Psalm 28 Commentary

Turn to Psalm 28 for this Psalm 28 commentary.

Psalm 28 is a lament psalm. In it, David is working through a very troubling reality in his life with the Lord’s help.

And that troubling reality involves wicked men. Their presence and activities may very well call for national judgement.

In Deuteronomy 28, the Lord said that if Israel kept his commandments as specified in the Mosaic Law that they would be blessed – all of them. But if they disobeyed, they would be cursed – all of them.

So, we see in Psalm 28 David giving us an inspired example of How to Pray Under the Threat of National Judgement.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Invocation/Petition (1-2)

Read our Psalm 28 1 commentary for an explanation of Psalm 28:1. Then continue on to verse 2…

Now, in Psalm 28:2 David continues his petitioning the Lord that he started in verse 1.

2 Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee,
when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.

So, David here again in verse two is asking the Lord for something – he’s bringing petitions.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Wanting to be Heard So He Can Be Heard

But what’s interesting is that he’s asking the Lord to hear… what he wants to… ask him. David is wanting to be heard in order that he might be… heard.

So, these two verses so far have been just preparation for what is to follow. What David wants to say is yet to come.

Psalm 28 Commentary
This is Acceptable for Us

And it’s OK to do this sort of thing – to ask that God would hear you. It could seem a little redundant – to seek to be heard by God so that you might be… heard by God.

And yet, what we have here in Psalm 28 is a divinely-inspired example of this approach to praying to the Lord. And therefore, it’s perfectly acceptable for you and I to pray this way as we’re approaching the Lord in our times with him. It’s OK to start our prayers with petitions that the Lord would actually hear what we have to say.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Hear and Cry

There’s another interesting word play I think in this verse. The Hebrew word behind hear is shama`. While the Hebrew word behind cry in verse 2 is shawa`. So, David would be pleading with God to “shama` me when I shawa` to you.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Supplication

Now, what does David actually want God to hear – to shama`?

David wants God to hear the voice or the sound of his supplications… Do you know how to define that word – supplication? We usually just associate it with the concept of prayer and leave it at that.

But supplication is a specific kind of prayer. It’s not the kind of prayer that offers thanksgiving. It’s not the kind of prayer that just meditates on some attribute of God. No, supplication is basically a plea for mercy.

You engage in supplication when you know your need is both great and urgent. You engage in supplication when you know there’s not a thing in the world you can do to change your situation – but you know someone who can.

That’s what David is doing here – seeking the Lord urgently and desperately to do what only the Lord can do.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Cry in v 1 vs. Cry in v 2

And David wants the Lord to hear his plea for mercy as he engages in two activities.

The first we’ve already spoken about. David wants God to hear his plea for mercy when he cries to the Lord.

And that’s a different word than we have in verse 1. The word behind cry in verse 1 can refer to just a general call to someone else – calling out to someone.

But the urgency is ratcheted up a notch here in verse 2. The word behind cry in verse 2 is more urgent. It carries with it the connotation of raising one’s voice. Of getting kind of loud so as to gain the attention of someone.

So, the urgency of David’s situation is heightening as he continues seeking the Lord in this psalm.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Lifting up Hands to the Holy Oracle

Then, in parallel to David’s cries is his lifting up his hands to God’s holy oracle.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Lifting Hands

The action of lifting one’s hands is often found in the context of prayer. Even in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul urges Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:8 to have the men in an assembly lift up holy hands. And what he’s saying there is that he wants men to pray.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Holy Oracle

So, David is praying. And what is he praying towards? God’s holy oracle.

Usually an oracle is something you associate with a message from the Lord. But in this situation, that’s not what David is speaking of.

David is using a phrase that we find in numerous other passages of the Old Testament that refer to the Holy of Holies. For example, in 1 Kings 6:19 this Holy Oracle is the place in which we’re told that Solomon put the ark of the covenant. This is the inner sanctuary of the temple or the tabernacle.

