Studies in the Psalms : Psalm 18

Psalm 18 (KJV)

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spake unto the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul: and he said,

  1. I will love thee, O LORD, my strength.
  2. The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer;
    my God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
    my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.
  3. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised:
    so shall I be saved from my enemies.
  4. The sorrows of death compassed me,
    and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
  5. The sorrows of hell compassed me about:
    the snares of death prevented me.
  6. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God:
    he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him,
    even into his ears.
  7. Then the earth shook and trembled;
    the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken,
    because he was wroth.
  8. There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured:
    coals were kindled by it.
  9. He bowed the heavens also, and came down:
    and darkness was under his feet.
  10. And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly:
    yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.
  11. He made darkness his secret place;
    his pavilion round about him were dark waters
    and thick clouds of the skies
  12. At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed,
    hailstones and coals of fire.
  13. The LORD also thundered in the heavens,
    and the Highest gave his voice; hail-stones and coals of fire.
  14. Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them;
    and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.
  15. Then the channels of waters were seen,
    and the foundations of the world were discovered
    at thy rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils.
  16. He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.
  17. He delivered me from my strong enemy,
    and from them which hated me:
    for they were too strong for me.
  18. They prevented me in the day of my calamity:
    but the LORD was my stay.
  19. He brought me forth also into a large place;
    he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
  20. The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
  21. For I have kept the ways of the LORD,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
  22. For all his judgments were before me,
    and I did not put away his statutes from me.
  23. I was also upright before him,
    and I kept myself from mine iniquity.
  24. Therefore hath the LORD recompensed me according to my righteousness,
    according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.
  25. With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful;
    with an upright man thou wilt show thyself upright;
  26. With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure;
    and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.
  27. For thou wilt save the afflicted people;
    but wilt bring down high looks.
  28. For thou wilt light my candle:
    the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.
  29. For by thee I have run through a troop;
    and by my God have I leaped over a wall.
  30. As for God, his way is perfect;
    the word of the LORD is tried;
    he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.
  31. For who is God save the LORD?
    or who is a rock save our God?
  32. It is God that girdeth me with strength,
    and maketh my way perfect.
  33. He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet,
    and setteth me upon my high places.
  34. He teacheth my hands to war,
    so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms.
  35. Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation:
    and thy right hand hath holden me up,
    and thy gentleness hath made me great.
  36. Thou hast enlarged my steps under me,
    that my feet did not slip.
  37. I have pursued my enemies, and overtaken them:
    neither did I turn again until they were consumed.
  38. I have wounded them that they were not able to rise:
    they are fallen under my feet.
  39. For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle:
    thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me.
  40. Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies;
    that I might destroy them that hate me.
  41. They cried, but there was none to save them:
    even unto the LORD, but he answered them not.
  42. Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind:
    I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets.
  43. Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people;
    and thou hast made me the head of the heathen:
    a people whom I have not known shall serve me.
  44. As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me:
    the strangers shall submit themselves unto me.
  45. The strangers shall fade away,
    and be afraid out of their close places.
  46. The LORD liveth; and blessed be my rock;
    and let the God of my salvation be exalted.
  47. It is God that avengeth me,
    and subdueth the people under me.
  48. He delivereth me from mine enemies:
    yea, thou liftest me up above those that rise up against me:
    thou hast delivered me from the violent man.
  49. Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the
              heathen, and sing praises unto thy name.
  50. Great deliverance giveth he to his king;
    and showeth mercy to his anointed,
    to David, and to his seed forever.

