Question: "What is the meaning of "Do Not Destroy" in the prologue of Psalms 57, 58, 59 and 75?"
Answer: The title text of Psalm 57 reads, “For the director of music. To the tune of ‘Do Not Destroy.’ Of David. A miktam. When he had fled from Saul into the cave.” A similar introduction appears in Psalm 58. Likewise, the title of Psalm 59 states, “For the choir director: A psalm of David, regarding the time Saul sent soldiers to watch David’s house in order to kill him. To be sung to the tune ‘Do Not Destroy!’” (NLT).
These titles provided instruction from the author of the psalm (King David, in the above three) and were meant for the choir director. A miktam, or michtam, was a technical or musical cue, or possibly even a liturgical term indicating the genre or classification of a hymn. Biblical scholars dispute the term’s exact meaning. It may have instructed the chief musician on the piece’s arrangement or performance or suggested a connection with other psalms of a similar theme.
Psalm 75’s author is said to be Asaph, as its introduction informs: “For the choir director: A psalm of Asaph. A song to be sung to the tune ‘Do Not Destroy!’” (NLT). So, four psalms were written to be performed to tune of “Do Not Destroy.”
“Do Not Destroy” (Altaschith in Hebrew) likely represented a musical method or a melody. Various words can be sung to the same melody; for example, the hymns “Crown Him with Many Crowns” and “Soldiers of Christ, Arise” can both be sung to the tune “Diademada,” composed by George Elvey. “Do Not Destroy” may have been the opening words to the original tune to which these psalms were to be sung. Also, the words may have associated the psalms with the dire circumstances in which the authors had penned them.
David wrote Psalm 57 after fleeing from King Saul and hiding out in a cave in fear for his life (see 1 Samuel 22:1–10). Perhaps, while camped out in the dark, cavernous recesses of the cave, David meditated on this prayer of Moses: “Sovereign Lord, do not destroy your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed by your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand” (Deuteronomy 9:26). The background drumbeat to David’s contemplation may have thudded with the rhythm of “do no destroy.”
In Psalm 58, David cried out with righteous anger against human injustice. He passionately prayed for God to bring His judgment against corrupt earthly authorities who harmed and persecuted the righteous. David confidently believed that, in the end, God would punish all wrongdoers and save, deliver, and reward those who do good.
David was inspired to write Psalm 59 while recalling another dark time when Saul seriously threatened his life. God brought deliverance to David through his wife, Michal, who warned him of the danger and helped him escape by night through a window (1 Samuel 19:11–17).
Psalm 75 was most likely written by Asaph or a descendent of Asaph in the days before the Assyrian invasions (2 Kings 18—19). This hymn of thanksgiving expressed the author’s profound sense of gratitude for God’s divine justice that would destroy the wicked from the earth and reward the righteous.
Whatever it sounded like, the tune of “Do Not Destroy” seemed to invoke in worshipers a prayerful and confident sense of trust in God in the face of injustice, oppression, and danger. Today we know that music—especially certain melodies with familiar arrangements of notes and words—has the capacity to stir emotions and prompt faith-filled responses in worshipers. We can only speculate, though it seems quite reasonable, that the ancient instruction, “to be sung to the tune of ‘Do Not Destroy,’” might resemble the modern-day directive “to be sung to the tune of ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘How Great Thou Art’ or ‘the Hallelujah Chorus.’”