And this is what David is praying toward. God’s inner sanctuary – his most holy place – the place where God’s presence was uniquely manifested.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Hands

And lastly for verse 2 let’s note the mention of David’s hands. It’s interesting that David mentions hands three times in this psalm.

The first time is here in verse 2 where we’re told what David does with his hands. He lifts them up in prayer.

Then later in the psalm we’ll see a mention of the hands of wicked men.

And lastly we’ll hear about the hands of the Lord.

So, we’ll see what those other hands are occupied with as we go along. But for now, we know that David’s hands are occupied with the task “at hand” so to speak – and that task is praying to the Lord and desperately seeking his help.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Lament (3-5)

Now, the invocation that we’ve seen in verses 1 and 2 lead naturally into David’s lament in verses 3-5.

Now, the lament is where David focuses on his main problem that he’s dealing with. So, we start to see the problem when David says in verse 3…

3 Draw me not away with the wicked,
and with the workers of iniquity,

which speak peace to their neighbours,
but mischief is in their hearts.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Drawn Away

So, this lament actually starts with a petition. David does not want to be drawn away with the wicked.

This drawing away that David has in mind is most certainly a reference to death. Exodus uses this word to describe what the Israelites were to do to the Passover lamb. Job used this word to speak of catching a fish.

And David acknowledges that God is justified in treating the wicked this way – of taking the life of the wicked. But David pleads to be exempted from that fate.

Psalm 28 Commentary
The Wicked

Then David starts to focus on these individuals that he calls the wicked.

These people are actively engaged in sin – they are the workers of iniquity.

And then David points to one activity in particular that is bothering him regarding these people. They say one thing… but speak another. They do one thing with their mouth… but with their heart they are doing the exact opposite.

They speak peace to their neighbors (rea`), but they have mischief (re`) in their hearts.

They portray to those around them that everything is fine. But inwardly they are planning evil schemes against those very people – who are totally unsuspecting and trusting.

And both God and David recognize this kind of activity as wickedness – as iniquity.

And so, that leads David to express holy anger regarding these people and to petition the Lord concerning them in verse 4.

4 Give them according to their deeds,
and according to the wickedness of their endeavours:

give them after the work of their hands;
render to them their desert.

So, David makes three more requests here in verse 4.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Give According to Deeds

He wants God to give them according to their deeds. In other words, “Deal with them as their actions deserve.

Not as their lips speak – we’ve already seen that they say one thing that sounds nice… while they plan evil in their hearts. So, not according to what they say – but as their actions deserve.

The word translated here as deeds is closely related to the word workers in verse 3. And we saw in that verse that these wicked men were workers of iniquity – of sin. That’s what their deeds are – sinful.

And what does sin deserve? Death, according to God. So, David is asking for death – not for himself – but for these wicked men.

Psalm 28 Commentary
According to Their Wicked Endeavors

David then rephrases it when he asks God to give them according to the wickedness of these men’s endeavors.

Another way that endeavors is translated is in Deuteronomy 28 where it’s translated as deeds. And there in Deuteronomy 28:20, Moses warned the ancestors of the people that David is here speaking to, “The LORD shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings [SAME EXACT PHRASE AS IN PSALM 28:4!], whereby thou hast forsaken me.”

So, what David is asking for here in regard to these wicked men is in keeping with the curses that God had promised through Moses that Israel would experience if they were unfaithful to the covenant that God made with them.

And here they are, being unfaithful to the covenant by not loving their neighbor (like the covenant commanded) – but rather speaking peace but planning evil. And so, David is simply asking that God’s promise would be fulfilled concerning these people.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Background of the Psalm

And it’s at this point where I think the background and context of this psalm all of a sudden comes to light.

We just heard David ask that God would punish evildoers in his nation. And he hearkens back to Deuteronomy 28 as a basis for his request – by using the specific wording found there.

