'Do Not Let Me Be Put To Shame'
I wonder how often you dip into the Psalms. They're a fascinating part of the Bible aren't they? So full of life at its most extreme: so full of emotion and fear and desperation and joy and celebration. Sometimes those extremes really resonate with our experience, but other times they seem a bit over the top. Yet they're prayers that we're supposed to be able to sing together, so I take it they are supposed to reflect our experiences, our lives as we follow Jesus in walking with God.
Tonight we come to a prayer of David, and we expect extremes from David don't we? I mean he went from a humble shepherd boy (youngest of 8 boys, he must have copped some ribbing growing up!) to the King of God's people. Along the way he wrestled with Lions, Bears and Goliath;
He was son-in-law to a raving lunatic King who tried to kill him with a spear at dinner with the family, and chased him around the country to kill him. Twice he confronted the King with proof of his fealty and Saul cried and apologised, then went on trying to kill him;
When Saul died David went from leading an outlaw band of violent men to the throne. His reign as King started with a series of amazing military campaigns, a succession of blood baths by which he subdued every national enemy;
He collected wives and children like rich people collect cars, so much so that he slept with his neighbour's wife, got her pregnant and had him killed and thought he could get away with it. As discipline God killed their child and David's family descended into anarchy, one son raped his half sister and was then killed by another;
David's own son tried to kill him and take his throne, and even slept with his concubines on the roof of the palace (ironically the very place where David eyed off Bathsheba).
How are we going so far? Anyone keeping up with David - am I describing the chaos of your life? Does that sound like your day to day experience?
Yet, for all that David writes a psalm out of that experience of rising and falling, and especially of running from enemies; and he expects us to be able to sing it with him in our experience. He writes a prayer for us for when we feel threatened by enemies, a prayer to pray when we're afraid. And what do we pray then? Well we pray for help don't we – for deliverance from our trouble. And David does that, but in this Psalm he models a greater prayer – a prayer for help and deliverance, yes, but for more than that, for strength and guidance to be godly, whatever we face, and to keep trusting in God and walking in his ways so that he will be glorified in us, no matter what.
So we see here first that David is in trouble, pursued by wicked and blood thirsty men who mean to put him to shame. We see second that he cries out to God in his trouble, and finds his hope and his strength in God. And we see third that he cries out not just for help, but for forgiveness, guidance and strength so that he will not disappoint God but will stand in faith.
David's Predicament, Our Predicament
This is point one: David tells us he is opposed by deadly enemies. We see this throughout the Psalm. It first jumps out at us in verse 2:
vs 2 don't let my enemies triumph over me;
(vs 3 those who are treacherous will be put to shame;)
And David comes back to these enemies at the end of the Psalm (verse 15 to the end):
vs 15 the Lord will release my foot from the snare;
vs 16 I am lonely and afflicted;
vs 17-18 the troubles of my heart have multiplied etc.;
vs 19 see how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me!;
vs 20 Guard my life and rescue me, let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
There's no doubt that David is pursued by blood-thirsty men, men who long to see him put to shame. And he's all but over whelmed by it. He tells us he feels his foot caught in a snare, he is lonely and afflicted, his heart is full of troubles and anguish, his life is full of affliction and distress, his enemies increase and hate him fiercely. He needs God to guard his life and rescue him. These are not the words of a man at ease with his feet up on the sofa. David's troubles run a lot deeper than my recent ashes woes or Newcastle United's Joe Kinear troubles. His situation is flat out dire – much worse that we would ever expect to meet in our normal, average day to day lives.
So it's bad, but I want you to notice what David's afraid of. He fears death and physical harm, yes, but even more than that he fears being put to shame. It's there at the beginning in verse 2 – do not let me be put to shame, and verse 3 'no one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame (but those who are treacherous without excuse will be put to shame)' and he comes back to it right at the end, in verse 20 – 'guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame for I take refuge in you'. Beginning and end, like bookends; among all his problems, being put to shame is the first and last danger David faces, the thing he fears most.
So what does he mean let me not be put to shame –is just another way of talking about losing? Or dying or suffering? simple defeat, disappointment of his hopes… what?