To the Choirmaster. A Psalm of David, the Servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the LORD on the day when the LORD rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:

The opening words of the heading, “To the Choirmaster,” indicate that David composed this psalm for public worship at the sanctuary. Here and elsewhere in the Psalter this heading reminds the reader of David’s great contribution to Old Testament worship, in composing and in encouraging the composing of psalms, and in organizing choir and orchestra as a permanent feature in worship. This grand enduring legacy set the direction for worship all the way into the New Testament church to the end of time. David makes bold to style himself the servant of the Lord. That is, he recognized that the Lord had placed him in a position of leadership in Israel at a critical turning point in the progress of the kingdom of God. In Abraham God manifested his selection of the chosen people, from whom would arise the Savior of the nations. Through Moses God rescued his people from Egyptian bondage and established his covenant with them at Sinai. There God gave his people the Law summarized on the tables of stone, and the Gospel in the liturgy with sacrifice and priesthood at its center. Through Joshua God settled his people in the land promised to the patriarchs. Through Samuel God established prophecy, the ministry of the preaching of the Word of God as a permanent institution in Israel. With priesthood and prophecy in place, one thing remains unrealized: kingship. God bequeathed this to his people through David, to be continued ever after through the house of David. (The reign of Saul was a concession to the will of the people as a way of teaching them through bitter experience that their concept of kingship was not of God, could not succeed, and would not endure. Thus the true kingship ordained of God began with David, not with Saul.)

Ordained of God though they were, priesthood, prophecy, and kingship were at this point only promise, prediction, and type. The great work of God, the redemption of sinful mankind, would be accomplished through one who would be the genuine High Priest who would by one sacrifice perfect forever those sanctified, and his sacrifice would be his own sinless self. It would be announced through the Son, the Prophet whom Moses had promised. The perfect expression of the character and will of God is the Son, through whom God has spoken “in these last days” (Heb. 1:2). Once the Son had made the Father known, God himself would have nothing more to add. In him the kingship of the house of David would attain its purpose, a kingship extending over all the earth and through all ages. Its benefit would be eternal salvation. It would be a kingdom not of this world, established and maintained not by force against its subjects, but by pure mercy toward its citizens, and exalting them to be every one kings and priests before God.

In the Old Testament, the prophet, the priest, and the king were separate persons. This arrangement already emphasized that the fulfillment of God’s plan and counsel still lay in the future. Valuable and vital as they were for their time, these institutions and the persons anointed and ordained to office were but signs pointing to one who would be the final priest, the final prophet, and the final king, all in one person. David was able to rule well because he understood the temporary character of all things Old Testament. He ruled in God’s name and knew himself accountable to God to rule according to the will of God, and set the standard for kings in Israel ever after because he understood the spiritual dimensions of kingship in Israel. He knew that he and the dynasty promised him by God were also only filling in until the Christ should come.

He composed this psalm when his power and authority over Israel and over the hostile nations surrounding Israel were established and secure. Saul is singled out here because, in the words of one commentator, he led the most personal, the most perilous, and the most protracted of the persecutions that David suffered. Similar wording is used in 2 Samuel 7:1, at the time when David proposed building a permanent sanctuary for the ark of God, and God countered with the promise to build David a house instead. This would be a dynasty continuing until and culminating in the Christ. Likely David composed this psalm after the visit of Nathan the prophet (II Sam. 7) and before his fall into gross sins (II Sam. 11); cf. the last words of the psalm, “and to his offspring forever.”

David regularly calls himself “the servant of the Lord,” especially in his prayers. The Lord himself identified Moses as “my servant Moses” again and again; he gave the same title to Caleb and to Joshua. The apostles identified themselves as “servants of Jesus Christ.“ So might every true Israelite and every true Christian. Yet it means more when spoken of David: through him God ushered in a new epoch in the unfolding of his kingdom on earth.

Verses 1–3

I love you, O LORD, my strength.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.

David’s ardent love for the Lord fills his innermost being and pours forth in this hymn. The verb is related to the noun for “womb,” thus expressing the tenderness of David’s affection for the Lord, the Savior God. In verse two the translators supply the verb “is,” naturally enough since the linking verb is commonly omitted in Hebrew poetry. However, following the pattern of verse one, these words could well be vocatives: “O Lord, my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,” etc. Also the phrase “in whom I take refuge could be correctly taken as “my refuge,” making for a more smooth and consistent construction. David states his fervent love for the Lord, but he does not dwell long on what is going on within his own heart. His theme is that God has shown himself the God so worthy of love that the urge to love him is irresistible. David piles up title after title for God in telling the goodness of God as he has experienced it, especially during the time of his persecution by Saul. These titles reflect the rough country of Judah in particular, with its wild, inaccessible places, cliffs and crags and caves. David took advantage of these features in escaping the power and purposes of Saul, but with the understanding that God was his real protection. He saw events critical to his survival not as incidental or accidental, but as governed by God. In the same approach, once he was in position he built up a strong military in Israel; still his take on this is well stated in Psalm 20:7: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” The objects of creation and the incidents of life are but God’s instruments, and it is up to him to make them work.

