Psalm 18
Benson Commentary
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 will love thee, O LORD, my strength.
Psalm 18:1-3. I will love thee — Hebrew, ארחמךְ, erchamecha, I will love thee most affectionately, and with my whole soul. I can make thee no better return for all thy favours than my love, which I pray thee to accept. By loving the Lord, however, here and elsewhere, we are not only to understand giving him the inward affection of the soul, but also all the proper outward expressions and testimonies of it, in praising, glorifying, and serving him. O Lord, my strength — From whom alone I have received all my strength, and success, and my establishment in the peaceable possession of the kingdom, and in whom alone I trust, as it follows. The Lord is my rock and my fortress — To which I flee for refuge, as the Israelites did to their rocks and strong holds; and as David himself did when driven into banishment by Saul, and forced to conceal himself in rocks and caverns, and to retreat for safety to steep hills and precipices rendered by nature almost inaccessible. See Jdg 6:2; 1 Samuel 13:6; 1 Samuel 23:19; 1 Samuel 23:25; 1 Samuel 24:2. My buckler — Or, shield, by whom I have been protected, amidst the dangers of those perilous wars in which I have been engaged, as the soldier is by the shield in his hand. The horn of my salvation — By which I have both defended myself and subdued my enemies: a metaphor taken from the horns of animals, which are their ornament and strength; by which they both protect themselves, and assault those who oppose or injure them. The horn is frequently put for strength and power, by the sacred writers, as Psalm 92:10; Amos 6:13, and elsewhere, as also for riches and dignity. The reader will observe that this verse contains a continued chain of metaphors, and is a sublime paraphrase on the first commandment, declaring that Jehovah, the God of Israel, alone, was the foundation of his confidence, and the author of his security and happiness: by whom he had been supported under his troubles, and delivered out of them; whose protection had secured him, and whose power had broken and scattered his enemies; by whose mercy and truth he was now set up on high above them all. I will call — Or, I did call, and was saved. For the future tense is commonly used for that which is past. And this seems best to agree with the whole context.

The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.
I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.
The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
Psalm 18:4-5. The sorrows of death compassed me — That is, dangerous and deadly troubles. Or, the bands, or cords, of death, as חבלי, cheblee, may be rendered, quæ hominem quasi fune arctissime constringunt, which binds a man most closely, as with a cord, whence the word is used concerning the pains of women in labour. And the floods of ungodly men — Literally, of Belial, as in the margin. Their great multitudes, strength, and violence, broke in upon me like an irresistible flood, carrying all before it, or like a torrent came down upon me as though they would have swept me away by their fury. “Nothing,” says Dr. Delaney, “can be a finer emblem of a host of men, in their several ranks, than the waves of the sea succeeding one another in their natural order.” And when we consider them pressing forward to the destruction of their adversaries, they may be very properly termed waves of death. The sorrows — Or, cords, of hell, or of death, compassed me about — Brought me to the brink of the grave; the snares of death prevented me — Deadly snares came upon me, and almost took hold on me, before I was aware of my danger.

