I like to think of Psalm 28 and others like it in association with David’s weapon of choice. In the motion of the sling there is a circling down and back before a thrusting forth of the missile in the pocket. The velocity on release and resulting impact of the missile in the pouch is increased by the reverse direction of the motion. Backward serves forward. Downward serves upward and outward.
A Formidable Weapon
Slings were respected not only in ancient times. They are said to have been the only indigenous weapon feared by the Spanish conquistadores. Ancient sources report their accuracy against small targets up to 250 meters. A skilled slinger could select not only a face to strike but a particular part of a face. According to the Greek historian Xenophon, the sling could do damage at 400 meters, its range exceeding that of the bow. These figures may be exaggerated. But the Guinness world record for projecting a stone by sling is 1,434 feet.
The Physics of the Sling
Astrophysicists use what is called “gravity assist” to boost the speed of a space vehicle to the point at which it can escape the solar system. Entering the gravitational field of a planet at an angle insufficient to draw it in, the vehicle dramatically accelerates and, circling behind the planet, is whipped out at a speed well exceeding that with which it approached. The technique is popularly known as “the slingshot.” Spacecraft have insufficient power in themselves to escape the gravitational pull of the sun and leave at a speed that will carry them their vast distances. Gravity is made to overcome gravity.
Psalm 28 begins with a servant of God in distress. He is under attack by his enemies, who are also the enemies of God. “Unto thee will I cry, O Lord my rock: be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle” (1-2). David’s situation seems dire, but he knows where to go with it.
He cries to his God, like the author of Lamentations who wrote literally of what David depicts poetically. “I called upon thy name out of the low dungeon,” wrote Jeremiah, associating distress as elsewhere in the Old Testament with a need to be “lifted” up and out.
David’s spirits take an upturn about midpoint in the psalm. He praises God for his deliverance. “Blessed be the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications. The Lord is my strength and my shield: my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him” (6-7). The song to which he refers is the present poem, the one he has been writing.
In the closing two verses the Psalmist generalizes his experience into a claim for Israel. He has escaped the clutch of his enemies, the cause of his fears, and his song now rises in celebration of his Deliverer. His Deliverer is Israel’s also. “The Lord is their strength, and he is the saving strength of his anointed.”
A concluding prayer recognizes the nation’s ongoing need for protection and blessing. “Save thy people, and bless thine inheritance: feed them also, and lift them up forever” (9). What has begun as an urgent prayer for his own deliverance ends in a surge of praise of his Deliverer, who can be Israel’s as well.
The Psalmist has a renewed sense of God’s providence. He has taken his reader and listener through an experience (perhaps years before) of desperate need, one which drove him to seek help from the Lord and from which he exited with revived energy and purpose, greater we think than before. Down, back, up and around, and forward went his spirits to the point of release.
May we borrow an expression from the French to describe it? Was this not his Arc de Triomphe? It may indeed have been for David a monumental event. We can be pretty sure it would not be for him a final one. There is more than one Arc de Triomphe in the city of Paris.
The life of our Lord had its dark descents. He warned His disciples such times would come for them too if they should remain faithful to their calling and remember who and what they were. Nor should we, their spiritual descendants, expect to miss the dark times either. The world would be much poorer if what it glimpsed in our lives were only the pleasant times in the life of our Savior. We ourselves would be much poorer also. David’s sling, its arc, marks an emotional path for us, too. It is a spiritual path for us, as it was for Israel’s troubled king, as well.