Turn to Psalm 18.
Psalm 18 Commentary: Genre
Throughout our series in the Psalms, we’ve often been reminded of the fact that a majority of the psalms are in the lament genre. And we all know now that lament psalms are known for their depiction of the psalmist’s enemies – how truly evil they are, what a serious threat they pose to David and/or God, and why God needs to both deliver the psalmist from them and to do this by judging those enemies.
And so I think in Psalm 18 today that we see David’s response to God answering that prayer of his – for deliverance from his enemies. David in so many of the psalms is asking for deliverance. In Psalm 18, he gets it and as a result he praises the Lord for that deliverance.
And that’s the kind of psalm this is. This psalm is a praise psalm – as opposed to a lament psalm or a meditative psalm. And I’d also point out before we get into the text that this psalm is the longest we’ve dealt with thus far at a whopping 50 verses!
Psalm 18 Commentary: Big Idea
So,let me give you the big idea of Psalm 18 and then we’ll look at the text. If I were to summarize this psalm, I’d say that what you see in this psalm is something like this: Praise to the God who Delivers from All Enemies. That’s what David is engaged in and I hope it’s what we really feel and wholeheartedly engage in as we’re studying Psalm 18.
So, let’s start reading Psalm 18. And we’re going to read section by section and make some observations after each section. So, let’s read.
Psalm 18 Commentary: Superscription
Here’s the superscription of this psalm. And it helpfully tells us the circumstances under which this psalm was penned by David.
<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,>
I’ll just add that what’s interesting about this superscription and really the whole psalm is that you find almost the exact same wording of all 50 verses somewhere else in the Bible. Do you have a note to that effect in your Bible? You find the text of this psalm almost completely reproduced in 2 Samuel 22. There are a few differences in wording, but they’re very minor. Now 2 Samuel 22 is one of the last chapters in the books of Samuel in our Old Testament. It’s one of those chapters that the author of those books just put at the end it seems, out of chronological order from the rest of the book’s narrative. And if I had to guess, I’d say that 2 Samuel 22 was written before this psalm and then later placed in the psalter with a few minor edits when the book of Psalms was being written and compiled.
OK, let’s move on then.
Psalm 18 1 3 Commentary: Call to Praise
Now, in verses 1-3 we see David issuing: a Call to Praise because of God’s powerful deliverance from all David’s enemies.
I will love thee, O LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock,
and my fortress,
and my deliverer;
my strength, in whom I will trust;
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 mine enemies.
You know, we could go through each statement of David’s regarding what the Lord is to him in this first section. And usually we would do just that – explain and discuss what each word and phrase and section means to get a fuller understanding of what David is saying. But when you’re trying to cover 50 verses in 45 minutes that’s just not possible. And really in this case I don’t think you need to do that. The very way that David wrote this call to praise in the first 3 verses does a very good job of explaining how David is feeling about the Lord. He loves him. Why? Well, one reason – he’s strong to deliver. Right? My strength. My rock. My fortress. My deliverer. My God. My strength. My shield. The power or horn of my salvation – the powerful deliverer. My high protecting tower to which I may flee. David is overwhelmed by God’s strength and power to deliver him from his enemies – all of them!
And that’s what he says in verse 3 – he calls on this strong God and is confident that God will save him from his enemies. And because of that, God is worthy to be praised as we have it there.
Psalm 18 Commentary: Need for Deliverance
Next in verses 4-6 David describes the situation that necessitated the kind of deliverance that only this powerful God could provide.
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.
I’ll point out that the word “sorrows” in verses 4 and 5 speak of “territory” or a “boundary”. So, David is painting a picture of being subsumed within the boundaries of death and hell – or the grave. As if death were a country that was extending its territory to include David. That’s the idea. David felt as if he would die.
And why did it feel like death was going to swallow David up? It’s because of the “ungodly men” in verse 4 and the “snares of death” or the deadly traps of these ungodly men in verse 5. These are the deadly enemies that David needed God to deliver him from.
But David doesn’t leave it there. He took action in verse 6. He called upon the Lord. And wonderfully God heard him. And God’s response is pretty amazing.
Psalm 18 Commentary: A Storm
We see that response is verses 7-15 where God’s deliverance is pictured as a storm that’s forcefully moving in. And this is no ordinary storm. When is the last time you saw a storm start attacking your enemies? But that’s exactly how David pictures the storm that is God’s response to David’s enemies. Let’s read.
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,
hail stones 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.
Now, we all know that there are some pretty amazing events recorded in the Old Testament. The creation of everything by God in 6 days – the flood – Joshua’s battle when the sun stood still. But I don’t recall an event recorded that matches what we read in verses 7 through 15. And in particular, I know that smoke has never literally gone up out of God’s nostrils as we have it in verse 8. Fire has never literally gone out of God’s mouth. God the Father is without a body. He’s a spirit. He doesn’t have a mouth or nostrils.
