Morning Pages: Psalm 18
The most important part of any song is the melody. Psalm 18 is like David's life's soundtrack, and Yahweh is the clear melody. Throughout all fifty verses, David uses vivid imagery to describe both who God is and how he has acted on David's behalf, resulting in a personal and powerful psalm of praise.
Vs.1 “I love you, O LORD, my strength."
“I love you, O LORD, my strength.” This first verse isn't packed with powerful imagery or prose. It's just seven simple words. But they speak volumes of David's love for and dependence on the Lord.
I've co-opted a few prayers from the Bible over the years. The one from the grieved father who exclaimed, "I do believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:12-29). The one from the blind man who cried out, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me" (Luke 18:35-43). And Mary's, "May it be to me according to your will" (Luke 1:38). The prayers of these faithful men and women have shaped the prayers of my own heart. And perhaps, I should also make these seven simple words of adoration and devotion to the Lord mine.
While David's psalm starts with a tender, intimate declaration, its intensity builds throughout the following 49 verses,
Vs. 2-3 "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.”
In verses 1& 2 alone, David uses eight different terms to describe who God is for him:
David's language is personal and possessive. David rightly understands that he belongs to the Lord, but he also lays claim to the Lord as his own symbolizing the unique relationship David has with the Lord. It's like me saying "my husband" or "my sister." The word "my" indicates a unique relationship between two people, unlike any other relationship.
And his language is also powerful. His terms, loaded with military imagery, convey David's dependence on Yahweh as his strength and defense. And in the following verses, we learn about the dire nature of his circumstances,
Vs. 4-6 “The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. 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.”
David's life hangs in the balance. Threats surrounded and overwhelmed him, and death seemed imminent and inevitable. But he knew where to turn in times of trouble and need. This is, again, very personal, possessive, and intimate. Once again, David calls the Lord “my God,” And though this God was in his holy temple, he HEARD David’s voice, and David’s cry reached his ears. This is a God who is not far off but near. The Lord knows his children. He hears their voices and knows their cries.
But the Lord doesn't just hear David; he responds. And his response makes the whole earth tremble,
Vs. 7-15 "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."
The imagery David uses is not only visceral; it's also awe-inspiring! Read through these slowly and let them capture your imagination.
—the earth reeled and rocked
—foundations of the mountains trembled and quaked
—smoke came out of his nostrils
—fire came out of his mouth
—glowing coals flowed from him
—he rode on cherubs and the wings of the wind
—hailstones and coals of fire rained down
—he thundered in the heavens
—he flashed and routed lightning
—the sea was rolled back
—the foundations of the world were laid bare
David writes of powerful forces of nature that are beyond human ability to tame or control: wind, fire, mountains, lightning, and the sea. We may be able to tap into their power, but we can never fully contain them. And yet, the Lord rides on the wings of the wind and directs the lightning. And at the Lord's rebuke, the foundations of the world are laid bare, which illustrates the holiness, power, and majesty of the God we serve—a God who is rightly feared and worthy of praise but to whom we can also turn for help in times of need. Because while we may not be able to withstand our enemies or control our circumstances, nothing is beyond the grasp of our God.
David continues to recount the precarious circumstances he was in and the Lord's deliverance,
Vs. 16-19 “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.”
David was in a position of weakness and vulnerability. The chaotic waters of his enemies crashed around him, sure to drag him under. They were simply too mighty for him. But the Lord rescued him and brought him out into "a broad place"—illustrative of David's freedom from distress—where
David could breathe again, be free, spread out, and live without fear or dread.
Vs. 20-24 "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."
This section is challenging for me. In several of David's psalms, he asserts his own righteousness, blamelessness, and obedience before the Lord. But every time I get to one of these, I struggle. I know that I can't confess anything close to blamelessness before Yahweh in any situation. Even when someone has wounded me, I am always aware of my weaknesses and failings. And if God's posture toward me depends on my righteousness and blamelessness, I am doomed.
We know that David was not a sinless man. Nevertheless, David asserts his righteousness and blamelessness before the Lord. His conscience is clear. With this psalm thought to be written when God rescued David from Saul's hand, it is entirely possible that as it related to that situation, David had been faithful and trusted in the Lord for vindication and deliverance rather than taking matters into his own hands. And the Lord came to his aid.
It is also possible that this was a prophecy of Christ—the only one who could claim perfect obedience and righteousness. But it could also be a matter of "both/and"—David was faithful and blameless, and this was a prophecy of the greater David who was to come. Either way, it leaves me with some unresolved tension.
And that tension doesn't necessarily need to be resolved. Sometimes, I just need to surrender in faith to the mysteries of God and trust in the whole counsel of his word. I need to remember that I am not saved by my own righteousness or good works but by grace through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). And I was also created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10). What I do does not determine my standing before the Lord, but what I do does matter.
Vs. 25-30 With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man 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."
David makes many declarative statements about who God is and how he acts/interacts with humanity.
—merciful to the merciful
—blameless to the blameless
—pure to those who are pure
—saves the humble
—brings down the haughty
—illuminates the darkness
—brings strength, power and victory to David
This, too, is a challenging section because it seems David is saying God's actions toward humanity are conditional. This is again a case of the "both/and" of our faith. But David isn’t deterred by this. He is so confident of the Lord and his fairness and just dealings with humanity that he isn’t dismayed. In fact, in verse 30, he says, “THIS God—his way is perfect…."
David is not offended by the Lord, nor does he take issue with God's ways. Instead, because the word of the Lord proves true and he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him, David finds Yahweh ultimately worthy of all praise. All of which leads David to burst with praise,
Vs. 31-48 "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 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 till 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. 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. 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 rescued me from my enemies; yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me; you delivered me from the man of violence."
David launches into praise which starts with a rhetorical question:
“For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?”
Then he begins a recounting all the ways the Lord acted on his behalf in a rhythmic pattern of You statements:
This, too, is a case of both/and. David undoubtedly faced many battles but unequivocally knew where his victory came from. He knows he cannot take credit for any of it. Instead, he credits it all to God in a beautiful and honoring tribute to the Lord.
Which then leads him into another eruption of praise in verses 49-50:
Vs. 49-50 “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.”
David says, in essence, "in light of everything I've said in the previous 48 verses, I will praise you!"
It is a beautiful psalm of praise, recording the power and majesty of the Lord and recounting his excellent ways.
David rightly sees Yahweh as high, holy, and entirely other—but also as near, personal, and intimate. Yahweh is everything to David—holy, mighty, and fearsome; the great love of his life; his protector; his deliverer; his strong foundation; his hope; his confidence; his joy; his rest; and his great reward.
And through this psalm, David invites us to let the Lord be ALL of that for us too.
But there's another important lesson for us to remember here. We've already read some of David's psalms of lament while he was amid harrowing circumstances and enemy attacks. And his words then were cries of "How long, O LORD?" and "Awake!" This psalm was written after God delivered David from Saul's hands. So David's praise in this psalm is in retrospect. He's looking back at God's faithfulness and deliverance.
It's hard to see a way out or the road ahead when the circumstances of life close in on you. And so, in those moments, reminding ourselves of God's past faithfulness is vital to fueling, strengthening, and sustaining our faith. It's what author Christine Hoover calls trusting God backward. And there's perhaps no better view than gazing backward at the cross of Christ. So whether you are looking backward at God's rescue or looking forward at the looming circumstances facing you, may you be steadied, upheld, and encouraged by the saving power of our God, knowing that if God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things (Romans 8:32)?
Until next week.
Psalm 18, by Poor Bishop Hooper