Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
At length the warrior-king was at peace. The hairbreadth escapes of his flight from Saul, when his life was in hourly peril and he knew not whither to turn for safety; the miseries and bitterness of civil strife, through which though chosen by Jehovah to rule His people he had to fight his way to the throne; the wars with surrounding nations, which, jealous of Israel’s rising power, had leagued together to crush the scarcely consolidated kingdom;—all were past and over. David had been preserved through every danger; victory had accompanied his arms; he was the accepted king of an united people; the nations around acknowledged his supremacy. To crown all, Jehovah’s message communicated by Nathan had opened out the prospect of a splendid future for his posterity.
In this hour of his highest prosperity and happiness David composed this magnificent hymn of thanksgiving. He surveys the course of an eventful life; he traces the hand of Jehovah in every step; and his heart overflows with joyous gratitude. The inspiring thought of the whole Psalm is that Jehovah has made him what he is. To His loving care and unfailing faithfulness he owes it that he has been preserved and guided and raised to his present height of power.
By expressive metaphors he describes what Jehovah had proved Himself to be to him (Psalm 18:1-3); and then depicting in forcible figures the extremity of peril to which he had been brought (Psalm 18:4-6), he tells how in answer to his prayer Jehovah manifested His power (Psalm 18:7-15), and delivered him from the enemies who were too strong for him (Psalm 18:16-19). In strong and simple consciousness of his own integrity (Psalm 18:20-23), he delights to trace in this deliverance a proof of Jehovah’s faithfulness to those who are faithful to Him, in accordance with the general law of His dealings (Psalm 18:24-27). To Him alone he owes all that he is (Psalm 18:28-30); He, the unique and incomparable God, has given him strength and skill for war (Psalm 18:31-34); He it is who has made him victorious over his enemies (Psalm 18:35-42); He it is who has made him king over his people and supreme among surrounding nations (Psalm 18:43-45). It is Jehovah alone; and His praise shall be celebrated throughout the world. Nor is His lovingkindness limited to David only; the promise reaches forward, and embraces his posterity for evermore (Psalm 18:46-50).
That David was the author of this Psalm is generally admitted, except by critics who question the existence of Davidic Psalms at all. Not only does it stand in the Psalter as David’s, but the compiler of 2 Samuel embodied it in his work as at once the best illustration of David’s life and character, and the noblest specimen of his poetry.
The internal evidence of its contents corroborates the external tradition. The Psalmist is a distinguished and successful warrior, general, and king (Psalm 18:29; Psalm 18:33-34; Psalm 18:37 ff., Psalm 18:43): he has had to contend with domestic as well as foreign enemies (Psalm 18:43 ff.), and has received the submission of surrounding nations (Psalm 18:44). He looks back upon a life of extraordinary trials and dangers to which he has been exposed from enemies among whom one was conspicuous for his ferocity (Psalm 18:4 ff., Psalm 18:17; Psalm 18:48). He appeals to his own integrity of purpose, and sees in his deliverance God’s recognition of that integrity (Psalm 18:20 ff.); yet throughout he shews a singular humility and the clearest sense that he owes to Jehovah’s grace whatever he has or is. These characteristics, taken together, point to David, and to no one else of whom we have any knowledge: and the intense personality and directness of the Psalm are a strong argument against the hypothesis that it is a composition put into his mouth by some later poet.
At what period of David’s life the Psalm was written has been much debated. But title and contents both point unmistakably to the middle period of his reign, when he was in the zenith of his prosperity and power, rather than to the close of his life. His triumphs over his enemies at home and abroad are still recent; the perils of his flight from Saul are still fresh in his memory. On the other hand there is not a trace of the sins and sorrows which clouded the later years of his reign. The free and joyous tone of the Psalm, and its bold assertions of integrity, point to a time before his sin with Bath-sheba, and Absalom’s rebellion. The composition of the Psalm may therefore most naturally and fitly be assigned to the interval of peace mentioned in 2 Samuel 7:1, which may (see notes there) have been subsequent to some at least of the wars described in ch. 8, for the arrangement of the book does not appear to be strictly chronological. But it must be placed after the visit of Nathan recorded in 2 Samuel 7, as Psalm 18:50 clearly refers to the promise then given: unless indeed Psalm 18:50 is to be regarded as a later addition to the Psalm. In that time of tranquillity David reviewed the mercies of Jehovah in this sublime ode of thanksgiving, and planned to raise a monument of his gratitude in the scheme for building the Temple, which he was not allowed to carry out.
The title of the Psalm is composite. The first part of it, For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, is analogous to the titles of other psalms in this collection: the second part is taken from 2 Samuel 22:1, or from the older history which the compiler of Samuel made use of.
Comp. the similar titles in Exodus 15:1; Deuteronomy 31:30.
