Sure Reliance on God
What can people be sure of? What insures that certitude?
This royal psalm can be traced back to the era of the First Temple (known as “Solomon’s Temple”) before the Babylonian exile. The psalm praised YHWH for his appearance and activity in the life of the king, and, by extension, in the life of the nation.
For the Chief Musician. By David the servant of YHWH, who spoke to YHWH the words of this song in the day that YHWH delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said,
1 I love you, YHWH, my strength.
2 YHWH is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer;
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge;
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower.
3 I call on YHWH, who is worthy to be praised;
and I am saved from my enemies.
4 The cords of death surrounded me.
The floods of ungodliness made me afraid.
5 The cords of Sheol were around me.
The snares of death came on me.
6 In my distress I called on YHWH,
and cried to my God.
He heard my voice out of his temple.
My cry before him came into his ears.
7 Then the earth shook and trembled.
The foundations also of the mountains quaked and were shaken,
because he was angry.
8 Smoke went out of his nostrils.
Consuming fire came out of his mouth.
Coals were kindled by it.
9 He bowed the heavens also, and came down.
Thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub, and flew.
Yes, he soared on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his hiding place, his pavilion around him,
darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.
12 At the brightness before him his thick clouds passed,
hailstones and coals of fire.
13 YHWH also thundered in the sky.
The Most High uttered his voice:
hailstones and coals of fire.
14 He sent out his arrows, and scattered them;
Yes, great lightning bolts, and routed them.
15 Then the channels of waters appeared.
The foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, YHWH,
at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
16 He sent from on high.
He took me.
He drew me out of many waters.
17 He delivered me from my strong enemy,
from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me.
18 They came on me in the day of my calamity,
but YHWH was my support.
19 He brought me forth also into a large place.
He delivered me, because he delighted in me.
20 YHWH has rewarded me according to my righteousness.
According to the cleanness of my hands has he recompensed me.
World English Bible
After a brief comment about the authorship, 18:1-3 stated the reason for the psalm in a doxology. The praise of God as rock, savior, strength, etc. set the stage for the victim’s outcry (18:4-7a) for the theophany (7b-16). This divine appearance rivaled creation itself. More than the classic descriptions of divine activity (earthquakes, ominous clouds with lightning and thunder, downpours), this theophany laid bare the structure of creation. With the outcry (18:4-7a) and the rescue (18:17-20) acting as book ends, the full power of God was made manifest in the answer of a prayer. YHWH would tear creation apart to save the king from his enemies (who were evil painted larger than life). Why would the Creator violate his creation for the king (and the people)? Simply put, he made a covenant with them; that covenant was based on his love (18:20).
21 For I have kept the ways of YHWH,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all his ordinances were before me.
I didn’t put away his statutes from me.
23 I was also blameless with him.
I kept myself from my iniquity.
24 Therefore YHWH has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.
25 With the merciful you will show yourself merciful.
With the perfect man, you will show yourself perfect.
26 With the pure, you will show yourself pure.
With the crooked you will show yourself shrewd.
27 For you will save the afflicted people,
but the haughty eyes you will bring down.
28 For you will light my lamp, YHWH.
My God will light up my darkness.
29 For by you, I advance through a troop.
By my God, I leap over a wall.
30 As for God, his way is perfect.
The word of YHWH is tried.
He is a shield to all those who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God, except YHWH?
Who is a rock, besides our God.
32 the God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect?
18:21-32 revealed a belief common in the monarchy and the people that was absent during and after the Exile; the psalm declared the king was a faithful and just ruler. The king in the psalm declared himself “clean” (“kosher”) in his practice of the Law, and prided himself in enforcing the kosher laws on the nation. He was faithful and led a faithful nation. Certitude was rooted in divine intervention and direction; the faithful God could be trusted to lead the king in ways sure.
33 He makes my feet like deer’s feet,
and sets me on my high places.
34 He teaches my hands to war,
so that my arms bend a bow of bronze.
35 You have also given me the shield of your salvation.
Your right hand sustains me.
Your gentleness has made me great.
36 You have enlarged my steps under me,
My feet have not slipped.
37 I will pursue my enemies, and overtake them.
Neither will I turn again until they are consumed.
38 I will strike them through, so that they will not be able to rise.
They shall fall under my feet.
39 For you have armed me with strength to the battle.
You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
40 You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me,
that I might cut off those who hate me.
41 They cried, but there was none to save;
even to YHWH, but he didn’t answer them.
42 Then I beat them small as the dust before the wind.
I cast them out as the mire of the streets.
43 You have delivered me from the strivings of the people.
You have made me the head of the nations.
A people whom I have not known shall serve me.
44 As soon as they hear of me they shall obey me.
The foreigners shall submit themselves to me.
45 The foreigners shall fade away,
and shall come trembling out of their close places.
46 YHWH lives; and blessed be my rock.
Exalted be the God of my salvation.
18:33-46 continued in the theme of certitude, but applied it to warfare. With the Lord, the king would reign victorious over his enemies and even extend the kingdom into an empire (he would be the head over nations). While the king saw himself as a conqueror, the focus of the song is on the direction and assistance of YHWH.
47 This is the God who executes vengeance for me,
and subdues peoples under me.
48 He rescues me from my enemies.
Yes, you lift me up above those who rise up against me.
You deliver me from the violent man.
49 Therefore I will give thanks to you, YHWH, among the nations,
and will sing praises to your name.
50 He gives great deliverance to his king,
and shows loving kindness to his anointed,
to David and to his seed, forevermore.
18:47-51 recounts the doxology from 18:1-3. The Rock, the Savior has rescued the king and the nation from their enemies. So, the king (and the people) would praise YHWH above all other gods, for he has shown his kindness.
God is with his people, but we should not presume our will is God’s. We can rely on his help to move heaven and earth to show his love to us. His love and his ways might be mysterious, however. There is one thing that is certain. God will bring us to him in the end.
How does God’s action in your life give you comfort? How can you rely on his love?