So, what am I getting at? I’m asserting that this event never literally physically happened. Well, then, why is it in our psalm? Because David the poet wanted to express God’s awesome power in delivering him. Now, in reality, this deliverance from all his enemies was providential. It just happened – with God’s leading, of course. That’s basically what providence is – God’s silent invisible leading. And yet, David rightly thinks this deliverance was a big deal! And so, he uses poetic language to describe how God delivered him from all his enemies. It was powerful. It was forceful. It was definite.
So, let’s just meditate on a few details of this description of God’s deliverance. Notice that God was angry. The fact that enemies attack and oppress his people doesn’t leave God unaffected. No. He’s angry about it. That’s the meaning of the earth shaking and the fire and smoke coming out of different places on God’s metaphorical face and lighting coals. So, yes, God is affected by our misery and suffering – especially at the hands of oppressors. And that’s one thing that David wants to portray by this poetic depiction of God – that God gets angry when their enemies attack.
Another thing David wants to get across to us is God’s awesome majesty in this whole process of delivering David from his enemies. God is pictured as bowing the heavens – of taking the sky and bending it under his immensity. He has darkness under his feet. He’s pictured as riding a cherub – an angel – not one of those pudgy little kids with wings – a powerful angel. He’s riding on the wind – swift – powerful – awesome. He’s surrounded by darkness and yet he has light before him. All of this should remind us of the awesome power of a storm – wind, darkness, and yet light.
Wait – darkness… and yet light? In a storm? How does that happen? Verses 13 and 14. Thunder and lightning – that’s the source of light in a storm. And the thunder is pictured as being God’s awesome fearful voice. The lightning – the thing lighting up the sky – is pictured as God’s weapons. He shoots out his lightning and scatters the enemies of his people. He utters his voice and terrifies those enemies. He rebukes and simply breathes out of his nostrils and it’s as if both water and earth are just peeled back and the foundations of these things are exposed.
This is the awesome majestic power of our God. He’s mighty. He’s provoked to anger when his people are oppressed. And he can do something about it. And even when he works in merely providential ways – like he absolutely did in David’s case – right? – David was not delivered from Saul miraculously. It was providential. And yet even when God works in providential, behind-the-scenes sorts of ways – it’s awesome. He truly is mighty – just as mighty and fearful as a loud, dark, bright, windy storm – even if he doesn’t literally physically manifest it that waybefore our eyes.
Now, this picture of a storm is meant to describe how God appears to deal with David’s enemies. And the effect should be terror on their part. But there’s a side to God that only David will see in this process. Throughout the Bible – God’s judging the enemies of his people is never in isolation. That is, God doesn’t just judge his people’s enemies. The other side of that coin is that he delivers his people by judging their enemies.
Psalm 18 Commentary: God’s Deliverance
And that’s what we see David speak of next in verses 16-19 – God’s deliverance for David. Let’s read.
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.
God is pictured as rescuing David from many mighty waters. Now, I don’t know if those waters are the metaphorical result of the storm and resulting flooding that happened from our previous section where God is pictured as coming in a storm or not. But I do know that verse 16 pictures God as involved in a rescue operation. It’s as if God is the coast guard, flying a helicopter over David who’s stranded in a flood – indeed, who’s actually drowning in that flood. But God doesn’t need a helicopter like a mere mortal rescue worker would need one. God just swoops down and plucks David out of those mighty waters.
And a God who is so strong can deliver his people from the strongest of their oppressors. That’s verse 17. Those strong enemies in verse 18 “prevented” or “confronted” David in the day of his disaster – when David was experiencing hardships and sorrows. But the Lord was his “stay” or his “support”. The Lord propped him up and protected him.
And then David pictures himself in verse 19 as being brought out of a very narrow and restricted place out into a large, broad area where he has freedom to live and move. Freedom!
Psalm 18 Commentary: God’s Delight
And why did God deliver David? End of verse 19 – God delighted in David. And that blessed thought – that God delights in his people and delivers them for that reason – occupies David in verses 20-27. So, let’s read about the reason that God delivered David.
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 shew thyself merciful;
with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright;
26 With the pure thou wilt shew 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.
Verses 20 through 24 start and end with David declaring his own righteousness. Now, as always, I need to point out that David isn’t being a hypocrite here. He’s not claiming perfection. Neither is he claiming a self-righteousness based upon his keeping the Law. The Old and New Testament make clear that David had experienced the blessedness of having his sin forgiven by God by faith.
