David’s a singer; he’s always singing. It seems he understood that this was his proper response to God and what God had done for him; David knows the Lord is worthy of praise. So he sings.
If you’ve read David’s story in 1-2 Samuel, you understand how much the Lord had done for him and how the Lord had been with him—calling him, anointing him, protecting him, working through him, keeping him, confronting him, disciplining him, and, not least of all, promising to keep someone on his throne forever.
So David sings.
Psalm 18 is almost identical to a song David sang in 2 Samuel 22. There in 2 Samuel, David is expressing personal gratitude to the Lord for all He has done; let’s move quickly through the details of David’s life:
David tends his father’s flock.
Samuel comes to Jesse’s house and anoints David as king.
David kills Goliath.
Saul fears David and wants to kill David.
David runs for his life.
David spares Saul’s life not once, but twice.
Saul dies, taking his own life.
David becomes king at Hebron.
David then becomes king over all Israel and conquers Jerusalem.
The palace is built.
David’s kingdom is established.
God makes a covenant with David, promising descendants on his throne forever.
David sins with Bathsheba.
Absalom, David’s son, kills Amnon, David’s son, and then runs away.
After 3 years, Absalom returns to Jerusalem, wins the hearts of the people, steals his father’s throne, and becomes king in Hebron.
David flees to Jerusalem.
Absalom dies. Sheba rebels against David.
And then at this point, nearing the end of his life, David sings this song to the Lord; the song he sang (recorded in 2 Samuel 22) is the song that makes up Psalm 18. Notice the intro at each point before the song begins:
1 David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.
For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord. He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said:
The Lord brought David through many dangers, toils, and snares. David expresses gratitude to the Lord, and rightly so.
Since this song was published again in the Book of Psalms, this is not merely David’s song. It is his song (almost word-for-word), but the context is different.
Psalm 18 is an adaptation of David’s song; it’s adapted for the whole assembly of God’s people to sing. The collection of psalms—the Psalter—is for all God’s people. It’s our songbook, our prayerbook, our worship guide.
When God’s people sing this psalm, they are to give thanks to the Lord for all that he has done for them. They are to thank Him, specifically, for His covenant promises; promises made and promises kept.
And so, like David, God’s people sing.
Here’s David, the king of Israel—important, powerful—and now, toward the end of his life, we find him singing this song to the Lord:
1 I love you, Lord, my strength. 2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3 I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.
David praises the Lord and leads God’s people to praise the Lord with:
A Deep Love
A Deep Love
The word for “love” in v. 1 is an unusual word to use; it’s an uncommon one. It’s impulsive and emotional. David bursts forth with praise. He erupts with worship. He can’t help but sing: “I love you, Lord...”
This word means “to love deeply, to love with tender affection.”
Using this word doesn’t make sense unless you understand David’s particular situation; he’s just been delivered from the hand of his enemies, from the hand of Saul.
Getting free of Saul takes up almost half of the book of 1 Samuel (chapters 18-31). It’s a pretty good read for us since we’re separated from all of it and none of it is happening to us. But for David, it’s a little different story. David is hated, hunted, haunted by Saul on every page, page after page after page.
It’s actually a pretty painful read. If you’re up to it, give it a go. It’s a good summer read, First and Second Samuel. Read it and you’ll start to wonder when it’ll get any better for ol’ Dave. David has enemies besides Saul, foreign enemies and domestic ones.
Understanding what David’s up against helps us to understand the feeling of verses 1-3.
Remember the woman who was washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, pouring her expensive perfume on them? The lesson there was the one who is forgiven much loves much.
Likewise, the one who has been delivered much loves much; the one who has been delivered over and over is much more apt to sing a love song to the Savior than the one who feels they have been delivered little.
There were many, many times where David’s enemies nearly sunk his battleship, and they would have, had not the Lord protected him and kept him and held him fast. Deliverance—repeated, undeserved deliverance—deliverance experienced will caused the one delivered to well-up in exuberant praise and overflowing love.
And so it is: David praises with a deep and deeply affectionate love.
I’ve heard for years in church ministry strategy that we need to gear things more to manly men. Stop talking about all this lovey-dovey stuff, stop singing gushy ballads to the Lord; that just makes men uncomfortable.
You know what I think? I think David is as tough as they come. He’s a warrior, mighty and tested. He took down Goliath with a river stone and a sling, and then he chopped off the giant’s head with a sword (and all this when he was a young man). He’s not someone you’d want to meet in a dark alley; brother knows how to take care of himself. David fought on several fronts (and often), leading military campaigns, he led a nation, and, guess what?
He sang, unashamed:
“I love you, Lord and I lift my voice to worship You, oh, my soul, rejoice! Take joy, my King in what you hear; may it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.”
People with a clear understanding of their deliverance praise God with a deep, deep love.
David gushes over God, calling Him “my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my rock, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
In his love song, David piles up a few handfuls of names for the Lord, almost as if he wants people to know: “The Lord Yahweh is all that to me and more besides.”
A good way to get the force of this is to highlight the conjunctions. The Lord is “my strength and my rock and my fortress and my deliverer and my rock (again) and my shield and the horn of my salvation and my stronghold.”
These verses illustrate that the Lord always proves to be more than we think Him to be. And there’s always another “and” that can be added to the Lord’s list of names and characteristics.
Who is the Lord? In a word? Shout it out!
(Savior and Redeemer and Rescuer and Creator and Sustainer and Comfort and Peace and Hope and Joy....)
Isn’t this always how it is? The Lord is always more than He seems at first, and more than you can possibly express.
