Wrongly (vv. 1–2)
Cush lied about David; therefore, Saul persecuted and pursued David (vv. 1, 5, 13). David fled to the Lord for refuge (see 11:1; 16:1; 31:1; 57:1; 71:11; 141:8) because the Lord knew that David was innocent of Saul’s accusations. David had saved his father’s sheep from the attacks of dangerous beasts (1 Sam. 17:34–37), and now he felt like he was the victim. (For animals as symbols of enemies, see 10:9; 17:12; 22:12–13, 16, 20–21; 35:17; 57:4; 58:6; 124:6.) David saw himself as a “dead dog,” a “flea,” or a hunted bird (1 Sam. 24:14; 26:20). Note that the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible move from the plural (v. 1) to the singular (v. 2), from Saul’s men to Saul himself. Saul’s judgment of David was false, and David trusted the Lord to protect and save him. When today, people falsely accuse us and create problems for us, we should follow David’s example and find refuge in the Lord. But let’s be sure that we are suffering wrongfully and not because of our own foolishness or disobedience (Matt. 5:11–12; 1 Peter 3:13–17).
We Judge Ourselves Honestly (vv. 3–5)
David affirmed his integrity before the Lord and asked the Supreme Judge to vindicate him because his hands were clean. David wasn’t claiming to be sinless; he was stating that he was blameless in his motives and actions (v. 8; see 18:16–26; Phil. 2:12–15). If indeed David was guilty of sin, he was willing to accept God’s discipline; but he knew that his hands were pure. David had two opportunities to kill King Saul and refused to do so (1 Sam. 24, 26). This was proof enough that his heart was not filled with personal malice and a desire for revenge. How important it is that we are open and honest with both our Lord and ourselves. If he was proved guilty, then David was willing for his own honor to be laid in the dust; but David knew that his hands were clean (Isa. 1:15; 59:3; Ezek. 23:37, 45; Acts 20:26).
God Judges Sinners Righteously (vv. 6–13)
David didn’t take the situation into his own hands; rather, he turned Saul and his scheming men over to the Lord. Only God’s holy anger could truly vindicate David (Rom. 12:17–21). “Arise, O Lord” reminds us of the words of Moses when the camp of Israel began their march with the ark leading the way (Num. 10:35; see also 2 Chron. 6:40–42). David knew that danger was near, and he wanted the Lord to move into action. (See 3:7; 9:19; 10:12; 17:13; 44:26; 68:1.) It’s during those times when God seems inactive that we get impatient and want to see things happen immediately. But God is more longsuffering than we are, and we must wait for Him to work in His time. “Let God convene the court! Ascend Your throne on high! Let all the people gather together to witness the trial! Let the Lord try me and prove to all that I am innocent!” David knew that Almighty God could test the minds and the hearts (v. 9; see Rev. 2:23), and he wanted to see the wickedness of his enemies exposed and stopped. David’s defense was with the Lord.
How can God both love the world (John 3:16) and hate the wicked? (On God’s hatred of evil, see 5:5.) The King James Version puts “with the wicked” in italics, which means the phrase was added by the translators, but both the New International Version and the New American Standard Bible translate the text without it. Their emphasis is that God expresses His anger at sin every day, so He doesn’t have to summon a special court to judge sinners. He allows sinners to reap the sad consequences of their sins day by day (v. 16; see Rom. 1:24, 26–27, 32), but sometimes their persistent rebellion causes Him to send special judgment when His longsuffering has run its course (Gen. 6:5ff). God’s love is a holy love, and if God loves righteousness, He must also hate wickedness.
Note that God is called “God Most High” (vv. 8, 10, 17), which is El Elyon in the Hebrew. This divine name is used twenty-three times in the Psalms and goes back to Genesis 14:18–22. (See also Deut. 32:8; 2 Sam. 22:14 and 23:1.) Jesus was called “Son of the Most High” (Mark 5:7; Luke 1:32, 35; 8:28).
Sin Itself Judges Sinners Ultimately (vv. 14–17)
The image of sin as pregnancy is frequently found in Scripture (Job 15:35; Isa. 33:11; 59:4, 13; James 1:13–15). Sinners “conceive” sin that, like a monstrous child, eventually grows up and destroys them. They dig pits and fall into them themselves (see 9:16; 37:14–15; and 57:6; 1 Sam. 25:39; Prov. 26:27; Ecc. 10:8; Ezek. 19:4). The trouble they cause comes back on their own heads (Gal. 6:7). There is a work of divine retribution in this world, and nobody can escape it. “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small” (Friedrich von Logau).
God abandoned King Saul to his own ways (1 Sam. 15), and ultimately both the arrow and the sword caught up with him (vv. 12–13; 1 Sam. 31:3–4). He wanted to kill David, but his own sword killed him. Pharaoh ordered the male Jewish babies to be drowned in the Nile, and his own army was drowned in the Red Sea. Haman built a gallows on which to hang Mordecai, and Haman himself was hanged on it (Est. 7).
The psalm closes with David extolling the Lord, not for the fact that sinners have been judged, but because the righteousness of God has been magnified. The fact that people are ensnared by their own sins and ultimately judged brings no joy to the hearts of believers, but the fact that God is glorified and His righteousness exalted does cause us to praise Him. God judges sin because He is holy, and His decrees are just (v. 6). “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight” (Luke 10:21). Finally, keep in mind that God gave His own Son to die for the sins of the world, so that He might uphold His own holy law and at the same time offer His mercy and grace to all who will believe. People may not like the way God runs His universe, but, as Dorothy Sayers expressed it, “for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine”