Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha


"1. Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
protect me from those who rise up against me.
2. Deliver me from those who work evil;
from the bloodthirsty save me.

3. Even now they lie in wait for my life;
the mighty stir up strife against me.
For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD,
4. for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.

Rouse yourself, come to my help and see!
5. You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel.
Awake to punish all the nations;
spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah

6. Each evening they come back, howling like dogs
and prowling about the city.
7. There they are, bellowing with their mouths,
with sharp words on their lips -
for 'Who,' they think, 'will hear us?'

8. But you laugh at them, O LORD;
you hold all the nations in derision.
9. O my strength, I will watch for you;
for you, O God, are my fortress.
10. My God in his steadfast love will meet me;
my God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.

11. Do not kill them, or my people may forget;
make them totter by your power, and bring them down,
O LORD, our shield.
12. For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips,
let them be trapped in their pride.
For the cursing and lies that they utter,
13. consume them in wrath;
consume them until they are no more.
Then it will be known to the ends of the earth
that God rules over Jacob. Selah

14. Each evening they come back, howling like dogs
and prowling about the city.
15. They roam about for food,
and growl if they do not get their fill.

16. But I will sing of your might;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been a fortress for me
and a refuge in the day of my distress.
17. O my strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love."

This is another psalm that is an urgent cry for help in the face of danger and difficulty. The psalmist is surrounded by enemies, but he directs his thoughts to God, and realising God's justice and mercy, he is able to trust, and in the end his trust turns to thankfulness and praise.

The reality of enemies

The psalmist's enemies are all too real to him. They "rise up against" him (verse 1). They "work evil" and are "bloodthirsty" (verse 2). They secretly "lie in wait" to take his life, and "stir up strife" against him (verse 3). They are like wild dogs that roam about the city, barking, biting, causing fear and spreading disease (verses 6-7 and 14-15). They feel that they can say and do what they like, and that no one will call them to account (verse 7). That is their arrogant boast, and in fact "cursing and lies" are constantly on their lips (verse 12). In many parts of the world people - and especially Christians - feel the reality of enemies like this.

The greater reality of God

The man or woman of faith always has an answer to the threat of oppressive enemies. God is more real and is much stronger than any force that can ever be brought against us. The psalmist could say, "You, Lord God of hosts, are God of Israel" (verse 5). You are "my strength", "my fortress" (verses 9 and 17), "a refuge in the day of my distress" (verse 16). The man or woman of faith can be sure that God "sees" (verse 4). Evil and oppressive people may think that they can do what they like, but such pride and arrogance are only laughable in the sight of God (verse 8, and see Psalm 2:1-4). Those who are oppressed can trust the justice of God, but also his steadfast love to all who turn to him in their need.

Dependence on God

"Deliver", "protect", "deliver" was the psalmist's cry (verses 1 and 2). When it seemed that God was not coming to help him, he cried out, like Jesus' disciples in the storm on Lake Galilee (Mark 4:38), "Rouse yourself", "awake" (verses 4 and 5). The heading given to the Psalm refers to David's situation when Saul was trying to take his life and kept watch over his house (see 1 Samuel 19:8-17). He certainly was in desperate need of God's protection and deliverance at that time.

Like a number of the other psalms that we have studied, this one has the prayer for God's judgment on oppressive enemies. The psalmist was very aware of those who made personal attacks on their neighbours, but also people of other nations "who treacherously plot evil" against others (verse 5). We must say that, as in other psalms, this psalmist's prayer is not a truly Christian prayer. It does not show the spirit of the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his enemies, nor the spirit of evangelism that seeks the repentance and conversion of even the most desperate sinners. Yet it is a cry for justice and not for personal vengeance, for the vindication of the cause of the oppressed, and for the triumph of God's cause over human arrogance. The psalmist wants God to act in such a way that "it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules" (verse 13), that he rules "over Jacob", and that he rules in justice everywhere else as well.

The last part of the prayer - in verses 16 and 17 - is prayer and praise that we can always offer. We can always think of ways in which our Lord is "the God who shows me steadfast love", and then thank him for it. This is important. Many of us know how to cry to God for help when we are in pain or danger, but very few remember to shout his praise and in gratitude to work for his glory when the danger is over and pleasure comes our way!

Meditation: "As the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him" (Psalm 103:11).

For further thought and study

a. What should be our attitude to injustice in the world, in our country, in our own community? How should we react when we feel the hatred or attacks of evil people in our neighbourhood, our extended family, our workplace, even in our church? How should we pray about it? What actions should we take?

b. Verse 16 says, "I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning". What other passages of the Bible encourage us to turn to God in praise and prayer at the beginning of the day? See, for example, Psalm 5:3, 55:17, 88:13, Isaiah 50:4-5 and Mark 1:35. What are the practical benefits of doing this?


  1. In addition to the reference to Saul's watching to kill David in the heading of the psalm, the other details of the heading are as in Psalm 58.
  2. Verse 11 is taken in different ways by different translations. The New English Bible has, "Wilt thou not kill them, lest my people forget?" Jerusalem Bible has "Slaughter them, God, before my people forget". Our translation is closest to the original Hebrew of the verse, and it probably means that while the psalmist wanted to see the end of evil and oppressive enemies, he wanted people to be able to see that this happened in the judgment of God. "Make them totter" might also be translated "make them wander", and this may be a reference to the judgment of Cain for the murder of his brother, as Genesis 4:12-14 speaks of him becoming "a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth".