Saturday, May 26, 2012

Psalm 18

Psalm 18
A psalm of God's deliverance

"To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song on 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 You, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, so shall I be saved from  my enemies.'"(verse 1-3)

            Musicians often describe the source of their inspiration when introducing an audience to a new song they have written, especially when it was born out deep personal experience.  David, likewise, in introducing his new psalm also shares the events and circumstances that birthed it.  Celebrity musician, king, and battle hero, David could have recorded such personal distinctions alongside this fresh new worship song, but he introduces himself, the composer, as simply "the servant of the LORD." This is both the most humble and exalted title anyone could own. Jesus said, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." (Mark 9:35) There is no one lower than a servant in a society, and yet there is no greater honour than to be the servant of God.
             In God's kingdom, to serve Him is the reward itself! Paul said regarding the extensive and fruitful ministry he had been given, "What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge." (1 Corinthians 9:18) It is a sad when those who are called to serve God in leadership roles lose sight of the honour from God and instead seek the honour of men. Jesus said in Mark 10:42-45, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Men find honour in lordship and authority, but those called to serve God find honour in serving.
            Peter counsels those who are called to serve as overseers of the church to, "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion, but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly, nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away." (1 Peter 5:2-4) David was a shepherd, and although he was now the king, with earthly lordship and authority, David never lost sight of the fact that his honour came not from his position among men, but in his service to God.  He always had the heart of a shepherd. David was the servant of the Lord.
           And what does David record as the inspiration for this beautiful psalm? God's deliverance of his life from his enemies, chief of whom had been the previous king of Israel, Saul. Jealous of David, Saul... his father in law, had hunted David for almost a decade, before he died in battle and David was crowned king. At the time of this writing, Saul had been dead for about fifteen years, but David had just finished some terrible business regarding a costly debt Saul owed, and had brought his bones to be properly buried in his ancestral tomb. Furthermore, David had finished some other business; he had just returned from a bloody battle with the Philistines in which he and his men had killed the last of Goliath's descendants.
             Returning home, a man in middle age, David no doubt was reflecting upon all the years of God's faithfulness to him, from the time of his youth when he slew the giant Goliath, to the many times God had delivered him from Saul, and the countless battles he had survived victorious, up to this very moment in time. The praise just seems to overflow from his soul.

     "The pangs of death surrounded me, and the floods of ungodliness made me afraid.  The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry came before His ears."  (verses 4-6)
      "Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, because He was angry.  Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth; coals were kindled by it He bowed the heavens also, and came down with darkness under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub, and flew; He flew upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies, from the brightness before Him, His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire. The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice, hailstones and coals of fire. He sent out His arrows and scattered the foe, lightenings in abundance, an He vanquished them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, the foundations of the world were uncovered at Your rebuke, O LORD; at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils."  (verses 7-15)
      "He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support. He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me." (verses 16-19)

             In the last battle David had fought against the Philistines and the sons of the giant Goliath, there had come a moment when David feared for his life. This is how the scribe who recorded the event described it in 2 Samuel 21:15-17, "When the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David and his servants with him went down and fought against the Philistines; and David grew faint. Then Ishbi-Benob, who was one of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose bronze spear was three hundred shekels, who was bearing a new sword, thought he could kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and struck the Philistine and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him, saying, 'You shall go out no more with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.'" 
            How humbling.  David, the mighty warrior, had fought his last battle. Yet, as he heads home, instead of dwelling on his failing strength or weakness on the battlefield, David contemplates what happens in the spiritual realm when he prays for deliverance. This was, of course, not the first time David had cried out to God to save him, but as it was perhaps his last in direct warfare, David seems to be in a contemplative mood, pondering the power of God to save.
           What does it look like? Someday every eye will see and know the power of God to deliver those who trust in Him, when Jesus "is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 1:7,8)  Perhaps David's poetic description is not too far off from the future reality.
     "The LORD rewarded me according my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.  For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.  For all His judgements were before me, and I did not put away His statutes from me. I was also blameless before Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity.  Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His sight. 
     With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; with a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; with the pure You will show Yourself pure; and with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd. For You will save the humble people, but will bring down haughty looks." (verses 20-27)