Here, as in the title of Psalms 36, David is styled Jehovah’s servant. Cp. 2 Samuel 3:18; 2 Samuel 7:5; 2 Samuel 7:8; 1 Kings 8:24; Psalm 78:70; Psalm 89:3; Psalm 89:20; Psalm 132:10. Any Israelite might profess himself Jehovah’s servant in addressing Him, but only a few who were raised up to do special service or who stood in a special relation to Jehovah, such as Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Job, are honoured with this distinctive title.
Saul is mentioned by name as the most bitter and implacable of David’s enemies. (For the form of expression cp. Exodus 18:10.) David’s preservation in that fierce persecution which was aimed at his very life was the most signal instance of the providence which had watched over him. Much of the language of this Psalm reflects the experience of that time of anxiety and peril.
The Two Recensions of Psalms 18
The existence of this Psalm in two forms or recensions, in the Psalter and in 2 Sam., is a fact of the highest interest and importance in its bearing on the history and character of the Massoretic text of the O.T. Two questions obviously arise: (1) how are the variations to be accounted for? and (2) which text is to be preferred as on the whole nearest to the original?
Defenders of the integrity of the Massoretic text have maintained that both recensions proceeded from the poet himself, and are both equally authentic. That in Samuel is supposed to be the original form; that in the Psalter is supposed to be a revision prepared by David himself, probably towards the close of his life, for public use. This hypothesis can neither be proved nor disproved, but few will now maintain it. It is certain that many of the variations are due to errors of transcription (see on Psalm 18:4; Psalm 18:10; Psalm 18:41-42; Psalm 18:50); and the great probability is that those which appear to be due to intentional alteration were the work of a later reviser (see on Psalm 18:11; Psalm 18:32; Psalm 18:45).
Critics differ widely as to the relative value of the two texts. Both texts have unquestionably been affected by errors of transcription, and the text in 2 Sam. has suffered most from this cause, less care having been bestowed on the preservation of the historical books. On the other hand the text in the Psalter appears to the present editor to have been subjected to a literary revision at a later date, in which peculiar forms, which were possibly “licences of popular usage” have been replaced by the forms in ordinary use; unusual constructions simplified; archaisms and obscure expressions explained. If this view is correct, the text in Samuel best preserves the original features of the poem, while at the same time it frequently needs correction from the text in the Psalter.
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.1. I will love thee] Fervently do I love thee, a word occurring nowhere else in this form, and denoting tender and intimate affection. This verse is omitted in 2 Sam.
1–3. Introductory prelude, in which one title is heaped upon another to express all that experience had proved Jehovah to be to David.
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.2. The imagery which David uses is derived from the features of a country abounding in cliffs and caves and natural strongholds, with which he had become familiar in his flight from Saul. The rock, or cliff (sela) where he had been so unexpectedly delivered from Saul (1 Samuel 23:25-28): the fortress or stronghold in the wilderness of Judah or the fastnesses of En-gedi (1 Samuel 22:4; 1 Samuel 23:14; 1 Samuel 23:19; 1 Samuel 23:29; 1 Samuel 24:22); “the rocks of the wild goats” (1 Samuel 24:2; 1 Chronicles 11:15); were all emblems of Him who had been throughout his true Refuge and Deliverer.
my God] El, and so in Psalm 18:30; Psalm 18:32; Psalm 18:47. See note on Psalm 5:4.
my strength &c.] Lit., my rock in whom I take refuge. Here first in the Psalter occurs the title Rock (tsûr), so often used to describe the strength, faithfulness, and unchangeableness of Jehovah. See Psalm 18:31; Psalm 18:46; Deuteronomy 32:4; Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:18; Deuteronomy 32:30-31; 1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 19:14; Psalm 28:1; &c. Here, as the relative clause shews, the special idea is that of an asylum in danger. Cp. Psalm 94:22; Deuteronomy 32:37.
my buckler &c.] As my shield He defends me: as the horn of my salvation He drives my enemies before Him and gives me the victory. The horn is a common symbol of irresistible strength, derived from horned animals, especially wild oxen. See Deuteronomy 33:17; and note the use of the phrase in Luke 1:69. Cp. Psalm 28:7-8.
my high tower] See note on Psalm 9:9. 2 Sam. adds, “and my retreat, my saviour, who savest me from violence.”
I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.3. Not merely a resolution or expression of confidence for the future (I will call … so shall I be saved); but the expression of a general conviction of God’s faithfulness to answer prayer; whensoever I call … then am I saved &c. Cp. Psalm 56:9. This conviction is based on experience, and illustrated by what follows (Psalm 18:6).
worthy to be praised] Cp. Psalm 48:1, Psalm 96:4, Psalm 113:3, Psalm 145:3. Jehovah is the one object of Israel’s praise (Deuteronomy 10:21), and on Israel’s praises He sits enthroned (Psalm 22:3). The keynote of worship is Hallelujah, ‘praise ye Jah,’ and the Hebrew title of the Psalter is Tehillim, i.e. Praises.
