Psalm 7: The Best Line of Defense

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It is one of those lines we tell our children to help them deal with aspects of life that can hit hard. It is also one of those lies that we tell our children. When we are honest, words can hurt a lot. They can hurt so badly that we almost wished someone had just slapped us rather than said what they said. Words can end up feeling like arrows right in our heart, arrows that are hard to dig out.

In Psalm 7, we find David bringing to the Lord his experience wrestling with what someone had said to him. When we look at the heading, it tells us that Psalm 7 is “A Shiggaion of David.” We do not really know exactly what a shiggaion is, but it seems like a musical designation either noting a specific tune or marking a type of genre, specifically a lament. The more helpful part of the heading is that “he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjaminite.”

This heading does not identify with certainty any event we can know from the biblical narratives.1 We will think about that shortly. Cush might belong to one of several different contexts of David’s life. But what we can see is that everything in Psalm 7 was composed in response to what Cush said to David. As Psalm 7 is the longest psalm in the Psalter so far, and since it continues to intensify the tone of lament, we gather that words in fact can hurt us deeply and leave particular sorts of scars.

As we situate Psalm 7 in the unfolding story of the Psalter, we are still in the first grouping of Psalms 3–8. Psalms 1–2 show us that the Psalter is about the law and the gospel, and that it is about God’s king coming to reign despite how the nations rage against him. In Psalms 3–7, we have a run of laments. These prayers for help amidst distress show how that the experience of the nations raging feels like a real challenge at the earthly level. We are meant to take hope though, because the heavenly perspective is that God is laughing at the petty efforts of those who rage against him, his king, and his people.

Psalm 7 follows two pairs of morning and evening prayers of lament. It is the longest so far and brings a culmination to this set of royal petitions comprised of five prayers of distress.2 Psalm 7 is about the righteous king who wars against evil and faces opposition as he does.3 So, it continues marching ahead with the theme that, when we are overwhelmed and when we feel at our very end, we are supposed to drag ourselves before the Lord for his mercy.

As we do that, however, we are meant to learn that the Lord’s approval is better than man’s. The Psalms aim to instruct us. Namely, they instruct us about the godly response to the full spectrum of experience and emotion that we encounter in the Christian life. Psalm 7 teaches us about how God is the best place to be when the world assails us.

The main point is that God deserves praise for being on our side. We will look at this in three points: righteousness, rebuke, and redemption

Righteousness

As always in poetic portions of Scripture, we can get to the main point of a psalm by identifying its structure or its organization. We can break Psalm 7 into two parts with a culminating resolution. Both halves focus on God’s own righteousness as the answer to David’s distress. In verses 1–9, we have David’s petitions that God would show himself righteous. Then in verses 10–17, we have David’s praises declaring that God is righteous.

The first question we usually need to untangle is what was happening to cause the psalmist to write the psalm now in front of us. As alluded to, the heading of Psalm 7 tells us something about the context. The odd thing, however, is that it does not tell us anything that nails down the background specifically. It simply says David sang this song as a response to what Cush the Benjaminite said.

We do not really know who Cush is. One commentator has proposed that, as a trajectory continuing from Psalm 3, the background could still be David’s time fleeing Absalom.4 But most scholars think Cush was likely a henchman for King Saul.5 Early in David’s life, before he was officially king of Israel and acting as such, Saul became jealous of his apprentice of sorts and sought to kill him. As David fled from Saul’s murderous attempts, the suggestion is that one of Saul’s cohorts, Cush the Benjaminite, lanced David with hard and threatening words.

Certainly, the context under Saul makes more sense. In Psalm 7, David is explicit in saying that he had done no wrong in this situation, and was thus being unduly and wrongly attacked. He is confident enough to write in verses 3–5:

O Lord my God, if I have done this,

if there is wrong in my hands,

if I have repaid my friend with evil

or plundered my enemy without cause,

[then] let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it,

and let him trample my life to the ground

and lay my glory in the dust.

David asserts that if he is to blame, then God should let his enemies overtake him. This does not fit the situation with Absalom. In that later trouble, David knew he was ultimately to blame for it.

So, on the basis of his innocence in this situation, we see him throughout verses 6–9 calling upon the Lord to act in righteousness against wickedness. He knows that God opposes evil, so he cries to him to render judgment according to who is in the right and who is in the wrong.

At this point, there is a shift verse 10. David has been asking the Lord to defend him in righteousness by defeating his enemies. At verse 10, he changes gears to talk about God’s nature, how the Lord is righteous and defeats the wicked. This is notable—David essentially asks the Lord to do what he then states the Lord always does.

In a sitcom I used to watch, one guy owned a pet duck. To show off this duck’s skills to a friend, he gave it instructions to “stand still, look at the wall, and be white.” It so happened that the duck was standing still, facing the wall, and had white feathers. Humorously, the request was for the duck to do what the duck always does.

The two halves of Psalm 7 show David taking the same sort of approach. He asks the Lord to do what he always does. Namely, he seeks the Lord to defeat evildoers who had turned against him and seemingly were planning his assassination. David extols God’s righteousness as grounds for why God would act righteously to help him.

