In our last essay we studied 2 Samuel, chapter 21, which began the last major portion of the book. We decided to call it an “Epilogue,” because it contains a hodgepodge of material that makes it a bit hard to classify. The information comes from various times in David’s reign, and it contains poetry as well as narrative and some historical records.
In this essay we are studying chapter 22, which consists of a song of thanksgiving written by David. It also is found in the Psalter as Ps. 18. There are many differences in the wording of the two, though most of them don’t change the meaning in any way. Of course scholars debate which of the two versions contains the original wording. But it isn’t really possible to tell that. It may be that neither represents the precise wording of the original psalm as David composed it. David himself could have revised it for liturgical use in the Psalter; and it could have received a little different revision for inclusion in this historical book.
Verse one is a heading for the song. David evidently composed the psalm during the latter years of his reign, after the Lord had delivered him from all his enemies, namely, Saul, internal foes, and external enemies as well. It was during a time when David’s kingdom was supreme in the Near East.
Saul is specifically mentioned, not because that was the last deliverance. Indeed the deliverance from Saul was early in David’s career. Rather Saul is specifically mentioned, because David’s deliverance from Saul was the greatest and most important in his life. Without deliverance from Saul, none of the others would have been possible.
Verses 2-4 are a kind of introduction to the song as a whole. They summarize everything we will find in the balance of the psalm. Notice that David used a whole string of images to express what God had been for him during his life: a rock, a fortress (castle), a deliverer, a shield, a horn, a refuge, and a savior.
Several of these images point to one basic idea that was familiar to all in the southern desert in Israel. There are many places in southern Palestine where steep rocky places form natural fortresses in which persons can hide. David took advantage of such places when he was fleeing from Saul. You may remember that the name, in English, used for David’s favorite hideout was “stronghold” (1 Sam. 22:5; 24:22).
But as you can see, David never considered the natural rock fortresses to be his security. The Lord was his rock, his fortress, and hiding place.
At verse five the account of David’s deliverances by the hand of God begins. Again there is a string of images, this time in respect to the threat of death: waves (breakers) of death, torrents (streams) of perdition, cords of Sheol, and snares of death. David was in danger of death many times in his life. Saul tried to kill him several times; Absalom threatened him, as did several of his many wars. But David called on the name of the Lord and was delivered every time.
Verses 8-20 spell out in vivid imagery how God did it. The primary basis of this imagery is the account in Ex. 19:16-19 of the Lord’s coming down on Sinai in smoke and fire. Now God’s deliverance of David hadn’t actually been accompanied by these extraordinary natural events. But to David, his deliverance was supernatural, miraculous. And the imagery of the Exodus expressed that for him.
The line of Exodus imagery is continued in verse 11. The idea of God’s riding on a cherub is a reference to the fact that God dwelled, or was enthroned, between two cherubim on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.
In verses 12 and following, still using the Exodus imagery, David reminded his listeners (in our case readers) of the fact that God sometimes comes in judgment. The thick darkness under his feet (v. 10) can become a canopy that hides God from men and their prayers (v. 12). And the coals of fire that burst forth from the dark clouds are lightning strikes of judgment against God’s, and in this case David’s, enemies.
But God not only struck David’s enemies, he reached out to save David personally. He snatched David from the “mighty waters” (vv. 18-20). Some have suggested that this image alludes to the rescue of Moses from the waters of the Nile.
Next, in verses 21-25, comes the reason for David’s deliverance. As you see, the paragraph is in the form of a self-testimony by David. He claims to have been rewarded by God according to his righteousness. And the language used is the language of personal righteousness. This is interesting, because it suggests that David thought rather highly of himself. Commentators have difficulty with this paragraph, because clearly David was not always morally righteous.
Some might want to say that David was self-deceived, that he assumed he was personally righteous simply because God delivered him. After all it was a standard view in Israel that God blessed the righteous and brought calamity on the unrighteous. But I think the better approach is to believe that David was righteous because of God’s grace. David certainly sinned many times, but he was forgiven because he genuinely repented and confessed.
With verse 26 David began to provide some philosophical justification, though he wouldn’t have called it that. This is a valid spiritual principle, though not an absolute one. In general God responds to humans according to human attitudes towards God. That is, he delivers the humble, but brings down the haughty.
In verses 29-46 David began to describe the specific help that the Lord had given him. David testified to what the Lord has done for him, presumably because he was among the humble. Once again a series of images are placed before us. First, the Lord was David’s lamp. That is, he was David’s guide. And that guidance enabled David to crush troops and leap walls, meaning overcome fortified cities (vv. 29-30). And notice that God’s light comes from his word verse 31. Second, the Lord girded David with strength (v. 33). Third, he made David’s feet like those of a deer, sure footed in the high places (v. 34). Fourth, he trained David for war (v. 35). Fifth, the Lord provided for David spiritually as well as for his wars. That is, he provided salvation (v. 36). Sixth, David returned to the subject of his military victories. The Lord girded him with strength for the battle (v. 40); and he made David’s enemies turn their backs, meaning David put them to flight (v. 41). Indeed when the enemy cried out for help there was no one to help them, certainly not the Lord (v. 42). They were crushed without mercy (v. 43). David became supreme in the area. Foreign nations came cringing and served him (vv. 44-46).
The psalm ends in verses 47-51 with a conclusion of praise to the Lord. Notice that the praise will be sounded among the nations. The Lord has done far too much for David to confine the praise to Israel. With David’s domination of the surrounding nations, there is opportunity to spread to them both the knowledge and praise of the Lord.
Turning to application, the first point I would make is that David deeply understood that the Lord was his savior, his deliverer; and he proclaimed his gratitude in this psalm. This psalm is a good model in that regard for us as Christians. God, through Christ, is our savior and deliverer; and we must proclaim that fact as loudly and clearly as David did.
Second, David, even from his Old Testament perspective, understood that the Lord was his sanctifier (vv. 21-25). Although David declares that he is righteous (holy), he had not forgotten the extent and depth of his sins (adultery, murder, etc.). The only way that David could declare himself righteous, as he does in these verses, was out of the knowledge that God had forgiven his sins and made him holy. He was a sinner, cleansed by grace. Again he is a model for us. All of us have sinned, some of us in grievous ways. And by God’s grace in Christ we have found ourselves forgiven and cleansed by the Holy Spirit. Like David, we must express our gratitude and praise to God for his love.