The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.4. The sorrows of death] Rather, as R.V., The cords of death. But the word has been wrongly introduced here from Psalm 18:5, and the true reading should be restored from 2 Sam.: the waves (lit. breakers) of death. This gives a proper parallelism to floods in the next line. But the reading cords must be very ancient, for Psalm 116:3 appears to recognise it.
floods of ungodly men] More graphically the original, torrents of destruction, or, ungodliness. Destruction threatened him like a torrent swollen by a sudden storm, and sweeping all before it (Jdg 5:21). The Heb. word belial, lit. worthlessness, may mean destruction, physical mischief, as well as wickedness, moral mischief: and the context points rather to the former sense here. Death, Destruction, and Sheol, are indeed almost personified, as conspiring for his ruin.
4–6. In forcible figures David pictures the extremity of need in which he cried for help, and not in vain. Again and again there had been ‘but a step between him and death.’ (1 Samuel 20:3.) The perils to which he had been exposed are described as waves and torrents which threatened to engulf him or sweep him away: Sheol and Death are represented as hunters laying wait for his life with nets and snares.
The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.5. Render with R.V.,
The cords of Sheol were round about me:
The snares of death came upon me.
The Heb. word rendered sorrows in the A.V. may no doubt have the meaning pangs, and is so rendered by the LXX (ὠδῖνες θανάτου … ὠ. ᾁδου, cp. Acts 2:24). But the parallelism decides in favour of the rendering cords. Death and Sheol, the mysterious unseen world (see on Psalm 6:5), are like hunters lying in wait for their prey with nooses and nets.
prevented] i.e. came before, confronted me (Psalm 17:13) with hostile intention. See note on Psalm 18:18.
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.6. called … cried] The tense in the original denotes frequent and repeated prayer. The text of 2 Sam. has called twice, no doubt by an error of transcription.
out of his temple] The palace-temple of heaven, where He sits enthroned. See on Psalm 11:4. Cp. Psalm 18:16.
and my cry &c.] R.V., and my cry before him came into his ears. But the terse vigour of the text in 2 Sam. is preferable: “and my cry was in his ears.” An alternative reading or an explanatory gloss has crept into the text here, to the detriment of the rhythm.
Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.7. The paronomasia of the original in the first line might be preserved by rendering, Then the earth did shake and quake.
the foundations &c.] Render: And the foundations of the mountains trembled. The strong mountains were shaken to their very bases. Cp. Isaiah 24:18; Habakkuk 3:6. The text in 2 Sam. has “the foundations of heaven;” heaven as well as earth trembled. Its ‘foundations’ may be the mountains on which the vault of heaven seems to rest: cp. “the pillars of heaven” (Job 26:11): or more probably the universe is spoken of as a vast building, without any idea of applying the details of the metaphor precisely.
because he was wroth] The coming of Jehovah for the deliverance of His servant is necessarily a coming for the judgment of His enemies; and ‘wrath’ is that attribute of God’s character which moves Him to judgment. Cp. Revelation 6:16-17.
7–15. Forthwith David’s prayer is answered by the Advent of Jehovah for the discomfiture of his enemies. He manifests Himself in earthquake and storm. The majestic though terrible phenomena of nature are the expression of His presence. Nature in its stern and awful aspect is a revelation of His judicial wrath. We may call this an ‘ideal’ description of a Theophany; for though it is possible that David refers to some occasion when his enemies were scattered by the breaking of a terrible storm (cp. Joshua 10:11; Jdg 5:20 f.; 1 Samuel 7:10), we have no record of such an event having actually happened in his life; and in any case the picture is intended to serve as a description of God’s providential interposition for his deliverance in general, and not upon any single occasion. His power was exerted as really and truly as if all these extraordinary natural phenomena had visibly attested His Advent. Compare the accounts of the Exodus and the Giving of the Law. See Exodus 19:16-18; Jdg 5:4-5; Psalm 68:7-8; Psalm 77:16-18 : and cp. Psalm 50:2 ff., Psalm 97:2 ff., Psalms 114; Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:27 ff; Isaiah 64:1 ff; Habakkuk 3:3 ff.
Psalms 29 should be compared as illustrating David’s sense of the grandeur and significance of natural phenomena.
The earthquake (Psalm 18:7); the distant lightnings (Psalm 18:8); the gathering darkness of the storm (Psalm 18:9-11); the final outburst of its full fury (Psalm 18:12-15); are pictured in regular succession.
