The Righteous One Rejoicing in the Midst of
Lions, Spears, Nets & Pits

a brief study of Psalm 57, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 20 June 2008

Psalm 57 is one of the Psalms appointed by the Church of England to be sung on Easter—the day that they would celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

The reason for this assignment would be quite obvious if you read this psalm with a Christological eye. This psalm, as the title suggests, was composed by David on the occasion of his escape from Saul in the Cave at En-gedi (1 Sam 24:1ff). David had earlier taken cover in the Caves of Adullum. But at that time, Saul had not started to pursue him in earnestness. Later, however, after the slaughter at Nob, the Ziphites betrayed David, and David was forced to flee. He went to the wilderness of En-gedi.

En-gedi is the largest oasis on the Western shore of the Dead Sea. It is there that one of the only two freshwater springs along the Western shore of the Dead Sea is found. It was a place of where wild goats or ibex roamed, which is why it is called En-gedi, literally, “the spring of the kid (goat).”

David stayed in one of the many caves at En-gedi. When Saul heard that David was there, he brought his men down to hunt him out.

David was no doubt filled with anxiety. Would Saul find him? And to add to his anxiety was the perplexity arising from the 400 men who were with him. What kind of men were these? Were they disciplined soldiers? No, no; we are told, in 1 Samuel 22:2—

“And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.”

With such a motley gang of people, we can’t expect everything to be very peaceful in the cave! David says:

4 My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.

I don’t think he is referring to Saul and his men. He was not lying amongst them. David is clearly speaking about Saul in verse 3 and about Saul and his men in verse 6, but I believe that he is speaking about his own men here in verse 4! They would have been quarrelsome, and full of opinions which they would make known to each other. And probably only David could subdue them. We think of how they wanted to kill Saul when he wandered into the cave, and how David had to restrain them (1 Sam 24:6-7).

What did David do under such exasperating circumstances? He wrote a song. But this was no ordinary song. It was a psalm, an inspired song. God had so ordered David’s life and experience that his feelings would reflect the feelings our Lord. David was being pursued by king Saul and his men, while the greater David was being pursued no doubt the prince of the power of the air and the people blinded by him.

As David was perplexed by his followers, so the Lord was often perplexed by his own disciples. Remember how they bickered over who was greatest (Lk 9:46; 22:24)? And remember how the Lord had to rebuke Peter for suggesting that he should not go to the cross:

“Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Mt 16:23).

And did not the Lord express the sentiments in this psalm as he went to the cross? He said:

“Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.  Father, glorify thy name…” (Jn 12:27-28)

So closely fitted to Christ is this psalm that Andrew Bonar confidently asserts: “Christ is the chief Speaker, entering into his own difficulties and those of his church.”

As we consider this psalm, it is useful for us to consider the thought and inner struggle of our Lord, and to learn from him an infallible example of how we must direct our thoughts when we face similar situations in our lives.

Let’s study this psalm briefly. This psalm has 3 stanzas divided by the 2 selahs in verse 3 and verse 6.

·  The first stanza is a cry for mercy with firm assurance that God will hear.

·  The second stanza is a call to the Father to glorify himself in the midst of dangers and perplexities.

·  The third stanza is an expression of confident hope and a resolution to praise the Father amongst the nations.

1. A Cry for Mercy

1 Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.  2 I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me. 3 He shall send from heaven, and save me from the reproach of him that would swallow me up.

This beautiful paragraph can hardly be commented on without marring its beauty. David was hiding in a cave, so we might expect him to use the analogy of hiding in the cleft of a rock as he does in other psalms. But no, he does better here. He is not cringing in fear, hiding away. He is snuggled under the protective wings of a mother eagle who is facing the storm fearlessly.

Our Lord, facing great fears and in exasperation would have cried out unto His Father to have mercy upon him. Notice how he did not say, “Save me from this hour”, for it was for this hour he was born (Jn 12:27). Rather, our Lord cried, “Be merciful unto me”, and to underscore the urgency of the plea, he repeats the same.

Now, in calling unto the Father to have mercy upon Him, our Lord is not only saying that the whole trial upon his soul is the sovereign hand of the Father, but also that he is, in a sense, not worthy of the Lord’s blessing. Why is he not worthy? He is not worthy not because he falls short of the glory of God, but because the sin of his people is imputed to him. Though he was without sin, he stood as one guilty before the Lord because of the sin of His people.

