By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
I am always amazed that there seems to be a specific Psalm for every occasion and situation. David must have been in constant dialogue with God. This reminds me of the character of Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. He was always speaking with God, thanking Him, and consulting about every family problem or business issue.
In Psalm 59 David describes a complicated family situation, and I am so glad he did.
When someone is ill, God forbid, we know which of the Psalms to recite. We know which Psalms to recite when we go out to war, or when we want to praise God. But when I am vexed by members of my family, I usually just grit my teeth in frustration when I should be turning to King David’s psalms to help me through. David had family problems too. Boy did he have family problems!
How did David react to these challenges?
I always imagine young David as a confused musician carrying his battered harp wherever he went. He played for Saul with all of his heart, so it confused him when his beloved king and father-in-law turned on him, for example “when Saul sent messengers to wait at the house in order to kill him” (Psalm 59:1).
The incident hinted at in this psalm is described in the I Samuel 19. Saul was bent on killing David and tried to turn Jonathan, his own son, against him. But rather than do his father’s bidding, Jonathan, the archetypal best friend, warned David. Even though Saul was determined to kill David, Jonathan urged his father to reconsider, reminding him that David had slayed Goliath, an event Saul celebrated. A temporary reconciliation was achieved, but Saul eventually resumed his hatred of David. One night, “an evil spirit of God came upon Saul while he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand, and David was playing” (I Samuel 19:9). Saul tried to kill David with his spear, pinning him against the wall, but David escaped.
Saul’s daughter, Michal, was caught in this intricate web of conflict as she was David’s wife. But like her brother Jonathan, Michal remained loyal to David. When Saul sent assassins to kill David in his home, she lowered her husband from the bedroom window by a rope and saved him from harm.
The sages (Sanhedrin 19b) offer a fascinating twist on how Michal remained faithful despite her complicated loyalties. When Saul gave her as a wife to another man (I Samuel 25:44), they heroically refrained from all contact with each other, as they both understood that she was still married to David. Her loyalty to God’s will, despite the risks involved, forever serves as an inspiration to those who seek to overcome all challenges to do the will of God.
How did David respond to all this?
In Psalm 59 David expresses his trust in God as his protector and refuge, even in the face of his enemies’ (Saul’s) attacks. He describes the actions of his enemies, who are portrayed as violent and deceitful, and asks God to intervene on his behalf. Throughout the psalm, David acknowledges God’s power and faithfulness, praising Him for being his strength and refuge. He declares his confidence that God will rescue him from his enemies and praises God for His steadfast love and mercy. The psalm ends with a declaration of David’s commitment to continue praising God and trusting in Him, even in the midst of difficulties and challenges.
Overall, Psalm 59 is a powerful expression of trust and faith in God, even in the face of great adversity. It serves as a reminder that no matter what challenges we may face in life, we can always turn to God for strength, comfort, and protection.
Rather than gloat over the defeat of Saul, David channels his feelings into praising God, concluding his psalm with the following declaration that he will continue to sing of God’s greatness, since God continues to save him and have mercy on him:
But I will sing of Your strength, extol each morning Your faithfulness; for You have been my haven, a refuge in time of trouble. O my strength, to You I sing hymns; for Hashem is my haven, my faithful Hashem. Psalm 59:17-18
David’s reaction to his family challenges is a great lesson for all of us. Instead of seeking revenge, he channeled his feelings into praising God and relying on Him as his strength. David’s faith and trust in God were unshakable, despite complicated and difficult personal struggles.
The Psalms were written for all of life’s ups and downs. They offer comfort, guidance, and inspiration for all of us, no matter what we are going through. Like David, no matter how challenging our lives might be at any given time, we can turn always to God in prayer and praise, knowing that He is with us and will never forsake us.
This is all a great lesson for when I am having challenges with my own family. In fact, I am thinking of reciting this Psalm at my Shabbat table.