If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 140. We’re with David and in trouble again. In this psalm, and it's a lament, David is lamenting a specific situation or set of situations in which he finds himself. There are men who have evil in their hearts, who intend malice towards him, who are slandering him, who are endangering him, and he's crying out to God for help. In the course of doing that, if you’ll following along — in verses 1 to 5 he acknowledges the situation that he's in, and then secondly, especially in verses 1 and 4 he lifts up a specific petition for deliverance. So in verses 1 to 5 you find an acknowledgment of his situation that's fairly specific. And then within those verses in which there is that acknowledgment, there are petitions, there are two specific petitions to God for deliverance. Then, again in verses 6 to 8, there is another acknowledgement. It's an acknowledgment about who God is, followed by, in verses 9 to 11, a specific petition against his enemies. And then finally in verses 12 and 13 he sets out his hope. And so as we read the passage tonight, be on the lookout for that.
This psalm is full of great lessons for us and as you hear it be on the lookout for a few of these. First of all, we learn in this psalm that faithful believers are often brought into peril by the wiles and words of the wicked. Faithful believers are often brought into peril by the wiles and words of the wicked. If this has happened to you, you’re not alone; it happened to David before you. Secondly, we learn in this psalm that falsehood and slander and abuse are as old as sin in this world. These things have been around a long time. We also notice in this psalm that slander always precedes and accompanies persecution because malice alone is not sufficient to incite hatred against a good man; you have to slander him first and make people think he's a bad man before you can incite hatred against him. And how often do we see that play out in our own world and culture today? It isn't surprising, then, is it, that the New Testament treats the Psalms as a major witness to human depravity. When Paul wants to sum up how bad human beings can be in Romans 3:10-18, where does he go? He goes right to the Psalms and he gives a collection of examples out of the Psalms about how dark the human heart can be.
But in spite of all these things, my friends, as we read this psalm, one of the things that rings clear is that the Lord our God can protect believers against a million fallen spirits. Line a world of demons up, array them against a believer — the Lord is sufficient to protect us. And this psalm reminds us that good men and women live by prayer. We’re always dependent upon the Lord and we live by our cries of help to Him. And this psalm, we’ll see something that's very much the order of the Christian life. Before exaltation there is humiliation, before there is rest there is suffering, before there is a crown, there is a cross, and before there is glory, thank heavens, there is grace. Let's look to the Lord in prayer before we read this, His Word.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the Word of God. Speak especially to brothers and sister who may be gathered here under that Word tonight who know all too well, all too poignantly and pointedly, the circumstances, the situations that are recorded in this psalm. Speak to all of us so that we might know what to do in time of trial and especially when our persons and characters are under assault unjustly. Open our eyes, Lord, to behold the truth in Your Word which You have inspired which is profitable for our training in righteousness. We ask these things in Jesus' name, amen.
“TO THE CHOIRMASTER. A PSALM OF DAVID.
Deliver me, O LORD, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a serpent's, and under their lips is the venom of asps.
Guard me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have planned to trip up my feet. The arrogant have hidden a trap for me, and with cords they have spread a net; beside the way they have set snares for me.
I say to the LORD, You are my God; give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O LORD! O LORD, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, You have covered my head in the day of battle. Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted!
As for the head of those who surround me, let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into fire, into miry pits, no more to rise! Let not the slanderer be established in the land; let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!
I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name; the upright shall dwell in Your presence.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
I wonder if some of you know what it is to be the object of untruth, deceit, and slander, to have your character called into question, to have your person denigrated. Maybe you’re a medical doctor and you have served not only well but above and beyond the call of duty in a difficult case and you've been rewarded for your trouble by a frivolous lawsuit, one which literally endangers your ability to practice, endangers your ability to provide livelihood for your family. Or maybe you’re the parent of a child, a student in high school or college, and malicious, untrue rumors have been spread about your child that have deeply wounded them and broken your heart. Or maybe you have attempted to serve in the public sector and you have attempted to do so with integrity, but in the rough and tumble of political life, your very character has been called into question and your good name has been sullied by the false accusations of others. And we could think of a thousand other circumstances, but maybe you know what that's like. That's where David is tonight — faithfully seeking to serve the Lord, his name called into question, his person threatened, evil men lurking to do malice to him. How do we respond?
WHAT SHOULD GOD’S PEOPLE BELIEVE AND PRAY WHEN UNDER DURESS OF MALICE, SLANDER, AND DECEIT?
