“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let Thy glory be over all the earth!” Psalm 57:11
This burst of praise from David is typical of much of the Psalms, many of which have been sung and chanted in both synagogues and churches for nearly 3000 years for this very reason. There’s something about praise that feeds the soul. Unfortunately, however, often our praises fall silent when we need them most.
We do tend to associate praise with good and even ebullient times, and this can be very helpful and appropriate. My back porch faces east toward an undeveloped tract of land. When the sun comes up, a thousand shades of green calm me. The sun dapples the grass in those few places where it can pierce the canopy and curtain of trees. Birds and insects flit, and squirrels scamper. In those moments I feel like St. Francis: “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing, O praise Him!!”
We find this kind of praise all through the psalms. When David looked up into the night sky, undimmed by streetlights, he exclaimed, “The heavens are telling the glory of God!” (Ps. 19:1). Interestingly, some have linked the rise of atheism in the last century to the brightening of our cities at night. When you can’t see the glories of God, then you might decide there is no God.
Without question, beauty and blessings can prompt us to lift our voices and hands and thoughts to God. Rejoice in those times! They are “gifts from the Father of Lights in Whom there is no shadow of variation due to change” (James 1:17).
This psalm, however, comes from a different set of circumstances. The superscription tells us “A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.” We don’t know what miktam means in ancient Hebrew, for those of you who are interested. But we do know about the incident of David in a cave when he fled from Saul.
Saul was the first king of Israel, and David was in his service. Saul did not age well, growing more and more impulsive and suspicious as his days waned. Fearing David’s growing popularity, he tried to kill him, and more than once. On the occasion of this psalm, David had taken refuge in a cave.
In a cave. Life is not good when you’re having to flee for your life from a jealous king and live in a cave. The psalms are powerfully honest, and there are times when David is bitter and full of doubt. He had been anointed king early in his life and waited patiently for his turn. Sitting in that dark, damp cave he had to have wondered at this turn of events. He may have been doubtful and full of fear.
But not always. In this psalm he’s at his best. He believes God will “fulfill His purpose in me” and “will send from heaven and save me” (vv. 2-3). David has a steadfast heart (v. 7), and he ends the psalm with the verse quoted at the top of this devotion.
Psalm 57 is simply a marvel. It points us to a vital principle that praise is most necessary when it appears most out of place. It doesn’t have to fit the times. In fact, the times have nothing to do with whether we praise or not, for if we look at the times, we’re looking at something that changes more than the weather.
Praise is one of our most fundamental obligations and opportunities. Praise focuses on God’s character, and that would be enough in and of itself. Remembering that God is God doesn’t require a utilitarian purpose. In other words, we can and should praise God without self-concern for what we get out of it. But because God’s nature is love and care, He’s created us so that by praise we’re lifted out of the darkness of our caves and see again the light of heaven.
Fred Craddock tells of being in Salzburg many years ago and hearing Julie Rayne, a Judy Garland-type singer from London. She performed many of the familiar old favorites, but she also included a song with the words from Psalm 121 which has the same theme as our psalm for this week. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence cometh my help? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”
Craddock spoke with her after the set and asked her about that song. Why did she include that in the midst of all the popular and familiar songs? Wasn’t it a bit out of place? She replied, “If you knew what kind of person I was and what I was doing and what has happened since I gave my life to God, then you would know that Psalm 121 was the most appropriate song I sang.”
Praise was appropriate for her on a stage. Praise was appropriate for David in a cave. And praise is important for you right now, whatever your cave might be.
We must remember this as we stagger under the weight of all the headlines that burden us. God is good and is exalted over it all. That’s something we can hold on to. Through praise He offers to lift us out of our caves and up to Him.
Dr. Terry Ellis
May 31, 2020