Rebuke

How does Psalm 7 come to bear upon us? We have to consider what has caused David to spiral into the distress recorded in this psalm. It was the words of someone named Cush the Benjaminite. Although it is possible and even likely that there was also a real threat against David’s life, what we know from Psalm 7 is that he is praying about that threat because of what someone said to him.

Have you ever felt absolutely ruined by someone’s words? We started with stick, stones, and words. And the truth is, sticks and stones can break my bones and words can crush my soul to pieces. If you have been dealt a crippling blow by what someone has said to or about you, then you already know how to apply Psalm 7.

We cry out to the Lord that he might be our shield. If people speak ill of, against, or to us, we ought to go to God to be our defender. After all, he knows what is true, what we have done and what we have not, and he knows that what is falsely spoken against us is wicked.

That might be even more important if we think about verses 3–5 again, where David prays to the Lord that if he has done these terrible things, then he ought to receive horrible treatment. It easily reads as if he is responding to an accusation that he believes is false. Essentially, he says, “God, if I’ve done these things said against me, show me how I can repent. If not, help me and defend me. Be the God who loves righteousness by overcoming what has been said about me.”

Let me throw you a curveball here. Most scholars assume that Cush the Benjaminite was a colleague of king Saul. In other words, the assumption is that Cush was David’s enemy. But what if Cush was David’s friend? After all, verse 4 suggests this as a real possibility: “If I have repaid my friend with evil . . . ” What if Cush was David’s friend saying that he deserved his hardship because of something he had done? What if he was David’s friend who was such a radical discouragement to David that it sent him spirally into lament about the hardship he experienced? What if Cush was David’s friend as Job’s friends were to him, battering him with undeserved condemnation?

That suggestion brings James 3 to greater life, does it not? James says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness” (Jas 3:5–6). So much for “words can never hurt me.” James belabors the point about how much damage the tongue can do.

So, Psalm 7 comes to bear more practically in two ways. First, when we are hurt by people’s words, it teaches us that God is ready to hear our pain as we bring it to him. God will help us search ourselves to see if we are innocent of the horrible things people say about us and to us, or of their threats of how else they might harm us. God is a shield of righteousness to those who have been slandered. He knows what is true and will protect us while also holding our false accusers accountable. Psalm 7 is a rebuke against those who speak unfairly to and about us.

Second, Psalm 7 teaches us not to be the ones guilty of speaking evil against those who do not deserve it. The New Testament is full of warnings about slander and backbiting. James camps on the dangers of misusing our words. Psalm 7 shows us what damage we can do if we speak like Cush the Benjaminite. It is a rebuke against us for speaking ill of others, for criticizing when we should encourage, and for slighting those whom we should support.

Redemption

How does Psalm 7 point us to Christ? If David wrote it while running from Saul, the answer is obvious. Not only was David accused of great wrongdoings; he was also hated by Saul for being the true heir to the throne of Israel. The straightforward connection to Christ is that Jesus was falsely accused even of blasphemy and treason, and of being a pretender to the throne of Israel.6

Although David may have been innocent of the particular accusation in Psalm 7, Christ is the only one who can pray Psalm 7 in every respect of his whole life. Jesus can pray verse 8 without qualification: “The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.”

Yet, Jesus Christ endured being maligned so fully, even to the point that his life was trampled to the ground (v. 5). He was put to shame even unto death as he went to the cross. He endured that suffering in our place so that all our sins would be forgiven as we trust in him. Christ lived, died, and rose, so that God could sheath his sword of judgement (v. 12) for all who do repent and take refuge in Christ. So, even when we are guilty of what others accuse us of, and even when we do speak evil of others, we find a place of refuge in Jesus who took the curse for us.

And when we are unjustly shamed and insulted, let us remember that our Lord and Savior was demeaned, belittled and mocked as well. In our trials, we are no further from God’s favor than the very king of glory was as he endured human maligning for our redemption.

It is good to know we can come to the Lord. He relieves us of our burdens even as we share them with him. That is why David closed, “I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High” (v. 17). This is why we give thanks to the Lord, as we know we belong to him.

Notes

  1. Bruce K. Waltke and Fred G. Zaspel, How to Read and Understand the Psalms (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2023), 39–40.
  2. Bruce K. Waltke and James M. Houston with Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 83.
  3. Waltke, Houston, Moore, Psalms as Christian Lament, 87.
  4. John Goldingay, Psalms, 3 vol., Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006–8), 1:144.
  5. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 vol. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 4.2:76; Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, 3 vol. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic Press, 2011–16), 1:277; Waltke, Houston, Moore, Psalms as Christian Lament, 71, 87.
  6. Waltke, Houston, Moore, Psalms as Christian Lament, 97.

© Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.


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One comment

  1. A very present help and one to continually revisit. It is often sadly the case that much evil said about us is true. Thank God for Christ in whom we have refuge and for the Spirits ongoing work of making us like him.

    Blessings Dr. Perkins

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