This reflection is based on Psalm 59 (see also 1 Sam 19:11), and Luke 22:39-53. In the message below, the word ‘men’ is being used as a gender-inclusive term.

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him.
Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
protect me from those who rise up against me;
deliver me from those who work evil,
and save me from bloody men.

Ps 59:1-2 ESV (with minor alteration in the last line)

He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done”…
While he was still speaking, there came a crowd…Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

Excerpted from Luke 22:39-53, ESV.

It is dark. A man is scared. He knows there is a conspiracy against him. His enemy is breathing murderous threats. Guards have been posted to try to entrap him. He’s almost entirely alone.

He’s in a house; the doors are barred; the windows are shuttered. But if he puts his eye to a crack he can see the watchers. Each evening they are there. Watching, waiting, planning his downfall.

In his fear, he is praying. Perhaps the prayers are muttered, perhaps they are loud and clear. Most likely his voice rises and falls with the tides of his lament. Deliver me from my enemies, oh my God . Protect me from those who rise up against me. Deliver me from those who work evil. And save me from bloody men.

He lays out his fear, his grief, his raw emotion before God. He is innocent of any wrongdoing, he’s done nothing to deserve this vendetta.

Does God seem silent? The man seems to think so. Wake up! Rouse yourself! Come and see what they are doing to me!

Their words are like swords: The lies they speak against me, their boasts, their whisperings. Soon enough, those words will draw blood.

The enemies are like dogs. Wild feral creatures whose eyes glitter in the threatening dark. Their teeth are bared. Where one would not dare to attack alone, the pack will have no fear. He has seen dogs tear a sheep apart with fang and claw. He has fought with dogs. But now he is encircled by them, and it feels as if the dogs have won. Each evening they are there, preventing his escape, watching.

He is trapped; there is no way out.

His prayer continues. I will watch. I will watch. I do not believe that God has wholly abandoned me. I will watch for his intervention. If my enemies can watch so can I – their patience will not outlast mine. I will watch for the Lord. He remembers the covenant. He knows the character of God, revealed long ago on Sinai. He invokes the steadfast love of the Lord. However things may seem God will surely not abandon him.

And as he checks the locks once again and muses on how long the walls can withstand a determined assault, his prayer continues. You, oh God, are my fortress.

He has seen fortresses. He’s been in them. One day he will live in one – though at present he can’t be sure that he will even live. You are my fortress. Strong walls, high tower, secure locks. A spring inside the walls so that no thirst need drive out those who are sheltering. And as he repeats these words, his faith gradually grows. He recalls the times in the past when God has been his fortress. Times in the past when all had seemed lost and God had come through. You are my fortress You have been to me a fortress. You are my fortress.

He considers his enemies, conflicted in his attitude to them. Do not kill them, he prays. Bring them down, he prays. Let them be trapped, he prays. Destroy them, he prays. May they know God, he prays.

No one has taught him to love his enemies, but in his contemplation of the steadfast love of God, a glimmer of that great commandment is prefigured. Do not kill them. May they know that you are God. But for now they are mostly like dogs: predatory, cruel, hunting in packs and thirsting for blood.

But steady contemplation of the faithfulness of God is reaping its reward. He has found the spark of his faith, and fanned it into a steady blaze. No longer does he feel the need to shake God awake . He has watched. He has spoken of what he knows to be true. Now he is ready to sing, or at least to anticipate that there will be singing again.

It is still night, but the morning is coming. His wife is finding rope. She will lower him from the window, and cover for him while he makes his getaway. And he knows that with the rising of the sun the song will begin again. And his anthem will be the steadfast, unfailing love of God.


It is dark. A man is scared. Lies have been told about him. His enemy is breathing murderous threats. Those who hate him hem him in like a pack of dogs. He is entirely alone.
He is locked in a shipping container in the equatorial sun. He is an Eritrean Christian.
Save me from bloody men.

It is dark. A woman is scared. When it is dark, they come for her. Hard knocks and cheap scent. She lost count of them months ago. Like a pack of dogs, slavering. She feels so alone.
She is enslaved in a brothel in a town near you.
Save me from bloody men.

It is dark. A child is scared and lying very still in bed. He is afraid that if he makes a noise they might hit him again. He doesn’t know where he is, just that one day some men came and took his parents away, and took him far, far from home. He lives with lots of other children now, and every day the teachers tell him how bad his mummy and daddy were. But he still wishes he could see them again.
He is a Uighur, in a re-education orphanage.
Save me from bloody men.

It is dark. A family are clambering into a boat. They paid a smuggler all they possess and are hoping that he will keep his promise and get them safely across the Mediterranean. They don’t know that the life-jackets he has given them have no buoyancy at all. They do know that some coastguards have opened fire on refugee boats.
Save me from bloody men.

