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Psalm 18: God, our defence and strength

Psalm series

Psalm 18: God, our defence and strength
Posted on August 23, 2020  - By Dr. David Brooks

God works to protect us in different ways. Psalm 18 shows that, sometimes, He delivers us without us doing anything at all. Yet, at other times, He may strengthen us to defend ourselves. This experience of David, who authored this psalm, is an example of what God does for us.

Verses 1-3 summarise the song: 

1 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.

The Hebrew term for “love” is unusual to use for a human to God, because it is similar to the love of a mother for her child or a superior for an inferior. It may connote here not so much a covenant relationship — which will appear later in the psalm — but the sense of a warm, personal relationship. Despite God’s infinite superiority to humans, He desires such a relationship with us.

Despite God’s infinite superiority to humans, He desires such a relationship with us

God strengthened the psalmist in various ways. He was a rock, as a rock cliff (Hebrew sela‘), on which David stood out of the enemy’s reach. David did not have to do anything for protection, just remain on the rock. Or, God intervened to enable him to escape. But other times, God strengthened him to fight victoriously. So, the writer would continue to call on the Lord who was worthy of his praise.

The salvation of the Lord

Following the initial summary, in vv. 4-5, David described the types of dangers in which God had acted for him: “The cords of death… of Sheol… snares of death”. Had God not acted, David would have died. Therefore, in keeping with v. 3, in v. 6, he “will keep calling on the Lord” and God “will hear/will be hearing”. 

As a result of God hearing, vv. 7-16 describe His intervention in terms of overwhelming force: “The earth reeled and rocked; the foundations… of the mountains trembled… smoke went up… devouring fire… He bowed the heavens… He made darkness His covering… hailstones and coals of fire… the Lord thundered… lightnings… the channels of the sea were seen… the foundations of the world were laid bare.” 

The descriptions are reminiscent of God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, drying the Red Sea, arriving at Mt. Sinai, and sending a destructive hailstorm to fight for Joshua and his Israelite army. David compared what God had done for the nation to what He had done for him personally. What God has done in the past to rescue Israel and His people as a large group, He will also do for us individually, even if it does not always appear as spectacular to observers.

What God has done in the past to rescue Israel, He will also do for us individually, even if it does not always appear as spectacular to observers

In vv. 17-19, the psalmist recounts more specifically what the Lord did for him: “Rescued me from my strong enemy… for they were too strong for me… they confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support… He rescued me.” David faced an overwhelming force at a time when he was already in a calamity, but the Lord delivered him anyway. In v. 6, he had been in distress, a word connoting a “tight spot” (Hebrew, sar/tsar) in which he was caught, had no choices, and from which he could not escape. In v. 19, God placed him in a “broad place”, with freedom.

Taking the covenant seriously

In vv. 20-24, David might seem self-righteous: “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness… the cleanness of my hands… I have kept the ways of the Lord… His statutes I did not put away from me… I was blameless… in His sight.” As Derek Kidner points out in his commentary Psalm 1-72 — and he was not the first — behind these assertions is the covenant God made with Israel. David was in the Mosaic covenant relationship with God, along with all Israel. God made promises and expected loyalty in David’s relationships with Him and the other Israelites. David took this loyalty seriously (with a major exception in his adulterous affair). As God promised in the Mosaic covenant, he rewarded loyalty.

In vv. 25-27, the writer relates some ways God responds to people loyal to the relationship: “with the merciful You show Yourself merciful, with the blameless man You show Yourself blameless, with the purified You show Yourself pure.” The merciful one (Hebrew, hasid) is kind, but there is also the attitude of faithfulness to a covenant (Hebrew, hesed) relationship. The blameless person’s conduct agrees with his or her loyalty to the relationship with the Lord in thoughts, words, and beliefs. But those who are deceitful (v. 26b), God puts them in situations where they are deceived. Kidner cites trickster Jacob’s troubles with the even more deceptive Laban as an example. Verse 27 summarises God’s response to both types of people.

Psalm 18:28-42 shows Yahweh delivers not only by obvious supernatural or unexpected intervention, but also by empowering a person to defend himself. David says, “By You I can run against a troop… leap over a wall… God equipped me with strength… made my feet like the feet of a deer… trains my hands for war… I pursued my enemies and overtook them… thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise… beat them as fine as dust… cast them out like the mire of the streets.”

Although these were David’s accomplishments, he attributed them to God, “It is You… for by You… by my God… He is a shield… who is a rock, except our God… God who equipped me with strength… He made… He trains… You have given me… Your right hand… You gave.” God can deliver in various ways. Sometimes, He does it all Himself; other times, we do the work empowered by God.

God can deliver in various ways. Sometimes, He does it all Himself; other times, we do the work empowered by God

Looking to His anointed

In vv. 43-48, David describes God’s deliverance in terms that applied specifically to him, but also point beyond him: “You made me the head of the nations, people whom I had not known served me… foreigners came cringing to me… God… subdued peoples under me.” David conquered his enemies from the surrounding nations (cf. 2 Samuel 8), but other psalms — such as Psalms 2, 72 and 132 — show that he would have a descendant who would rule the nations (cf. Isaiah 2:2-4; 66:18; Amos 9:12; Micah 4:1-3; Habakkuk 2:20; Zephaniah 3:8-9; Haggai 2:21-23; Zechariah 9:10; 14:9, 16-17). Jesus Christ of Nazareth, a descendant of David, received this authority (Matthew 28:18) by virtue of His death and resurrection for sinners (Philippians 2:6-11).

Psalm 18 is a song of thanksgiving and, in the last two verses, David breaks out into praise. From early in his life, he wanted other people, besides Israel, to receive a witness about the Lord (cf. 1 Samuel 17:46). Now, he hopes to praise the Lord among the nations he rules: “I will praise You, O Lord, among (literally, in or with) the nations” (v. 49). When they learn of how the Lord delivered David, they will turn to the Lord and praise Him — and find the Lord rescues and strengthens them too. 

David expects that Yahweh will continue His faithful love because of the Davidic covenant Yahweh established, not only throughout David’s life, but throughout the following generations of his family: “He… shows steadfast love to… David and his offspring forever” (v. 50). God had made a covenant with David that included blessings for his royal offspring forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16), and David was certain God would keep His word.

David also mentioned “His anointed”. This could refer to any of his royal offspring, but even before David was born, Hannah recognised God would have an anointed one who would rule the world (1 Samuel 2:10). Since David had the promise that he or one of his offspring would ask to rule the world and God would make it happen, he most likely was referring to that person. As stated above, that anointed one is Jesus of Nazareth, appropriately called “Messiah” and “Christ” (both terms mean “anointed”).

God offers a covenant relationship to us through this Messiah Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Luke 22:20). We may also rely on His continual love and kindness and help to deliver. And like David’s family had a right to rule, so Christ’s loyal ones will also have the right to rule with Him in His coming kingdom (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12; Daniel 7:18, 22, 27).

Dr. David Brooks

About Dr. David Brooks

David Brooks is a senior professor of Hebrew & Old Testament at Criswell College, Dallas, where he lives with his wife and four children. Having been raised with an emphasis on international missions, he often accepts international teaching assignments while also teaching adjunctively at Dallas Theological Seminary.



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