There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.8. The startling boldness of the language will be intelligible if the distinctive character of Hebrew symbolism is borne in mind. It is no “gross anthropomorphism,” for the poet did not intend that the mind’s eye should shape his figures into a concrete form. His aim is vividly to express the awfulness of this manifestation of God’s wrath, and he does it by using figures which are intended to remain as purely mental conceptions, not to be realised as though God appeared in any visible shape. See some excellent remarks in Archbishop Trench’s Common the Epistles to the Seven Churches, p. 43.
a smoke] The outward sign of the pent-up fires of wrath. So anger is said to smoke (Psalm 74:1; Psalm 80:4 marg.). This bold figure is suggested by the panting and snorting of an infuriated animal. See the description of the crocodile in Job 41:19-21.
out of his nostrils] Cp. Psalm 18:15. In his wrath (R.V. marg.) is a possible rendering, but the context and parallelism are against it.
fire] The constant emblem of the consuming wrath of God. See Exodus 15:7; Deuteronomy 32:22; Psalm 97:3; Hebrews 12:29.
coals &c.] Or, hot burning coals came out of it: the fiery messengers of vengeance (Psalm 140:10).
He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet.9. The dark canopy of storm clouds, which is the pavement under His feet (Nahum 1:3), lowers as He descends to judgment. God is said to come down when He manifests His power in the world (Genesis 11:7; Genesis 18:21; Isaiah 64:1). The darkness, or better as R.V., thick darkness, in which He conceals Himself from human view, symbolises the mystery and awfulness of His Advent (Exodus 19:16; Exodus 20:21, 1 Kings 8:12; Psalm 97:2).
And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.10. As the Shechinah, or mystic Presence of Jehovah in the cloud of glory, rested over the cherubim which were upon the “Mercy-seat” or covering of the ark (2 Samuel 6:2; Psalm 80:1; Hebrews 9:5), so here Jehovah is represented “riding upon a cherub,” as the living throne on which He traverses space.
The Cherubim appear in Scripture (a) as the guardians of Paradise (Genesis 3:24): (b) as sculptured or wrought figures in the Tabernacle and Temple (Exodus 25:17-22; Exodus 26:1; 1 Kings 6:23 ff; 1 Kings 7:29; 1 Kings 7:36): (c) in prophetic visions as the attendants of God (Ezekiel 10:1 ff.; cp. Ezekiel 1; Isaiah 6; Revelation 4). The Cherubim of the Tabernacle and Temple seem to have been winged human figures, representing the angelic attendants who minister in God’s Presence: those of Ezekiel’s vision appear as composite figures (Ezekiel 10:20-21), symbolical perhaps of all the powers of nature, which wait upon God and fulfil His Will.
yea, he did fly] R.V. yea, he flew swiftly. The Heb. word is a peculiar one, used of the swooping of birds of prey (Deuteronomy 28:49; Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22). The reading “yea, he was seen” in 2 Sam. is an obvious corruption. The consonants of the two words are so nearly alike (וירא—וידא), that the rarer word would easily be altered into the more common one. For “the wings of the wind” cp. Psalm 104:3.
He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.11. R.V. He made darkness his hiding-place, his pavilion round about him;
Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.
The darkness of the rain-charged storm-cloud is the tent in which Jehovah shrouds His Majesty. Cp. Job 36:29; Psalm 97:2. The rhythm gains by the omission of his hiding-place, as in 2 Sam.; and the text there may be right in reading gathering of waters for darkness of waters.
At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.12. The best rendering of this obscure verse seems to be:
From the brightness before him there passed through his thick clouds hailstones and coals of fire.
The flashes of lightning, accompanied by hail (Exodus 9:23-24), are as it were rays of the “unapproachable light” in which He dwells, piercing through the dense clouds which conceal Him. The text in 2 Sam. which has only, “at the brightness before him coals of fire were kindled,” is evidently mutilated.
The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire.13. and the Highest &c.] R.V., and the Most High uttered his voice. The Most High is the title of God as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. See Psalm 7:17; and Appendix, Note II. Thunder is the voice of God. See Psalm 29:3; Job 37:2-5. The words hailstones and coals of fire have no proper grammatical construction, and are wanting in the LXX and in 2 Sam. They seem to have been added here from Psalm 18:12 by an error of transcription.
Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.14. And he sent out &c. (R.V.) gives the connexion better than Yea. Lightnings are Jehovah’s arrows. Cp. Psalm 77:17; Habakkuk 3:11.
Scattered them clearly refers to the enemies whose destruction was the object of this Divine interposition (Psalm 18:3).
and he shot out lightnings] Better, yea, lightnings in abundance; or, as R.V., lightnings manifold.
discomfited] A word denoting the confusion of a sudden panic, and used especially of supernatural defeat. Cp. Exodus 14:24 (R.V.); Joshua 10:10; Jdg 4:15; 1 Samuel 7:10. Psalm 144:6-7 is based on Psalm 18:14; Psalm 18:16.
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.15. The waters of the sea retreat, its bed is seen, and the hidden bases of the world are laid bare, owning their Lord and Master, as of old at the Exodus when “He rebuked the Red Sea, and it was dried up.” See Exodus 15:8; Psalm 106:9; Nahum 1:4. Cp. too Matthew 8:26. Channels of the sea (2 Sam.) is the preferable reading.
were discovered] i.e. as R.V., were laid bare, the original meaning of the word discover, which it generally retains in the A.V. Cp. Psalm 29:9.
at the blast &c.] Cp. Psalm 18:8.
