Expositor's Bible Commentary
And David spake unto the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul:CHAPTER XXX.
THE SONG OF THANKSGIVING.
2 Samuel 22:1-51.
SOME of David's actions are very characteristic of himself; there are other actions quite out of harmony with his character. This psalm of thanksgiving belongs to the former order. It is quite like David; at the conclusion of his military enterprises, to cast his eye gratefully over the whole, and acknowledge the goodness and mercy that had followed him all along. Unlike many, he was as careful to thank God for mercies past and present as to entreat Him for mercies to come. The whole Book of Psalms resounds with halleluiahs, especially the closing part. In the song before us we have something like a grand halleluiah, in which thanks are given for all the deliverances and mercies of the past, and unbounded confidence expressed in God's mercy and goodness for the time to come.
The date of this song is not to be determined by the place which it occupies in the history. We have already seen that the last few chapters of Samuel consist of supplementary narratives, not introduced at their regular places, but needful to give completeness to the history. It is likely that this psalm was written considerably before the end of David's reign. Two considerations make it all but certain that its date is earlier than Absalom's rebellion. In the first place, the mention of the name of Saul in the first verse - "in the day when God delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies and out of the hand of Saul" - would seem to imply that the deliverance from Saul was somewhat recent, certainly not so remote as it would have been at the end of David's reign. And secondly, while the affirmation of David's sincerity and honesty in serving God might doubtless have been made at any period of his life, yet some of his expressions would not have been likely to be used after his deplorable fall. It is not likely that after that, he would have spoken, for example, of the cleanness of his hands, stained as they had been by wickedness that could hardly have been surpassed. On the whole, it seems most likely that the psalm was written about the time referred to in 2 Samuel 7:1 - "when the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies round about." This was the time when it was in his heart to build the temple, and we know from that and other circumstances that he was then in a state of overflowing thankfulness.
Besides the introduction, the song consists of three leading parts not very definitely separated from each other, but sufficiently marked to form a convenient division, as follows:
I. Introduction: the leading thought of the song, an adoring acknowledgment of what God had been and was to David (2 Samuel 22:2-4).
II. A narrative of the Divine interpositions on his behalf, embracing his dangers, his prayers, and the Divine deliverances in reply (2 Samuel 22:5-19).
III. The grounds of his protection and success (2 Samuel 22:20-30).
IV. References to particular acts of God's goodness in various parts of his life, interspersed with reflections on the Divine character, from all which the assurance is drawn that that goodness would be continued to him and his successors, and would secure through coming ages the welfare and extension of the kingdom. And here we observe what is so common in the Psalms: a gradual rising above the idea of a mere earthly kingdom; the type passes into the antitype; the kingdom of David melts, as in a dissolving view, into the kingdom of the Messiah; thus a more elevated tone is given to the song, and the assurance is conveyed to every believer that as God protected David and his kingdom, so shall He protect and glorify the kingdom of His Son forever.
I. In the burst of adoring gratitude with which the psalm opens as its leading thought, we mark David's recognition of Jehovah as the source of all the protection, deliverance, and success he had ever enjoyed, along with a special assertion of closest relationship to Him, in the frequent use of the word "my," and a very ardent acknowledgment of the claim to his gratitude thus arising - "God, who is worthy to be praised."
The feeling that recognized God as the Author of all his deliverances was intensely strong, for every expression that can denote it is heaped together: "My rock, my portion, my deliverer; the God of my rock, my shield; the horn of my salvation, my high tower, my refuge, my Saviour." He takes no credit to himself; he gives no glory to his captains; the glory is all the Lord's. He sees God so supremely the Author of his deliverance that the human instruments that helped him are for the moment quite out of view. He who, in the depths of his penitence, sees but one supremely injured Being, and says, "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned," at the height of his prosperity sees but one gracious Being, and adores Him, who only is his rock and his salvation. In an age when all the stress is apt to be laid on the human instruments, and God left out of view, this habit of mind is instructive and refreshing. It was a touching incident in English history when, after the battle of Agincourt, Henry V. of England directed the hundred and fifteenth Psalm to be sung; prostrating himself on the ground, and causing his whole army to do the same, when the words were sounded out, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name give glory."