The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.
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.
Psalm 18:6-7. He heard out of his temple — Either, 1st, Out of his sanctuary, where he was represented as dwelling between the cherubim, in the most holy place, and where he promised to hear and answer the prayers of his people, which were either made in or directed to it. Or, 2d, Out of his heavenly habitation, which is often called his temple. Then the earth shook and trembled — Then God appeared on my behalf in a miraculous and glorious manner, and to the great terror and confusion of all mine enemies, as though they had been surprised with an earthquake, in which the earth was shaken from its foundations, and all its rocks and mountains trembled. David proceeds, in this and the eight following verses, to describe, by the sublimest expressions, the awful manner in which Jehovah came to his assistance. The imagery employed, Dr. Horne thinks, is borrowed from mount Sinai, and those tremendous circumstances which attended the delivery of the law from thence. When a monarch is angry and prepares for war, the whole kingdom is instantly in commotion. Thus universal nature is here represented as feeling the effects of its great Sovereign’s displeasure, and all the visible elements appear disordered. The description must be allowed, by all skilful and impartial judges, to be truly noble and sublime, and in the genuine spirit of poetry. “The majesty of God, and the manner in which he is represented as coming to the aid of his favourite king, surrounded with all the powers of nature as his attendants and ministers, and arming heaven and earth to fight his battles and execute his vengeance, are described in the loftiest and most striking terms. The shaking of the earth, the trembling of the mountains and pillars of heaven; the smoke that ascended out of his nostrils; the flames of devouring fire that flashed from his mouth; the heavens bending down to convey him to the battle; his riding upon a cherub, and rapidly flying on the wings of a whirlwind; his concealing his majesty in the thick clouds of heaven; the bursting of the lightnings from the horrid darkness; the uttering his voice in peals of thunder; the storm of fiery hail; the melting of the heavens, and their dissolving into floods of tempestuous rains; the cleaving of the earth, and disclosing the bottom of the hills, and the subterraneous channels, or torrents of water, by the very breath of the nostrils of the Almighty; are all of them circumstances which create admiration, excite a kind of horror, and exceed every thing of this nature that is to be found in any of the remains of heathen antiquity. The grandest pieces thereof will be found, upon comparison, infinitely short of this description of the psalmist; throughout the whole of which God is represented as a mighty warrior, going forth to fight the battles of David, and highly incensed at the opposition his enemies made to his power and authority. When he descended to the engagement, the very heavens bowed down to render his descent more awful; his military tent was substantial darkness; the voice of his thunder was the warlike alarm which sounded to the battle; the chariot in which he rode were the thick clouds of heaven, conducted by cherubs, and carried on by the irresistible force and rapid wings of an impetuous tempest; and the darts and weapons he employed were thunder-bolts, lightnings, fiery hail, deluging rains, and stormy winds! No wonder that when God thus arose, all his enemies should be scattered, and those who hated him should flee before him! It does not appear, from any part of David’s history, that there ever was literally such a storm as is here described, which proved destructive to his enemies, and salutary to himself. There might, indeed, have been such a one, though there be no particular mention of it.” But it is more probable that the whole passage is to be understood figuratively, and that by these metaphorical and lofty expressions, and this sublime description, David only meant to set forth that storm of wrath and vengeance which God had poured upon his enemies and the glorious deliverance he had thereby wrought for him. See Dodd and Chandler.

Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.
There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.
Psalm 18:8. There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, &c. — Here “the further effects of God’s indignation are represented by those of fire, which is the most terrible of the created elements, burning and consuming all before it: scorching the ground, and causing the mountains to smoke. Under this appearance God descended on the top of Sinai; thus he visited the cities of the plain; and thus he is to come at the end of time.” — Horne. In the poetical figure of the smoke issuing from God’s nostrils, the psalmist is thought to allude to the well-known circumstance, that when the passion of anger becomes warm and violent in any man it is wont to discover itself by the heated, vehement breath which proceeds from his nose and mouth. The latter clause of the verse is better rendered, Fire out of his mouth devoured, coals burned from before, or around him.

He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet.
Psalm 18:9. He bowed the heavens — By producing thick and dark clouds, by which the heavens seemed to come down to the earth; and came down — Not by change of place, but by the manifestation of his presence and power on my behalf. In other words, he, as it were, made the heavens bend under him, when he descended to take vengeance on his and my enemies. And darkness was under his feet — The psalmist seems here to express the appearance of the Divine Majesty in a glorious cloud, descending from heaven, which, underneath, was substantially dark, but above bright, and shining with an amazing lustre; and which, by its gradual descent, would appear as if the heavens themselves were bending down and approaching toward the earth.

And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.
Psalm 18:10. He rode upon a cherub, and did fly — Or, upon the cherubim, upon the angels who are so called, (Genesis 3:24,) and who are also termed God’s chariots, (Psalm 68:17,) upon which he is said to sit and ride, which is not to be understood literally and grossly, but only figuratively, to denote God’s using the ministry of angels in raising such storms and tempests as are here described, whether they be interpreted literally or figuratively, and especially in effecting many of those great events which take place in the administration of his providence; and particularly such as manifest his immediate interposition in the extraordinary judgments by which he punishes sinful nations, or in the remarkable deliverances which he works out for his people. Yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind — As swiftly as the wind. He came to my rescue with all speed.

He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.
Psalm 18:11. He made darkness his secret place — Or, his hiding place: his covert, says Dr. Waterland; his tent, says Chandler. He covered himself with dark clouds. God is frequently represented as surrounded with clouds, in the sacred writings; this representation is peculiarly proper in this place, as thick, heavy clouds, deeply charged, and with lowering aspects, are always the forerunners and attendants of a tempest, and greatly heighten the horrors of the appearance; and the representation of them, as spreading around the Almighty for his pavilion and tent, is truly poetical and grand. And, as storms and tempests in the air are often instruments of the divine displeasure, they are therefore here selected with great propriety as figures of it; and God, who has the whole artillery of the aerial regions at his command, and holds the reins of whirlwinds in his hand, and directs their impetuous course through the world when and how he pleases, is here fifty represented as employing them against his enemies in the day of battle and war.

At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.
Psalm 18:12. At the brightness that was before him, &c. — Schultens, Waterland, and some others, translate this verse, At his lightning, his clouds swelled and burst out into hail-stones and balls of fire. The meaning is, that through the lightning his clouds fermented, that is, swelled, and, as it were, boiled over, being rarefied by the heat. In the former part of this description, the clouds are represented as condensed, heavy, and lowering, ready to burst out with all the fury of a tempest; and here, as beginning to disburden and discharge themselves, by the eruption of the lightning in fire, flames, and hail-stones mixed. The abrupt manner in which the burning coals and hail-stones are mentioned, points out the sudden and impetuous fall of them. The words rendered coals of fire here signify living, burning coals. Where the lightning fell it devoured all before it, and turned whatever it touched into burning embers. See Chandler and Dodd.

The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire.
Psalm 18:13-14. The Lord also thundered, &c. — The preceding verse mentioned the lightning with its effects; this gives us the report of the thunder, and the increasing storm of hail and fire that attended it. Yea, he sent out his arrows — Namely, lightnings, as it is expressed in the next clause; and scattered them — Namely, mine enemies, which is sufficiently understood from Psalm 18:3; Psalm 18:17, and from the whole context. Thus magnificently does the psalmist describe the discharge of the celestial artillery upon God’s enemies. Terrible was the execution of the divine vengeance upon them, “as when lightnings and thunders, hail-stones and balls of fire, making their way through the dark clouds which contain them, strike terror and dismay into the hearts of men. Such is the voice, and such are the arrows of the Lord Almighty, wherewith he discomfiteth all who oppose the execution of his counsels, and obstruct the salvation of his chosen. Every display and description of this sort, and indeed every thunder-storm which we behold, should remind us of that exhibition of power and vengeance which is hereafter to accompany the general resurrection.” — Horne.

Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.
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.
Psalm 18:15. Then the channels of waters were seen — This is a description of the effects of the earthquake, by which the earth was rent in sunder, and such clefts made in it that the subterraneous passages of the waters were discovered, as has frequently been the case in violent earthquakes, whole rivers of waters sometimes issuing from the clefts, and spouting up a great height into the air. The foundations of the world were discovered — That is, Such large and deep chasms, or apertures, were made by the violence of the shock that the lower parts of the earth were laid open to view, and made perfectly visible.

He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.
Psalm 18:16-18. He sent from above — This may either denote, in general, that God assisted him by his divine power to overcome and deliver himself from his enemies, and thereby extricate himself from his troubles, or that he sent his angels from heaven to protect and rescue him from the many dangers that surrounded him; which he figuratively calls drawing him out of great waters — Afflictions and great calamities being frequently represented by deep waters and floods in the sacred writings. Or, as Theodoret thinks, by these waters, he means the strong enemies mentioned in the next verse. They prevented me in the day of my calamity — They were too crafty for me, and had almost surprised me, coming upon me suddenly, unawares, when I was unprepared and helpless; and would have destroyed me, had not God upheld and supported me when I was in danger of perishing. But God was my stay — They could not prevent him; and, what a staff is to one who is ready to fall, that was God to me in the time of my extremity.

He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me.
They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the LORD was my stay.
He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
Psalm 18:19. He brought me forth also — Out of my straits and difficulties; out of the little caves in which I was shut up and imprisoned; into a large place — Into a state of freedom, and plenty, and comfort. David was several times shut up in close confinement in rocks and caverns; but God had now set him at liberty, and placed him in such happy circumstances that he could live and act with the utmost freedom, without any constraint of his enemies, or danger of his person. Because he delighted in me — Or, loved me, or had good will toward me, as חפצ בי, chapetz bi, commonly signifies. Whereby he ascribes all his mercies to God’s good pleasure and free grace, as the first spring of them. Which he thought fit to premise, lest the following expressions should seem to savour of boasting of his own merits, which he often disclaims.