He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.16. He sent from above] R.V., He sent from on high: but it seems better to render, He reached forth from on high, as the writer of Psalm 144:7 understood the words. He stretched out His hand and caught hold of the sinking man, and drew him out of the floods of calamity which were overwhelming him (Psalm 18:4).
drew me] The word is found elsewhere only in Exodus 2:10, to which there may be an allusion. ‘He drew me out of the great waters of distress, as He drew Moses out of the waters of the Nile, to be the deliverer of His people.’ For many or great waters as an emblem of danger, cp. Psalm 32:6, Psalm 66:12, Psalm 69:2-3.
16–19. The deliverance which was the object of Jehovah’s manifestation of His power.
He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me.17. Figures are dropped, and David refers explicitly to his deliverance from his ‘strong’ or ‘fierce’ enemy Saul, and Saul’s partisans who hated him, from whom but for this Divine intervention he could not have escaped, for they were too mighty for him.
They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the LORD was my stay.18. They prevented me] They came upon me (R.V.), or, encountered me. Prevent is used in a sense which illustrates the transition from its original meaning to go before to its modern meaning to hinder. Cp. Milton’s Paradise Lost, vi. 129:
Half way he met
His daring foe, at this prevention more
See Mr Aldis Wright’s Bible Word-Book.
my stay] My staff (Psalm 23:4) and support. Cp. Isaiah 10:20.
He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.19. From the straits of peril he is brought forth into the freedom of safety. Cp. Psalm 4:1, Psalm 31:8.
because he delighted in me] This was the ground of God’s deliverance, and it now becomes the leading thought of the Psalm. Cp. Psalm 22:8, Psalm 41:11; 2 Samuel 15:26; and also Matthew 3:17. The latter reference gains fresh significance if it is remembered that the theocratic king was called Jehovah’s son (Psalm 2:7; 2 Samuel 7:14).
The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.20. rewarded me] Or, dealt with me, for the primary idea of the word is not that of recompence, although this lies in the context. Cp. Psalm 13:6.
the cleanness of my hands] = the innocence of my conduct. Cp. Psalm 24:4, Psalm 26:6.
20–23. The language is inspired by the courage of a childlike simplicity. It is no vainglorious boasting of his own merits, but a testimony to the faithfulness of Jehovah to guard and reward His faithful servants. David does not lay claim to a sinless righteousness, but to single-hearted sincerity in his devotion to God. Compare his own testimony (1 Samuel 26:23), God’s testimony (1 Kings 14:8), and the testimony of history (1 Kings 11:4; 1 Kings 15:5), to his essential integrity. Cp. Psalm 7:8, Psalm 17:3-4; and see Introd. p. lxxxvii f.
Is not this conscious rectitude, this “princely heart of innocence,” a clear indication that the Psalm was written before his great fall?
For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.21. He goes on to substantiate the assertion of the preceding verse. Cp. the prayer of Psalm 5:8. Sin is in its nature a separation from God. Cp. Hebrews 3:12.
For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me.22. God’s commandments were continually present to his mind as the rule of his life. Cp. Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Psalm 119:30; Psalm 119:102; and contrast the spirit of the ungodly man in Psalm 10:5.
and I did not put away &c.] In order to sin without compunction. This reading suits the parallelism best, and is preferable to that in 2 Sam., “and as for his statutes, I did not depart from them.”
I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity.23. upright before him] R.V., perfect with him, living in the fellowship of a sincere devotion. See note on Psalm 15:2.
I kept myself from mine iniquity] I have watched over myself that I might not transgress, lest I should cherish any sin till it became a part of me. There is no reference to indwelling corruption or a besetting sin.
Therefore hath the LORD recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.24–27. The law of God’s dealings with men. The assertion of Psalm 18:20 is repeated as the conclusion to be drawn from the review of David’s conduct in Psalm 18:21-23, and is confirmed in Psalm 18:25-27 by a statement of the general laws of God’s moral government. His attitude towards men is and must be conditioned by their attitude towards Him. Cp. 1 Samuel 2:30; 1 Samuel 15:23. There must be some moral correspondence in a man’s character to enable God to reveal Himself to Him as ‘merciful,’ ‘perfect,’ ‘pure.’
With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright;25. With the merciful &c.] The man whose conduct in life is governed by the spirit of lovingkindness will himself experience the lovingkindness of Jehovah. Cp. Matthew 5:7; Matthew 6:12; Matthew 6:14-15; and for the meaning of merciful see notes on Psalm 4:3, Psalm 12:1, and Appendix, Note I.
with an upright man &c.] Rather as R.V., with the perfect man thou wilt shew thyself perfect. Singlehearted devotion will find a response of unswerving faithfulness.