“The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving strength of his anointed” (Ps. 28:8). The Lord gave David his skill in combat, beginning with taking down Goliath and then ever after. He gave David the ability to encourage and control and edify his band of men. Most of all he gave David the inner strength to place his trust entirely in God, and not resort to the tactics of the flesh. True, he was not honest with the high priest Ahimelech at Nob, nor with the Philistine Achish the king of Gath; true, he was only restrained by Abigail from committing folly himself when reacting to Nabal the fool. But he was resolute in refusing on two occasions to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed, Saul. This fear of God was the constant in David’s conduct. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10) is the New Testament admonition.

In more detail now, “the Lord is my rock:” He is the foundation that will not wobble or quake, or crack, or shift: he is totally reliable. He is the rock, a severe and lofty place that serves as a fortress, which the enemy cannot scale and his weapons cannot reach. He is my deliverer. He pulls me out of danger. He is my shield, with which I ward off the blade of the sword and the point of the spear and the arrow. Thus God had said to Abram, “I am your shield” (Gen. 15:1). He is the horn which rescues me, the mighty offensive which intervenes on behalf of the feeble, conquers their foes, and saves them. The Lord my stronghold, creator of the natural strongholds in the fastnesses of Judea especially.

The Lord is praised, for he is worthy to be praised. As often as David called he was saved from his enemies. The word enemy is the participle of the verb hate: the one who hates, the hater. It is essential to remember that David’s enemies were the Lord’s enemies. He was being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, because he was “the servant of the Lord.” The hatred against him was especially virulent because his service to the kingdom of God was rich, powerful, and vital.

Verses 4–5

The cords of death encompassed me;
the torrents of destruction assailed me;

The cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.

What David said to his friend Jonathan proved true again and again for years on end: “As the Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death” (1 Sam. 20:3). Cords, snares, and floods were common metaphors for the extremes of danger and disaster. Snares for catching birds and animals were made of cords. David was at the point of death, in no position to cut the cords or ride the waves. There is no one visible who can extricate him. The enemies of David are instruments of the strange powers of death, the hunter with cords and snares; of destruction (Belial), entailing both moral corruption and abysmal destruction; and of Sheol, the vague and undefined realm of the dead, the grave and with it, a strong hint of hell.

David felt the full terror of imminent death, as does any mortal, the faithful included. His destruction would also have been disastrous for the kingdom of God in the nation of Israel. His life or death therefore is not his issue alone; it concerns all the people of the time and future generations. The foes and the Foe were desperate in toiling to prevent the man after God’s own heart from becoming king over God’s kingdom of priests and holy nation. Judging from his psalms, where the most individual and personal close with a prayer for the whole people of God, and from his character and conduct as king, one sees that David, like Moses after the Golden Calf and Paul in Romans 9, cared more about the rest of the saints than about themselves.

The wording of these verses expresses well the anguish of Christ on trial and on the cross. Christ too was delivered, on the third day, after the floods of destruction/Belial had overwhelmed him, the cords of Sheol had tightened around him, and he did not escape. He suffered the massive punishment for sin before he gave up the ghost. For the sake of the kingdom of God David was delivered. For the sake of the kingdom of God Christ was not delivered until he had first experienced death, destruction, and hell. Thus he rescued sinners from destruction and hell, Sheol in the extreme sense. Then he was delivered from death and from Sheol in the fullest sense.

Verses 6–15

In my distress I called upon the LORD;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked because he was angry.

Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.

He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.

He rode on a cherub and flew;
he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.

He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water.

Out of the brightness before him hailstones
and coals of fire broke through his clouds.

The LORD also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice,
hailstones and coals of fire,

And he sent out his arrows and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.

Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O LORD,
at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.

David cried out to the Lord. He cried aloud, and from his holy temple, his happy habitation where he is surrounded by the blessed spirits, and the Lord heard. He was furious, and set the whole creation in motion. The whole of creation rejoices in God’s blessing and suffers under his curse. The whole creation, the so-called “forces of nature,” are instruments of his blessing upon his beloved and his curse upon those who would destroy them. David cried out in terror but at the same time in confidence, believing that he would not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord. He knew that God knew his thought afar off, and that his silent prayers would be heard. But he cried out aloud. If he was leading his men in prayer, or if they but overheard his cries to God, he was also teaching them to pray. And he experienced the reality that God who dwells in the high and lofty place and inhabits eternity, also dwells with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, and he hears every syllable of their praying.

The Almighty went into action, with fury beyond human imagination and in deeds that seemed impossible. The earth and its most durable parts, the foundations of the mountains, trembled and quaked. Smoke from his nostrils, fire from his lips, searing coals from his hand are expression of fiercest divine wrath. The Lord rode on a cherub, not the pudgy darling of art and imagination, but the angel who executes his judgment, e. g. the cherubim who blocked the way into Eden. He flew on the wings of the wind, as though he could not get there fast enough. He covered himself with clouds and darkness, in judgment: who are these who would lay hands on my anointed? who are these who would block the eternal purpose of the Almighty and prevent his salvation, the only good thing to be carried out in the wake of sin and death? Who is so wicked that he would prevent my salvation, the one good thing in this world corrupted by sin and death? The phenomena named here were historical events in the days of Moses and Joshua. It may be left open whether David is speaking of unrecorded phenomena in his own day, or whether he is painting a picture. For either way, it is the same God with the same fury and the same love. The day of judgment was in God’s heart, and the year of his redeemed was at hand. These things happened in vivid anticipation of the Incarnation.

Verses 16–24:

He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters.

He rescued me from my strong enemy
and from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.

They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the LORD was my support.

He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

The LORD dealt with me according to
my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands
he rewarded me.

For I have kept the ways of the LORD,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.

For all his rules were before me,
and his statutes I did not put away from me.

I was blameless before him,
and I kept myself from my guilt.

So the LORD has rewarded me
according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

David was drowning in a tsunami, and the hand of the Lord reached down and pulled him out of the raging waters. The waves, his enemies, were far too powerful for him to overcome; in keeping within the metaphor, he could not swim his way to safety. The Lord upheld him from beneath and set him in a broad place. English has a contrasting idiom: “a tight spot.” Otherwise one speaks of room to breathe or room to move about freely. Freedom is the concept here. David could now walk about freely and easily, without fear of falling. He could now take part in public worship, from which he had long been exiled. As king he could rule Israel as he wished, namely in the name of the Lord.

The Lord did this because he took pleasure in David. David goes on to explain more precisely. “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy” (Ps. 147:11 KJV). In the flow of history, God manifests his grace. This comes first; God takes the initiative. The first Gospel (Gen. 3:15) stands at the head of all subsequent history. Ever after, righteousness and unrighteousness lie in the sinner’s response to the Gospel. As time passed God revealed more and more of his plan of salvation, until it was carried out in Christ, recorded for all time by the evangelists and explained to the world by the apostles. Every man must now give his response to the salvation of God in Christ. Every man gives either his “Yes!” or his “No!”. Righteousness is the heart turned toward God in love and trust. Unrighteousness is the heart turned away from redeeming grace. David was not comparing himself with the absolute holiness of God and concluding that he measured up. He was comparing himself with those who took their stand against the Lord, and to be more specific, against his Messiah. As with Abraham, it was David’s trusting in the Lord that counted as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). The righteous give answer to grace not only in word but with their entire life. Thus David kept his hands clean from sinning. He kept the ways of the Lord and did not wickedly turn away from God. He kept the commandments in view, in order to keep them; he did not put God’s statutes out of mind, so to be able to sin blithely. The word for commandments is “judgments.” Modern translations have “rules,” to avoid the impression of courtroom verdicts. But the translation “judgments” (KJV) retains the truth that the commandments in themselves already pronounce judgment upon the act, and upon the person who does the act, whether righteous or unrighteous. The commandments are statutes, because they stand, ever valid, ever in force, like gravity. David was blameless before God, literally “perfect,” KJV “upright.” His devotion to God was complete, without reservation. The genuine “yes” that constitutes righteousness is devoting the whole self to God, thought, word, and deed, soul and spirit, mind and body. David avoided allowing guilt to become his own. So the Lord rewarded David according to his righteousness, because David’s hands were clean in the sight of God. This is not so much a statement of forensic justification as of the result of that justification in the soul and life of the psalmist. As David said to Saul when he had spared the life of Saul a second time, “The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness“ (1 Sam. 26:23). God rebuked Jeroboam, “You have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes“ (1 Kings 14:8). The record elsewhere acknowledges David’s righteousness: “David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5). Again, Solomon’s “heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. This last expresses the Old Testament concept of “the perfect man,” for example Noah, who was “perfect in his generations” (Gen. 6:9 KJV). What the Lord rewards is the trust of those who are counting on him, and his reward is that he proves himself absolutely trustworthy.