The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
Psalm 18:20-24. The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness — “Commentators have been much perplexed,” says Dr. Horne, “to account for these unlimited claims to righteousness made by David, and that long after the matter of Uriah, and toward the close of life. Certain, indeed, it is,” adds he, “that the expressions considered as David’s must be confined, either to his steadfast adherence to the true worship, in opposition to idolatry, or to his innocence with regard to some particular crimes falsely alleged against him by his adversaries. But if the Psalm be prophetical, and sung by the victorious monarch in the person of King Messiah, then do the verses now before us no less exactly than beautifully delineate that all- perfect righteousness wrought by the Redeemer, in consequence of which he obtained deliverance for himself and his people.” Most commentators, however, are, and have always been, of opinion, that David spoke here in his own person, and not in the person of the Messiah, to whom no part of the Psalm, upon a fair construction, except the last two verses, appears to have any reference. But as, by rewarding and recompensing him, David chiefly meant the Lord’s delivering him from Saul and his other enemies that then were, and exalting him to the throne of Judah and Israel; so he must of necessity be understood as speaking principally of his righteousness, and the cleanness of his hands, prior to that period. And, certainly, in that former part of his life, “no instance can be alleged against him,” as Dr. Dodd observes, “in which he violated the known precepts of religion and virtue, enjoined by that constitution he was under;” and therefore, conscious of his integrity thus far, he might justly glory and rejoice that God, who was a witness to it, had thus bountifully rewarded it. And, as to his great sin in the matter of Uriah, wherein he highly offended and greatly dishonoured God, and for which God chastised him for many years, by various calamities, his repentance for that dreadful crime, or rather, for that complication of crimes, was so sincere, and the fruits and proofs of it were so manifest, that God was pleased to remove the judgments by which he had corrected him, and to deliver him from his rebellious son Absalom and his party, and from all the other enemies that rose up against him. Many learned men, however, are of opinion that David did not compose this Psalm after his sin in the matter of Uriah, much less in his old age, but rather in his younger days upon his deliverance from Saul, and the other enemies who persecuted him in Saul’s days, and opposed his advancement to the crown. This, they suppose, appears from the title of the Psalm, compared with 2 Samuel 22:1. Dr. Delaney thinks he wrote the greater part of it soon after the deliverance he obtained from Saul’s messengers, when they were sent to his house to take him, and when he was let down by Michal out of the window, and escaped over the garden or city-wall: and he thinks the 29th verse refers to this escape, and is a proof that he penned the Psalm on that occasion. But Dr. Dodd, and many others think it was composed some time after he was put in peaceable possession of the kingdom, and had introduced the ark into Jerusalem. If either of these opinions be correct, he wrote the Psalm before his fall, and while his character was quite unblemished. But be this as it may, if he wrote it even after that unhappy event, it must also have been written after his repentance, and after he was become a new creature in heart and life: and it does not appear, on a candid examination of the particulars included in the account which he here gives of the uprightness of his conduct, that there is any clause or expression contained in it which will not admit of a fair and easy interpretation, in perfect consistency with his real character, according to the delineation which the inspired writers of his history have given of it. The following short explication of the passage, chiefly taken from Bishop Patrick’s paraphrase, it is thought, makes this evident.

The Lord rewarded me, &c. — The Lord knew that I was unjustly persecuted, and therefore rewarded me according to the integrity and purity of my actions, as I was never guilty of that whereof they accused me. For (Psalm 18:21) I have kept the ways of the Lord — I never took any unlawful courses for my deliverance; and have not wickedly departed from my God — But when Saul, my great enemy, (who maliciously and unweariedly sought my life,) fell into my hands, and I had it in my power and was urged to kill him, I would not do it, because he was the Lord’s anointed: nor did I ever injure him or his party. For (Psalm 18:22) all his (God’s) judgments were before me, &c. — I laid his precepts before me as the rule of my actions, and did not put them away, or bid them, as it were, stand aside. I was also (Psalm 18:23) upright before him — I chose rather to suffer any thing than lose my integrity; and I kept myself from mine iniquity — How unjustly soever my enemies dealt with me, I would not imitate them, but though I could not hinder their iniquity, I kept myself from that, which, if I had committed it, would have been mine; guarding especially against that sin to which I was most inclined or tempted. Therefore (Psalm 18:24) hath the Lord recompensed me, &c. — He who administers all things with the greatest justice and the greatest goodness heard my prayer, and dealt with me according to my innocent intentions, which would not suffer me to act unmercifully or unjustly toward Saul in any respect, much less to defile my hands with his blood.

