Of the Justice of David's Behaviour
Psalm 18:20-27
The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands has he recompensed me.…

I. DAVID'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. Righteousness consists in rendering to all their due, and the revealed will of God is the standard of it (Deuteronomy 6:25). As we are under infinitely greater obligations to perform our duty to God than we can be under to perform any services to our fellow men, righteousness includes in it that piety which has God for its object, as well as the performance of those duties to which our neighbours have a right. Yet it is not seldom used to denote the rectitude of our dispositions and conduct to our fellow men, as godliness denotes right tempers and behaviour towards God. David laid it down as his settled purpose to walk in the law of the Lord, the great standard of righteousness, and through Divine mercy he was enabled to keep his resolution inviolable through the course of his life. He did not pretend to perfection. He referred all his actions to the glory of God; he loved His testimonies with his whole heart, and took pleasure in the habitation of His house. He made use of all his power to advance the honour of his God.

1. He behaved righteously towards King Saul, his first and great enemy. He was just to all his fellow subjects whilst he lived under the government of Saul. He acquired a high reputation for the prudence with which he managed all his affairs, and he would not have attained this honest fame if he had not abstained from all appearance of evil. We have no reason to form the least doubt of the care that David took, when he was an outlaw and a fugitive, to keep his followers from using any unwarrantable means for the supply of their wants, although they must often have been in extreme poverty. We have a testimonial from Nabal's servants of the honesty of David's men, and even of their generous care of Nabal's substance, at a time when the ,good man was almost reduced to beggary. We have no reason to doubt of David's rectitude of behaviour in all the dealings that he had with strangers. He had transactions in the time of his troubles with the king of Moab, to whom he committed the care of his father and mother when they could no longer dwell with safety at Bethlehem. We have no further account of any dealings with that prince, although we afterwards find him carrying on a bloody war with the Moabites. We have not the means of knowing whether the king of Moab had provoked this war by cruelty to David's father and mother; but we can have no doubt that the cause of the war was just on David's part. After the kind treatment which he received from the king of Gath, he took Gath out of the hands of the Philistines, but the Philistines themselves were the authors of the war. David in his government was a man of blood, but in his disposition he was a man of peace. A necessity was laid upon him to fight the battles of the Lord, and of the people of the Lord. When he was advanced to the throne of Israel it is testified of him that he did justice and judgment to all his people. He tells us (Psalm 75; Psalm 101) how he intended to govern his family and his kingdom, and doubtless, as far as human infirmity would permit, he kept his resolution. Gratitude may well be considered as an ingredient of justice. We owe returns of love and of the proper fruits of it to friends who love us, and who are glad to serve us according to the best of their abilities. David's gratitude to his benefactors was a remarkable part of his character. We find him sending presents of the spoils gained in battle to those places where he and his men were accustomed to haunt. When Saul was dead he was so far from expressing resentment against him, that he inquired whether there were any left of his family, that he might show them the kindness of God for Jonathan's sake, And many years afterwards he showed that Jonathan was not forgotten by him, when he took care to secure Mephibosheth from the destruction brought upon the family of Saul, at the requisition of the Gibeonites. He was grateful for favours even to those heathens from whom he received any kindness. Nahash, king of the Ammonites, showed kindness on some occasions to David, perhaps rather from hatred to Saul than goodwill to the poor man whom Saul oppressed. Yet David showed kindness unto Hanun, the son of Nahash, for his father's sake. Righteousness in a king will dispose him to an impartial execution of the laws against criminals. A wise king crusheth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them. But how was this consistent with the favour showed to Joab and to Absalom? Did he not know that God had forbidden any satisfaction to be taken for the life of a murderer? Yes, he knew it very well, and took measures even when he was dying that Joab's grey hairs should not come down to the grave without blood. It is perhaps impossible entirely to justify him for suffering that bloody man to live so long above the ground. Yet never was lenity to a criminal more excusable. Seldom has a prince or a nation been more indebted to a subject than David and his people were to Joab for brilliant services. And it appears to have been almost impracticable to bring to condign punishment a man so popular, and of such power in the army as Joab. David himself made this excuse for himself when he said, "These men, the sons of Zerniah, are too strong for me." We may observe likewise that David was once indebted for his own life to Abishai, the brother of Joab, who seems to have had some share in the blood of Abner. He might with some appearance of reason think that he owed a life to the family of his sister Zeruiah, or that at least he might incline to the favourable side when plausible reasons could be advanced for their exculpation. We cannot pretend to vindicate his behaviour in the case of Uriah. But we cannot reprobate that part of his conduct in stronger language than David himself did. We may make the same observation concerning another instance of David's procedure, which has given occasion to animadversions on his conduct; I mean the charge given to Solomon concerning Shimei. "Behold thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim; but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the Lord, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword. Now, therefore, hold him not guiltless, for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him, but his hoary head bring thou clown to the grave with blood." We might have observed that fidelity in performing engagements is an essential part of justice in which it cannot be supposed that David would be deficient. But how could David observe his promise and oath to Shimei if he brought down the hairs of Shimei with blood to the grave by the hands of Solomon? A man is no less accountable for what he commands to be done, than for what he does with his own hands. Can we reasonably suppose that David on his deathbed would commit an act of wickedness for which his memory might be detested by all who feared an oath? In fact, we find that the crime of cursing David at Mahanaim was not the ground of the sentence against Shimei, although the reason he had given by that crime to suspect his loyalty was the cause why he was laid under a prohibition of leaving Jerusalem under pain of death. But there is another reading of the last part of the charge equally agreeable to the words of the original, which clears the character of David from all blame, Neither bring down his grey hairs to the grave with blood; keep a strict eye over him as a man disaffected to my family; punish him for any new crime by which he may merit punishment, but let my oath be sacred, and bring not down his grey hairs to the grave with blood, for that crime which I sware by the Lord not to punish with death. Charity is essential to justice. There are duties which we owe to all men, by the second great commandment of the law, the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves. If David had not conscientiously observed this precept he could not have so often appealed to God, the Searcher of hearts, as the witness of his inviolable regard to these Divine testimonies, which were the light to his path and the lamp by which his feet were guided in the way of peace.

