“Save me, O God, by your name”
It terrifies us when our lives are in danger. It frustrates us and angers us when enemies oppose us. It breaks our spirit when those whom we thought we could trust betray us.
That’s the situation David finds himself in as he writes Psalm 54. It is identified as “A Maskil of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, ‘David is in hiding among us.’”
What is a person to do in the face of such terror, frustration, anger, betrayal and despair? David makes a conscious decision to turn to the One whom he knows is dependable. Thus Psalm 54 begins with this prayer: “Save me, O God, by your name.”
When David refers to the name of God, he is not referring to a title by which God can be identified. “Name,” in this context, has to do with a person’s (or God’s) nature. David is praying, “Save me, O God, by your character—save me in keeping with the nature of who you are.”
David had tried turning to the Ziphites, but their character had proven to be opportunistic, fearful, conniving, betraying, and untrustworthy. He turns now to God, trusting that God’s more honorable character will come through for him.
The Hebrew Scriptures include many names for God—all of which speak to the reliable character of God:
- El-Shaddai: God who is all-sufficient (Genesis 17:1)
- El-Roi: The God who sees me (Genesis 16:14-15)
- Jehovah-Jireh: God will provide (Genesis 22:13-14)
- Jehovah-Rapha: The God who heals (Exodus 15:25)
- Jehovah-Shalom: God is peace (Judges 6:24)
- Jehovah-Shammah: God is there (Ezekiel 48:35)
- Yahweh-Tsuri: The Lord is my rock (Isaiah 26:4)
When David is struggling with fear, betrayal and discouragement, he cries out to God not as a philosophical or theological exercise, but in personal, genuine, desperate need for what God alone could give to him. Frederick Buechner puts it this way: “For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages about himself in the stars but in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world. It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want but the experience of God’s presence. That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get.”
That is the miracle David sought (“Save me, O God, by your name”), and that is the miracle David got: “But surely God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life…. I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies” (verses 4 & 6-7).