When darkness is its most complete we feel the need for even the smallest amount of light. Darkness has the capacity to make us feel completely surrounded and yet absolutely alone. It makes our next step uncertain and can leave us directionless. It connects to our most primitive instincts, our other senses become heightened and our safety becomes our dominant concern. These things were all David’s experience at the time of Psalm 56. No wonder darkness and light are such powerful images in the bible. For those who are conscious of surrounding darkness in their life these are the words Jesus said to the people, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’, echoing the closing words of Psalm 56.
Life’s darkness is made worse when accompanied by loneliness and I find it difficult to think of a time when loneliness has been a greater issue than over the last few months of lock down. Psalm 56 describes David’s intimate conversation with God at an all-time low. David, described his life to Jonathan as, ‘only a step between me and death,’ 1 Samuel 20.3 as Saul was determined to kill him. David had fled Israel alone and sought refuge in Gath the home town of his historic enemy Goliath, carrying Goliath’s own sword. There he stood before Achish, king of the Philistines, while Achish’s servants reminded the king of the Israelite chant, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’. 1 Samuel 21.11 The tens of thousands being Philistines. To Achish, David was a prize hostage. It is in the light of that we can understand David’s opening plea and prayer to God. ‘Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.’ Vv 1,2
We do not have to be in fear of a sudden and violent death to experience extreme darkness and loneliness. Sometimes darkness can make us incapable of even uttering a prayer but David does an important thing, he admits he is afraid and in his fear he voices his trust in God, however weakly. ‘When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.’ v3 Why do I say weakly? Because he does what we are all liable to do and reverts immediately to focusing again on his troubles in detail. Although he says, he will not be afraid and in God he trusts, his trust is fragile. To escape Achish, he feigns madness and goes into an elaborate act of desperation. His behaviour is not that of a faith filled man of God.
David’s enemies and risks are two-fold, they come from his own people and the Philistines. He wants God to keep a close eye on both and hold them to account. Faith does grow though as he turns to God’s word. ‘In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?’ vv 9,10
David does two things. He remembers his vows to God and he trusts God’s word. v12 For the Christian we may remember a time when we made a commitment to follow Christ, that time when our promise became a life-long promise and we took Jesus at his word. That was when it was God who, ‘delivered my soul from death.’ v13 From then on his word reveals the light of our life – Jesus, who is the light of life.
How disciplined are we in understanding God’s word so we can walk in the light of life?
Thy word – Amy Grant