July 7, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:25 in the audio file.
Or, Exalting in the God of Deliverance
Series: The Soundtrack of the Righteous
In Jonathan Edwards’ treatise, The Religious Affections, which is, in my estimation at least, his most important work, he introduces the “greatest advantage” the devil has in his battle against Christ.
It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ all along hitherto. (17)
There have always been hypocrites, posers, and abusers of God’s grace among those who are truly humble and faithful recipients of God’s grace. This is not new, and it affects a number of areas, not just in identifying who belongs to the church, but also in considering how the church lives in the world.
One of those areas is the desire to succeed. I believe that many Christians have seen the desire for success/prosperity abused and so have come to conclude that any and every desire to win must necessarily be wrong, worldly, ungodly. But there is more to distinguish than simply between those who want to succeed and those who are resigned to suffer. That is too simple, too surface.
Many Christians have become afraid of prosperity. And, have men become preoccupied with the world to their eternal danger? Of course (Matthew 13:22). Has materialism even happened in the name of Jesus? Sadly, yes. But as usual, there is more than one way to disobey.
We have to look at more than what a person wants. We also have to consider:
I say all of this because Psalm 18 is a song of triumph. In Psalm 17 David prayed for vindication; he was singing in the middle of his need. In Psalm 18, as we’ll see by the end, the vindication has come through great victory. In the song we see David’s attitude (he submitted to God), we see David’s understanding of the nature of his help in God (God is not a candy dispenser), we see David’s effort and sacrifices (he got his armor sweaty and his sword bloody by God’s strength), and we see David’s response (he gave all the credit to God). The inspired song is a worship song about winning, and we should learn how to sing it.
I mean, what if we…won? Or is winning not for us? Does God not give victory to His people anymore? Maybe He will vindicate us, but really, He’s going to vindicate His name, and we’re only going to participate in that after we’re dead, so basically we probably shouldn’t worship like David here in Psalm 18…?
We’ve transferred the fear. We shouldn’t fear prosperity, we should fear God. He is the source of victory, and He is the purveyor of vengeance. Remembering both of those parts protects us from errors on either extreme. So the question is not whether we should desire prosperity at all, it is whether we desire prosperity from a position of integrity or hypocrisy? It is appropriate to desire deliverance from distress, and it is appropriate to praise the Deliverer when He delivers.
This is the context of the Psalm, as the heading reveals. The heading is on the longer side of those in the Psalter.
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:
When a Psalm has a heading it was probably written by the arranger of the Psalter, and because this contains so many details, we can assume that the arranger knew his facts. These details were known because this song had its public release near the end of David’s life. It doesn’t mean that David wrote all the lyrics in his final days, but it started getting more go-rounds in the liturgical rotation before he died (one of the perks of being a poet who is also the king).
All this context is observable because the Psalm is found in 2 Samuel 22, and the “last words of David” are in chapter 23. His deliverance from the hand of Saul is very specific, and the phrase on the day sounds very specific, but there is not necessarily one event, one battle, that David is celebrating. It is when the LORD delivered him from all his enemies, and there were quite a lot of them over four decades of service; how often was David in a mess?
This is a song of David, a song of Davidic kings after David, a song of kingly thanks, sung by a nation of worshippers.
This morning we’re going to consider the first two parts of the song, the Beloved Rock (verses 1-3) and the Epic Rescuer (verses 4-19).
This is a rocking way to start the song, and it probably makes us nervous in a few ways.
Note the fully stocked arsenal of epithets (descriptive phrases of a characteristic) for Yahweh: strength, rock (twice), fortress, deliverer, shield, horn, stronghold. A rock is unshakeable, a fortress is impregnable. All of these point to protection and security, and so peace and confidence.
But, even though these are Bible verses, we’re the kind of people who’ve been taught to be suspicious of language like this.
Surely this is too personal, right? There are 14 first-person personal pronouns in these verses. Look at all of them, “I”s and “my”s all over the place. And not only is it too much talk about “me,” it doesn’t even talk about “we.” Are we allowed to talk about my God? Actually, we must.
This is also too practical, as in, every attribute mentioned that makes the Lord worthy to be praised in these verses is one of practical benefit to David. None of these praise lyrics are about God’s transcendent attributes, these are all imminent ones, and in a narrow category. What about His wisdom, that He has whether or not we care? What about His holiness, His wrath, His omnipotence, His eternality? Are we allowed to talk about what God does that benefits us? Actually, we must.
