(Psalm 27:1, 4-9)
David, the presumptive author of this psalm, clearly values safety. He doesn’t like to be afraid. In verse 1 alone, he mentions the fear factor twice! Perhaps this is why the psalm reads like a foxhole monologue. It invokes images of “evildoers,” “adversaries and foes,” armies, enemies and violence. David longs for security, cover and “shelter in the day of trouble” (v. 5). His heart faints for fear and all of his courage has vanished. He remembers better days when he would visit the “house of the LORD,” and be full of faith.
But now he’s in a foxhole, his enemies attacking from all sides. And as we know, there are no atheists in foxholes. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that David is calling for air support – the Lord of the air, whom he calls his “light” and “salvation” (v. 1).
So, this psalm is for all who feel they’re in a foxhole now, or felt so in the past, or might find themselves in some kind of hole in the future.
There are foxholes and there are foxholes. Troubles and sorrows differ from day to day or person to person. When we’re seeking shelter, any bunker, bomb shelter, safe harbor – or foxhole – will do. Some seek shelter in drugs or a bottle. Not all foxholes are created equal.
Literal foxholes, where real foxes with bushy tails live, are small. A human could never fit into a real foxhole. Typically, they’re only 4 inches or so in diameter. You might find them near the base of a tree or along the footings of a wall. Nearby, the area might be littered with feathers or bones of their prey.
The den of a fox ranges from 3- to 8-feet deep and might have multiple entrances. The tunnel could be up to 50 feet long. Foxes rarely sleep in their foxholes. Rather, they store food there, raise their young, or duck into their hole to escape or avoid a predator. For foxes, the hole is comfortable.
But David doesn’t feel comfortable in his foxhole. He feels hemmed in. He’s in a tight place, has very little wiggle room, and is uncertain about the future.
Very generally, we have a lot to fear. No sane person will walk alone at night in some cities. We fear mass shootings, climate change, identity theft, pancreatic cancer, threats to our children, having enough money to retire, going to the dentist and the price of gas.
What we may fear even more is facing all of this without God.
This is precisely David’s mood right now, although he doesn’t always feel like this. In some of his psalms, he feels ill. In others, he is repentant and longing for forgiveness and a fresh start. In some, he is defiant and asking God to destroy his foes. In still others, he is quietly at peace and relaxed. And finally, in some, he is positively ebullient and full of praise.
But not now. His foxhole is small. His God is big, but he’s nowhere to be found right now. And David is feeling exposed and vulnerable.
The Stephen Covey principle is that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” David’s foxhole revelation is similar: “One thing I asked of the Lord …” (v. 4). If you were to ask the Lord for one thing, what would it be? What is the main thing for most of us? The studies and surveys agree:
- We want more time, but we waste time in the worst possible ways.
- We want to be in a happy place, but seldom seem to arrive, or know how to get there.
- We want to be successful, but have awful conceptions of what success is.
- We want good, healthy relationships, but can’t wrap our heads around what it means to live sacrificially.
- We want to feel safe, but we put our trust in alarm systems, text alerts, cameras, and a Glock.
- We want to live in a civil society where we are accepting of others’ politics and religion, but we use disparaging and abusive words to describe those with views different from our own.
- We want more flexible work hours and more remote work options.
- We admire self-discipline, but have very little in terms of exercise, portion control and lifestyle habits.
- We are a mess of wants and desires with corresponding vices, and voices on our shoulder arguing against the best choices we could make. We live in the Pauline paradox of doing what is bad for us and not doing what is good for us.
David says that the one thing he would “seek after” is “to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (v. 4). In other words, David was most happy in the presence of God, and most unhappy when away from that same presence.
Of course, God’s absences were usually a product of David’s disobedience. If you know the story of David, then you know he had enough life experience to understand that it was in his best interest to be close to God, and to keep God at hand as his closest advisor and protector.
We know this, too, on an intuitive level. But perhaps, contrary to the common wisdom about atheists and foxholes, we are atheists in a foxhole after all, not really believing that God can in any real and meaningful way help us in our day of trouble. As one observer noted, “If the faithful truly and fully believe in a protective deity, why would they dive into a foxhole to protect themselves from the bullets whizzing by? [Because] a part of their brain knows darn well that if they do not protect themselves, the bullets will hardly discriminate between those who claim faith and those who reject it.”
So why would the faithful dive into a foxhole with bullets flying past our ears? Because, as noted, the faithful aren’t stupid. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Even David sought a cave or a cleft in the mountains for safety. Why? “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock” (v. 5).
The main thing is to sense the presence of the Lord and thereby to feel safe and at peace again. When that happens – if it happens – the psalmist says he will “sing and make music” (v. 6, NIV) and he will make “shouts of joy” (v. 6, NIV). When rescued and safely in the “house of the LORD” (v. 4), he will do nothing but “gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and … seek him in his temple” (v. 4, NIV).
Interestingly, as it relates to foxhole conversations, we – as a species – are not as committed to seeking God in His temple once we are back in the good ol’ US of A. I would also imagine that some would lie on their back, look towards heaven and cry and cry and cry. If they let themselves, they would admit that the God of their mothers had heard and answered their feeble prayer. As they walk away, they hold in their heart a gratefulness to a living God. They do not forget, and they turn to follow Him and serve Him with the days given to them, back there in the mud. Yet, I would expect that with many, since God was not needed in their busy lives before, He was immediately forgotten once the threat subsided and the man realized that he was going to walk away, after all. “Wow, that was a close one! I even prayed, ha ha ha!”
For the disciples, the foxhole situation was exactly reversed. They were challenged to follow Jesus when everything was calm and stable. Birds, rather than bullets, flew overhead and the smell of seawater and fish wafted through the air instead of the acrid smell of gunpowder. It was only after they had willingly followed that the warfare started and the battled raged. And still, they stayed. They knew that the only shelter from the conflict was found in the presence of the Lord.
When you purchase a home, unless you made a cash offer, you are required to have homeowner’s insurance. These policies offer coverage for damage caused by fires, lightning strikes, windstorms and hail. Usually, however, damage caused by earthquakes and floods are not covered by homeowners’ insurance unless you specifically request it.
The psalmist may not like the trouble he’s in, but it’s his trouble, his foxhole, and he wants full coverage. He does not want to be afraid (v. 1). In verse 5, for example, he uses three metaphors to describe the full range of the coverage the Lord offers: shelter “in the day of trouble,” concealment “under the cover of his tent” and a refuge high atop a mountain. These images suggest safety from a powerful rainstorm, protection from a sandstorm and safety above the raging waters of a river or flood. David wants to be surrounded by God. Don’t we all? “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5).
The observant student of this psalm may have noticed that the poetic tribute is not about David; it’s all about God. The Lord is cited 17 times (including pronouns) in 14 verses. The contrast is between the weakness, fear, pleadings and prayers of a faltering human being and a powerful deity who can extract one from certain destruction; between a person who wants more than anything to shed all the troubles he has seen and a God who can give him the safety of his divine presence; between the darkest night of the soul and one’s “light and salvation.
The psalm comes to the conclusion we’ve known all along: It is all about God – who God is, what God has done, does and will do.