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“The Upward Look”

Psalm 57
Bob DeGray
October 3, 2010

Key Sentence

In a hard world, the believer cries out, looks up, holds on!


I. Stanza 1: Crying out and Looking Up! (Psalm 57:1-5)
II. Stanza 2: Holding on and Looking Up! (Psalm 57:6-11)


Ted Tripp tells a compelling story in Shepherding a Child’s Heart: “While waiting for a flight, a little girl waiting for a flight with her mother caught my eye. She was a beautiful child; her clothing and grooming spoke of wealth.

But the beauty was external; she was demanding and petulant. It was apparent her mother, weary from traveling, was about to explode. The child whined on, demanding this and that, refusing to be pacified. Then it happened. Exasperated, her mother finally turned on her. “I’m sick of you,” she said. “I hate you. Go away. Find someone else to yell at. I don’t want you. I can’t stand you. Get out of my sight,” she gestured.

With that, she picked up her things and moved away from her daughter. The little girl might have ignored this power play in normal circumstances, but here, in a strange airport, she was frightened. She moved toward her mother and looked up with pleading eyes. “I’m sorry, Mommy. I love you, Mommy.” “Go away. I don’t know you . . .” This time in desperation: “I’m sorry, Mommy,” “Go away. Find a new mommy . . .” When I last saw them, the little girl was still pleading, and the mother was lecturing and scolding.”

Why do I open this message with the story of a destructive and appalling parenting style? To remind us that this is not how God parents us. In moments of desperation, even when we are the ones to blame, we can always look up, and always find the love and faithfulness of God, unchanging.

We’re looking this morning at Psalm 57, a psalm of David, whom we remember as the shepherd-slayer of Goliath and the king of Israel, but who was for a long time an outcast and fugitive. In those times he modeled how a believer can handle life’s difficulties, by looking up. When we’re in distress we need to look up to the love and faithfulness of God. David offers a simple model for us in times of distress: Cry out and look up! Hold fast and look up!

Before we begin we have to put Psalm 57 in context. In the New International Version the header reads: “For the director of music. To the tune of "Do Not Destroy." Of David. A miktam. When he had fled from Saul into the cave.” Remember these headings are the furthest thing from the italicized section summaries modern publishers place throughout the Bible. These headings appear in the earliest copies of the Old Testament. Many have speculated that someone had the job of music librarian at the temple and added these notes to catalog the various temple worship hymns, or psalms.

This heading says a lot. First, it is ‘for the director of music,’ intended for temple or tabernacle performance. The tune is called ‘Do Not Destroy,’ which is a bit strange, but not more so than many tune names found in our hymnal. The psalm is attributed to David, and is a ‘mitkam,’ an unknown description. But the historical note is valuable: “When he had fled from Saul into the cave.” This is the key to a context and time frame for the psalm. It didn’t happen when David was triumphing as king, but when he was fleeing from Saul, forced away from all civilization, hunted by the elite armies of two countries. He was in desperate hiding, a wanted and pursued man.

The story is told in 1st Samuel. Saul, in jealous madness, tried to kill David. David fled, first to the Philistines, but they recognized him as an enemy. So he fled again, to a cave in the wilderness. There, like Robin Hood, he gathered a few relatives and a merry band of debtors, discontents, and the distressed, who became his mighty men, fighting not against Saul, but against Israel’s enemies. Later, David hid in other caves, including one where Saul, pursuing, walked in without knowing David was there - and David refused to kill him; he would not harm the king of Israel. One of these caves, probably called Adullam, is the cave in which David was holed up when he wrote this psalm. It was a wilderness existence, a time of trial and growth.

Now in a sense, David is as unlike us as he could be. To the best of my knowledge none of us has ever been a refugee from great and powerful enemies whose only aim in life was our destruction. None of us has even had to live in poverty and want as David did. Still, I think his situation speaks to us. We too face defeat, depression and discouragement. We face trial, testing, and temptation. I know there are many in this room for whom the circumstances of life are a burden, who often look around them and see a world filled with antagonism, opposition, overwhelming responsibility, or failure; who wake in the morning under a cloud, who fight a nameless fatigue through the day, whose only thrill is the fight-or-flight adrenalin of additional pain.

Is that you? It was David. His circumstances were different, but the heart impact was the same. What did he do? We’re looking at this Psalm to find out, and we’ll see two simple responses that can be applied to any hard circumstance, any need: As you cry out to God, look up; as you hold fast to God, look up.

