The Fear You Feel vs. The God You Know (Psalm 57)


Do you know anyone who's squeamish around needles? People who have an emotionally difficult time getting shots or blood drawn? For some, even the slightest glimpse of an injection is enough to make them pass out. Although the severity of the fear can vary from person to person, the simplest way to avoid anxiety for many people is simply to look away from the pain and toward the physician. Focusing on the problem only intensifies the fear, whereas focusing on the one in control of the situation alleviates it. There is a spiritual analogy to be drawn from this when it comes to Psalm 57.

Psalm 57 is a heartfelt prayer connected to Psalm 56, as seen not only by the same introductory phrase ("Be gracious to me, O God"), but also in its historical background. While on the run from King Saul, David fled to the Philistine city of Gath (cf. 1 Samuel 21). After this dangerous encounter with the Philistines, David then fled to a cave in Adullum (cf. 1 Samuel 22). Psalm 56 describes David's prayer in the former situation, and Psalm 57 describes his prayer in the latter. And just like a patient feeling the pain of a needle at the doctor's office, David's fear was only kept at bay so long as he kept his eyes focused on the one in control. It was a matter of setting his mind on his God, not his problems.

The God You Know (Psalm 57:1-3)

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches him who tramples upon me.
God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.

David began the Psalm by calling out to God for safety, according to the attributes of God he knew. He opened with a request for God to show him grace, undeserved favor. Coming to God with an open hand, rather than a clenched fist, David did not complain about his situation, but recognized that anything good in his life was undeserved kindness. The repetition of the phrase "be gracious to me" indicates the urgency of David's plea.

Next, he appealed to the fact that only God could provide him with true safety. Likening God to a mother bird spreading her wings over her young, David stated that he would take refuge in God "until destruction passes by." David understood that true safety from Saul was found not in a cave, but in the Lord.[1] And so it is with us as well. Financial safety is not found in a bank account, but in the Lord. Medical safety is found not in a hospital, but in the Lord. Of course, that is not to say that health and wealth are promised in this life—they aren't (despite what Charismatic false teachers would tell you). But it is to say that when we experience those things, it is because of God's grace. Furthermore, it is to say that rescue from heartache will be our experience in the eternal state. In fact, that is precisely the rationale of the Apostle Paul in his final days in prison: "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom" (2 Tim. 4:18). For Paul, the ultimate expression of deliverance was found in death, when he would be reunited with his Savior.

David went on to explain that his prayers were going to "God Most High," a title referring to God's transcendence above this world and its problems. Because God is the sovereign ruler over His creation, David knew that nothing could thwart God's purposes. David's prayer found comfort in this truth. Everything in life, including the actions of men, are carried out precisely as God has determined in eternity past—and that's actually the best reason to pray. It's often thought, "If God is sovereign, why pray?" In reality, it's just the opposite: "Why pray if God is not sovereign?" Unless God has unhindered control of His creation, including the will and intentions of man, prayer would be nothing more than wishful thinking. You would ask God to accomplish things in your life and He would simply have to shrug His proverbial shoulders. But since God is in control, it only makes sense to set forth your requests to Him. That's why, in verse 2, David could say that God accomplishes all things for him.

Knowing that God would intervene (coming from heaven to save him) demanded a pause for contemplation and reflection—Selah. Love and truth from God were effective co-combatants with David against the hate and falsehood of his enemies.

The Fear You Feel (Psalm 57:4)

My soul is among lions;
I must lie among those who breath forth fire,
Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows
And their tongue a sharp sword.

Having expressed his dependence on God, David described his precarious situation with vivid metaphors. Lions. Fire-breathers. Spears, arrows, and swords. These words explain the intensity of emotion expressed by David. After all, how exactly does one describe what it feels like to be on the run from slanderous murderers? These kinds of words do the job. As one theologian said, "David had to hide from men whose hearts were aflame with enmity."[2]

The Right Response (Psalm 57:5)

Be exalted among the heavens, O God;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.

Without skipping a beat, David immediately transitioned to praise after contemplating his God and explaining his fear. Two aspects of David's response make it exemplary: the nature of the response and the content of the response.

In terms of the nature of his response, rather than allowing his mind to wallow in the gutter of his own trouble, he set his mind on God above. He looked away from the pain and toward the Great Physician. His response is a far cry from the typical "woe is me" attitude that we're often tempted to indulge when life gets too tough. The Holy Spirit granted him a heart of humility and selflessness, reminding us to keep our thoughts upward, not inward.