Verses 25–30

With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless you show yourself blameless;

with the purified you show yourself pure;

and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.

For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.

For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.

For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true;

he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

The merciful man will find a merciful God. The Beatitude states it even more fully and emphatically: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7). The Beatitudes as a whole parallel and transcend the truth expressed here by David. “Merciful” is a fine translation, all the more as in its many contexts the emphasis shifts away from pity pure and simple to include the whole range of God’s lovingkindness. The merciful one moreover is the one devoted to God in love, in worship, and in obedience, and devoted to his neighbor in honor and service, in humility withal. Modern translators and commentators find in the word the concept of steadfastness and even covenant loyalty as an essential component of love and devotion. The point is doubtless well taken; still, when the translations bring out this aspect, they do lose the poetry; and losing the poetry is a great loss.

To the upright, blameless, perfect, God will prove perfect. When there are no gaps in their devotion to God, they will find no gaps in God’s devotion to their salvation. To those who purify themselves God proves himself pure in his dealings with them. “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8), and they shall be like him, for they shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2). God honors the one who loves with love. He honors those who place themselves in humble submission with exaltation. On the other hand those who are twisted, contrary, and perverted place themselves into a position where the good God, the Friend of man, turns into their enemy, and his benediction turns into his curse. He turns them over to perverseness in increasing magnitude, Romans 1. Those who have resented God and viewed him as the bad guy have placed themselves in an impossible position, and they will find him a consuming fire. The very Gospel becomes their condemnation: “He who does not believe is condemned” (Mark 16:16). The outstanding instance of this is the Crucifixion. The devil brought it about that Jesus went down to death, damnation, and destruction, and lo, it was only a wound to the heel, while the Serpent is the one with his head crushed and his cause nullified. What happens in and with the perfect and the twisted alike comes after the divine initiative of grace. In the case of the merciful, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The psalm is perfectly consistent with this. In sum, “those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Sam. 2:30).

God is who he is, and therefore the humble can count on him to rescue them. God is who he is, and those with the lofty eyes he will bring down. The faithful in Israel, for example Abigail, knew how things would turn out for David and for his enemies. In Old Testament times both the ruin and the rescue were more immediate, for at that time God was training his people, who were immature and still learning. It was the time of Israel’s minority, Galatians 3:19–4:7. Through the atonement of Christ God has now redeemed the entire human race and brought to ruin the arrogant Serpent. Carrying the matter through to the finish can and will now wait until the last day. David understood that he could count on being rescued if his attitude, lowliness, befit his situation. Being afflicted, he could count on God to establish the work of his hands, i. e. to grant him success, if he remained humble even when his situation was reversed. To be sure, the gifts of God, especially in lifting the sinner out of guilt to righteousness, provide occasion to take on the lofty eyes. When one has spent his lifetime as one of the faithful and merciful, it becomes more and more easy to look down on the blatantly unrighteous and on the half-hearted among the Christians. One can find security in membership in his denomination, or in his faction of the denomination. The gifted who have used their gifts in the service of the kingdom of God are tempted to look down at those whose gifts are different, or appear to be lesser gifts, forgetting that the operative word is “gift,” not accomplishment, not merit. This is serious, for the very first among the six things that the Lord hates and the seven that are an abomination to him is “haughty eyes” (Prov. 6:16-19).

