Better Than I Deserve
For the director of music. To the tune of “Do Not Destroy”. Of David. A miktam. When he had fled from Saul into the cave.
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
I cry out to God Most High,
to God, who vindicates me.
He sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me—Selah
God sends forth his love and his faithfulness.
When convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were found guilty of high treason against the United States for selling nuclear secrets to the Soviets, their attorney pleaded for justice. Judge Kaufman answered the plea calmly: “The court has given you what you ask for – justice! What you really want is mercy.”
We can feel the urgency that begins today’s text with David’s fevered, repeated plea: “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me.” It’s not justice he wants, but mercy. The Hebrew word chen translated, “mercy”, is closely related to the word chanan meaning “tent” or “encampment”, the place where a fugitive would run for protection. Thus, the psalmists often write of God’s mercy in the context of refuge and protection: “have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge.”
When Moses prays to God asking Him to reveal His glory, God reveals Himself as “merciful (chen), slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6). One of the great attributes of God in the Bible is that He is merciful. Thus, in this dark time in David’s life, he appeals to God’s revealed character by asking God to show mercy, to provide refuge from trouble.
In the psalm’s superscript David explains that he wrote this psalm, “When he had fled from Saul into the cave.” The tune David prescribes for this psalm, “Do Not Destroy”, must express David’s fear that he will be crushed by his enemies. David spent the decade of his twenties running from Saul and his troops, yet he wrote at least half a dozen psalms during those turbulent years on the run.
Throughout David’s fugitive years he looks to God for mercy and for refuge: “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” David believes that in God’s mercy he will find refuge in trouble. Though undeserving and unworthy God will care for him. Like a bird seeking shelter under its mother’s wings, so David runs to God for shelter under the shadow of His wings.
Under God’s sheltering wings, David prays for vindication against those who oppress him: “I cry out to God Most High, to God, who vindicates me.” Though surrounded by powerful enemies David knows that his God is more powerful. David’s name for God translated as “God Most High” is the Hebrew El Elyon. It is a name signifying God as the sovereign power high above all powers. “For you, LORD, are the Most High (El Elyon) over all the earth” Psalm 97:9. Though surrounded by dangerous powers, David knows that God’s saving power is greater. And David wants us to think about that! So, unexpectedly David inserts the word “Selah” right in the middle of his statement. Usually a psalmist waits to the end of a stanza or psalm to insert “Selah”. But David wants us to stop and give careful thought to God’s mercy and protection.
Like David we do not come looking for justice, but for God’s mercy and protection. He will be our refuge and deal with us not as we deserve, but as we so desperately need.
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