[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….)]
W. E. Oesterley described Psalm 7 as “one of the less inspiring in the Psalter” and one that “does not offer material for a section on religious teaching.” The author is self-righteous rather than humble-minded and characterized by “hatred engendered by religious strife.” (The Psalms, 137-8) I find this description difficult because there are clear themes of God’s righteousness and justice in the Psalm which are consistent with the rest of the Psalter.
While it is possible to describe the writer as self-righteous, the confession in verses 3-5 invites God to search his heart and mind and see of there is anything within him which is could give rise to the slander made against him. He is self-righteous because he is righteous before the Lord, his conscious is clear. One of the consistent features of the Psalms is an honest approach to God. David here is not a self-righteous man claiming that he is better than others, only that he appears to be suffering slander unjustly.
He invites God to examine him to see if there is any reason for his suffering, and if there is not, he calls on God to decide in his favor in a public court. To “arise” in this case is to call God into his role as judge. A judge would rise to render a judgment, so David is calling for the Lord’s court to convene and justice to be served. Since the metaphor is of a public courtroom, the assembly of the peoples is gathered to witness the Judge’s decision. This too may have an eschatological sense, the nations gather in a procession to the mountain of the Lord to witness this judgment.
God is a righteous Judge who will uphold the cause of the oppressed (7:8-11). David claims to be righteous (verse 8 ) and to have integrity (verse 9), while his opponent is wicked and destined for a bad end. It is remarkable that David should call upon the Lord as judge and the ask him to his righteousness and integrity. David is not sinless, he is only referring to the matter at hand, a betrayal of Saul, a lack of loyalty to any covenant he has made to the king, or even doing things which bring harm to the king. David says the same thing in Ps 26:1-3.
The reason God is the righteous Judge is that he tests the “minds and hearts” of people (verse 10). To “test the heart” uses a familiar metaphor, testing a metal for purity (בחן, Zech 13:9; Prov 17:3). The more the metal is heated, the more pure it will become. The object of the test is the heart and mind. This is a modern translation of the Hebrew. The “heart” (לֵב) refers to the will, thought, reason, etc., more or less equivalent to the “mind” in modern thinking. The second noun (כִּלְיָה) is literally the kidney, but is used as a metaphor for the innermost part of a human, usually in parallel to heart.
When a person is in a extremely difficult situation, you find out what is really in their hearts, in their innermost being. Pressure can bring out the best in a person, or the worst! David is in a most dire position, his life is really in the balance, yet he still looks to the Lord as a judge, a refuge, and a defender. His enemy (Saul, Cush) have responded to the same crisis with lies and slander – what is really inside them!
Finally, because God is a righteous judge, he “feels indignation every day” (verse 11). Since God is ultimately perfect in his justice, he is offended when he must see injustice. The noun (זעם) is rare, and the translation of “indignant” may not be strong enough. The root means “to curse” and it is often part of God’s righteous fury at those who are enemies of God. The enemy arrogantly thinks he is getting away with his wickedness without God knowing, but God does know (he tests everyone’s hearts), and he is completely disgusted by what he sees!