Well there are two things that I want to look at with you tonight as our great rubric for understanding this passage and the first is this. What does Psalm 140 teach us about what to do, believe, and pray when we are under the duress of malice, slander, and deceit? What do you do? And this psalm tells us. The Lord is so kind. When that happens to you, if you know what that's like, it addles you. You almost can't think. You can't think straight, you worry — you do that well. You can't think straight; what do I do? And God is so kind. He tells you exactly what to do. Look at it here. You acknowledge, you petition, you acknowledge, you petition, and you hope — five things. You acknowledge, you petition, you acknowledge, you petition, and you hope.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES
The first acknowledgement this psalm teaches is the acknowledgment of our circumstances. The psalmist begins in verses 1 to 5 very clearly acknowledging his circumstance in this lament, or in the words of Martin Luther, we acknowledge that “Did we in our own strength confide or striving would be losing.” There's no candy-coating here. David's response to this situation is saying, “Well, it's not so bad; not as bad as it could be, really not the worst situation that I've seen before.” Though the latter may be true, David may have been in tighter spots than this, but he doesn't downplay the seriousness of the situation that he's in; he articulates it. He spells out his circumstances; he laments it to the Lord; he holds it up before the Lord's eyes.
Look at what he does in verses 1 to 5. He says, “There are wicked, violent, arrogant men; they’re planning evil against me and they’re slandering me.” He spells it all out. Look at the language in verse 1 — “evil men, violent men.” Verse 2 —“who plan evil things in their hearts and stir up wars continually.” Verse 3 — “They make their tongue sharp as a serpent's, and under their lips is the venom of asps.” Verse 4 — “the hands of the wicked, violent men have planned to trip up my feet.” Verse 5 — “The arrogant have hidden a trap for me and with cords they have spread a net; beside the way they have set snares for me.” He acknowledges his circumstances. Do you remember to do that to the Lord? If you’re like me, in these circumstances I'm instinctively trying to figure my way out rather than going to the Lord and saying, “Lord, these are my circumstances. I need You.”
PETITION HIM WITH YOUR NEED
David teaches us to acknowledge our circumstances to the Lord and then to petition Him with our need; that's the second thing. From the acknowledgement of verses 1 to 5, you see especially in verses 1 and 4 a specific petition, a plea from David for deliverance, preservation, and protection. He acknowledges his need to the Lord. In the words of Martin Luther, “Our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe.” He says, “Lord, I need You. I need You for deliverance and preservation and protection from these men.” Look at verse 1 — “Deliver me, O LORD, from evil men; preserve me from violent men.” Then look at verse 4 — “Guard me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent men.” He acknowledges his need. He goes to the Lord with a plea, with a petition. He acknowledges his circumstances and then he comes back to the Lord with a plea, a petition pertaining to his need — “deliver me, preserve me, protect me.” In other words, he acknowledges the necessity of going to God to resolve this situation. He can't fix it on his own.
Do you remember, well it's been a long time now — it was back around 1987 when Ray Donovan, the former Secretary of Labor under President Ronald Reagan, had been accused of wrongdoing, of felony wrongdoing in a construction case in the state of New York and he was acquitted by the court of all charges. And after he walked out of court he very famously said, “What office do I go to, to get back my reputation?” And David is acknowledging here there's no office he can go to, to get back his reputation; he's got to go to God. Only God can answer this situation. Only God can fulfill this need. And so David not only teaches us to acknowledge our circumstances but to plea to the Lord our need because He is the only one who can answer.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR GOD
And then, if you look at verses 6 and 7 especially, having recorded our circumstance and our need, now the focus is on our God. He acknowledges his circumstances, he petitions his need, and then he expresses trust and he especially expresses trust in the person of his God. “You are my God; You are my strength; You have delivered me in the past.” Or, in the words of Martin Luther, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” Look at what he does, especially in verses 6 and 7. “I say to the LORD, You are my God; give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O LORD!” Now you can immediately see what he is doing. He is making a confession of faith about God in order to embolden his confidence in prayer to God and in God's answer of his prayer. “Lord, You’re my God! Hear what I pray!” He confesses something about God which emboldens him both to pray and to believe that God will answer that prayer. “You are my God!” Have you ever thought about the Confession of Faith that way? When you stand up and recite the Apostle's Creed or you stand up and recite the Nicene Creed or you stand up and recite the Twenty-Third Psalm or if you stand up and recite some Biblical confession of faith, have you ever thought that you’re actually emboldening yourself to pray to God and to trust that He will answer your prayer? That's how confession works — to instill and increase confidence in God. And David does that. “O LORD, You are my God!”
We were doing that this morning. Will you take your hymnals and turn to number 5? And didn't you love it when we got to that line, the fifth stanza of number 5 and God is described this way: “Full of kindness and compassion, slow to anger vast in love; God is good to all creation; all His words His goodness prove.” And what does that confession of God embolden us to do? To trust that He forgives us when we ask for forgiveness, to entrust that He intends good for us when we're in tight spots, to move us to believe Him that He cares for us in the kindness and goodness and mercy of His providence. That confession about God moves us to pray to Him and to trust that He will answer us. That's how confession works and David's doing it here.