Remember the context – throughout the Psalm David reminds God that God is his hope, his trust, his protection. David has declared his allegiance to God and publicly put his hope in God. If David's hopes are disappointed, if he is brought low and humiliated it undermines his testimony to God's faithfulness – his enemies cut him down and then gloat over him 'where is your God now David, your hope, your protection…why doesn't he lift you up, since you put your trust in him?' That's just what they said as Jesus hung on the cross wasn't it – let's see if God rescues him, since he trusts in him'. But how much worse if in that moment David, who has made so much of his trust in God fails to honour God in the time of trial. What greater shame could David endure than to turn from God and take matters into his own hands? Even worse than 'where is your God now', he could be listening to those stinging words 'and you called yourself a man of God?'
We need to notice this: David suffers as God's man. He isn't perfect, he knows that – he prays for forgiveness, his sin weighs heavily on him. He isn't perfect. But all the same he represents God, it's God he trusts, God to whom he lifts up his soul, God who's covenant love he experiences. And that's why he has these enemies – not because he is the king and Kings have enemies, but because he is God's King and God has enemies. David is Jesus forerunner remember… and if David felt himself opposed by wicked men, how much more Jesus, hung up on that cross by the chief priests, the elders and teachers of the law no less. Jesus suffered as God's man, God's King, it even said so on the written charge against him. And Jesus said that if we're following him; if we serve him, love him, fear him, trust him and live in his covenant people, then we will have enemies too – and behind them, the enemy, Satan.
Our experience may not exactly parallel David's, or Jesus', but in this we will be like them – if we stand for God we will be opposed by Satan, and he will use all kinds of people to get at us. We may not march out to war like David, nor flee from the Palace, but we are in a war all the same and our enemies will be just as real, just as bent on violence and just as persistent and dangerous. Remember 1 Peter 5.8: Satan prowls around like a devouring lion, waiting for someone to devour.
David calls on God to rescue him from the snare and I want us to dwell on that illustration for just a moment. When I was young there used to be something called the Saturday afternoon movie. Usually kid friendly stuff with adventures, cowboys and Indians, that sort of thing. One of the repeated characters in these Saturday afternoon movies was the hunter, and in Cowboys and Indians territory we're talking Daniel Boon types (in fact I think there was an afternoon show based all around him too) – the wolf hunter who roams the frozen North in search of fur. And the hunters weapon is the snare, the trap. The wolf hunter lays his snares where he expects the wolf to go, he covers his tracks and conceals the trap, and then goes and leaves them so the wolf will wander in… he goes far away the wolf won't detect his scent, and will grow in confidence to come into the area… but he doesn't leave them for ever, he sets up a circuit around his snares and keeps checking up on them so he can collect anything that's been trapped. Now if you're a wolf and you're caught in a snare you know your time is short. it may struggle, it may die of wounds from the snare, it may cry out for help… but it's waiting for death, waiting for the hunter to come back and then it's fate will be sealed.
David pictures his enemies as hunters like that who have it in for him and who lay out their traps so that he'll be taken. Verse 15 suggests he may have already fallen into the traps that they have set for him.
And we need to know that our enemy is no less devious than that, our enemy delights to draw us into his traps. I can't help but think of Bathsheba – Satan has David wandering on his roof surveying his domain, full of pride; and he has Bathsheba bathing naked on the very next roof – and in the same way our lust, pride, greed etc. lay traps for us too… sin is a hunter that lays traps for us. In our everyday we're surrounded by potential pitfalls… and we have other enemies too – if we're committed to God we will be persecuted, as they hated Jesus, so they will hate those who follow him. Why are those TV shows that reveal the errors in the bible, or that prove that Jesus didn't rise from the dead or that the church covered up sin and scandal – why are they so popular? Because deep down sin makes us hate God and long for justification, we'll lap up anything that justifies our unbelief. Likewise if we fall into sin and disgrace, then God's enemies are justified, they love to see us fall from our lofty perch.
The reality that we need to face here is not just that in suffering we need to pray… but that suffering is our lot, we expect it, if we are following Jesus we will suffer for him. That doesn't mean that it's not worth following him, but it does mean it's hard to follow him. Sometimes it can be all but impossible, or so it seems to us. And that is why we need to join David in praying, in crying out to God for help.
As God's people we have enemies – enemies who want to see us fall, and behind them, the enemy, the enemy who lays his snares far and wide and waits with baited breath to see us caught in them and brought down to shame and disgrace.
