“Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin.”
In 1966, Italian film director Sergio Leone produced the classic Spaghetti Western, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach. The story revolves around three bounty hunters who vie for a fortune in hidden Confederate gold. Together they navigate their world of greed, deception, betrayal and violence that reveals the very darkest side of our human nature. It’s a classic story of the anti-hero. In the end, we discover none of the characters is particularly good, or exclusively bad, but they certainly display a whole lot of ugly!
David writes Psalm 52 in the aftermath of a scene uglier than any Spaghetti Western. The inscription at the beginning of the song gives us the context,
When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: “David has gone to the house of Ahimelek.”
The inscription is referring to the story in 1 Samuel 21-22 where David flees from King Saul to the city of Nob. There David and his men are fed and harbored by the priests, who know nothing of David’s “rebellion” against the king. But Saul’s chief herdsman, an Edomite named Doeg, tells his master about the incident and throws Saul into a rage against the priests. Saul orders the execution of the 85 priests, but his officials aren’t willing to carry out the order. So, in the end, it was Doeg the Edomite who “struck them down” and put the whole city of Nob “to the sword,” killing every man, woman and child. A whole lot of ugly indeed!
It’s tempting to paint this story in black and white, with David as “the Good,” Saul as “the Bad,” and Doeg as “the ugly.” But real life is seldom that black and white.
Psalm 52 reminds us that what happened in Nob is yet another story of greed, deception, betrayal and violence that reveals the very darkest side of our human nature. Doeg the Edomite may be the one holding the “smoking gun” after the slaughter, but it is Saul who gives the orders. Saul is the paranoid and weak leader who uses his power to compensate for his deep insecurities, but Doeg is the opportunistic thug who is willing to do anything to gain the king’s favor.
Meanwhile, David (the good?) is the one who flees to Nob, lies to the priests about his mission, demands consecrated bread for his men, makes the priests unwitting accomplices to the rebellion, and puts everyone in the town in jeopardy. He would later tell the one person who escapes the slaughter, “I knew [Doeg] would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family” (1 Samuel 22:21).
This is life in Technicolor—all the good, all the bad, and all the ugly. So, who is the hero in this story?
The hero certainly isn’t the one who “boasts of evil, practices deceit,” or “plots destruction” (vs. 1-2). He is not the one who “loves evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth” (vs. 3). And he is not the man who “trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others” (vs. 7).
Oddly enough, all of these descriptions find a face in some of our “heroes” today. They are not only true of some of our sports heroes or entertainers, but sadly also of our “kings” and their opportunistic “servants.” They are even true of some of our religious heroes.
No, the only real “hero” in Psalm 52 is the one who “trusts in God’s unfailing love forever and ever” (vs. 8), the one who offers God her public praise and puts her hope in Him (vs. 9).
In John 15:5-8 Jesus told his disciples (and he tells us still) that the real “heroes” in this world are the ones whose lives reveal the Father’s glory. And he tells us that this is something we can’t accomplish on our own, but only when we are in constant connection with him. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Regardless of your wealth, status and power you can be one of God’s heroes in this world. So trust in His love, offer Him your worship, stay connected. And always stay thirsty for Him.