However, if the threats that God gives in Deuteronomy 28 are going to be unleashed on the wicked, it’s very likely that the entire nation will experience these judgements from God.

And so, I think that’s why we saw David in verses 1 and 2 beg the Lord that he wouldn’t draw away David with those wicked people. He wants God to judge those wicked men in his nation, but he knows that when God does that, it’s very likely that relatively innocent people – himself included – will suffer. And so, David asks the Lord to exempt him from the effects of God’s punishing the wicked.

And yet, David wants God to punish the wicked.

And I think we can learn something about how to respond to living in a nation where the sin of its citizens calls for God’s judgement.

David called for the punishment of the sin of his wicked fellow-citizens. And even though we desire to see the salvation of these sinners through faith in Jesus Christ, we can still call on God to punish the unrepentant sinners in our nation.

But at the same time, we also do well to beg God to not allow those who are righteous by faith alone in Christ alone to be swept away in the punishment that surely falls on a wicked nation.

David achieves a balance in his prayer concerning National Judgement that I think we can and should emulate.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Work of Their Hands

Now, let’s get our focus back on the wicked in Psalm 28.

I want to draw attention to the mention of these men’s hands. Remember the previous reference to David’s hands? What was he doing with his hands? He was lifting them to the Lord in prayer.

But here are the wicked – and their hands are not raised to the Lord in prayer. Their hands are committing all sorts of evil.

That phrase, “work of their hands” is used over 50 times in the Old Testament. When it relates to humans, it’s almost always speaking of one of two things.

It can be speaking of what a person does in order to support and provide for himself and his family.

But many times it’s used to describe idolatry and the process of making a false deity that the person would worship.

And it’s very likely that the Israelites that David is lamenting here are practicing this form of the works of their hands – that they’re being idolatrous.

So then, these wicked men were breaking the two pillars of the Law. They were loving neither God – through practicing idolatry – nor neighbor – through their deceitful harmful scheming.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Desert

And so David asks that these men would receive the “reward” of what their hands have done – their desert. And that’s fitting.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Verse 5

Read our Psalm 28 5 commentary for explanation of what Psalm 28:5 means. Then continue on to verse 6…

Psalm 28 Commentary
Praise (6)

Well, the tone of the psalm changes pretty markedly in verse 6 where David praises the Lord.

6 Blessed be the LORD,
because he hath heard the voice of my supplications.

So, David blesses the Lord. Why? Because he feels as though the Lord has heard his supplications – just like he begged the Lord back in verse 2!

And so, apparently, David is assured that though God is going to have to punish numerous wicked men in his nation, David will escape that judgement.

How did he know that?

This is a guess, because we’re not told how David knew the situation had changed. But maybe he wrote the first five verses of Psalm 28, left his psalm sitting on his table for a while, and then when God answered he finished his psalm. That’s a possibility.

Another possibility is that as David was praying this way, he received a direct revelation from the Lord telling him that his prayer had been answers.

Beyond these two possibilities I don’t know of another.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Confidence (7-8)

So, David then goes from praise in verse 6 to expressing confidence in the Lord in verse 7.

7 The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusted in him, and I am helped:

therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth;
and with my song will I praise him.

So, David speaks of his heart twice in this verse – his inner man. His inner man trusts and then rejoices in the Lord.

So, David knows that he has been protected by God. He trusts him and finds that by trusting he is helped. He greatly rejoices as a result and sings praises to God.

And, really, with any troubling situation in life, if we bring our needs to the Lord as we’ve seen David do, so often the Lord does come back to us with comfort, strength, and help.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Verse 8

Read our Psalm 28 8 commentary for explanation of that verse.

Psalm 28 Commentary
Petition (9)

And then finish off this Psalm 28 commentary with our Psalm 28 9 commentary!

So, folks, let’s take these truths from Psalm 28 this week in order to better pray to the Lord under the threat of national judgement.

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