Exploring the Meaning of Psalms 59
By Rev. Julian Duckworth
Psalm 59 is one of several psalms that are based on recorded incidents in David’s life. In this case, it is from a time when David was hiding from King Saul, who had sent men to find him and kill him. The whole psalm is a statement that those who seek to do evil eventually find that it rebounds back on them. It has vivid and descriptive language which is full of illustrations – correspondences – about the nature and doing of evil. The psalm then closes with triumphant praise to God for His power, strength and protection.
All the psalms, at a deep level, also describe the states in the Lord during His life in the world -- in his glorification and also his deep temptations. This is very much the case in this psalm. The psalms also speak truly and accurately about our experiences in our own lives, during our regeneration, which involve temptations and determination on our part.
The opening verse calls to God four times to be delivered from enemies, each time in a different way. This undoubtedly shows the severity of the attack. Deliver me – defend me – deliver me – save me. This may sound like great fear, but it is also expressing a knowledge and deep awareness of the subtle ploys of evil to bring us down. The last of the four speaks of ‘bloodthirsty men’. Spiritually, this means the way in which evil – or hell – seeks to take away our faith, trust, vitality and confidence, our ‘blood’ which is our life. (Arcana Caelestia 4735)
The next several verses command us to see how evil seeks to destroy. This is so even though we have not deviated from our commitment to the Lord. Each set is countered with the Lord’s power to overcome or confound these attacks on us. The language used is very expressive: ‘They lie in wait for my life’, ‘They growl like a dog’, ‘They belch with their mouths’. When we really understand the nature of evil it has a carnal bestiality about it.
‘The Lord shall laugh at them’ (verse 8) reminds us of the truth that the Lord knows the intention and purpose of every evil and good state. Heaven knows hell because all those in heaven have experienced hell; Hell cannot comprehend heaven because it is driven by its own mad desires and knows nothing else. The Lord’s laughter at this is not contempt but Divine knowledge of its futility. (Arcana Caelestia 1093)
The image of a dog is helpful to show up the real nature of evil. A frightened dog is a danger because it is unpredictable. Its growls and slinking movements originate in its fear, as every evil intent does. (Arcana Caelestia 9231)
Verses 11 to 13 have the interesting request for evil not to be slain, not to be destroyed, but to be subdued, lest my people forget. This reminds us of the importance of maintaining a remembrance of evil and its tactics so that generations may never be overcome from ignorance or forgetting evil. For us, spiritually, the same principle of remembrance holds true. We need to remember that without the Lord’s work for our salvation we might well quickly plunge into selfish and ruthless thoughts, loves and actions. (New Jerusalem 163)
But evils that are seen need to be consumed -- consumed in the determination to overcome them and take away their power. While it is the Lord who fights for us in our regeneration and conflicts, we are to engage in resisting evils when they appear, so that we determine they shall not control us but we control them with the Lord with us. (New Jerusalem 194)
The close repetition in verses 14 and 15 of what was said earlier in verses 6 and 7 about the dogs growling and wandering the streets is the Word’s way of helping us to see that evil does not give up easily but returns to attack us with a new and subtler way of weakening us.
(see Heaven and Hell 580)
The last two verses focus entirely on the Lord, his power, his mercy, in defence of us: “For You are my strength, I will sing praises.” Whatever our experience or thoughts or emotions in our spiritual journey, our need is to come back and only focus on the Lord’s loving care for us and all of his creation. (Apocalypse Revealed 22)