[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]
Psalm 54:1–2 (ESV) O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might. O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth.
David calls upon God in this prayer to judge his case and vindicate him. The image he is using here is like a court case. The verb “vindicate” is used to describe someone pleading a case before the Lord and calling on him to render a legal decision. Usually the one making this prayer is oppressed or unjustly attacked.
The standard of this judgment is God’s name and might. God’s Name is used as a synonym for God himself , to invoke the Name is to invoke God himself and all that he is. The standard to which David wants to be held is God’s character. The noun used for God’s strength (גְּבוּרה) is frequently used for the mighty activity of God, the things he has done in history to rescue his people in the past. For example, in Deut 3:24 Moses says that God has only just begun to show Israel his might power, and this is after the Exodus!
Verse 4 is the center of the Psalm. The only reason David has been able to stand against his opponents is that God is his helper. The “helper” in this context is not a person who assists a superior. The word is often used in contexts where the “helper” is a military ally who comes to the aid of another country (Ezek 30:8). Potentially an ally could be anything from a weaker army to a superior army, although there is usually parity between the partners. But when God is the helper, he is always a superior who comes to the aid of an inferior. For example, God comes to the aid of the poor (Ps 72:12) and the orphan (Ps 10:14, Job 29:12 combines both the poor and the orphan).
What is more, it is God who has sustained David’s life. The enemy seeks to take his life, but God is the one that keeps David alive in extreme circumstances. The verb can be used for a support, something on which one might lean. It is often used as a metaphor for leaning on an ally (2 Kings 18:21, Ezek 30:6), in Isa 36:6 Israel is leaning on Egypt, but they are a weak support and will cause more injury. When you take the time to look at the geography of the region as described in 1 Samuel 23, it is remarkable that David could keep himself alive much less an army of 600 men. There is little shelter and water, and anyone who might assist them is an enemy. David recognizes here that the only reason he is alive is that the Lord has kept him alive.
David’s response is to return to the Lord in worship (verses 6-7). Just as the Psalm began with a prayer asking for vindication before an enemy, at the end of the Psalm David returns to the sanctuary to remember what God has already done. In verse one David called on the name of the Lord to judge between him and his oppressor, not he calls on the name of the Lord in thanksgiving.
This is the instruction of the psalm. After one has been rescued by the Lord from his every trouble, the response ought to be worship, but a form of worship which is instructive to the community. David’s public worship encourages others to relying upon the Lord as a helper and sustainer.