I. Stanza 1: Crying out and Looking Up! (Psalm 57:1-5)

Psalm 57, verses 1 to 5 Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. 2I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills [his purpose] for me. 3He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me; Selah God sends his love and his faithfulness.

4I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts-- men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. 5Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

When David is troubled he cries out to God. That’s simple enough. But do we cry out to God? Do we do it instinctively in all circumstances? Is our cry the natural response of a mature heart, or do we have to be reminded to cry out? Do we reach an extreme before we cry out? Is God only our safety valve - we handle most things ourselves, but when the big ones come we cry out?

The model of this Psalm, the model of Scripture, is to cry out to God at every moment, in every situation. I’ve quoted the Twila Paris song called “I Run to You.” This is what increasing maturity looks like: “Faster now than ever, I run to you. Now I know you better, I run to you. I am a little older now, you know its true. Maybe a little wiser too, I run to you.”

Second verse: “Even on the sad days, I run to you. Even on the good days too, I run to you.” Here’s my favorite line: “Even before all else fails, you know it’s true You are the wind in my sails. I run to you.” “Even before all else fails. . .” That’s the model: a constant and habitual turning to God with our needs, the concerns of our hearts, our attitudes, the difficulties of our lives, the needs of those around us, the salvation of others. We cry out to God in all of our circumstances.

“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy.” His cry could be translated ‘be gracious to me, be gracious.’ It asks for favor, consideration, intervention, relief. ‘Oh Lord, come to my aid, intervene in my situation, show your love and grace in action, relieve this burden. “Be merciful to me for you are my refuge.”

A cave is a classic place of refuge for the hunted. At the moment of this writing, David is hiding in a cave. Maybe he’s sitting at the entrance, watching for his enemies, playing with words and music. He recognizes his real protection isn’t in the cave, but in God: “God is my refuge.” The physical refuge becomes a metaphor for the soul-refuge in God: “In you my soul takes refuge.” Is God your soul refuge?

The other image here is also a compelling, comforting metaphor: taking refuge in the shadow of his wings: A mother bird protecting her chicks by spreading her wings over them: providing warmth, comfort and safety from danger. So in time of distress, David seeks God for protection, for shelter, for refuge - a place to go until the disaster has passed by. Just as men seek shelter from a tornado or hurricane in a strong place of safety until disaster has passed, so we should seek shelter from the storms that assail our spirits - shelter in God.

David seeks shelter by crying out to God. Verse 2: “I cry out to God Most High.” Don’t just cry out to anybody; don’t just cry out with no object to your cries. This is what the natural man does, what the unbeliever is reduced to doing: to cry out to the wind, to other men, to created things, reduced to frustration.

The difference between God’s people and the world’s people is we have someone higher to cry out to: God himself, God Most High. He is the sovereign God, ultimately in control of all situations, all distresses, trials, setbacks, failures. We cry to him because he can do something. David affirms this when he cries to “God who fulfills his purposes unto me” Literally, God ‘perfects’ or ‘accomplishes’ unto me. God gets the job done. God is reliable. God does not leave a person half finished or a plan half baked.

This crying out is so simple it needs to be a reflex: when the blow comes, when the world darkens, in troubles big or small, our reflex, our instinct should be too cry to God who is our soul-refuge.

Verse 3: “He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me. God sends his love and faithfulness.” David sees God at work in his circumstances, no matter how hard they may be. Verse 4: “I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts-- men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” David’s situation was humanly hopeless – he sees that he’s surrounded and knows the intent of his enemies. And God isn’t asking David to underestimate the problem. If we ignore the problems, we’ll never cry out, which is what God wants us to do: to cry out in dependence on Him, and to look up so that we see Him for who he is.

Gail and I have been thinking about this principle as we tried to gain guardianship for Johnny and Bobby Pinard – from a human point of view it sometimes seems hopeless, but God wants us to see how big the problem is so that we will look up and see how much bigger he is than the problem.

Verse 5 “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth” David, sits at the mouth of the cave on a dark night, silently strumming his harp, singing this new song. Off across the valley are the faint lights of watch fires, his pursuers, camped within sight, if they had only known. But then his eyes are raised to the heavens, and he sees the skies, skies that cannot be equaled except in the dry wilderness, far from civilization. There is the Milky Way God has created, the constellations that are the glory of His hands. And David can see with the eye of faith, so that he sees not just the glory of creation, but the glory of who God is as creator and sustainer and what he has done to rescue and redeem.

