O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might. Psalm 54:1
“O God…” is a phrase we hear all too often. Too often because most utterances are not actually calling upon the name of the LORD. There are few moments where I remember such strain in my life culminating in an exasperated “O God” prayer.
David, the singer of this Psalm, is crying out after a group of Ziphites found his hidden location and reported him to King Saul. David feared for his life. When we pray the Psalms we are probably not in serious peril like David, however, we are still fighting fatal foes. Temptation, Sin, and all of Satan’s devices come upon us when we least expect them. If we are not positioned to contemplate what Thomas Brooks calls “precious remedies” we will be easily stumbled; “it is not hasty reading, but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul.” “O God” should not be blurted out in impatience or in exasperation of others, it is a phrase of plea and prayer, meant to conjure in our minds the name of God, all of his immeasurable resources wherein we flee for refuge. His name is a gift given for communion with him (Genesis 4:26; Acts 4:12). When we say his name we are submitting ourselves before God and putting him first, not ourselves.
Who is worthy enough to call on in any situation but the Father of creation? There is no better place to start for David than acknowledging the One who anointed him with power. God is the source of all life and holiness for the would-be king. While kingship is reserved for Christ (the Son of David), the particulars of David’s anointing and blessedness are actually ours. God’s name is our blessing and our refuge. Allen Ross explains: “‘name’ refers to the whole of the divine manifestation, the character of God as revealed in his relationship and dealings with his people.” Calling on God’s name is calling the sum of God’s attributes: mighty, good, gracious, merciful, judge of all secrets, jealous, refuge.
By calling on God’s name David consequentially asks God to exercise judgment. Psalm 72:2 points to this term “vindication” as an attribute of the Messiah King who alone judges by righteousness and justice. Given the customs of the time this Psalm was written, the person who is afflicted or suffering is assumed to have God’s cursing or judgment over him (witnessed in Job’s predicament). Vindication for the person to be seen having God’s favor. God must intervene by placing the curse on the Psalmist’s enemies and restoring the favorable position of the poet. This is a proclamation not simply of innocence, but standing within God’s favor.
Might is not only an attribute contained in the name of God but a description of how God judges. We think of judges as those who determine cases by specific predetermined laws. God judges, out of his own mightiness, as Lawgiver who brought forth creation to dwell by his Law. We hear the poet sing in worship, “judge me with your mightiness!” How can a sinful man joyfully sing of his desire for God’s tremendous might cast upon his head? We move through the Psalms and find our answer: “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Ps 130:3-4). If David is to plea for God to judge his enemies, then he better be righteous; the cause for which he is praying better be in accordance with God’s name. Would David dare take God’s name, all of his nature, character, and attributes, in vain? Would he place that name upon something that goes against God’s will or use it to better himself or promote himself above Saul? This is what we do so often when we hail ourselves as Jesus-people (those gifted the name and inheritance of God’s Son), yet do things outside of God’s will. Or when we utter his name as no more than a term of our personal exasperation. God does not get exhausted or flustered! We are calling out the very name that judges the secrets of our hearts (Rom 2:15-16). By his grace and faithfulness, the Triune God justifies us with his own name – the might of all his character and attributes, so we can shine his glory in union with him. Praise our Gracious God!
Let’s break it down into smaller bits:
- O God, – A moment of compulsive submission to the one who is perpetually greater than me.
- save me – I am in need of saving and cannot save myself.
- by your name, – God’s name is a manifestation of all his fullness. The name is given to his people as inheritance. The name is Jesus Christ; He alone holds all the power to save. I call for God’s will, and all of his attributes, to be with me.
- and vindicate me by your might. – We are justified by Jesus Christ. His might is the power to be both the Lion and the Lamb. God forgives by exercising his Law… being the only One who can absorb all of its might. He is sacrificed for our atonement, so that we can stand before his victorious throne justified before the Father. I pray to recognize I am justified by faith in you, Jesus.
Just this first verse tells us the story of our need not just for a god, but for our Gracious God who redeems us by way of justifying sinners in his name. We are saved by no other name but Jesus and this by a righteous and mighty judgment. Ponder this verse. We are to sing this song to God! God gifts us his Word that we might sing of the salvation of his name and the judgment we receive by it: Jesus. Pray this verse and pray to display the mighty work of Christ.
Pastor Chris Osterbrock
The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. The ESV® text has been reproduced in cooperation with and by permission of Good News Publishers. Unauthorized reproduction of this publication is prohibited. All rights reserved.
Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices (1682; repr., Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1993), 21.
Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 2 (42-89) (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2013), 237.
John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 533.