The Lord proved himself merciful and good, upright and pure, by lighting David’s lamp and turning darkness into bright daylight for him. This includes both enlightenment from the Pentateuch and God’s direct answers to David’s specific inquiries. It extends moreover to David’s survival under persecution, his life, and his exaltation to rule Israel and to do so to the honor of God and the edification of the people. It includes the promise to establish his dynasty that would finally, in Jesus the Son of David, prove everlasting. With the ability God gave, David could run through a troop, cutting down the enemy as he ran. He could scale the wall of a fortified city, leading the successful attack against it. This was a perilous role in ancient warfare. David found that with God he could do this. His confession anticipates the humble boast of the New Testament, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13).

This God—the only God after all—his way is flawless. His word is tried, like refined silver or gold. It has been tested over and over, and it has proven true. The center of the word is the divine promises and the divine promise. These promises are kept without fail. Those who count on God are safe, for he is their protection.

Whether David, or St. Paul, or anyone else, God does not make his power available for performing self-aggrandizing stunts or fulfilling self-centered whims. When God demands the impossible so that his name may be hallowed, and his elect called, gathered, edified, guided, and protected, the one who trusts God can carry it out. Ascended to the throne of heaven, Jesus has kept and does keep his promise: “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).

Verses 31–42

For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God?—

the God who equipped me with strength
and made my way blameless.

He made my feet like the feet of a deer
and set me secure on the heights.

He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

You have given me the shield of your salvation,
and your right hand supported me,
and your gentleness made me great.

You gave me a wide place for my steps under me,
and my feet did not slip.

I pursued my enemies and overtook them,
and did not turn back until they were consumed.

I thrust them through so that they were not able to rise;
they fell under my feet.

For you equipped me with strength for the battle;
you made those who rise against me sink under me.

You made my enemies turn their backs to me,
and those who hated me I destroyed.

They cried for help, but there was none to save;
they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them.

I beat them fine as dust before the wind;
I cast them out like the mire of the streets.

The word “god” is a generic term for any deity, real or imagined. “The LORD” is the proper name of the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the great I AM? The primitive may proffer their images, the sophisticated their monotheisms; both are manufactured. No creature of God can serve as God, no manufacture of the hands or the mind of man even exists. Leaning on the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, and keeping in mind the forbidding geography that provided David places of refuge, the word Rock means refuge (in contrast to foundation, for example, which God surely is also, Matt. 7:24-27). Manufactured gods are crafted in the image of their makers and remain on the level of their makers. Thus if the gods are no greater than those who made them, what help are they to those overwhelmed with troubles? The God who is real made David strong in character and conduct and especially under conflict. He made David’s way perfect. He cleared all obstacles out of the way, so that David could proceed without stumbling and without being turned off course. He could go where he wanted to go safely and do what he wanted to do effectively. He made David’s feet as swift as a deer, not for flight but for attack and pursuit. The Lord set David on the high places to which he had appointed him, the mountain geography of Judah and Jerusalem especially corresponding to David’s position in Israel. From there he held command over the whole land.

The Lord trained David’s hands for combat, giving him strength to bend a bow of bronze, whether in stringing or in taking aim. Whatever the technology in such bow construction, the point is that David could employ the heavy duty weapons. But it was not really weaponry or skill that preserved David. Here he turns once again to direct address. The Lord’s modus operandi, rescue, shielded David from every onslaught and warded off every blow of the enemy. The power of the Almighty supported him, not muscles and skill. It was not David’s well exercised natural endowments that made him great. It was that the Lord condescended to rescue and to prosper his servant. He who inhabits eternity and whose name is holy, who dwells in the high and holy place, loves to dwell at the same time with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit (Is. 57:15). “What is man, that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou visitest him? (Ps. 8:4 KJV). The translations “meekness,” “gentleness,” or “mercy” do at least bear witness that God is pleased to reign over and reign within those who are poor in spirit. But the paradox of the Lofty One happy to dwell with the lowly of earth is precious. For when God condescended to rescue David, it was a majestic step forward toward, and a bold foreshadowing of, the Incarnation of the Son of God, who is now according to his human nature the Son of David.