The upward look reminds us of God’s power, his majesty, his presence in every situation, his unchanging purpose, his sovereignty. When we are in distress, we need to take the upward look, and see God Most High. If you’ve done any significant hiking, you know this feeling. As you grow weary, and the pack gets heavier, your world shrinks to the next rock, the next step to be negotiated without falling. You develop tunnel vision. But if you stop and look up, the glory bursts in: you see the clouds above, the lake below, you hear the wind in the trees, the calling of birds. You look ahead and see your goal, and it’s closer. The upward look helps you to go on. This was David. He took the upward look. He saw God exalted above the heavens. When his eyes returned to earth, he still saw problems, but saw them with new hope.

II. Stanza 2: Holding on and Looking Up! (Psalm 57:6-11)

We’ve seen in several psalms that David will repeat a cycle, almost like verse-chorus, verse-chorus. Here the first verse is ‘cry out;’ the chorus is ‘look up.’ The second verse is ‘hold fast;’ the chorus is again ‘look up.’ Verses 6 -11: They spread a net for my feet-- I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path-- but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah 7My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. 8Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. 9I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. 10For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. 11Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

David begins to tell himself the truth about the evil-doers: they intend to trap me, and though I despair, God is at work to bring the consequences of their own actions: they fall into the pit they have dug. The upward look changes his perspective; now he can say “my heart is steadfast.” The verb means ‘established, stable, enduring, secure, fixed, as in ‘fixed to a rock’ The word is often used of God’s work in establishing firmly the heavens and the earth. In the same way David encourages his heart to hold on, to cling to faith, to endure while following, to hold fast to God’s love and faithfulness.

The path to a steadfast heart, for David as for so many of us, is praise: “Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. 9I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.” David is talking again to his own soul, calling it to wake up and praise God.

I don’t know what time David went to the front of the cave, but he may have sat through a good part of the night. Now dawn is coming, and he proposes to greet it, not with despair, as he might only a few hours before, but with praise. It’s a process, simple enough for a child, powerful enough for the most mature: Cry out and look up, hold fast and look up.

Now recognize that what’s happened in Psalm 57 has probably been internal. It is possible it was written over time and that God actually rebuked those who were pursuing before the Psalm had been complete. But I suspect what really happened for David, as for us, it is a changed attitude, a changed focus that allows us to go from pain to praise. The circumstances stay the same but David isn’t looking at circumstances: He focuses on God.

And he praises God, not for what he’s done though sometimes that was wonderful, but simply for who He is: “For great is your love, reaching to the heavens, your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” Compare that to the end of verse 3: “God sends his love and faithfulness.” There is obviously development here: David is more awed by these things than he was just a little before. He sees with the eyes of faith that God’s love is great, reaching to the heavens. He sees faithfulness reaching all the way to the skies.

Paul will agree a thousand years later: how wide and how long, how high and how deep is the love of Christ; it’s a love that surpasses knowledge. He’ll say nothing can separate us from that love, because of God’s unchanging faithfulness to us: His love is immeasurable, his faithfulness is eternal.

The Psalm ends with that upward look: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens let your glory be over all the earth.” I imagine dawn has come: David is still at the entrance to the cave; he throws his arms wide as the sunlight fills the valley: “let your glory cover the earth.” This is God’s way: he changes our hearts, comforts and strengthens us, so we can rejoice in Him. Cry out and look up. Hold fast and look up. That’s the message for your distress.

Some who’ve been part of Trinity for a while may remember that I’ve preached this psalm before; March 12, 2000 to be exact. I’ve also told you that I forget most of my own sermons within a week of preaching them. But this sermon, this process of ‘cry out, look up, hold fast’ has been one I’ve remembered and shared with others. This summer, as Laura Pinard was struggling with her cancer and her pain, I had the privilege of sitting by her bedside and reading this psalm, and I could see on that day, in that moment, that God was at work, as she held fast to him and looked up to glimpse the glory that would soon be hers.

So this stuff has been field tested - by David and countless others: Cry out – and look up; hold fast and look up. God is faithful to strengthen and comfort when you do. “How great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. 11Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.”