The chorus grows and swells. From prisons and concentration camps, the cry goes up. Save me from bloody men. Refugee camps and ruined cities pick up the strain. Save me from bloody men. From the slave brick factories of Bangladesh and the glossy building projects of Qatar, the cry rises to heaven: Save me from bloody men. From the man who lies on the ground with a knee to his throat: Save me from bloody men. From the woman who is snatched from her homeward walk and violated in ways we do not know: Save me from bloody men.

Can you hear the cry? Heaven hears the cry.


It is dark. A man is scared. He knows there is a conspiracy against him. His enemy is breathing murderous threats. Guards are seeking him out. He’s almost entirely alone – he feels very lonely.

He’s in a garden; no doors to bar; no windows to shutter. When they come for him, there will be nothing to stop them. And though he cannot see them, he knows they are coming. They have been watching, waiting, planning his downfall. Night is their time, and they will soon be here.

In his fear, he is praying. Perhaps the prayers are muttered, perhaps they are loud and clear. Most likely his voice rises and falls with the tides of his lament. Deliver me from my enemies, oh my God. Protect me from those who rise up against me. Deliver me from those who work evil.

And save me from bloody men.

He lays out his fear, his grief, his raw emotion before God. He is innocent of any wrongdoing, he’s done nothing to deserve this vendetta.

Does God seem silent? The man seems to think so. Wake up! Rouse yourself! Come and see what they are doing to me!

Their words are like swords: The lies they speak against me, their boasts, their whisperings. Soon enough, those words will draw blood.

The enemies are like dogs. Wild, feral creatures whose eyes glitter in the threatening dark. Their teeth are bared. Where one would not dare to attack alone, the pack will have no fear, geeing each other up, urging each other on, each taking courage from the other. The crowd will hurl its collective will against him. Pilate and Herod will form an alliance of blood. Soldiers will vie to outdo one another in their cruelty and their spite. Soon he will be encircled by all who hate him. They will pierce his hands and feet. They will spit on him and strike him and scoff at him.

He will be trapped then, there will be no way out. But for now, there is still a glimmer of hope…

His prayer continues. I will watch. I will watch. Surely God will not wholly abandon me. I will watch for his intervention. If my enemies can watch so can I – their patience will not outlast mine. I will watch for the Lord. He remembers the covenant. He has long meditated on the character of God, declared at Sinai and revealed in every breath of the Lord’s dealings with his people. Now, in his deepest need, he invokes the steadfast love of the Lord. However things may seem, surely God will not abandon him…?

He recalls, too, the many times that God has been his fortress. That time his life was preserved as an infant. The times that the crowd turned murderous but he was somehow able just to slip away. The times that God was present for him even in trouble, in grief, in sickness. The closeness of the Father’s love as his head broke the waters of the Jordan. The Father’s benediction like fragrant oil upon his head. You oh God are my fortress.

He has seen fortresses. He will be in four them of them, very soon. High walls and secure locks – Caiphas’s dungeon, the Praetorium, Herod’s palace, Pilate’s residence. They will prove to be no place of safety. They will be places of fear, of torture, of lies and a miscarriage of justice. You, oh God, are my fortress… you have been my fortress… you are my fortress… aren’t you? Take this cup away from me.

Only briefly does he consider those who have ranged themselves against him. His prayers are not about them. He has taught his friends to love their enemies. He has told them to forgive. For now, he has no words for those who seek to destroy him, no imprecation, no curse. But tomorrow he will pray, Father, forgive. Even as they circle him like dogs: predatory, cruel, hunting in packs and thirsting for blood. Even as they pierce his hands and feet. Father, forgive.

His faith has never failed him, but it is not yet time to sing. Singing will come in the morning – in the true morning, on Sunday, when God’s world starts anew. But first there is the long night ahead, the long darkness that must be endured. Not my will, then, but yours. This is the time to grieve, to lament, to weep and groan. This, now, is the time to gather his courage and face what must be faced. Not my will, but yours. There will be no easy way out. No wife to slip him out of the clutches of the enemy on the length of a rope. Just a few friends whose brief and futile show of resistance will quickly melt away into terror. God will be no fortress for him tomorrow. Your will be done.

Because it is his particular calling to embody and enact the steadfast, unfailing love of God, and so he must pass through the darkness.

But in the true morning, at break of dawn, he will sing of God’s steadfast love. And with him will sing all who have trembled in the dark, all who have cried out against bloody men.

Helen Paynter is the director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence, and a Baptist minister in Bristol, England.

Save me from bloody men: a Maundy Thursday reflection.
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