Point one David's predicament is our predicament, he was surrounded by enemies and in danger of being put to shame. We are surrounded by enemies and in danger of being put to shame too. And that is why point two is so important.
David's Hope, Our hope
What is David's hope? Well it's all through this Psalm. God is his only hope; his strength and refuge.
Look back through the Psalm with me:
Vs 1 he lifts his soul to the Lord
Vs 3 his hope is in God
Vs 4-5 his hope rests on God his saviour and it will come through God teaching him his ways and guiding him in his paths with truth and teaching.
Vs 6-7 he relies on God's forgiveness, he needs God to forgive his sins, and to remember him, not according to his righteousness, but according to God's own mercy.
Vs 8-11 God's goodness gives him hope – in his goodness God instructs sinners and leads them in his ways, guiding and instructing the humble and those who keep his covenant… he looks to God to forgive him, not because he is great, but because God's name is on him.
Vs 12-15 the man who fears the Lord can have confidence in God, God will give him riches and prosperity and look after his children, therefore he is confident that God will release his foot from the snare.
David suffers for being God's man. But that means that David can put his trust in God. Being God's man may put him off side with the enemy, but it puts him onside with the one who really counts.
So he chooses to trust in God, or he may have no choice in the matter at all, God may be his only hope… in fact God is always our only hope, but sometimes we are very aware that all our hopes rest on God and we pray desperately and other times we imagine that we can manage things ourselves and we fail to pray… this seems to be one of the times when David is very aware that all our hopes rest on God!
The reality here is that he needs God's help, his need is absolute. He has no other source of help, he lifts his soul to God, his heart to God, his eyes to God and his prayer to God. There is no one else who can free his foot from the snare, no one else who can show him the right path to tread, no one else who can give him the strength to follow that right path.
There were plenty of times in David's life when it was obvious that only God could pull him through – when he faced the giant without armour or sword; when Saul pursued him up and down the country, when his own son led an uprising against him… In all those times his need was extreme, the danger obvious and God's help was visibly given.
But what about our small lives – we don't live in that same dramatic world that David lived in, not many of us (any!) will be King, face a giant, dodge spears across the dinner table or run from our own son as he tries to kill us. I certainly hope not! But David wrote this Psalm for everyone, not just for the King, for our little dramas are every bit as real as his big ones. And our need for God day by day, hour by hour, crisis by crisis is just as real as his was. Let's think it through like this – your last breath where did that come from? Did you do that for yourself; can you guarantee the next one? What about your last heart beat? What about your brain, your liver, your kidneys can you keep them working? Are you the one who sustains your life, or do you need to look to God for that?
It may not be as obvious that God is our only hope, but it's just as true. Nothing will sustain us, strengthen us and keep us but God alone. God alone is our strength, our hope, our help, our guide and our deliverer.
That is true, and that is always true. But we don't always feel it or know it. Just think about the struggles and difficult times you've faced over the last few months. What was your first instinct when the going got tough? Was it to sit down and make a list of things to do? Was it to call your mum and have a chat? Was it to look up an expert – I don't know, your boss or supervisor, an older colleague, a more experienced mum, a good friend? Was it to bunker down and work your way out? Was it to run and hide? Who or what do you run to for help you when you're in trouble?
And what about when we think about the greatest fear that David faces? HE doesn't want to be put to shame. Who can sustain us in the face of temptation? When we're in danger and we can't see the way out, who will keep us standing strong in Jesus? And when we fall into sin and temptation, when our foot is actually in the snare, what hope for us then? There is only one helper who can actually pull us up out of the pit or release our foot from the snare. God is our hope and refuge.
And so that brings us to David's prayer itself, what does he model for us, what should we pray in the light of the enemy that prowls and trys to bring us down to shame, and the God who alone protects us from him? Let's turn to David's prayer now.
David's Prayer, Our Prayer
There are many things that David prays for here, and I think we can summarise them as a call for God to sustain and strengthen him in close relationship with God – in David's language that God would do all that is needed for him to walk closely with God. Look again back through the Psalm, what does David actually ask for:
What is the content of the prayer?
Vs 2 do not let me be put to shame
Vs 4 show me your ways, teach me your paths etc.
