Saved from what?
As modern-day believers, we have a habit of over-spiritualizing everything we read in the Bible. We tend to read our understanding of words and phrases from one section of the Bible into all other sections. Instead, we need to remember that the meaning of a word or phrase is always understood based upon the context that word is used in.
Take, for example, the word run:
I run for public office.
I run marathons.
Allergies make my nose run.
Same word – three totally different meanings. However, what I am communicating to you in each sentence is clear, based upon the context of the surrounding words.
When we read the Bible, what is the word that we most typically ignore the context of and mis-read the author’s meaning?
It’s the word salvation or save.
In both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, the word for save simply means to be rescued or delivered. What we typically assume is the New Testament concept of Jesus rescuing us from the consequences of our sin and giving eternal life to those who believe in Him for it. And that is a proper use of the word save – as long as that idea is the author’s topic. Other things that Biblical authors need saved from include: enemies, danger, circumstances, physical death, illness, captivity, and several others.
So whenever we come across the word salvation or save, we need to stop and ask the question “Saved from what?”.
When David writes Psalm 57, he’s not asking God to rescue him for eternal life…even though it would be tempting for us to read that into the text:
Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in You.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until danger passes.
I call to God Most High,
to God who fulfills His purpose for me.
He reaches down from heaven and saves me,
challenging the one who tramples me.
God sends His faithful love and truth.
So how do we know that David isn’t talking about (or even alluding to) eternal salvation when he says that God reaches down from heaven and saves me, challenging the one who tramples me?
By looking at the context.
While the numbering system used for the Psalms isn’t original to the text, there are sometimes instructions or notes about the psalm left by the author. The instructions can vary from what kind of instrument or tune is needed for the psalm, who wrote the psalm, or even give detail as to when the psalm was written.
In the case of Psalm 57, the notes tell us the circumstances which influenced David to write.
For the choir director: “Do Not Destroy.” A Davidic Miktam. When he fled before Saul into the cave.
David was hunted by Saul for four years. Saul resented that God had chosen David to succeed him as king, and Saul rationalized that if he killed David, then he could continue being King of Israel. There were many tense occasions during those four years, several times where it looked like Saul had David trapped.
Psalm 57 was born out of one of those times. David was in trouble. Like the text says, Saul was trampling David. The grace, refuge, and salvation that David was petitioning God for was his physical rescue from Saul. Based upon the Biblical account of those years, and that David did eventually become King of Israel…we know God’s answer to David’s prayer in Psalm 57.
We don’t have to find inspiration by reading eternal salvation from sins into the text…because a plain reading of what the text is actually talking about is plenty encouraging – from David’s example, we see how God cares enough about our current physical situations to protect us and to fulfill His purpose for us.
God keeps His promises. He’s willing and able to protect us in this life, even in the times we feel completely trapped. That great truth is there for us to see, as long as we read the text for what it says and resist the urge to read something else into it.