“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?
“And last of all, as to one who is stillborn, he was seen [by me]. For I, myself am the least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle, for I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9)
Though Paul understood that he had been forgiven, he never forgot the life that God had redeemed him from. Paul, then known as Saul, had been a great persecutor of the Christian church and had been zealous to see this fledgling church destroyed. He was even present at the execution of Stephen, holding the cloaks of those who were stoning him to death. And though Paul turned his zeal toward preaching the gospel, he never forgot the evils that he had committed.
The term that Paul uses of himself is e¡ktrwma (ektroma), which can refer to a premature birth, a stillborn child, a miscarriage, or even an aborted baby. The language that Paul is using expresses the idea that he was one who was not supposed to live, yet Christ, in his mercy, revealed himself to Paul anyway, giving him life. Paul, probably the greatest missionary preacher of all time, understood that he brought nothing of his own to the table—the only good in him was God in him.
While there are many Christians who have a difficulty remembering a time when they were not trusting in Jesus Christ for redemption, there are many of us also that do remember with great grief the days of our rebellion, before God brought us to salvation. As I reflect on the years of my own rebellion, it shames me to think upon some of the things that I did. At the same time, those dark days make God’s gift of salvation very sweet to me. As I read this passage, I think that I have a sense of the joy and gratitude that Paul had in serving Jesus. Jesus has given we, the redeemed, so much and has assured us of so much more—and there is not an ounce of that blessing that we are deserving of. He pours it out freely according to his grace.
And God uses us to minister to others as well! When we read these letters that Paul wrote, sometimes we forget that the purpose behind them was to correct problems that were going on in a church—ministering from a distance. And if God is willing to use a sinner like Paul, and even a sinner like me—He is willing to use you in his work. What a remarkable thing that God would use us—broken and frail vessels as we are—and use us successfully for his glory.
Friends, if you are a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, you have been given a great and wonderful gift. But never forget that that gift comes with responsibilities. When God calls a person to himself he does so with a purpose—which means that you have a calling in life. For some of us that calling means preaching the Gospel from the pulpit. For others, it means preaching the gospel by the way you live your life in the workplace—by the way you farm, by the way you fix automobiles, by the way you work as a secretary or as an accountant, or in whatever you do—do so as for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Do so not to earn your grace, for it is freely given; rather, do so as a way of expressing your gratitude and obedience to God.