The text in 2 Sam. has “the perfect hero,” the man who is valiant in maintaining his own integrity. But the reading is questionable.
With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.26. With the pure &c.] Lit. one who purifies himself, cp. 1 John 3:3. Cp. Psalm 24:4, Psalm 73:1. Matthew 5:8 is the N.T. commentary on the words.
and with the froward &c.] Better, as R.V., and with the perverse thou wilt shew thyself froward. The ‘perverse’ man, whose character is morally distorted, is given over by God to follow his own crooked ways, till they bring him to destruction. God must needs be at cross purposes with the wicked, frustrating their plans, and punishing their wickedness. See Leviticus 26:23-24; Job 5:12-13; Isaiah 29:9 ff.; Proverbs 3:34; Romans 1:28; Revelation 22:11; and for an illustration camp. the history of Balaam (Numbers 22:20.).
For thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks.27. For thou wilt save &c.] 2 Sam. has the better reading, “and the afflicted people thou wilt save.”
the afflicted people] Or, lowly: those who have learnt humility in the school of suffering. See note on Psalm 9:12, and cp. Zephaniah 3:12.
but wilt bring down &c.] But haughty eyes wilt thou bring low. “Haughty eyes” are one of the seven things which are an abomination to Jehovah (Proverbs 6:17). Cp. Isaiah 2:11-12; Isaiah 2:17.
The parallel text in 2 Sam. has, “Thine eyes are upon the haughty, whom thou wilt bring low.”
For thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.28. For thou dost light my lamp,
Jehovah my God maketh my darkness bright.
The burning lamp is a natural metaphor for the continuance of life and prosperity, derived, it is said, from the Oriental practice of keeping a light constantly burning in the tent or house, which symbolised the maintenance of the life and prosperity of the family. Cp. Job 18:6; Proverbs 13:9. The second line of the verse indicates that the figure here refers to the preservation of David’s own life, rather than to the permanence of his dynasty, as in Psalm 132:17; 1 Kings 11:36; 1 Kings 15:4.
The text of 2 Sam. has “For thou art my lamp, O Lord.” Cp. Psalm 27:1.
28–30. These general principles of God’s dealing with men are confirmed by David’s own experience.
For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.29. For by thee I run after a troop,
And by my God I leap over a wall.
The language is general, but it seems to contain a reminiscence of two memorable events in David’s life: the successful pursuit of the predatory ‘troop’ of Amalekites which had sacked Ziklag (1 Samuel 30; in Psalm 18:8; Psalm 18:15; Psalm 18:23 the same word troop is used of the Amalekites): and the capture of Zion, effected with such unexpected ease that he seemed to have leapt over the walls which its defenders boasted were impregnable (2 Samuel 5:6-8).
The rendering run after is preferable to break (A.V. marg.). The point is the speed of the pursuit, not the completeness of the defeat.
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.30. As for God (El), his way is perfect, flawless and without blemish, like His work (Deuteronomy 32:4), and His law (Psalm 19:7): the word, or promise, of the Lord is tried, refined like pure gold, without dross of uncertainty or insincerity (Psalm 12:6; Psalm 119:140): he is a shield to all them that take refuge in him (Psalm 18:2). The last two lines are quoted in Proverbs 30:5.
For who is God save the LORD? or who is a rock save our God?31. For who is a God save Jehovah?
And who is a Rock beside our God?
Jehovah alone is Elôah, a God to be feared and reverenced. The singular Elôah is found instead of the usual plural Elohim elsewhere in the Psalter only in Psalm 50:22; Psalm 114:7; Psalm 139:19. It is used frequently in Job; in Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:17; Isaiah 44:8; Habakkuk 1:11; Habakkuk 3:3; and in a few other passages.
For Rock see note on Psalm 18:2; and for similar declarations of the unique character of Jehovah cp. Deuteronomy 32:31; 1 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 7:22.
31–34. The unique character of Jehovah, to whom alone David owes all that he is. Observe how he recognises that the advantages of physical strength and energy, important qualifications in times when the king was himself the leader of the people in battle, were gifts of God; yet that it was not these which saved him and made him victorious, but Jehovah’s care and help (Psalm 18:35 ff.). Cp. 1 Samuel 17:34-36.
It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect.32. It is God] R.V., The God [El] that girdeth me with strength. Cp. Psalm 18:39; Psalm 93:1; 1 Samuel 2:4.
maketh my way perfect] Removing the obstacles which might have hindered me from the complete accomplishment of the career He has marked out for me. Observe the analogy between the perfection of God’s way (Psalm 18:30) and His servant’s. Cp. Matthew 5:48 for a higher development of the same thought.
The traditional reading (Qrç) in 2 Sam. is, “God is my strong fortress, and guideth my way in perfectness”; while the written text (Kthîbh) has, “he guideth the perfect in his way”: but the exact meaning is obscure. A simpler word has apparently been substituted in the text of the Psalm.