II. GOD'S REGARD TO DAVID'S RIGHTEOUSNESS IN THE DELIVERANCES GRANTED TO HIM FROM HIS ENEMIES. Without all doubt, David ascribed all the rich favours he received from God to that sovereign and free mercy to which every saint of God must be infinitely indebted (Psalm 86:11, 116:4, 5). He was sensible, like his father Jacob, that he was not worthy of the least of God's mercies, and that there was no merit in the least of his works (Psalm 138:2, 3). But he knew at the same time that, through the infinite mercy of God, the good works of His people are accepted and rewarded by Him (Psalm 11:6). Mercy and truth meet together in God, righteousness and peace kiss each other, and display their united glories in the administrations of His providence to His people. The Lord shows forth the exceeding riches of His grace in making them righteous, and when they are made righteous He shows both His grace and His justice in rewarding them according to their righteousness. There is so much sin mingled even with their good works that, if they were still under the law, they could not escape the condemnation at once of all their works, and of their persons likewise. But all their iniquities, and amongst other iniquities those which cleave to their holy things, are covered from God's sight. Their good works, therefore, cannot but be well-pleasing to God, and richly rewarded by Him. He will never be unrighteous to forget any of their works or labours of love, and therefore those who follow after righteousness shall have a sure reward. But did not David glory in himself rather than in the Lord when he spoke of his own righteousness m such high terms. This question leads us —

III. TO CONSIDER DAVID'S CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS. He speaks with perfect assurance concerning the regard which God expressed to his righteousness. Is this the language of humility? It would indeed be very presumptuous to form and to express such a judgment concerning ourselves without searching our own hearts, without comparing them with the law of God, and without finding good evidence that our hearts are sound in God's statutes. But in none of these particulars had David been negligent.

1. He had searched his heart as well as his ways. "I thought," he says, "upon my ways., and turned my feet unto Thy testimonies." He was far from thinking that his ways could be right unless his heart was right in the sight of God.

2. His standard by which be tried himself was the law of his God. He was fully sensible of the folly of trying himself by any other standard.

3. He found in his heart and ways an habitual conformity to the law of God. He was indeed constrained to acknowledge that in many things he had offended God. When he meditated on the admirable purity of the law he cried, "Who can understand his errors? cleanse Thou me from secret faults." Yet he could with confidence say that he had hoped for God's salvation, and done His commandments. This conclusion he did not rashly form from the consideration of a few of his actions, or of the frame of his heart at some particular periods of his life. Many deceive themselves by forming a hasty judgment of themselves, founded on temporary impressions made upon their minds in some moments of seriousness, excited by some particular circumstance of providence, or by the transient influence of some Divine truths. He knew the deceitfulness of the heart of man, and that without Divine illumination he might easily deceive himself. He therefore referred himself to God, the Searcher of hearts, to preserve him from entertaining any false hopes of the goodness of his own condition (Psalm 139:23, 24).

IV. THE ASSURANCE WHICH DAVID HAD OF GOD'S RESPECT TO HIS OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS IN THE DELIVERANCES GRANTED TO HIM BY HIS GRACIOUS PROVIDENCE. We must not place humility ill all affected ignorance of what is true, either concerning oar own personal righteousness or concerning God's acceptance of it. Nothing could be more dangerous than the presumption that God is well pleased with us if our way or our heart is perverse before Him (Micah 3:10-12). Nothing could be more unbecoming in a Christian than the forgetfulness of his infinite obligations to that grace which has blotted out his innumerable transgressions. Yet it is desirable for every child of God to be well assured of the cleanness of his hands in God's sight, and of the acceptance of his works as well as of his person. As it is our duty to pray to God for the acceptance of our services, it must be our duty likewise humbly and thankfully to acknowledge God's righteousness and grace in His dealings with us. The riches of Divine mercy appear in the acceptance of our works, and in the consequent rewards bestowed on them, as well as in the acceptance of our persons. Were it not that our iniquities are hidden from God's sight, such works as even David's could not have been rewarded by that God who is of purer eyes than to behold evil. "Go thy way," says Solomon, "eat thy bread with cheerfulness, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for God now accepteth thy works." If God does not accept our works, we can have no well-grounded pleasure in the bounties of His providence. On the whole learn —

1. The great advantage of walking in the ways of God. "The Lord loveth him that followeth after righteousness. Say ye to the righteous, it shall be well with him." What reason have we to adore that plan of mercy which allows us to hope for Divine acceptance, and for the reward of our works done to please God, although they are so imperfect that we must daily seek from God the pardon of our iniquities.

2. God's people ought patiently to hold on in the way of righteousness amidst the most discouraging dispensations of providence. David had, after all his dismal days, a new song put into his mouth to magnify the Lord.

3. When we obtain deliverances it is our duty to consider how we behaved under our troubles. Yet we still ought to bless God for deliverances hem trouble, although we should not dare to say that we have kept the way of God when we are under it.

4. Let us give praise to God for the great salvation wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ. The deliverances of David were salvations to all Israel. It is to be feared that many of us are totally destitute of righteousness.

(G. Lawson.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.

WEB: Yahweh has rewarded me according to my righteousness. According to the cleanness of my hands has he recompensed me.

Justification by Works
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