            What is this "righteousness" and "blamelessness" David speaks of?  Be clear on this, it is not a reference to his sinlessness or perfection.  David was not sinless and he was well acquainted with his own failures. Neither does God expect perfection, but rather, offers it.  David's true righteousness was an imputed righteousness from God, just like mine. Through faith in God's mercy, God accredited righteousness to him. The "righteousness," then, that David here speaks of is the accompanying righteous actions that go hand in hand with his faith.
             David applies a clear Biblical principle: sowing and reaping, spoken of in both the Old and New Testament, to his own circumstances.  It says in Galatians 6:7, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life."  God had given clear standards of righteousness to His people in the Law, and had likewise given clear consequences and rewards for those who walked in obedience to them. You reap what you sow.
             What then, were they to sow, if they were to reap the promised rewards? And what were the rewards? Most people think of the Law as a list of "Thou shalt nots," but that is only the Ten Commandments. The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, and the heart of the Law, was known to the Israelites as the Shema, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is One! You shall love the LORD Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:4,5) Micah also records these words in his book, "He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Your God?" (Micah 6:8) Does that not sound like David's words? Mercy, blamelessness and purity, and humility... mercy, justice, and humility.
            Although David was not sinless by any standard, he was a man who loved and feared God with a whole heart. He was "a man after God's own heart," and his life thus fulfilled the heart of the law: Love. His love of God caused him to forsake and avoid sin at all costs. He still stumbled and fell, as any man does, (even into the "big" sins listed in the Ten Commandments!), but David's confidence in God's mercy and grace enabled him to get back up again and keep walking with God in faith. David lived in humble reliance upon God's mercy. He truly had not departed from the heart of the Law; he loved God above all else (the Shema), and, (like Micah 6:8) he humbly sought to walk uprightly in response. David was righteous, blameless, and clean in God's eyes.
            And the rewards for obedience? God promised deliverance from enemies, abundant food, and health to those, in Israel, who trusted in Him. They would reap what they sowed. David saw the deliverance of God and knew that God was faithfully honouring His promise to His people in saving his life in battle.    While we are not promised the same physical rewards as Israel, there still is the promise of blessing to those who trust in the LORD. As citizens of heaven, our rewards for faithfulness will be given to us there. Jesus said, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:20,21) and Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9:6, "He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."  Let us sow bountifully for eternity!

"For You will light my lamp; the LORD will enlighten my darkness. For by You I can run against a troop, by my God I can leap over a wall. As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. For who is God, except the LORD? And who is rock, except our God?
       It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and sets me on my high places. He teaches my hands to make war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.  You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great. You enlarged my path under me, so my feet did not slip. 
      I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them; neither did I turn back again until they were destroyed.  I have wounded them, so that they couldn't rise; they have fallen under my feet. For You have armed me with strength for battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.  You have also given me the necks of my enemies, so that I destroyed those who hated me.  They cried out, but there was none to save; even to the LORD, but He did not answer them. Then I beat them as fine as the dust before the wind; I cast them out like dirt in the streets." (verses 28-42)

              David recounts his victories in past battles, giving God glory for each and every amazing feat. To be honest, this portion of the psalm reads like a scene from Captain America, (yes, I watched it), with David running superhumanly fast against a troop of soldiers, leaping over walls, climbing cliffs like a deer, and bending bows of bronze, (have you seen the movie?!) He was strong and fit, to be sure, but this was the power of God! He accredits God with arming him with strength, making his way perfect, giving him a shield of salvation, teaching his hands to make war, keeping his feet from slipping... (again... have you seen the movie?)
             Its not that I endorse cheesy, American superhero action films, but seriously, its is a better representation of a hero like David than any "realistic" Bible movie I've seen. David was not just a warrior, but was an Old Testament superhero, like Sampson or Shamgar, who, in battles of one against 500 or 1,000 men, slew every last enemy singlehandedly. That is not humanly possible. That is herculean. That is superhuman. David and his mighty men, formerly a shepherd boy and bunch of discouraged outcasts, became super warriors by the hand of God.  God used these humble, upright men to accomplish His will on earth, supernaturally aiding them in doing the impossible.
             Having fought his last battle, David rejoices at having been so powerfully used by God for His kingdom and plan on earth.  It is no different for us today, in waging battles in the spiritual realm. God is still our strength and by His power, we can stand against the mightiest foe. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)

"You have delivered me from the strivings of the people; You have made me the head of nations; a people I have not known shall serve me.  As soon as they hear of me they obey me. The foreigners fade away, and come frightened from their hideouts.  The LORD lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted.  
      It is God who avenges me, and subdues the peoples under me; He delivers me from my enemies. You also lift me up above those who rise against me; You have delivered me from the violent man.  Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the Gentiles, and sing praises to Your name.  Great deliverance He gives to His king, and shows mercy to His anointed, to David and his descendants forevermore." (verses 43-50)

             David, king of the most powerful nation on earth at the time, seems almost dumbfounded as to how he got to where he is. "You have done it all, God!" is his awed conclusion, and he spontaneously bursts into high praise. The climax of the psalm, this particular portion has been a favourite of hymn, worship, and praise song composers for centuries. "The LORD lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted." David's enthusiasm is contagious!
             Great indeed was God's mercy to David, His anointed king, psalmist, and warrior; and to his descendants forever. For, from David came Jesus, and from Jesus came eternal life, deliverance for all who trust in Him.

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