The Righteous One’s Appeal
Against Apostate

a brief study of Psalm 59, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 11 July 2008

Just like Psalm 58, Psalm 59 is an imprecatory Psalm.  An imprecatory Psalm is a song where the singer calls upon the LORD to deal with his enemies who are also the enemies of God.

This Psalm was written by David, as the title suggests, at a time when Saul, his father-in-law had sent some soldiers to watch his house to kill him. We can read the account in 1 Samuel 19. There, we see how Saul had tried to kill David with a spear. David managed to escape, and went back to his house.

But that night Saul sent some men to watch him and to slay him when he came out in the morning. When Michal, David’s wife found out, she let him down by a back window so that he could escape. David fled to Samuel the prophet; and it was perhaps while staying with Samuel that he wrote this Psalm.

So David penned this Psalm. But it is not difficult to see how the words of this Psalm were given by the Spirit of Christ to express the thoughts and feelings of the greater David when He Himself was being pursued by His enemies who had risen up against Him.

Consider the opening verses of this Psalm:

1  Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God: defend me from them that rise up against me. 2 Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, and save me from bloody men. 3 For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me; not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O LORD.

Do not these words fit perfectly the experience of our Lord? Are we not told of His enemies “laying [in] wait for him” as they sought to catch something out of His mouth, that they might accuse Him (Lk 11:54)?

And are we not told of the mighty, the powerful priests and their guards gathering themselves against our Lord? And was it for His transgression? No, no, He was pursued unto death not for His transgression, for He had none. He was pursued because of our transgressions.

And what does our Lord call the enemies of God who are outwardly God’s people—like those who were pursuing after David? Did He not call them ‘workers of iniquity’ as in verse 2? The Lord says, “I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Mt 7:23; see Lk 13:27).

And did not the Jews who pursued the Lord eventually say to Pilate to whom they had delivered the Lord to be crucified: “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Mt 27:25)? Were they not ‘bloody men’ as they are called in verse 2?

And consider the closing verses of this Psalm. Look at verse 16—

16 But I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble.

David might have sung and meditated on these words, but their significance would have been very limited and general. What power? The Lord did not demonstrate His power in an extraordinary way to deliver David. David was lowered out of the window using perhaps bedsheets. What about the morning? What special morning could David be talking about?

But does not this verse fit into our Lord’s anticipation of the resurrection morning? On the morning of the resurrection, our Lord was indeed delivered by the extraordinary power of God so that there was great cause to praise the Father for His mercy. Indeed, every time the Lord’s people gather for worship on the Resurrection day, the Lord joins us to praise the Father. “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118:24).

Can you see how this Psalm is so much richer when we consider how it expresses the thoughts and feelings of our Lord as He was persecuted for our sakes?

But so much for this lengthy introduction. What is this Psalm about? This Psalm,—as the introductory words suggests,—is the Lord’s appeal against apostate Israel or against false professors of the faith.

This Psalm does not have a very clear structure. But there are three main ideas in this Psalm, which we may classify as: Appeal, Adversary and Assurance. Although there is some overlap, most of the verses in this Psalm can be classified under one of these ideas. For example, in verses 1-2, we have part of the Appeal; in verses 3-4 we have the Adversary described and in verses 8-9, we have a word of Assurance.

Let’s look at the content of this Psalm under these 3 categories briefly.

Let’s begin by looking at the…

1. Adversary

Who are the adversaries or enemies in this Psalm? As we mentioned earlier, they are not strangers to the covenant or people outside the church of God. David was being pursued by Saul and his men. Our Lord was being pursued by none other than the Jews, the covenant people of God at that time.

But these Jewish are ‘workers of iniquity’, ‘bloody men’ who called a curse upon themselves as they proudly declare that the blood of Christ is upon them and their children.

These are wicked men who knew the law of God and yet laid in wait for the blood of the Lord although all He had done was righteousness.

3 For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me; not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O LORD. 4 They run and prepare themselves without my fault…

That is, they persecute me, though I had not done anything nor had I any fault worthy of their hatred.

Indeed, their wicked pursuit of the LORD shows clearly that though they were outwardly Jew, inwardly they were children of the devil (cf. Rom 2:28-29).

So our Lord condemns them as children of the devil. “if ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me” (Jn 8:39b-40a).