For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me.
I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity.
Therefore hath the LORD recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.
With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright;
Psalm 18:25-27. In these verses David lays down the general method of the procedure of God’s providence and moral government, which, in the issue, will be according to the moral character and conduct of men themselves. With the merciful, &c. — A declaration similar to that of our Lord, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. With an upright man thou wilt show thyself upright — An invariable friend to his integrity; just to reward it, and faithful in all thy promises to encourage it. With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure — That is, the lover of purity, righteousness, and truth, and ever acting toward those whose character this is, according to the perfect rectitude and unspotted purity of thy own nature. With the froward thou wilt show thyself froward — Hebrew, עם עקשׁ תתפתל, gnim gnickesh Tithpattal, cum perverso eluctaris, Buxtorff. With the perverse thou strugglest, or, rather, wilt struggle or wrestle; that is, says Ab. Ezra, donec deviceris, until thou shalt conquer him. The word rendered froward signifies one of a perverse disposition, who twists and twines himself, just as his humour, passions, and interest lead him; or, a crafty, wily person, who accustoms himself to all the wiles of deceit. With one of this character, the psalmist says, God will wrestle. The meaning is, that he will deal with perverse, designing, and crafty men, according to their deserts; will oppose them in their designs, struggle against, and walk contrary to them, Leviticus 26:23-24; that he will disappoint them in all their subtlest devices, and cause them to fall by those very wiles by which they endeavour to deceive and ruin others. See Chandler and Dodd. For thou wilt save the afflicted people — Thou art wont to deliver those who are poor and distressed when they humbly wait upon thee; but wilt bring down high looks — Wilt lay those low who, proud of their power, insolently oppress them; or, those proud persons who discover the pride of their hearts by their haughty looks and overbearing conduct.

With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.
For thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks.
For thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.
Psalm 18:28-31. Thou wilt light, or, thou dost light, or, hast lighted, my candle — That is, given me safety, and comfort, and glory, and posterity also: all which particulars are often signified by a candle, or a light. Thou wilt or dost advance me to honour, increase my prosperity, and make me continually joyful by thy favour. Nothing was more usual among the oriental writers than representing any person, or family, by a lamp enlightening the whole house, 1 Kings 11:36; 1 Kings 15:4, and Job 18:5-6. For by thee I have run through a troop — Broken through the armed troops of mine enemies. And by my God have I leaped over a wall — I have scaled the walls of their strongest cities and castles, and so taken them. David, soon after his settlement on the throne, drove the Jebusite garrison out of Jerusalem, and reduced the city to his obedience, making it the future capital of his kingdom. And it is not improbable but he may refer to these actions, or to his two victories over the Philistines, mentioned 2 Samuel 5:17, &c. “David’s habitual piety should be here remarked, as he ascribes all his successes to the assistance of God; and in the next two verses celebrates the unerring rectitude of his providence: As for God, his way is perfect — In every thing just and kind: the truth of his promises; the word of the Lord is tried — Free from deceit, as gold refined by fire, and certainly to be performed: and that powerful protection he affords to good men; he is a buckler — A sure defence, to all those who trust in him. To this he could bear witness from his own experience; and therefore he breaks out in that just acknowledgment, Psalm 18:31, Who is God, save Jehovah? Or, who is a rock — Who can give absolute security from all dangers, save our God? — He then goes on to enumerate the particular favours which God had bestowed upon himself, and the various perils he had been in, under which he had experienced the divine protection.” — Chandler.

For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.
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.
For who is God save the LORD? or who is a rock save our God?
It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect.
Psalm 18:32. It is God that girdeth me with strength — That inspires me with courage, fortitude, and resolution, and gives me strength both of mind and body in battle and war. It is a metaphor taken, either from a military girdle, or a common girdle, wherewith their loose garments were girded about them, and whereby they were rendered fitter for any action. He maketh my way perfect — Perfectly plain, and clear from impediments, as pioneers use to prepare the way for the march of an army. Or, the meaning is, he guides me in all my counsels and enterprises, so that I neither miss my way, nor stumble in it, nor come short of my end. “A man’s way, in the pursuit of any end, is perfect when the means he uses to attain it are proper and direct, and will finally render him successful in it: and thus God made David’s way perfect as he gave him the surest directions how to act, and prospered him in all his measures, to support the dignity of his crown and government.” — Chandler.

