Psalm 108: When You Can’t Find the Words to Say

Read Psalm 108.

In the ancient world that existed before Spotify and Apple Music, there was a medium so rich it became the standard means of expressing emotions. It was called a mixtape.

When you just couldn’t find the words, you could let Peter Gabriel or R.E.M. do the talking for you. You’d copy their songs from CD’s or cassettes while carefully arranging them to fit on the two sides of a tape, then ink your own liner notes. If you’re old enough to have ever made or received a mixtape, you know just how precious a gift it was.

Psalm 108 is something of a mixtape made for God. It’s credited to David because all the words are his, but it’s likely that someone else put the psalm together. It seems a later editor wanted to pour his heart out to God but couldn’t find the right words, so he let David do the talking for him. The first five verses of the psalm repeat, almost verbatim, Psalm 57:7–11, while the final eight verses borrow Psalm 60:5–12. These two sections from two different psalms are forever mashed together to express something new, something that needed to be said.

Psalm 57 had been forged in hardship. David was on the run from King Saul and quickly finding himself out of options. It seemed there was no place in Israel left to hide. He’d even tried laying low in the land of the Philistines, but that episode ended with David rattling doors and frothing at the mouth, pretending to be insane (1 Samuel 21:10–15). His next stop was an isolated cave in Adullam. It was this low point in David’s life that inspired Psalm 57.

There’s plenty of raw emotion in David’s words, but he didn’t lash out in anger at the Lord or wallow in self-pity. He trusted that the God who sent Samuel to anoint him king over Israel would rescue him from the men seeking his life. This is the trust that the compiler of Psalm 108 wants to echo, so he takes those verses filled with confidence in the Lord and brings them front and center into his new song. In Psalm 57, trust was the conclusion; in Psalm 108, it’s the starting point: “I will praise you, LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples” (v. 3; see also 57:9).

From there, the editor of Psalm 108 uses David’s word from the sixtieth psalm to plead for the Lord’s help. Just as it was in Psalm 60, the situation in the background of Psalm 108 is unclear. God’s people were facing some sort of military threat, but no single, specific enemy is named. What is clear, though, is that the nations of the earth are God’s to do with as He pleases: “Moab is my washbasin, on Edom I toss my sandal; over Philistia I shout in triumph” (v. 9; 60:8).

Whatever emotion is welling up within us, we can be sure it has done its work on someone in Scripture. The book of Psalms, in particular, is a reservoir of prayers and songs for us to take hold of and claim as our own. That’s what the editor of Psalm 108 did when he looked back on Israelite history and found much he recognized in David’s struggles.

The Bible is God’s Word for humanity, but it is more than commands and theological truths. Scripture is overflowing with feelings. Human struggles are writ large, and God’s faithfulness is writ larger still. The Bible is honest, neither whitewashing our failures nor smoothing out the most jagged parts of life. That makes it the perfect voice for when we cannot find our own.

As long as the emotions are yours, the words don’t have to be. God hears the prayers of the heart.

What’s this all about?

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