He maketh my feet like hinds' feet, and setteth me upon my high places.33. like hinds’ feet] The hind, like the gazelle, was a type of the agility, swiftness, and sure-footedness which were indispensable qualifications in ancient warfare. Cp. 2 Samuel 2:18; 1 Chronicles 12:8.
setteth me upon my high places] The metaphor of the hind, bounding freely over the hills, is continued. David’s high places are the mountain strongholds, the occupation of which secured him in the possession of the country. Cp. Deuteronomy 32:13; and Habakkuk 3:19, which is a reminiscence of this passage and Deuteronomy 33:29.
He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms.34. The first line is borrowed in Psalm 144:1.
so that a bow of steel &c.] R.V., so that mine arms do bend a bow of brass. The ability to bend a metal bow (cp. Job 20:24) was a sign of supereminent strength. Readers of the Odyssey will recall Ulysses’ bow, which no one but himself could bend (Hom. Od. xxi. 409).
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.35. Jehovah’s saving help has been his defence—cp. Psalm 18:2-3; Psalm 18:46, and Ephesians 6:17 :—Jehovah’s right hand supports him that his foot should not slip (Psalm 20:2; Psalm 94:18): Jehovah’s condescension—lit. meekness or lowliness—makes him great. The word is a bold one to apply to God, but its meaning is explained by Psalm 113:5-6; Isaiah 57:15; and the choice of the humble shepherd boy to be the king of Israel was a signal example of this characteristic of the Divine action.
Loving correction (P.B.V.) is a conflate rendering combining παιδεία (discipline) from the LXX, and mansuetudo (gentleness) from Jerome. The second line of the verse is omitted in 2 Sam.; and thine answering (i.e. of prayer) is read in place of thy condescension.
35–38. But it is not to his own valour that his successes are to be ascribed.
Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.36. enlarged my steps &c.] Given me free space for unobstructed movement (cp. Psalm 18:19; Proverbs 4:12), and the power to advance with firm, unwavering steps.
I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed.37. Cp. Exodus 15:9. 2 Sam. reads destroyed for overtaken.
I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet.38. I have wounded them] Rather, I have smitten them through (Deuteronomy 33:11; Job 26:12). 2 Sam. has “Yea I consumed them, and smote them through,” the first verb being probably a gloss.
The R.V. renders the verbs in Psalm 18:37-38 as futures (I will pursue, &c.), but it is best to regard these verses, like those which precede and those which follow, as a retrospect. See Appendix, Note IV.
For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me.39. Cp. Psalm 18:32 a.
those that rose up against me] Enemies in general (Exodus 15:7; Deuteronomy 33:11), not necessarily rebellious subjects, though the word is specially applicable to them (Psalm 3:1).
39–42. Thus God gave him victory over all his enemies.
Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me.40. Yea mine enemies hast thou made to turn their backs unto me,
And as for them that hated me, I cut them off.
The first line means that his enemies were put to flight before him Exodus 23:27), not (as the A.V. seems to imply) that he planted his foot on their necks in token of triumph (Joshua 10:24).
They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the LORD, but he answered them not.41. They cried] Cp. Psalm 18:6. The Heb. text in 2 Sam. has they looked for help (Isaiah 17:7-8), but the LXX supports the reading cried, which is certainly right. There is only the difference of one letter in the consonants of the two words (ישועו—ישעו).
Even unto the Lord] At first sight this might seem to indicate that the foes referred to were Israelites. But it is better to understand it of the heathen. After vainly seeking help from their own gods, in the extremity of their despair they cry to Jehovah. Cp. 1 Samuel 5:12; Jonah 3:7 ff.
Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets.42. Two figures are combined to express the annihilation of David’s enemies. They were, as it were, pounded to dust (2 Kings 13:7), and then scattered like that dust driven before the wind. Cp. Isaiah 29:5; Isaiah 41:2. 2 Sam. reads only “as the dust of the earth.”
I did cast them out &c.] Flung them away as worthless refuse (Zephaniah 1:17). But the mire of the streets is usually spoken of as trampled under foot (Isaiah 10:6; Micah 7:10; Zechariah 10:5), and it suits the parallelism better to read with the LXX and 2 Sam., I did stamp them (Micah 4:13). The variation is again due to the confusion of similar letters (ארקם—אדקם). The addition at the end of the verse in 2 Sam., “and did spread them abroad,” is probably a gloss.
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.43. from the strivings of the people] 2 Sam. has “from the strivings of my people,” and the reference seems to be to the civil war and internal dissension which disturbed the early years of David’s reign, while Saul’s house still endeavoured to maintain its position. See 2 Samuel 3:1. Through all these conflicts he had been safely brought, and made the head of the nations, supreme among surrounding peoples, See 2 Samuel 8:1-14; Psalm 2:8.
thou hast made me] In 2 Sam. “thou hast preserved me to be the head of the nations.”
a people whom I have not known shall serve me] Rather, a people whom I knew not did serve meb. There is no reason for the sudden transition of the A.V. to the future here and in the two following verses. David is still thankfully recounting how God had raised him to his present eminence. There may be a special reference to the subjugation of the Syrians and their allies, whom he might well describe as “a people whom he had not known.” See 2 Samuel 8:6; 2 Samuel 10:19.