He maketh my feet like hinds' feet, and setteth me upon my high places.
Psalm 18:33. He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet — That is, most swift and nimble. As he makes me wise in counsel and contrivance, Psalm 18:32; so he makes me speedy and expeditious in execution; which are the two great excellences of a captain. He gives me great agility, either to flee and escape from my enemies when prudence requires it, or to pursue them when I see occasion. Swiftness of foot was reckoned a very honourable qualification among the ancient warriors, who, as they generally fought on foot, were enabled, by their agility and swiftness, speedily to run from place to place, give orders, attack their enemies, defend their friends, and perform divers other offices the service might require of them: of which we have many instances in the battles of Homer and Virgil. One of the highest commendations Homer gives his principal hero is taken from his swiftness, terming him continually ποδας οκυς Αχιλλευς, swift-footed Achilles. This qualification was peculiarly useful to David, as the country of Judea, and some of those where he was obliged to make war, were very mountainous and steep. And setteth me upon my high places — Hebrew,

יעמידני, jagnamideeni, he maketh me to stand — That is, either he places me in safe and strong places, out of the reach of mine enemies; or he confirms and establishes me in that high and honourable estate, into which he hath advanced me, and gives me wisdom to improve my victories.

He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms.
Psalm 18:34. He teacheth my hands to war — To him I owe all the military skill, or strength, or courage which I have. A bow of steel is broken by mine arm — Chandler renders it, Mine arms have bent the bow of steel. That David was able to bend and draw together even a brazen bow, or one of steel, and to use it in his wars, was a proof of his great strength. Dr. Delaney, however, certainly draws an unwarranted conclusion from these poetical expressions when he infers from them, “that David was the swiftest and strongest of all mankind.”

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.
Psalm 18:35. Thou hast given me the shield of thy salvation — Thy protection, which hath been to me like a shield to defend me. Thy right hand hath holden me up — Kept me from falling into those snares and mischiefs which mine enemies designed, and I feared I should fall into. And thy gentleness hath made me great — Or, meekness, as the word ענוה, gnanvah, is translated, Numbers 12:3; Psalm 45:4; Zechariah 2:3; that is, thy clemency, whereby thou hast pardoned my sins, which otherwise would have undone me, and hast mitigated thy corrections which I have deserved: or, thy grace and benignity, which thou hast manifested to me, and exercised in and for me.

Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.
Psalm 18:36. Thou hast enlarged my steps — Which before were confined within narrow limits, and entangled with the straitness and difficulty of the way. Thou hast set my feet in a large room, Psalm 31:8; Psalm 118:5. It must be observed, that the eastern writers were wont to denote any person’s condition in life by his steps, or goings. Hence narrow, or straitened steps, according to their phraseology, signified a state of distress and great affliction; and large and unconfined steps, the contrary state of prosperity and plenty. So that David here praises God for advancing him to great honour and prosperity. That my feet did not slip — Or stumble, as they are apt to do in narrow and uneven ways.

I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed.
I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet.
Psalm 18:38-39. They are fallen under my feet — Cast down to the ground, so that I may tread upon their necks, after the manner of conquerors, Deuteronomy 33:29; Joshua 10:24. Thou hast girded me, &c. — Thus again, as in Psalm 18:32, he gives God the whole praise of his great achievements and victories. It was he that inspired his forces with resolution and vigour, and thereby subdued under him those that rose up against him — Namely, his enemies who joined in battle to oppose and oppress him.

For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me.
Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me.
Psalm 18:40-42. Thou hast given me the necks, &c. — That I might put my yoke upon their necks, or bring them into subjection. But Houbigant and some others render the clause, more agreeably to the Hebrew, As for my enemies, thou givest, or hast given, me their back: that is, hast made them turn their backs and flee from me. For the word ערŠ, gnoreph, here rendered neck, signifies the back part of the neck, and therefore is put for the back, as the LXX. translate it, and as it is rendered Exodus 23:27; Joshua 7:8; Joshua 7:12, and elsewhere. That I might destroy them that hate me — That I might have opportunity to destroy them. They cried unto the Lord — He speaks of his Israelitish enemies, who in their distresses prayed to God for help against him. I did beat them small as dust — These are hyperbolical expressions, signifying that his enemies had been perfectly subdued, and deprived of all power to make any further resistance. I did cast them out as dirt, &c. — As the mire in the streets I trampled them down. — Chandler.

