(photo by kristy)
What can man do to me?
A rhetorical question for the timid.
David asks it in the middle of a song, in the middle of describing the slanderous and wily ways his enemies had turned on him.
What can man do to me?
I whispered it in the dark, wondering if man could take away my house, my security, the place we call home, because I knew they could.
I yelled it into the open air when our pastor’s lies mounted into a pile of confusion so large that it destroyed his church, leaving his flock scattered and wounded.
I cried it alone on nighttime walks when people who loved me, didn’t anymore. They didn’t want me around. The wholesale rejection of intimate friends and relations bruised me so deeply that my breath came in jagged.
I remembered these six words in a morphine fog, as the machines that drained fluid from my lung pumped its whooshing message into my thoughts.
What can man do to me?
Turns out, a whole heckuva lot.
Because men (and women) can steal the innocence of children and rape nations and leave them starving. Mere mortals can develop weapons of mass destruction and propaganda campaigns, they can whisper secrets that destroy one’s integrity and they can bully on the bus and on the internet.
Mere mortals possess an incredible capacity to destroy.
The man who nearly killed my family didn’t premeditate his crime. He was simply selfish and drunk and careless. Careless.
And his carelessness collided with our carefee-day-at-the-lake-driving-home-in-a minivan family and we learned in ways beyond our imagining, just what man can do.
There are worse things, I know. There is genocide and child abuse – there are the unmentionable horrors that we don’t talk about with our children. I know that you, dear one, have experienced pain at the rejection of a spouse, the violence of a caregiver, the selfish actions of a prodigal child.
And somewhere along this vast spectrum of what we call sin, the scale of bad-to-worse, David looks up and declares, “I trust in God, I praise Him…so what can man do to me?”
The ancient scribes made this note about Psalm 56: For the director of music. To the tune of ‘A Dove on Distant Oaks’. Of David. A miktam. When the Philistines had seized him in Gath.
First, a miktam. No one knows what that means, except that the term is used to describe six different “psalms of lament”. Lament is great grief and sadness, a suffering sorrow. David was not being glib, spouting off platitudes from a place of inexperience. We could say this flippant –what can man do to me? Or, we can say it with a deep resonance of understanding… Oh, friend, what can man do to me…that God cannot redeem? David wrote these words in the spirit of empathy.
Second, it was set to a tune, ‘A Dove on Distant Oaks’. Wouldn’t you love to hear that tune?
Many mornings while I work in the garden, the cheerful chirps of sparrows and finches and the chippering songs of robins, find dissonant harmony as the mourning doves utter their deep, sorrowful tones. I stand, trowel in hand, and take pause. The depth of their tune catches my ear and touches my soul.
Perhaps this tune was deep and minor and wrought from the lonely and misunderstood places of a confused, hurting and wounded spirit. Perhaps.
Third, this psalm was written by David, when the Philistines had seized him in Gath. 1 Samuel 21 recounts this low point in David’s life. The story is populated by men who could do a number of things, from bad to worse, to David. David, rather than lead a fight or face the Philistine King, pretended to be insane.
Saul, The Hebrew king, continued to relentlessly pursue David. David had become a rogue leader, known in the region as “David and his Mighty Men”. They were legendary in swiftness and slaughter. He was the Robin Hood, the handsome outlaw, the shepherd king. But when David found himself trapped, alone, in the hands of the enemy, he failed to stand in courage and instead acted as a madman.
Soon after, David surrendered to the Philistine King and actually resigned to be a mercenary, paid and protected by his own enemy because home, and King Saul, were too great a threat. David seemed to shrug in 1 Samuel 27:1 as he said, “Saul is going to catch up to me one of these days. My best option is to find refuge in our enemy’s land” and the Philistine king agreed to a loose contract with David since he’d become “so obnoxious to his people, the Israelites” that he’d be a useful servant on the battlefield.
David knew a thing or two about what man can do to us.
I bet you do, too.
We all look at the chapters of our past or the present circumstances and say, “if only this didn’t happen, or if only I didn’t go there, or meet her, or fail to see…. If only.”
And then, like David, we turn our face heavenward and either shake our fists or seek divine help. Here’s what David said (Psalm 56):
1 Be merciful to me, my God,
for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
all day long they press their attack.
2 My adversaries pursue me all day long;
in their pride many are attacking me.
3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise –
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
5 All day long they twist my words;
all their schemes are for my ruin.
6 They conspire, they lurk,
they watch my steps,
hoping to take my life.
7 Because of their wickedness do not let them escape;
in your anger, God, bring the nations down.
8 Record my misery;
list my tears on your scroll-
are they not in your record?
9 Then my enemies will turn back
when I call for help.
By this I will know that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise –
11 in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can man do to me?
Yes, friends, we know what we can do to each other. But read the words in bold.
God sees you.
He is keeping track of the misery you endure.
Your very tears are catalogued and counted.
And God will rise up to help you. (verse 8-9).
Can we say with David: It is God’s word I praise and in Him I trust and I am not afraid? Can we say it, too? Even with quivering voice, a touch of fear, or a cloud of doubt, can we speak it out loud into the dark?
Then David remembers just who he is and who God is (12-13):
12 I am under vows to you, my God;
I will present my thank-offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.
I will offer thanks to God, in the midst of this situation, because he has delivered me from death and kept my feet from stumbling that I may walk before God in the light of life. Friend, David had the hope, but we have the proof of his promise!
In John 1 we see it!
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
From the dark place of David’s life, ages ago, his words proclaimed the truth that we have for our hearts to hold: Jesus is the light of life.
He delivered us from death, the overwhelming separation from God. His power holds us up and keeps us walking, upright, before God.
We may be timid, tried, and tortured. We may be tossed around by the careless and trampled by the truly evil, but we have hope, strength, redemption and a God who sees and cares and has delivered us! He makes us mighty!
When have you lost all hope and found yourself searching the skies for God’s help? Do you know how he sees — and loves — you?
If you don’t know this hope, this mournful yet poignant song of David set to the tune hummed by doves, would you turn over your sorrow to God? Thank him for your scars and wounds, even, because whatever man can do to you, God can empower you to walk through it, without stumbling, with great might and certain victory?
I am writing the book on fearful living. I really am. I’m on chapter four right now. I know the crippling that fear exacts upon our souls. But I know the freedom in the foxhole that David writes in Psalm 56. And I know it’s for us, you and me, as well.