The Lord placed David on open level ground, all obstacles cleared away, where David could walk freely. The Lord strengthened his ankles so that he did not slip and fall. David finished off his enemies. His strength did not fail, he completed the “mopping up,” and the enemy could not rise. The enemy did not live to fight another day. But it was God who made David’s enemies turn tail and succumb, and enabled him to walk on the necks of his enemies now prostrate, both figuratively and literally according to ancient custom. They cried to their gods, but their gods were no good. Seeing that, they cried out to the Lord himself. But their cry was panic and not penitence, superstition and not repentance, and God did not hear. Before David they were like dust in the wind, and David tossed them into the landfill like the refuse of man and beast cleaned off the street.

Verses 43–45

You delivered me from strife with the people;
you made me the head of the nations;
people whom I had not known served me.

As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me;
foreigners came cringing to me.

Foreigners lost heart and came trembling out of their fortresses.

God delivered David first of all from his opponents within Israel, Saul and his supporters, Nabal, Abner and Ishbosheth and the northern tribes, Sheba, Absalom, to name a few. Then the Lord placed him in command of the nations round about. After many had been subdued, others at their discretion submitted to David, made treaties of peace with Israel, and paid tribute. They emerged from their strongholds, knowing that against David there was no refuge. I Chronicles 18 documents some of this history. David’s invincibility was the Lord’s way of proclaiming his name among the nations under the conditions of the times. The Lord God of Israel was the shield of all who trusted in him and the ruin of those who did not. He did indeed bless those who blessed his servant David and his servants, Israel, and did effectively curse those who cursed his beloved. The Lord delivered David (in the words of St. Paul on his own perils) from perils at the hand of his own countrymen, and from perils at the hand of the heathen. (2 Cor. 11:26).

Verses 46–50

The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation—

the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me,

who delivered me from my enemies;
yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me;
you rescued me from the man of violence.

For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing to your name.

Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
to David and his offspring forever.

This is more than acknowledging received doctrine, maintaining church dogma, or even reciting the creed. This is real life experience. The Lord has proved by his works that he is the living God. The Lord lives: this is David’s biography, and that of all the faithful. So David held God in highest honor, with the wish that all men do so as well. “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19). David was careful not to take matters into his own hands, though tempted for a moment in the case of Nabal. But the Lord is a jealous God, as fervent in rewarding unbelief as in rewarding faith, and he will repay. David carried out the vengeance of the Lord at the Lord’s command, not on his own initiative. He did not set out on a course of conquest in order to build an empire. And the Lord made David’s efforts successful, making the nations turn their backs and flee. It was all of God. Therefore David would praise the Lord among the nations as well as within Israel and
at its sanctuary. His dealings with the heathen and their rulers would be carried out in the name of the Lord.
His secretary of state would serve as prophet to the nations. If the sword of David was the law of God to the Gentiles, it was followed by the Gospel addressed to all people. This was also in anticipation of the New Testament, when the Israel of God includes the faithful from among the Gentiles together with the faithful of Israel. Thus St. Paul included this in quoting Old Testament passages foretelling the success of the Gospel among the Gentile nations: “in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name’” (Rom.15:9).

He would not merely speak the praises of God, he would sing. God gave great deliverance to his king, and showed favor to his anointed. This is his character and his style. “Forever,” he says, because he and his descendants on the throne were to Israel and to God the anticipation of the Son of David, the King who would reign everywhere and forever. David and his descendants otherwise were an interim arrangement “until Shiloh come” (Gen. 49:10 KJV).

All in all then, David honored the hand of God in the past, relied on the hand of God in the present, and anticipated the hand of God in the future.

(Unless indicated otherwise, Scripture quotations in the above are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)