Fight, Flight, or Faith?
(H) For the director of the choir, with stringed instruments, a Maskil of David. (1) Hear my prayer, O God, and do not hide yourself from my supplication. (2) Give attention to me and answer, for I am restless in my complaint and (feel) distraught (3) because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked, for they bring down trouble upon me and in anger bear a grudge against me. (4) My heart is in anguish within me. The terrors of death have fallen on me. (5) Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me, (6) and I say, “O, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. (7) I would wander far away. I would stay in the wilderness. (Selah) (8) I would hurry to a place of shelter for myself from the raging wind (and) tempest.”
Four sets of synonyms give us the outline of this opening third of the psalm. The first set, “prayer...supplication...complaint,” synonyms for calling out to God, describe how the psalmist has been responding to God in his distress (vss. 1 & 2). The second set, synonyms for how enemies were impacting his life, “voice...oppression...trouble...bear a grudge,” show why the psalmist has been crying out to God (vs. 3).
The third set, “anguish...terrors of death...fear and trembling...horror,” synonyms for inner turmoil, reveal to us the troubled state of David’s mind as he was praying (vss. 4 & 5). Finally, “wings of a dove...fly away...wander far away...hurry,” synonyms for inner turmoil, describe what the psalmist desperately was yearning to do, namely, to escape from the dangers threatening him (vss. 6-8).
I. Response to distress: crying out to God (1 & 2)
II. Reason for distress: oppression of enemies (3)
III. Results from the experience of distress (4-8)
When longing to flee because of the distress caused by the oppression of our enemies, we cry out to God for deliverance.
“Distress” is a word we hear all too often in today’s world. It refers to our emotional response to dangers, difficulties, dilemmas, anything that we sense may imperil our well being or disturb our equilibrium. David in dealing with those enemies who were seeking to destroy him experienced acute distress. First, it was an almost paralyzing fear (vss 4 & 5) and then a longing to flee to the place of safety (vss. 6-8). However, instead of succumbing to his fears and seeking to escape, he demonstrated a third way of responding to distress which is available to all who believe in God: crying out to Yahweh.
The Israelites faced a similar situation just after their exodus from Egypt. They had traveled to the Red Sea and were encamped on its edge when they learned that Pharaoh was pursuing them with an army of six hundred chariots. They could not possibly defend themselves against such overwhelming odds, nor could they escape with the Red Sea behind them. In desperation, they cried out to God for help. They did not grasp that Yahweh had led them into this predicament so that they might learn to trust in his steadfast love and mighty power. What a deliverance they experienced! God miraculously parted the waters of the Red Sea enabling them to cross unmolested to the other side on dry land. After they had reached the place of safety, Yahweh destroyed the pursuing Egyptians as the flooding waters returned to their natural boundaries (Ex. 14).
All of us will inevitably face moments of distress. What we do when confronted with such predicaments will demonstrate the reality of our faith. At moments when no escape seems possible, we need to remember that God has promised to deliver us if we will turn to him in prayer and wait for his provision of a way out. We need to take to heart the words that Moses used to encourage the Israelites when all seemed lost: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm, and you will see the deliverance Yahweh will bring you today” (Ex. 14:13).