by Pastor David Groendyk
Psalm 140 is both a song and a prayer, and it is a lament from the psalmist regarding conspirators and enemies who are hunting him down. The ESV Study Bible helpfully points out a back-and-forth pattern to this psalm in which the psalmist asks for help, then expresses confidence, asks for help, then expresses confidence. The pattern can be prescriptive for us as we seek the Lord’s protection in the middle of persecution as well. How do you pray when the enemy is upon you?
Ask for protection (vv. 1–5). You can hear all the different requests in this section: “deliver… preserve… guard… preserve…” The psalmist is up against evil men who love to stir up fights, always lie, and plot against him. The attacks of the enemies on the church can be brutal, but they are simply following in the footsteps of their father, the devil, who is the father of lies and a murderer (John 8:44). The psalmist’s first prayer is that his life would be spared. What a simple and humble request. This kind of prayer never goes unnoticed, which we’re reminded of in verse 6. The Lord wants to hear from us in these moments and always has a ready ear to hear us.
Express trust in God (vv. 6–8). The psalmist knows who God is (v. 6), what God has done for him in the past (v. 7), and briefly makes his request again (v. 8). He doesn’t simply lay out all of his requests before God, but he does the hard work of reminding himself of the past, teaching himself about God’s character and mighty works, and training his heart to trust the Lord. That is perhaps the single biggest lesson all of us need to learn in the midst of our trials. God is working in us to strengthen our trust in him and to cause us to rely on him more than on our own plans or devices or earthly securities. We must do the hard work of training our hearts.
Pray for the defeat of the enemy (vv. 9–11). Now we move back to requests. This section is slightly different though. Whereas verses 1–5 focused on the preservation of life, verses 9–11 emphasize the enemy actually being defeated. Notice the nature of these prayers for destruction. It’s almost as if he prays according to the Golden Rule—“Lord, let what they do to others be heaped upon them. Lord, let them experience the very mischief, violence, lies, and persecution that they have committed against others.” He asks for them to get a taste of their own medicine, according to Derek Kidner. It is more than appropriate to pray in such a way because our God is a God who executes justice. That which is deserved will be doled out. It is appropriate for wicked men to be punished.
Show confidence in God’s justice (vv. 12–13). The flip side of punishment for the wicked is that those who are afflicted will be defended. The psalmist doesn’t merely ask for his enemies to be destroyed because he’s sick of them but because the Lord loves righteousness and does not let evil prosper in the end. Evil deserves punishment, God’s children deserve protection, and that’s what the Lord gives. Our prayers for protection and deliverance should always be colored by our confidence in God setting all things right, and if we aren’t privileged to see it happen in this life, then we know for certain it will happen in the next. A sure and steadfast anchor of the soul in times of persecution is the assurance that we will dwell in God’s presence forever and never stop giving thanks. The Lord loves the needy and afflicted, and he will always come to their aid. That is just one of the many reasons why our God is so great!