And this is too touchy-feely, and probably arrogant for David to claim, I love you, O LORD. Even though the great commandment is to love the LORD, we aren’t really supposed to say it, right? And we certainly can’t be expected to say it on schedule, in a song, in front of other people? And when it comes to God, who can dare claim, to Him, that he loves God? Are we allowed to talk about our affection for Him? Actually, we must.
Bible people are, ironically, some of the most judgy people when it comes to lyrics. And there are certainly a lot of self-centered, “Jesus is my boyfriend” sounding, sappy stuff out there. It is also possible to undermine the depth of good lyrics with silly rhythms and tunes, but that is another discussion. David’s song, as king and for the choirmaster, celebrates God as the beloved (and blessed, verse 46) rock. It’s an inspired pattern for us, and it encourages us: Don’t freak out.
The next section of the song uses some epic conventions, and should be read together to appreciate what David describes.
What does all of verses 4-19 that make you think of? There’s not only one right answer to that question. It makes me think of a few things. It makes me think that only those who understand what God is like should call on Him for help; this is being rescued from the frying pan by the Fire. In story form, it’s Lewis emphasized that Aslan is good, not safe. Like, watch out; be careful what you ask for. The Deliver is worse than any distress if you’re not on the Deliver’s right side.
This section of the song also makes me think less Chris Tomlin and Bob Kauflin and more Homer. These lines, and some lines later in the song, are like a mini, monotheistic Iliad. The connection is not fully in my imagination.
David lived in the time between the Trojan War and Homer, meaning the battles at and Fall of Troy happened before David was born, and then David had his own battles before Homer was born and wrote about what happened in Troy. David also lived in Israel, only a little over 700 miles from modern day Istanbul, a very walkable distance in a couple months. And like Psalm 18, The Iliad is a poem, that was told by song.
Verses 4-5 are not just describing how bad it was, but how underworld bad it was. The cords of death and Sheol are like tentacles reaching up and grabbing at David to pull him down. He was looking into the snares of death, ready to snap him up. The torrents of destruction are like a river pulling him under, perhaps like the Acheron “river of woe” in the Greek underworld.
Verse 6 is where David’s help came from. From his temple he heard my voice, and this is not Solomon’s temple (because it hadn’t been built yet), this is God’s cosmic dwelling place in heaven. It’s not Mount Olympus, but it is where God both transcends and can still attend to what is happening on earth.
When God hears the cry for help, and when He sees His chosen attacked, He gets angry. This imagery of God’s confronting capacity is terrifying. Don’t mess with Him, or the ones He cares about.
The very illustrations of God’s stability, the mountains, considered at their foundations tremble and quake. Where there is smoke there is fire, pictured as coming from His face, perhaps in dragon-like form. God sends no messenger, He comes Himself. He came down, He rode on a cherub and flew, he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. It was not like dandelion dander floating along in the late afternoon summer breeze, it was a storm of darkness and also brightness.
So he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightenings and routed them. Forget the thunder and lightening of Zeus. Nothing can stand before Yahweh when He’s in this “mood.” The deep channels of the sea were exposed. The foundations of the world were laid bare.
And in verses 16-19 we see where the LORD placed David. David said, the LORD drew me out of many waters. The LORD was my support. He came out from the narrow, crushing place and into a broad place where there was room.
There are, obviously, huge differences between David’s song and Homer’s song. The biggest difference is that David praises one God, not just his favorite god among many gods. And the LORD can be depended on to hear, whereas neither Hektor or Achilleus could be quite sure how to get the gods’ attention. David’s LORD also has power over all the elements, in the heavens and on the land and in the sea, the hail and fire and water. And this LORD delights in His chosen: He rescued me, because he delighted in me. Even if this was true for a Trojan or Greek worshipper, there could be no certainty or permanency of such delight. David was the “apple” of God’s eye (Psalm 17:18).
When we consider the rest of the song we’ll see more from the human, warrior side, with God equipping for war and giving victory over enemies (verses 31-42), with international consequences for civilization (among the nations and peoples).
Psalm 18 is cosmic, mythological, poetic, and profitable for us to learn to sing (as we know from 2 Timothy 3:16). “Jesus, what a friend for sinners,” is true, and not the full song. Our Friend is also a consuming Fire, and this psalm helps us learn to exalt in Him as the Deliverer.
Do not mess with God. And if you fear God, do not fear those who mess with you. He is your Rock. He is a Fire. He is your God.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28–29, ESV)