But look at what he says in verse 7. “O LORD, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, You have covered my head in the day of battle.” David is saying, “You've done this before. You've helped me before. You've come to my aid before. Lord, You've helped me in battle; now spare me against these evil plots. You've covered my head when the missiles were flying all around me; now spare me again in the midst of the plots.” One of our members met me at the door after the service this morning and recounted how on a hundred and fifty bombing missions in the Second World War, every time he left on those missions he expected not to return, every one of those missions he expected not to return. And with tears in his eyes he said, “And by God's grace and for what purpose I do not know, I'm standing right before you, Ligon. I'm standing right before you.” And David's remembering how the Lord spared him in all those missions. And we need to remember that when we're going to the Lord to ask Him for present help. It's not the first time we've had to go to Him and it's not the first time He's spared us. It's not the first time He's come to our aid. There's a history there; there's a remembrance. And that's important for us to be moved to prayer and to trust that He will answer our prayers. And so from our circumstance to our need, we acknowledge our God. We acknowledge our God, we plead our need, and then we acknowledge our God.
PRAY THAT YOUR ENEMIES WILL BE THWARTED
And then there's a fourth thing and you see it in verses 9 to 11 but even, it starts even before the break back in verse 8, doesn't it? Now there is a petition to God about His enemies. From our circumstances, to our need, to our God, to our enemies – you can almost hear Martin Luther's words, “One little word shall fell him.” Here, David prays for his enemies to be thwarted, not only in verse 8 that the Lord would not let them succeed, but in verses 9 to 11 that their own schemes would rebound on them, would recoil on them, and that their wicked plans for him would end up bouncing back on them. Did you hear that in Revelation 17 as Billy read today? Even as the forces arrayed themselves against Christ and His people, in God's providence the wickedness crumpled in on itself. It began to judge itself, to thwart itself. And here, David asks for the Lord not only not to let his enemies succeed – look at verse 8. “Do not grant the desires of the wicked, do not further their evil plot or they will be exalted.” He knows that the wicked are inherently prideful. Every sin is prideful because you’re doing what God has told you not to do therefore you think you’re smarter than God. And David's saying, “Don't reward them. They’re already prideful; they’ll be even more prideful if they’re successful. So Lord, thwart them so that they’ll have to be humbled. Don't let them succeed.” But then he prays — look at verse 9. “As for the head of those who surround me, let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them.” In other words, let their schemes recoil upon them. And so David moves from our circumstance, to our need, to our God, to our enemies. He offers an acknowledgment of his circumstances, a plea for his need, he expresses trust in his God, and then he prays that his enemies will be thwarted.
HOPE IN YOUR KING
And then finally in verses 12 and 13 he sets a great hope before his eyes. He begins by saying, “I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.” Now why does he know this? He knows this because he's king and part of his job as king is to maintain the cause of the afflicted and to execute justice for the needy. That's part of his job. And David also knows that when he does that as best as he can do it, he is still just a pale reflection of the real King. He knows that God is a better King than he is. And so he knows that if it's his job to maintain the cause of the afflicted and to give justice to the needy then God certainly will in his case and in the case of all those who trust Him.
But then he turns his eyes to the future. And don't you love what he says? “Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name.” He expects to give thanks to God. “And the upright shall dwell in Your presence.” In other words, he now goes from circumstances, to need, to God, to enemies, to hope. And he holds our hope up before our eyes. He sets the great hope up before his eyes. “The upright shall dwell in God's presence,” or in Martin Luther's words, “His kingdom is forever.” You almost, don't you almost hear an echo in 13b of Psalm 23? “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”? Or even of the end of Revelation — “And the upright will see Him face to face”? And this is the hope that he holds up before his eyes. So what do we do, what do we believe, what do we pray when we're under the duress of malice, slander, and deceit? We acknowledge our circumstances, we plead our need, we express trust in God, we pray that our enemies would be thwarted, and we set the great hope of God's kingdom before our eyes. That's the first thing. Now look at your clock.
REMEMBER THAT YOUR SAVIOR WAS SLANDERED FOR YOU
Here's the second thing, very briefly. We must remember our Savior who was under duress of malice, slander, and deceit. I want you to think about it, my friends. Your Savior not only died for you at the hands of wicked me, Acts 2:23, but your Heavenly Father ordained that He would be slandered for you. He bore slander for you. If you have been slandered, it should be comfort indeed that you have not been slandered like your Savior was slandered. And if you have ever slandered yourself, then the fact that your Savior was slandered in your place should assure you that even that sin He has paid for.
Our Lord and our God, thank You for this psalm, thank You for David's heart-cries in trouble, thank You above all for the Savior who was slandered for us, who experienced deceit for us, who bore malice for us, who died for us, who was buried for us, and who was raised again for us. And we will see Him face to face. Help us then in every trial to trust You, our God, and to hope. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand and receive God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.