So our Lord calls them ‘heathen’ in verse 5. He is not referring to the heathen out of the commonwealth of Israel. He is referring, as one commentator puts it, to ‘heathenish Israel.’ Indeed, they were so thirsty for the blood of the Lord that they became like stray dogs noisily running around the city looking for food (v. 6).

Well, beloved brethren and children, do you love the Lord and His Word? If not, you would have become a heathenish Christian who in the eyes of the Lord is no better than a wild dog.

But consider now the Lord’s…

2. Appeal

The appeal is for deliverance, verses 1-2.  But more than that, the appeal is for vengeance upon the wicked transgressors.

5 Thou therefore, O LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel, awake to visit all the heathen: be not merciful to any wicked transgressors.

As the God-Man our Lord would not vindicate Himself. He would commit Himself to His Father and call upon Him to take vengeance.

But even as He calls His Father to deal with them, He thinks of His people. He does not want His Father to exterminate them. He desires Him to deal with the wicked in such a way that His people would see and take warning just like the way He dealt with Cain.

So we read, verse 11—

11 Slay them not, lest my people forget: scatter them by thy power; and bring them down, O Lord our shield. 12 For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips let them even be taken in their pride: and for cursing and lying which they speak. 13 Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be: and let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth. …

Has not our Lord’s request with regards to apostate Israel been heard? Israel had proudly called a curse upon herself; and Israel had followed the devil in promoting lies about the Messiah (cf. Jn 8:44; Mt 28:15).

So God dealt with them severely. This happened especially in A.D. 70. So severe was their chastisement that the apostle Paul declares in his letter to the Thessalonians that “wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Th 2:16).

But as our Lord requested, God did not destroy them completely. Israel continued to suffer tremendously in the centuries that followed, even when they were scattered in the world (v. 13). They suffered as a reminder to the people belonging to Christ, the Israel of God of how seriously God viewed the sin of His people; and how jealous He is of His Son and His beloved people (v. 11).

Where is Israel today? She is back in the land which God promised Abraham. I wonder if this return has anything to do with our Lord’s request in verse 14-15—

 14 And at evening let them return; and let them make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city. 15 Let them wander up and down for meat, and grudge if they be not satisfied.

Whatever the case may be, one thing is certain. Those who refuse to acknowledge Christ will never have peace and satisfaction in this world or the world to come.

On the other hand, those who trust in the Lord will have the Lord’s…

3. Assurance

Our Lord suffered immensely, but that did not extinguish His hope and assurance in the Father.

There are two paragraphs expressing our Lord’s hope and assurance in this Psalm. Notice how both paragraphs begin with the word ‘but.’ Our Lord’s hope and assurance was despite and in spite of the trials He was facing.

8 But thou, O LORD, shalt laugh at them; thou shalt have all the heathen in derision. 9 Because of his strength will I wait upon thee: for God is my defence.  10 The God of my mercy shall prevent me: God shall let me see my desire upon mine enemies.

The wicked may do all they want. They may shoot out words of scorn (v. 7). They may ridicule: “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God” (Mt 27:43).

But I will still trust in Thee. Thou shalt have the last laugh. Thou shalt have them in derision. Thou art my defence. Thou art the lifter up of my head. Thou wilt vindicate and let me see my desire upon mine enemies.

Thou wilt deal with them in thy wrath.

16 But I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble. 17 Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing: for God is my defence, and the God of my mercy.

Our Lord was delivered over to be crucified, but He rose victorious on the third day. And He has since been singing praises with His children unto His Father who was His defence, refuge and strength. He has been doing so from the first resurrection morning until now.


What a wonderful Psalm! Beloved brethren and children, what is this psalm to you?

Imprecatory Psalms are very difficult to apply into our lives if we focus on the imprecations. However, if we focus on how the Father loves His children and would take vengeance on their behalf, then we shall find these Psalms to be of tremendous comfort—especially when we face trials that result from those who profess to be Christian, but have acted in unchristian ways.

Our Lord has said: “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord” (Mt 10:24). If He faced severe trials from false professors of faith, then His disciples may expect to face the same kind of trial at one time or another.

But whatever trials, we may face, let us remember how our Lord prayed and the Father heard. And let us follow the example of our Lord to look forward to the Father’s vindication and final deliverance at the resurrection. Our hope is not an empty hope. As our Lord rose from the dead to rejoice in the Father ever more, so we who are united to Him will rise again one day —fully vindicated and fully made ready to enjoy God forever and ever. Amen.

—JJ Lim