On what basis then, did he pray?  He prayed on the basis of his faith in the Father and His Father’s faithfulness. “My soul trusteth in thee”, “He shall send from heaven, and save me.”

What a beautiful paragraph! Are you facing a storm, dearly beloved brethren and children? Take the words of the Lord in your lips. Sing them from the bottom of your heart.

1Be merciful to me, O God;

     thy mercy unto me

Do thou extend; because my soul

     doth put her trust in thee:

Yea, in the shadow of thy wings

     my refuge I will place,

Until these sad calamities

     do wholly overpass.

The Lord was worthy, but because he bore our sin, He cried for mercy. You are not worthy but because the righteousness of Christ covers you, you can go to the Father confidently and hide in Him.

2. A Call to Glorify

It is easy to focus on ourselves when we are suffering affliction.  But the right thing to do is not only to ask for mercy, but also to ask God to glorify himself.

Man’s chief end, after all, is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. In asking for His mercy and protection, we are asking him to enable us to enjoy Him. But that is not enough – we must ask Him to glorify Himself through the trials we are going through.

So our Lord says:

3 God shall send forth his mercy and his truth.  4 My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword. 5 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; let thy glory be above all the earth. 6 They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down: they have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves.

My soul is vexed and perplexed. I am surrounded by fierce lions and fire and sharp spears and arrows. And then there are those who are pursuing after me, trying to trap me with all their difficult questions.

But does it matter? Thou, O Lord, shall send forth Thy mercy and truth. Thou, O Lord, art my refuge and my help. I will hide under the shadow of thy wing. Thou wilt send forth from heaven to help me.

What else do I desire from this trial?

5 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; let thy glory be above all the earth.

I desire thy glory. “Father, glorify thy name”, says our Lord (Jn 12:28).

One of the best ways to encourage ourselves in the midst of tribulation is to focus on the glory of the Lord. When we do, all our trials become strangely dim and insignificant.

Thus when Peter was looking at the Lord, basking in His glory, he was able to walk on water. But as soon as he took his eyes off from the Lord to observe the wind and the waves, he began to sink.

So let us look to the Lord, and let us desire His glory even when we are in the midst of personal perplexity and trials. Then will we get a right perspective of our problems. Then will our hearts be overwhelmed with gratitude towards our heavenly Father who names the stars and the galaxies and yet would feed the sparrow and take care of us.

3. A Confident Resolve

If we desire God’s glory, then what must we do but stir ourselves up to glorify Him? So the psalm ends with a confident resolve:

7 My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.  8 Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early. 9 I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations.

What should occupy our hearts when we are undergoing trials? Not our sorrows and our grief, but the glory of the LORD.

So our Lord sets us an example. He tells us of his resolution to praise the LORD, come what may. His heart is fixed. He is not allowing himself to sway to and fro in the midst of the storm. And He is not going to change his mind about praising the LORD even if the LORD would not deliver Him.

His heart is fixed. I will sing and give praise. Yes, my soul in perplexity and grieve. Yes, it is hard to sing praise in such situations. But it is not impossible if I would stir  my heart to sincerely.

8 Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.

Neither David or the LORD is referring to musical instruments, but to the musical ability of the soul. He is calling upon all to join Him in praise. He is exhorting himself, and He calling upon all who are united to Him to rejoice in the LORD. Rejoice in the LORD, therefore. Let not your emotional doldrums reign over you. Reign rather over your emotions.

9 I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations.

This prophecy is fulfilled not in David, but in the Lord Jesus Christ, for He indeed praises the Lord among the people. He indeed sings unto the Father among the nations whenever believers gather together to worship God using his words. He would do so by His spirit after His resurrection.

“I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee” (Ps 22:22).

What of His name does our Lord declare? He will declare His mercy. He will declare His truth and faithfulness. He will declare His glory:

10 For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth unto the clouds. 11 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: let thy glory be above all the earth.


What a psalm! The occasions of deepest gloom and sorrow must give rise to the highest praise. So it was with our Lord, and so it must be for us.

Occasions of perplexity and grief must not become occasions of self-pity and morbid speculation. They should rather become occasions of praise unto God. We must stir up our hearts to worship Him while the fire burns. But we must not forget to praise and worship Him when he has granted us deliverance.

May the Lord help us. Amen.

—JJ Lim