Vs 6 remember your mercy and love
Vs 7 forgive my sins but remember me in love
Vs 11 forgive my iniquities
Vs 16-21 turn to me and be gracious, protect my life from my enemies
Isn't it interesting how the situation of being opposed by enemies drives him to prayer, and the first prayer is for rescue, but then there follows many other prayers that focus on Godliness, God leading him to right thinking and acting, before he comes back to the business at hand of God rescuing him from his enemies, and even then the rescue from his enemies is framed by a prayer for forgiveness in vs 18 and for integrity and uprightness in vs 21.
David's prayers in this seem to circle around his holiness, his walk with God. There are enemies and he feels the pressure, the fear, the danger. But there is a more pressing issue, not the danger that they will kill him, but that under pressure he will fail to walk rightly with God. Isn't that striking in this Psalm? He asks God over and over to teach him the right way to walk, to show him his ways, to guide him in his paths, to strengthen him to do right.
And he asks again and again that God would forgive his sin. He knows he's not perfect, but he wants a pure relationship with God, unstained by his sin, without distance that comes from un-forgiven sin. He wants to be as close to God as he possibly can be, and he knows that it's not just enemies without that threaten his relationship with God, but sins within.
At the heart of these prayers, at the heart of this Psalm, is the desire to walk rightly with God. Verses 20-21 sum it up – Guard my life and rescue me, let me not be put to shame… may integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.'
David's relationship with God isn't the genie in the bottle that we often treat it like. He has enemies, he faces dangers, fears, anxieties – his enemies lay traps and long to see him fall. He really needs God's help. But it's not about him staying healthy, wealthy and wise. Defeat for his enemies doesn't means success for David – a long kingship, many children, great wealth… no, it means that God's man will walk with God and know God's blessings, which may include all those things, but which start and end with: 'you are my God, in you I trust'.
I'm sure it's very nice to be the King, nice to have subjects and servants and people to do your will, nice to bowed down to and listened to and obeyed. Nice to enjoy all the pomp and ceremony, nice to wear the crown and sit on the throne. But all that's nothing compared to knowing God, and being his humble servant and doing his will. Because when we know God, when we fear God and walk with God and follow God's guiding along his path we have something far greater than all of that, we have God with us. We can trust in him for love and care and protection and our future (verse 13). It's nice to have everything we've ever wanted, but it's no guarantee of happiness, let alone present safety or a secure future, let alone hope for our children. How many people reach the top and say it's empty, I've got everything I've ever dreamt of and it wasn't what I wanted; how many rich people lost everything in the dot come crash, or the great depression or the collapse of Lehman brothers or Enron or one of those notorious ponzi schemes; and how many kids inherit a fortune and suffer for it? We can't secure our future, only God can. Would you prefer the best that you can think of, or the actual best?
Think of Jesus – he was righteous, and he entrusted himself to his Father who judges justly. He preferred to suffer for a little while and then enter into glory. And Peter says that his experience is a pattern for us who follow him. When David writes this Psalm he writes as the Lord's anointed, suffering for his relationship to God. Jesus exemplifies that suffering, and we follow him in it.
How will you react? We instinctively shrink from things that we know will cause us pain, of course we do. But remember what Jesus said in Mark 8.38 'if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with holy angels' – i.e. we can chose to avoid the pain that comes from following Jesus, we can keep our heads down and avoid the fight, we can avoid making a fuss and pretend that we just don't notice when Jesus is being slighted and his glory is being debased… but if we do we have abandoned him and we will be put to shame. If we are ashamed of Jesus and his words now – a time when he is under fire and his word will make life hard for us because we live in a wicked generation – then in the time to come when he is glorified and we want to be seen to be his, it will be too late for us. We can choose to be on Jesus side now, and take the pain that comes with following him; or we avoid the pain that comes from being on Jesus side, but we need to know that that is a choice not to be on Jesus side – to abandon him and so to miss out on the privileges that come from him.
David knew that, he knew that there were worse things that could happen to him that being over run by enemies, worse things even than death. Like a fox that would rather gnaw it's own leg off and live, than remain in a trap and wait for death, David would rather take the pain of following God now and live to enjoy God's blessing in the future, than enjoy the fruits of abandoning God, even in the face of enemies who could take his life. And David wrote this psalm so that we could know it too.