Scared to Death
(H) For the director of the choir, to be accompanied by stringed instruments, upon an eight stringed lyre. A Psalm of David. (1) O Yahweh, do not rebuke me in your anger. Do not chasten me in your wrath. (2) Show me favor, Yahweh, for I am weak. Heal me, Yahweh, for my bones shake with terror. (3) My soul is terrified exceedingly, but you, Yahweh, how long? (4) Turn back, Yahweh. Deliver my soul. Save me for the sake of your steadfast love, (5) for there is no remembrance of you in death. In Sheol who will praise you?
This psalm emerged from a terrible moment of anguish in David’s life. We do not know precisely what situation David was facing when he composed this prayer, whether it was during his younger days when Saul was seeking to kill him or during the later years of his monarchy when he faced many adversaries. However, we do know from the second segment of the psalm (vss. 6-10) that his enemies were harrowing him.
We can tell how desperate David feels by his constantly invoking God’s name. Five times he cries out to “Yahweh” by name in these first five verses as well as using the personal pronoun, “you,” referring to God four more times. David repeats the same Hebrew root first translated “shake with terror” and then “terrified” to describe the fear he was experiencing (vss. 2 & 3).
We observe three other indications of David’s troubled emotional state, and these form the outline of this segment of the psalm. First, we see his desperate appeal to God, asking for his favor instead of the wrath (vss. 1 & 2). Then, we observe his unfinished request for God to act quickly when he is apparently too overwhelmed to do more than simply cry out for help (vs. 3). Finally, we note his reference to Sheol, the place of the dead (vs. 5). So threatening is David’s immediate situation that he apparently feels that he might lose his life.
I. David’s prayer for God’s grace (1 & 2)
II. David’s prayer for God’s haste (3)
III. David’s prayer for God’s deliverance (4 & 5)
In moments of desperation we pray for God’s grace, his haste, and his deliverance.
It had snowed and was quite cold that wintry day. My mother had offered to drive me to school instead of my having to take public transportation. She did not realize how icy the roads were, and as she turned the first corner after exiting from our driveway, the car slid out of control and did a complete 360º spin. She cried out “O God!” and managed to get the car stopped, heading in the right direction. As we slowly continued on, I asked her, “Mom, did you just swear? I have never heard you say, ‘O God,’ like some of my friends’ mothers do.” She smiled wanly and responded, “I didn’t swear. It was a prayer of desperation!” And, in fact, God did answer her prayer in protecting us from harm.
When faced with such situations, it is comforting to know that our cries of anguish are readily heard and answered by a loving God. Is “O God!” enough? When we have no time to say anything more, it is all that we need. David was so distracted by his fears that he never completed his thought (vs 3). He had no need to say anything more because Yahweh already knew what he was facing. That is the kind of God we can rely on without reservation.