Deliver Me from Evil
(H) A psalm of David. (1) Yahweh, I call to you. Make haste (to come) to me. Hear my voice when I call to you. (2) Let my prayer come before you as incense and the raising up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. (3) Set a guard, Yahweh, over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. (4) Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil to take part in evil practices with wicked men. Let me not eat of their delicacies. (5) Let a righteous person strike me; (it is) a kindness. Let him reprove me; (it is) oil on my head. Let my head not refuse it. Yet, my prayer is ever against their evil doings. (6) When their rulers are thrown down from cliffs, they will perceive that my words were well spoken. (7) (They will say): “As when one plows and breaks up the earth, so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of Sheol.” (8) But my eyes are toward you, Yahweh, my Lord. In you I seek refuge. Do not leave my soul defenseless. (9) Keep me from the trap which they have laid for me, from the snares of evildoers. (10) Let the wicked fall into their own nets while I pass by safely.
The psalm begins with two repetitions. In the opening verse “I call to you” is found twice along with two imperatives to indicate that this psalm is another of David’s earnest prayers to Yahweh (vs. 1). Apart from the name, “Yahweh,” which David invokes three times, the only other repetition is “evil” and “evil practices” (vs. 4).
The meaning of verses 6 & 7 is not immediately apparent. The key may lie in the parenthesis suggested in the translation of verse 7 which suggests that these verses should be understood as describing the imagined response of David’s enemies after God has avenged Israel by utterly defeating them.
I. David calls on Yahweh to hear his prayer. (1 & 2)
II. David earnestly prays regarding his enemies. (3-10)
- Prevent me from being enticed into doing what is evil. (3-5)
- Punish my enemies for their wickedness. (6 & 7)
- Protect me from any traps my foes may have set. (8-10)
When faced by our enemies, we should pray to Yahweh that we not act like them nor be hurt by them.
The “Lord’s Prayer,” which Jesus gave his disciples as a template to guide their praying, contains a statement which we easily repeat but may not so easily understand: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Mt. 6:13). David’s prayer in Psalm 141 may help us grasp some of what Jesus intended. David first asks Yahweh to guard him from imitating the sinful words and actions of wicked men (vss. 3 & 4). He then prays that God would protect him from the attacks of evildoers (vss. 8-10). In the latter prayer the danger was not in being seduced by their sinful behavior but in being harmed by their evil schemes.
This should help us understand that the statement, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” should be applied in two senses. First, regarding our propensity to sin, we should ask the Father to keep our hearts from being led by the example of our enemies into any kind of behavior that is contrary to his will. Then, regarding our vulnerability to being attacked, we should ask him to protect us from whatever our enemies might do to harm us. As we are shielded both from being enticed to sin and from being injured by our enemies, we will find ourselves standing firm in the strength which God provides.