The emphatic use of the pronoun "my" by the Psalmist is very instructive. It is so easy to speak in general terms of what God is, and what God does; but it is quite another thing to be able to appropriate Him as ours, and rejoice in that relation. Luther said of the twenty-third Psalm that the word '"my" in the first verse was the very hinge of the whole. There is a whole world of difference between the two expressions, "The Lord is a Shepherd" and "The Lord is my Shepherd." The use of the "my" indicates a personal transaction, a covenant relation into which the parties have solemnly entered. No man is entitled to use this expression who has merely a reverential feeling towards God, and respect for His will. You must have come to God as a sinner, owning and feeling your unworthiness, and casting yourself on His grace. You must have transacted with God in the spirit of His exhortation, "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will be a Father unto you; and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
One other point has to be noticed in this introduction - when David comes to express his dependence on God, he very specially sets Him before his mind as "worthy to be praised." He calls to mind the gracious character of God, - not an austere God, reaping where He has not sown, and gathering where He has not strawed, but "the Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth." "This doctrine," says Luther, "is in tribulation the most ennobling and truly golden. One cannot imagine what assistance such praise of God is in pressing danger. For as soon as you begin to praise God the sense of the evil will also begin to abate, the comfort of your heart will grow; and then God will be called on with confidence. There are some who cry to the Lord and are not heard. Why is this? Because they do not praise the Lord when they cry to Him, but go to Him with reluctance; they have not represented to themselves how sweet the Lord is, but have looked only to their own bitterness. But no one gets deliverance from evil by looking simply upon his evil and becoming alarmed at it; he can get deliverance only by rising above his evil, hanging it on God, and having respect to His goodness. Oh, hard counsel, doubtless, and a rare thing truly, in the midst of trouble to conceive of God as sweet, and worthy to be praised; and when He has removed Himself from us and is incomprehensible, even then to regard Him more intensely than we regard our misfortune that keeps us from Him I Only let one try it, and make the endeavour to praise God, though in little heart for it he will soon experience an enlightenment."
II. We pass on to the part of the song where the Psalmist describes his trials and God's deliverances in his times of danger (2 Samuel 22:5-20).
The description is eminently poetical. First, there is a vivid picture of his troubles. "The waves of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid; the sorrows of hell compassed me; the snares of death prevented me" ("The cords of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodliness made me afraid; the cords of sheol were round about me; the snares of death came upon me," R.V.). It is no overcharged picture. With Saul's javelins flying at his head in the palace, or his best troops scouring the wilderness in search of him; with Syrian hosts bearing down on him like the waves of the sea, and a confederacy of nations conspiring to swallow him up, he might well speak of the waves of death and the cords of Hades. He evidently desires to describe the extremist peril and distress that can be conceived, a situation where the help of man is vain indeed. Then, after a brief account of his calling upon God, comes a most animated description of God coming to his help. The description is ideal, but it gives a vivid view how the Divine energy is roused when any of God's children are in distress. It is in heaven as in an earthly home when an alarm is given that one of the little children is in danger, has wandered away into a thicket where he has lost his way: every servant is summoned, every passer-by is called to the rescue, the whole neighbourhood is roused to the most strenuous efforts; so when the cry reached heaven that David was in trouble, the earthquake and the lightning and all the other messengers of heaven were sent out to his aid; nay, these were not enough; God Himself flew, riding on a cherub, yea, He did fly upon the wings of the wind. Faith saw God bestirring Himself for his deliverance, as if every agency of nature had been set in motion on his behalf.