43–45. The establishment of David’s dominion at home and abroad.
As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me.44. As soon as they heard of me they offered me obedience,
Strangers came cringing unto me.
At the mere report of David’s victories foreign nations offered their allegiance, as for example Toi of Hamath. See 2 Samuel 8:9 ff. The word rendered submit themselves, marg. yield feigned obedience, denotes originally the unwilling homage paid by the vanquished to their conqueror. Cp. Deuteronomy 33:29; Psalm 66:3; Psalm 81:15.
In 2 Sam. the order of the clauses is inverted.
The strangers shall fade away, and be afraid out of their close places.45. The strangers faded away,
And came trembling out of their fastnesses.
Their strength and courage failed like a withering leaf or a fading flower (Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 28:4), and they surrendered at discretion to the triumphant invader. Cp. Micah 7:17; 1 Samuel 14:11. The obscure reading in 2 Sam. may mean “came limping out of their fastnesses”; a picture of the exhausted defenders of the fortress dragging themselves along with difficulty and reluctant to lay down their arms before the conqueror. The LXX gives this rendering (ἐχώλαναν) in the Psalm.
The LORD liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.46. The Lord liveth] Life is the essential attribute of Jehovah. He is the Living God in contrast to the dead idols of the heathen. The experience of David’s life is summed up in these words. It had been to him a certain proof that God is the living, active Ruler of the world. Cp. Joshua 3:10.
and let &c.] R.V., and exalted be the God of my salvation. Cp. Psalm 24:5. 2 Sam. reads, “the God of the rock of my salvation.”
46–50. Concluding thanksgiving and doxology.
It is God that avengeth me, and subdueth the people under me.47. Render:
Even the God that executed vengeance for me,
And subdued peoples under me.
Vengeance is the prerogative of God (Psalm 94:1); it is His vindication of the righteousness and integrity of His servants. Such a thanksgiving as this does not shew a spirit of vindictiveness in David, but is a recognition that God had ‘pleaded his cause,’ and maintained the right. God had avenged him for the cruel injustice of Saul (1 Samuel 24:12); for the contemptuous insults of Nabal (1 Samuel 25:39); for the factious opposition of those who refused to acknowledge him as king in spite of his Divine call (2 Samuel 4:8).
The second line of the verse refers, like Psalm 18:43, to success in overcoming internal as well as external opposition to his rule. Cp. Psalm 144:2. It is not, however, the boast of a triumphant despot, but the thanksgiving of a ruler who recognised the vital importance of union for the prosperity of Israel, and knew that the task of reconciling the discordant elements in the nation was beyond his own unaided powers.
For subdueth 2 Sam. has ‘bringeth down.’
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.48. My deliverer from mine enemies;
Yea, thou didst set me on high from them that rose up against me,
From the man of violence didst thou rescue me.
My deliverer, as in Psalm 18:2. 2 Sam. has “that bringeth me forth.” The man of violence might mean men of violence in general, but it is more natural to regard it as a reference to Saul. Cp. Psalm 140:1; Psalm 140:4; Psalm 140:11.
Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name.49. The celebration of Jehovah’s faithfulness to His servant is not to be confined within the narrow limits of Israel. His praise is to be proclaimed among the nations, which, as they are brought under the dominion of His people, may eventually be brought to the knowledge of Jehovah. Cp. Psalm 96:3; Psalm 96:10. This verse is quoted by St. Paul in Romans 15:9 (together with Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1; Isaiah 11:10), in proof that the Old Testament anticipated the admission of the Gentiles to the blessings of salvation.
Great deliverance giveth he to his king; and sheweth mercy to his anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore.50. These closing words may be due to a later poet, who thus sums up the lessons of the Psalm. But they may well be David’s own. He drops the first person, and surveys his own life from without, in the light of the great promise of 2 Samuel 7:12-16. These are the deliverances Jehovah has wrought for the king of His choice; this is a sample of the lovingkindness which He has shewn to His Anointed, and will shew to his seed for evermore. The words reach forward to the perfect life, and the world-wide victories, of the Christ, the Son of David.
Great deliverance &c.] Lit. He magnifieth the salvations of his king. Cp. Psalm 20:6. The Kthîbh and the Versions in 2 Sam. have the same reading: but the Qrç, which the A.V. follows, has “He is a tower of deliverance for his king.” Cp. Psalm 61:3; Proverbs 18:10.The consonants of the two words, as originally written defectively and without vowels, are identical.
mercy] lovingkindness. Cp. Psalm 17:7; 2 Samuel 7:15.