David, Doeg, and a Maskil
“To the director of music: a Maskil of David. When Doeg the Edomite came and declared to Saul, saying to him: ‘David has come to the house of Achimelek.”
(Psalm 52:1-2 [Superscript in English Translations])
Though this psalm can be sung and prayed in many contexts, those with superscripts like this one give us a great deal of help in understanding the context within which the psalm was written. At this point in history, David is still on the run from Saul; he and his men are weary and hungry, and he goes to the priests at Nob (where the Tabernacle was at the time) and received the shewbread as well as Goliath’s sword (1 Samuel 21). Jesus himself refers to this event when he teaches that the Pharisaical restrictions on the Sabbath day did not apply to him or to his disciples (Mark 2:23-28).
What follows is disturbing to say the least. Doeg the Edomite tells Saul that Achimelek (whose name interestingly means: “Brother to the King”) has collaborated with David. While Saul’s own men refuse to strike down the priest of God; Doeg does not share that reservation, takes his men, and slays Achimelek and his family — 85 persons in all. Only Abiathar (whose name means: “My Father Gives Generously”) escapes to warn David (1 Samuel 22).
Thus in his time of distress and righteous anger (for the priests of God were slain), David turns to prayer and writes this psalm. We don’t know whether he wrote it immediately as his response to the news that Abiathar brings or later as he recalls this event, either way, these words reflect his heart’s response in the face of such tragedy.
It raises the question as to how our hearts respond to tragedy as well. Do we resort to prayer? Do we lift our hands in frustration and anger? Or, can we stand with David in utter astonishment at the brazen acts of sinful men and proclaim that we will wait patiently for God to vindicate his name. This does not mean that there is not a time to act, David did often, but often we get confused between the expression of our own difficulties and standing for the honor of our God and King. Also, are the words that come from our mouth in times of trial like these characterized by slander or worship? David’s words have guided the worship of God’s people for generations; can we say the same about our own words uttered at such times?