And this being done, his deliverance was conspicuous and complete. He saw God's hand stretched out with remarkable distinctness. There could be no more doubt that it was God that rescued him from Saul than that it was He that snatched Israel from Pharaoh when literally " the channels of the sea appeared, the foundations of the world were discovered, at the rebuking of the Lord, at the blast of the breath of His nostrils." There could be no more doubt that it was God who protected David when men rose to swallow him up than that it was He who drew Moses from the Nile - "He sent from above, He took me. He drew me out of many waters." No miracles had been wrought on David's behalf; unlike Moses and Joshua before him, and unlike Elijah and Elisha after him, he had not had the laws of nature suspended for his protection; yet he could see the hand of God stretched out for him as clearly as if a miracle had been wrought at every turn. Does this not show that ordinary Christians, if they are but careful to watch, and humble enough to watch in a chastened spirit, may find in their history, however quietly it may have glided by, many a token of the interest and care of their Father in heaven? And what a blessed thing to have accumulated through life a store of such providences - to have Ebenezers reared along the whole line of one's history! What courage after looking over such a past might one feel in looking forward to the future!
III. The next section of the song sets forth the grounds on which the Divine protection was thus enjoyed by David. Substantially these grounds were the uprightness and faithfulness with which he had served God. The expressions are strong, and at first sight they have a flavour of self-righteousness. "The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath He recompensed me. 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 put not away His statutes from me. I was also perfect with Him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity." But it is impossible to read this Psalm without feeling that it is not pervaded by the spirit of the self-righteous man. It is pervaded by a profound sense of dependence on God, and of obligation to His mercy and love. Now that is the very opposite of the self-righteous spirit. We may surely find another way of accounting for such expressions used by David here. We may surely believe that all that was meant by him was to express the unswerving sincerity and earnestness with which he had endeavoured to serve God, with which he had resisted every temptation to conscious unfaithfulness, with which he had resisted every allurement to idolatry on the one hand or to the neglect of the welfare of God's nation on the other. What he here celebrates is, not any personal righteousness that might enable him as an individual to claim the favour and reward of God, but the ground on which he, as the public champion of God's cause before the world, enjoyed God's countenance and obtained His protection. There would be no self-righteousness in an inferior officer of the navy or the army who had been sent on some expedition saying, "I obeyed your instructions in every particular; I never deviated from the course you prescribed." There would have been no self-righteousness in such a man as Luther saying, "I constantly maintained the principles of the Bible; I never once abandoned Protestant ground." Such affirmations would never be held to imply a claim of personal sinlessness during the whole course of their lives. Substantially all that is asserted is, that in their public capacity they proved faithful to the cause entrusted to them; they never consciously betrayed their public charge. Now it is this precisely that David affirms of himself. Unlike Saul, who abandoned the law of the kingdom, David uniformly endeavoured to carry it into effect. The success which followed he does not claim as any credit to himself, but as due to his having followed the instructions of his heavenly Lord. It is the very opposite of a self-righteous spirit. He would have us understand that if ever he had abandoned the guidance of God, if ever he had relied on his own wisdom and followed the counsels of his own heart, everything would have gone wrong with him; the fact that he had been successful was due altogether to the Divine wisdom that guided and the Divine strength that upheld him.
Even with this explanation, some of the expressions may seem too strong. How could he speak of the cleanness of his hands, and of his not having wickedly departed from his God? Granting that the song was written before his sin in the case of Uriah, yet remembering how he had lied at Nob and equivocated at Gath, might he not have used less sweeping words? But it is not the way of burning, enthusiastic minds to be forever weighing their words, and guarding against misunderstandings. Enthusiasm sweeps along in a rapid current. And David correctly describes the prevailing features of his public endeavours. His public life was unquestionably marked by a sincere and commonly successful endeavour to follow the will of God. In contrast with Saul and Ishbosheth, side by side with Absalom or Sheba, his career was purity itself, and bore out the rule of the Divine government, "With the merciful Thou wilt show Thyself merciful, and with the upright man Thou wilt show Thyself upright. With the pure Thou wilt show Thyself pure, and with the froward Thou wilt show Thyself unsavoury." If God is to prosper us, there must be an inner harmony between us and Him. If the habit of our life be opposed to God, the result can only be collision and rebuke. David was conscious of the inner harmony, and therefore he was able to rely on being supported and blessed.