They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the LORD, but he answered them not.
Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets.
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.
Psalm 18:43-44. Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people — From the contentions, seditions, and tumults of my own people under Saul, and during the civil war raised by Abner in favour of Ishbosheth, when the tribes strove with each other; and from the invasions of the Philistines who attacked him soon after his accession to the throne. Thou hast made me the head of the heathen — Of the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Syrians, and others, who were become tributary to him by his victories over them: see 2. Samuel Psalm 8:1; 1 Chronicles 18. A people whom I have not known — Whom I had no acquaintance with nor relation to, not even by thy promise or grant; that is, barbarous and remote nations, shall serve me — Shall be subject to me. As soon as they hear of me — At the fame of my name and victorious arms, or upon the first tidings of my coming toward them; they shall obey me — They shall instantly comply with my will, as soon as they understand it. The strangers shall submit themselves unto me — The Hebrew is literally, the sons of the strangers shall lie unto me; that is, shall submit themselves to me, not willingly and cheerfully, as they will pretend, but only out of fear and by constraint. By this it appears, that this is spoken with reference to David, and not (as some would have it) to Christ; because Christ’s people are a willing people, (Psalm 110:3,) and those whom he conquers freely obey him.

As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me.
The strangers shall fade away, and be afraid out of their close places.
Psalm 18:45. The strangers shall fade away — Shall wither and decay in their hopes end strength; and be afraid — That is, shall come trembling, one verb being put for two; out of their close places — Out of their strong holds, where they shall lurk and keep themselves close, for fear of me, not daring to stir out without trembling, lest I should assault and take them. Dr. Waterland renders it, They shall faint away, and come creeping out of their coverts. Grotius’s comment is, “They shall suspect their safety in the very places to which they flee for refuge.”

The LORD liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.
Psalm 18:46. The Lord liveth — Jehovah, and he only, is the true and living God, and he hath manifested himself to be such for my comfort, and for the confusion of my enemies, when other gods are dead and impotent idols. Or, Let the Lord live, as חי יהוה, chai Jehovah, may be translated; and so it is a joyful and thankful acclamation, spoken after the manner in which earthly princes are addressed; and blessed be my rock — Let him have all blessing and praise, for he is worthy of it.

It is God that avengeth me, and subdueth the people under me.
Psalm 18:47-50. It is God that avengeth me — That executeth vengeance, both by me, against his malicious enemies, and for me, against Saul, on whom I would not avenge myself. Thou liftest me up above those, &c. — Above their malice and power. Thou hast delivered me from the violent man — From Saul, whose name, for honour’s sake, he forbears to mention. Therefore I will give thanks to thee among the heathen — In the great congregations, consisting of the Israelites of all the tribes, of whom the word גוים, goim, nations, here rendered heathen, is used, Joshua 3:17; Joshua 4:1; Ezekiel 2:3, and elsewhere. Or, he means that he would give thanks to Jehovah, in the presence of those Gentiles who resorted to Jerusalem in great numbers, and before others of them who were either subject to him, or confederate with him, as he should have occasion of speaking or writing to any of them. It is probable, however, that David was here transported beyond himself, and spoke this with a special reference to Christ, who was to be his seed, of whom he was an eminent type, and by whom, what he here mentions, was most eminently done. Accordingly these words are applied to him, and to his calling of the Gentiles, Romans 15:9. Great deliverance giveth he to his king — The king whom he himself hath chosen and constituted. Literally the words, מגדל ישׁעוהmean, He magnifies the salvations of his king, which are said to be magnified, because “they are great and wonderful in themselves, and because they add a dignity and lustre to the king on whom they are bestowed; there being nothing that can tend more to advance the honour, and heighten the reverence, due to a prince than his being highly distinguished by the divine protection and care, and delivered thereby out of numerous dangers which threatened his prosperity and life.” —

Chandler. And showeth mercy to his anointed, to David and his seed — To all his posterity, and especially to the Messiah, in whom only the words, for evermore, are properly accomplished, it being only true of his kingdom, that it shall have no end.

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.
Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name.
Great deliverance giveth he to his king; and sheweth mercy to his anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore.
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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