So, David isn’t boasting of self-righteousness. But he is boasting of the effects of the righteousness that God had imputed to him. Because that righteousness has consequences. It affects the one who has received it. In David’s case, he can confidently proclaim that he kept God’s ways and paid attention to his judgements. Yes, David expresses that he had iniquity in verse 23 – but he kept himself from it. And because of David’s righteousness – which was both imputed by God and then acted out by David – God delivered him because he delighted in David.
And that consideration leads David to ponder and declare God’s reaction to certain types of people in verses 25 and 26. The merciful, upright, and pure are shown those same exact qualities from God. But then there’s the froward or perverse or deceptive man. And God mirrors that man’s actions right back at him. For the crooked man – the enemies of God’s people – God will use crookedness to bring that man to his end. Let’s consider some examples.
In Saul’s case – God sent an evil spirit to torment him because Saul had been exalted over God’s people – and yet Saul had no interest in the Lord or in serving his people the way God wanted him to do it. Saul was crooked and God used crookedness – that evil spirit – to torment him.
Moving forward a few hundred years in Old Testament history – evil king Ahab was going out to fight what would be his last battle. And the prophet Micaiah warned him that God got together with all the host of heaven and contemplated how to destroy that wicked king. And he’s saying this to Ahab’s face, mind you. Micaiah relates that different ones had different ideas. But finally one came forward and volunteered to deceive Ahab through Ahab’s false prophets. The Lord said to that deceiving spirit – “Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.”
My point is that God will show himself crooked with those who are crooked. God is not himself morally crooked. He’s not deceitful. But our text here and other passages of Scripture tell us that God will sometimes use even deceit to undo the enemies of his people.
Psalm 18 Commentary: Strength to Defeat Enemies
Now, in verses 28-42 David is still highlighting God’s deliverance. He’s already done that through picturing God as a forceful frightening storm. But now David pictures it as God effecting that deliverance through the one delivered. So, God delivers his people, yes. But in this case now, we hear about God delivering his people by strengthening his people to defeat their enemies. Let’s read.
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 mine enemies, and overtaken them:
neither did I turn again till 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.
Notice all the military allusions here. Running through a troop with God’s help. Leaping over a wall. God being a buckler or shield to those who trust him. Being girded with strength. God teaching David’s hands to war. David bending a metal bow – which is an obvious metaphor. And it goes on and on. David is stating in poetic terms and images that God strengthened and continued to strengthen him against his enemies.
And here, too, David is not reporting literal physical truth. This is rather emotional truth – also known as hyperbole. Because – how was David delivered from Saul? Well, the Philistines killed Saul. Did David? No. Did David ever even battle Saul? No. David never even fought his own people. And we are talking about David’s people here. Verse 41 – to whom did David’s enemies cry? To the Lord. This sounds like fellow-Israelites. And so, I think that David again is being poetic and using images to portray God’s deliverance of him from all his enemies.
Psalm 18 Commentary: David Rules the Nations
And now, because God delivered David from all his enemies, David would rule over not only them – the nation of Israel – but also the nations surrounding them – whom God had given into the hands of Israel. That’s verses 43-45. The deliverance that God granted David extended beyond mere deliverance – to him now actually ruling and wielding authority over surrounding enemy nations. Let’s read.
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.
So, David has been given authority over the nations. Now, I think in the immediate context, this is talking about Israel’s power over surrounding enemy nations. And now, since Saul is gone and God had made David king – now, David has power over those nations as the king of Israel.
And those nations were afraid of David. They recognized that he had power over them. That’s why they’re pictured as cowering and coming trembling out of their fortresses.
Now, I think it’s also significant to remember that this will be true of Chist when he returns to rule from Jerusalem. Christ – the son of David and eternal Davidic king and king of heaven – he’ll rule over his enemies for 1,000 years.
Psalm 18 Commentary: Summary
OK, so in summary God delivered David from his enemies. David pictures that deliverance as if it were a powerful frightening storm rolling through. And that storm would perhaps even swallow up David in its mighty waters – but God rescued David. David also pictures God as strengthening him for battle against the enemies. So, that’s my summary of the psalm thus far. But David himself gives a summary in verses 46-48. This is a summary from David of God’s deliverance from all his enemies.
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.
Psalm 18 Commentary: Praise
And as with most praise psalms, David ends this one with a concluding resolution in verses 49 and 50. David gives a concluding resolution pledging praise for God’s deliverance from all his enemies.
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 sheweth mercy to his anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore.
Those nations that David is ruling over now – among those folks will David praise God for his deliverance – his great deliverance that God gives to his king – King David – the new king, now that Saul has been taken out of the way.
And not only does God grant deliverance to David – he shows mercy to him and to his seed after him – forever. Which should direct our minds to the returning and eternal King of the Jews – Jesus Christ – whom we worship and today as we eagerly anticipate his imminent return.