IV. In the wide survey of his life and of his providential mercies, the eye of the Psalmist is particularly fixed on some of his deliverances, in the remembrance of which he specially praises God. One of the earliest appears to be recalled in the words, "By my God have I leaped over a wall," - the wall, it may be supposed, of Gibeah, down which Michal let him when Saul sent to take him in his house. Still further back, perhaps, in his life is the allusion in another expression - "Thy gentleness hath made me great" He seems to go back to his shepherd life, and in the gentleness with which he dealt with the feeble lamb that might have perished in rougher hands to find an emblem of God's method with himself. If God had not dealt gently with him, he never would have become what he was. The Divine gentleness had made paths easy that rougher treatment would have made intolerable. And who of us that looks back but must own our obligations to the gentleness of God, the tender, forbearing, nay loving, treatment He has bestowed on us, even in the midst of provocations that would have justified far harsher treatment?
But what? Can David praise God’s gentleness and in the next words utter such terrible words against his foes? How can he extol God's gentleness to him and immediately dwell on his tremendous severity to them? "I have consumed them and wounded them that they could not arise; yea, they are fallen under my feet. . . . Then did I beat them as small as the dust of the earth, I did stamp them as the mire of the street, and did spread them abroad." It is the military spirit which we have so often observed, looking on his enemies in one light only, as identified with everything evil and enemies of all that was good. To show mercy to them would be like showing mercy to destructive wild beasts, raging bears, venomous serpents, and rapacious vultures. Mercy to them would be cruelty to all God's servants; it would be ruin to God's cause. No! for them the only fit doom was destruction, and that destruction he had dealt to them with no unsparing hand.
But while we perceive his spirit, and harmonize it with his general character, we cannot but regard it as the spirit of one who was imperfectly enlightened. We tremble when we think what fearful wickedness persecutors and inquisitors have committed, under the idea that the same course was to be followed against those whom they deemed enemies of the cause of God. We rejoice in the Christian spirit that teaches us to regard even public enemies as our brothers, for whom individually kindly and brotherly feelings are to be cherished. And we remember the new aspect in which our relations to such have been placed by our Lord: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you."
In the closing verses of the Psalm, the views of the Psalmist seem to sweep beyond the limits of an earthly kingdom. His eye seems to embrace the wide-spreading dominion of Messiah; at all events, he dwells on those features of his own kingdom that were typical of the all-embracing kingdom of the Gospel: "Thou hast made me the head of the nations; a people whom I have not known shall serve me. As soon as they hear of me they shall obey me; the strangers shall submit themselves unto me." The forty-ninth verse is quoted by St. Paul (Romans 15:9) as a proof that in the purpose of God the salvation of Christ was designed for Gentiles as well as Jews. "It is beyond doubt," says Luther, "that the wars and victories of David prefigured the passion and resurrection of Christ." At the same time, he admits that it is very doubtful how far the Psalm applies to Christ, and how far to David, and he declines to press the type to particulars. But we may surely apply the concluding words to David's Son: "He showeth loving-kindness to his anointed, to David and to his seed for evermore."
It is interesting to mark the military aspect of the kingdom gliding into the missionary. Other psalms bring out more clearly this missionary element, exhibit David rejoicing in the widening limits of his kingdom, in the wider diffusion of the knowledge of the true God, and in the greater happiness and prosperity accruing to men. And yet, perhaps, his views on the subject were comparatively dim; he may have been disposed to identify the conquests of the sword and the conquests of the truth instead of regarding the one as but typical of the other. The visions and revelations of his later years seem to have thrown new light on this glorious subject, and though not immediately, yet ultimately, to have convinced him that truth, righteousness, and meekness were to be the conquering weapons of Messiah's reign.