In terms of the content of his response, David was ultimately concerned for the exaltation of God "among the heavens." Like Paul and Silas when they sang hymns to God after being thrown in prison (cf. Acts 16:25), David used his trial to bring glory to God who was seated above in sovereign rule. This is crucial. After all, it is most definitely good and right that we would be comforted by contemplating the attributes of God amidst our difficulties. The Bible clearly tells us to cast our cares on Him, because He cares for us (cf. 1 Pet. 5:7). But our response to trials must not end there. Our prayer life must consist of more than supplication. As the 1840 Engles' Catechism asks and answers, "Why did God make you and all things? For His own glory." In other words, ascribing glory to God must be how we respond. After all, the fifth and final sola of the Protestant Reformation, Soli Deo Gloria (Latin for "Glory to God Alone"), is not only a battle cry for doctrine, but also for devotion.

That's the right response to fear.

The Fear You Feel (Psalm 57:6)

They have prepared a net for my steps;
My soul is bowed down;
They dug a pit before me;
They themselves have fallen into the midst of it.


Like a sparring match between two fighters, round two consists of a reiteration of themes. David again expresses the danger he is facing, this time using imagery of a trap that a hunter might use to entangle an animal's feet with a net.[3] Such an illustration was fitting, considering the fact that David was truly on the run like prey from a predator. The grief was so intense that David's soul was "bowed down," as if in final submission to his enemies. And yet, speaking almost proleptically, David was confident that the metaphorical pit they dug for him would ultimately be their own undoing. That is an expression of faith if ever there were one. Whether in this life or the next, justice will be served. Every sin receives its wages in God's economy—the elect have had their debt paid by Christ, and the non-elect will pay for their own in the lake of fire. Just like in verse 3, such a sobering thought calls for another pause to reflect—Selah.

The God You Know (Psalm 57:7-10)

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, my harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to You among the nations.
For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens
And Your truth to the clouds.

Verse 7 marks a change in the Psalmist's mood.[4] Knowing that God would carry him through another trial, he became more interested in proclaiming the God he knew rather than the fear he felt.

Ultimately, David's heart was so overflowing with joy that he exclaimed, "Awake, my glory! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn" (Psa. 57:8). Speaking of his own personal dignity ("my glory"), David told it to wake up and get ready to praise God. Speaking to personified instruments ("harp and lyre"), David told them to prepare themselves for praise. And, in poetic genius, David even told the dawn itself to wake up. How descriptive! Instead of being woken up by the morning sunlight, David was so ready to glorify God that he woke up the morning sunlight! Get up, dawn, it's time to praise God!

And such praise was not limited only to Israelites. David was not simply interested in "preaching to the choir." No, he purposed in his heart to let the "peoples" and the "nations" know that when he was in trouble, it was the one true God—Yahweh—who could be called upon for deliverance (cf. Psa. 57:9). Baal cannot save; Molech cannot save; Chemosh cannot save. Money cannot save; power cannot save; family cannot save. God alone, through the Person and work of Jesus Christ, can save (and does save!).

Are you looking to Christ?

If so, how often do you use your weakness to proclaim God's greatness to this lost and dying world?

The Right Response (Psalm 57:11)

Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.

Finally, David repeated the refrain from verse 5. The God who made the heavens and the earth (cf. Gen. 1:1) is the God who is to be exalted above the heavens and the earth. Not content merely to speak of God's greatness, David exploded with praise. And just as before, we see that David's prayer wasn't limited to a lament concerning his own distress. There are certainly times when expressing grief is all we can muster, but we must not remain in that state because it keeps our eyes on ourselves instead of on the One who deserves even tear-filled praise. Victimhood is one of the greatest obstacles to glorifying God. Mourn, grieve, and weep, but don't get caught in self-centered sorrow.

Ultimately, the ability to praise God amidst suffering and difficulty only comes by way of knowing Him through His Word. Is it any wonder, then, that so many people struggle with the sin of anxiety? David possessed a settled outlook in the midst of incredibly precarious situations only because of his God-given theological insight. And yet today, phrases like "doctrine divides" and "deeds, not creeds" are set forth as biblical virtues. Theological study is seen as piously unnecessary. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. After all, the fear you feel can only be overcome by the God you know.


[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), 637.

[2] Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, New American Standard Bible 1995 Update (Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1995), 881.

[3] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), 637.

[4] Robert Davidson, The Vitality of Worship: A Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 184.