Most scholars agree that psalm 140 and psalm 141 are related, but today I want to look at psalm 141. This is an individual psalm of lament. The enemy was after David once again and he needed help immediately. Here David prays for rescue and wisdom, and he is envisioning the end of evil. There is no one specific event that is causing David to need rescuing immediately. As we have been reading the psalms it seems that David has written many psalms asking for the Lord’s help. He seems to be in dire straits often, crying out for rescue and for retribution against those who wish to do him harm. But think about this. Our lives are built on character and character is built on the decisions we make. This psalm reveals that David made a number of wise decisions as he faced the enemy attacks. Psalm 141 is used in worship today. It is part of the evening vespers service, beginning with the words “let my prayer rise before you as incense”.
One of the things we have seen about David here is that when the enemy caused trouble David’s first response was to pray…a good lesson for us today. He was a man with spiritual insights who understood that he could pray and worship God even if he were away from the sanctuary and he had no priest to assist him. Every evening with the evening sacrifices the Jewish priest would offer up a sacrifice on the brazen altar. And he would burn incense on the golden altar of incense. Incense is a picture of prayer going up to the Lord. Wherever David was, he did not have at hand either incense or an evening offering. But he asked that the Lord accept his prayers as He would an offering and the pleasing aroma from the incense. David was counting on the Lord accepting his prayers as though they were an offering. David’s prayers and devotion are the reality that the incense and offering represent. David’s hands were empty, but his heart was full of love for the Lord. David had faith in the promises the Lord had made. As the smoke and aroma of incense rises to the Lord as something sweet and compelling, so David desires that his prayer will not be ignored. By lifting up his hands David is asking God to pay attention to his plea. It is also a picture of a faithful servant of the Lord reaching out towards Him.
Verse three becomes a prayer for wisdom, for restraining evil language, and for knowing the correct words to speak. Sometimes wisdom requires that we have protection from ourselves. Sometimes the opportunity arises that we can say or even think things that that lead to the evil path. Wisdom opens itself to correction from godly people. David faced great temptation to compromise with the enemy and he knew it was wrong. He also knew he could not deal with the enemy by himself, that he needed strength far greater than any he might possess. They were slandering him, so why not retaliate? But the problem was not with his mouth. It was with his heart. So, David prayed for a heart that would not be inclined to either approve of their sins or imitate their sins. David wanted to avoid any act of impurity, irreverence, or even idolatry. He did not want to offend God with anything he said. He even pictured their temptations as eating their delicacies. Here is something else to ponder. When we face times of temptation or testing, we often ask how I can get out of this. And we may plan and scheme to figure a way out. But what would happen if instead we asked WHAT can I get out of this? What is the Lord teaching me here and what will I learn from Him if I go to Him instead of plotting and scheming?
David is willing to accept the judgement of the righteous, but what bothers him is the instruction and judgement of the wicked. The righteous here can also be translated as The Righteous One, referring to the Lord. Either way the message is the same. When we choose to yield to God’s will, the difficulties of life become tools that God uses to bring growth and maturity to our lives. Like psalm 140 David again envisions a day when the wicked will be destroyed. Their power will collapse, and justice will reign in its place. In the ancient world, honored guests at a meal were anointed with fragrant oil. But David knew that the enemy’s delicacies and fragrant oil were only baits in the trap they had set for him. He needed God’s strength to escape from the temptations of the enemy.
Verses 6-7 are a bit puzzling, but the general message here seems to be clear. David continued to pray for his enemies, and he saw a day coming when God would judge them and vindicate his cause. These verses can also be translated let the judges be thrown down. Let them learn that my words were true. Throwing people down from or over a cliff was a horrific form of execution practiced in the ancient world. David may have been speaking metaphorically here. But, when God judged the leaders, their followers will agree that David’s words were correct, especially when they see the unburied bones of the leaders bleaching in the sun. The scavenger birds would have stripped the corpses of all their flesh, something horrible in the eyes of the ancient people. It was very derogatory to leave a dead person to the elements and it showed a sign of great disrespect for the dead.
In light of the strength of the wicked it is easy for us to focus on them, worry about what happens next, and worry about facing the wicked. David was no different. It is also easy to focus on ourselves. We either become self absorbed in our struggles or we exalt ourselves in our victories. David has chosen to focus his eyes on the Lord. This means living by faith in God’s Word. God had anointed David to be king of Israel and nothing but David’s own disobedience could interrupt that plan. If David had taken his eyes off the Lord, if he had chosen to worry about everything the enemy might do, he would have been paralyzed by fear. Instead, he committed to walk through the battlefield with the Lord by his side and his eyes fixed squarely on Him. David makes a declaration of his faith here when he says “I pass by safely” or while I escape. This is like when Jesus was in the synagogue in Nazareth and the people became angry with Him and wanted to throw him over a cliff, but Jesus passed through the crowd safely.
Life continues on. There is always work to do. There will always be trials and temptations. With the help of the Lord, we will be able to continue in spite of the challenges. These trials and challenges are not excuses for sitting idly by and doing nothing out of fear. Instead, they become opportunities for claiming God’s promises and experiencing His miraculous power. It is an amazing picture to think that our prayers rise like incense, that they smell sweet to the Lord, and He considers them to be worship.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W