It makes sense, doesn’t it, when we think about it like David, why David begins with such an unashamed, undignified, unusual opening: “I love you, Lord.”
It makes perfect sense, David begins with deep love.
David praises with deep love and a high view of God (try to visualize this description):
7 The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. 8 Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. 9 He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. 10 He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. 11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him— the dark rain clouds of the sky. 12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. 13 The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. 14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them. 15 The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils. 16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. 18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. 19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
A High View
A High View
It’s a pretty startling picture of God, isn’t it? It’s not something we’re accustomed to; we tend to think of God as more docile, that deity that won’t mess with us or bother us if we don’t want Him to. He’ll just knock real softly on the screen door; He would dare ring the doorbell so as not to disturb anyone or wake anyone from their nap. He’s real timid and respectful of your space, this “god”. God’s more tiny, declawed kitten than He is roaring lion.
The unforgettable scene from the Narnian saga where Susan and Mr. Beaver are discussing what Aslan (the Christ-figure) is like comes to mind:
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion."
"Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion...”
"Safe?" said Mr Beaver, "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
Psalm 18 gives a similar picture. The Lord Yahweh most certainly is not safe. He’s not domesticated and friendly. He’s so powerful, David can’t quite describe Him. David’s grasping at words, reaching for descriptors, pulling the thesaurus off the shelf for synonyms.
David’s trying to get at a description of God’s intervention. Theologians would call this a “theophany”, an appearance of God. It’s obviously poetic language—good for singing and good for imagining.
In 1 Samuel, David tells his friend Jonathan, “There is only a step between me and death.”
That’s prose. Here’s some poetry:
4 The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. 5 The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. 6 In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.
This is David’s situation, which is quite a bit more dramatic in Psalms, right? Like I said, good for singing, good for imagining. You can feel David’s distress, his deep need.
It’s this that causes David to pray, God hears, and David tries his best to describe how God acts.
So then, David’s description, his high view of God, is meant to make you feel. David could have said, “God heard me and did some stuff to save me.”
But David finds a way to sing about God’s great and matchless work in saving him—earthquakes, mountains trembling, smoke from nostrils and fire from His mouth, riding on the clouds, with hailstones and lightning, thunder and arrows, with an exhale through His nostrils, the seas dry up and the foundations of the earth are exposed.
That’s what it’s like when God steps in. He radically alters reality. The Creator moves His creation for His purpose and His peoples’ pleasure.
This is not mere poetry. Where the Lord is concerned, the poetry is real. There’s no exaggerating His work; if anything, this doesn’t do it justice. There’s no exaggerating what the Lord can do. The poetry really happened, and then some.
The Exodus God—the One who rescued His people with powerful demonstrations of power (with breath that parts the Red Sea; with thunder, lightning, cloud, smoke, fire, hail; with Mt. Sinai shaking in its boots)—the Exodus God is at it again, this time in David’s life and in ours.
David is remembering the Lord’s great work for His people. David’s remembering the Exodus God and declaring that the Exodus God has also come and has rescued him—in typical form.
The same God who rescued His people rescued us in dramatic fashion. The Bible doesn’t stop at saying, “God saved us through the death of Jesus.” Rather, it says of Jesus:
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
We need to adopt a high view of God, and express what He has done and who He truly is.
Some of you will remember this commercial from the ‘80s. It’s seared on my memory, I fear forever: [Play Video]
I think this is the conception that some have of God— “My buddy, my buddy, wherever I go, you go. My buddy, my buddy, my buddy and me!”
God is not, primarily, our friend. He’s not our pal. He’s not some Genie/Santa Claus hybrid.
What He is is the omnipotent, all-powerful, Lord Almighty, the maker of heaven and of earth, the One who stretches out the heavens and lays the foundation of the earth and forms the human spirit within a person (Zechariah 12:1) and keeps all things in ordered existence; the One who has conquered Satan and crushed death to death, the One who will return to set the world at rights, judging the quick and the dead.
That’s who He is. And He’s who we need.
When David was hard-pressed on every side, he didn’t need a buddy, a friend. He needed the ineffable God, the God who is too great to put into words. He needed the One who rides on the clouds and soars on the wings of the wind.
As the late, great Rich Mullins put it, no doubt borrowing some lyrics from David: “There’s thunder in His footsteps and lightning in His fists, our God is an awesome God.”
I can’t speak for you, but when I’m up against it, when I’m perplexed and crushed, when I feel abandoned, when life is too much, when cancer robbed me of my Dad, when pregnancy ends in miscarriage, when friends die, when we suffer, when we struggle, when life is just too much, when darkness seems to overtake, I don’t need “My Buddy god”; I need the God who can actually do something, the One who can lay-bare the foundations of the earth with the blast of breath from His nostrils, I need the God who will reach down and pluck me from the deep waters and rescue me. I need the Lord who is my support.
16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. 18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. 19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
>The prayer of this psalm is that our praise would characterized by deep love and affection for God as well as high and exalted view of Him.
Here’s the thing: our love for God, no matter how grand, will never match His love for us. And that realization should motivate us all the more to express our love and give our praise to Him who loves us.
We need an exalted view of God; we can’t think too highly of Him. And, though this high view of God is a little shocking to us, this picture of God is accurate. This picture, this high view of God is really good news…and really bad news.
Really good news for God’s people and really bad news for God’s enemies.
These two—a deep love and high view—work together and play off one another. A deep love for God will lead to a high view of God. And a high view of God will lead to a deep love.
And all of this will lead to praise, deep and high.