July 14, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 17:55 in the audio file.
Or, Exalting in the God of Deliverance
Series: The Soundtrack of the Righteous
Life is hard, and then you sing about it. That’s not exactly how the saying goes, but it is the frequent minor theme of the Psalms. Many of these inspired poetic efforts teach God’s people which direction to moan in. Are you sick, slandered, attacked, or how about even guilty of sin? Select a song and go to God with it.
When I sit in the field as a shepherd and listen to the sheep, I hear a good number of Christians say that they get a good amount of comfort in tough times from the Psalms. Otherwise Bible-believing though not extremely concerned with the Old Testament Christians read the Psalms when life is hard. They appreciate David’s articulation of difficulty, his weeping, his cries for help, his emotive expressions of intention to trust the Lord. They are willing to say that they relate to David in many of these ways.
But I don’t remember ever hearing any Christian say that he relates to David when he wins. This isn’t to say that a claim to relate in some ways requires that a man relate in every way, of course not. Unlike David, we are not Jews, we are not kings, most of us have not been fugitives of our home state, nor have we killed a lion or bear with our bare hands, or committed adultery from palace rooftop ogling.
Yet we almost instinctively relate to his sad songs, and I believe we ought to learn how to hear, and match, the pitch of his glad songs, his triumph songs, as well. Psalm 18 is one of those victory psalms.
We are also watching for the ways in which this desire to win, and celebration of winning, are not that of a hypocrite. Look at the attitude of the man when he hasn’t won yet, consider the nature of the One to whom he looks for help, note what he expects to spend of himself in the process, and then see his response when the battle is finished.
Last Lord’s Day we considered the first two sections of the song. David expressed his affection for the Beloved Rock (verses 1-3), and for the Epic Rescuer (verses 4-19). Who knew that we’d get a little taste of the earth reeling and rocking, of the earth quaking (verse 7) so close to home?
This morning we have three more sections of the song, the Righteous Rewarder (verses 20-29), the Epic Sponsor (verses 30-45), and the Blessed Rock (verses 46-50). There’s a lot of song here to cover, but it’s a good song.
David’s beliefs here cause the Sola Fide crowd some theological heartburn. What exactly is he claiming?
He begins in verse 20, and bookends it in verse 24, with a declaration of his righteousness, the second statement more bold than the first. Initially he claims that The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness and then finishes with the LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness. The “dealing” and the “rewarding” are parallel; they are different ways of saying the same thing. The LORD rewarded him for keeping his hands clean, twice (verses 20, 24).
Who can claim to be righteous before God? “There is none who does good,” also written by David, twice in Psalm 14, verses 1 and 3. There is “not even one.” And this is true, but it is not the only thing that is true. It can also be true that men obey God, keep their hands clean, and do what He says.
So David says, I have kept the ways of the LORD, all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me. David didn’t do good on his own, he did good because he trusted God’s word to tell him what was good, and so he could say in this battle that he was blameless before God. (For the very nervous, note verse 32 when David says how he got to be blameless.) This is why David had confidence. He feared the LORD, and gave heed to His Word. He wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t a hypocrite.
The LORD does not promise blessing to those who believe but have no follow through. In verses 25-26 David describes God’s way of acting, according to God’s own standards. To the merciful God is merciful, to the blameless God responds perfectly. The purified know the LORD’s purity, and also with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. This is not a statement about works righteousness, it is a statement about God not being capricious and arbitrary. You can know, you can depend on, how God will react. He is not give to unaccountable, and so unpredictable and despotic, behavior.
The last three verses of this section, verses 27-29, return to David’s experience among the humble people. The LORD enables David to see as light, God illuminates the darkness. The LORD gives him strength in heart and in body. For by you I can run against a troop, outnumbered but unafraid, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
As we move toward the triumph, we see the basis on which David triumphed: obedience and reliance on the LORD. David was loyal to the LORD and the LORD rewarded him with deliverance.
The fourth section of the song is the most bloody. If verses 4-19 describe the cosmological effects on earth when God comes to help from His celestial temple, these verses describe the effects through David as a warrior when God sponsors (that is, one who takes responsibility to bring about) the victory.
The God who has standards, his way is perfect. He acts perfectly, and He speaks perfectly: the word of the LORD proves true. David believed it, and that’s why he could say on behalf of believers that God is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. This shield is better than what Patroclus borrowed from Achilles, and better than what the god Hephaestus made as a new shield for Achilles when his nymph mother, Thetis, asked for something special.
The safe place for David, however, was not geographical. The place of protection was the battlefield. David headed into the fray and “got some,” as we might hear said.
David claimed that God equipped me with strength, He “girded” or encircled as with a belt or band all around him, and made David swift and secure and successful in an impressive nature. God gave David feet like the feet of a deer, quick, while also giving him the strategic high ground (verse 33). David attributed the LORD as the one who trains my hands for war (a phrase I remember singing in a more contemporary song and thinking at the time that it was very unbiblical), so that my arms can bend of bow of bronze. There was a day when that wouldn’t have meant much to me. Then I read The Odyssey. There is a whole sub-plot about the muscles and maturity of those who can string certain bows, like that of Odysseus himself, and David says this one bow is bronze. Try bending that without God’s help.
As he fights he continues to have support and good ground until he finished what they started. I pursued my enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back until they were consumed (verse 37).
Consumed is not figurative. I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise. They were dead, under his feet, sunk under him. They tried to run away, You made my enemies turn their backs to me, but they couldn’t escape.
Verse 41 is very important. They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them. This is especially where concern with hypocrites comes in. Everyone, ostensibly, wants to win. David wasn’t the only one trying to win. And throughout his life, certainly with Saul specifically, at least some of his enemies were supposed to be on his side. They worshiped at the same tabernacle, they sang the same songs, they claimed to be the kind of men who called on the LORD. But these men were not keeping the ways of Yahweh as David claimed in verses 20-24.
Here they cried for help, and they cried to the LORD, but they cried too late, and too selfishly (think James 4:1-3). David had been depending on the Yahweh all along. These guys pray only for show, and only for real when they are about to be destroyed. They didn’t want triumph for the LORD, they wanted triumph for themselves, and if the only way they could get that was a “hail, Mary,” so be it. It had come to that point, and God did not answer them. God was “deaf to their prayers” (Calvin).
So David sang, I beat them fine as dust before the wind, beat them to a pulp, ground them to powder. I cast them out like the mire of the streets, as valuable, and as dangerous, as the contents flowing down the gutter, which is to say, not very. These are the sights and smells of epic battle as in The Iliad.
David gives due credit for his win in verses 43-45: You delivered me from strife with the people, and the effects reached far. Yahweh didn’t merely let David endure, or even exalt him to domestic honor, but the LORD gave David international esteem. He became head of the nations, the people whom I had not known served me, foreigners came cringing, foreigners lost heart.
The fifth and final section of the song returns to straightforward praise.
The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation– (verse 46)
It is similar to the salute of a ruler: “May He live forever.”
This great God is the God who subdued peoples and delivered…from…enemies and exalted and rescued. The goodness of God, this song, is applicable very personally and practically.
Part of what keeps it from being selfish is David’s response to it all. He is eager to worship God as a witness.
For this I will praise you, O LORD,
Among the nations,
and sing to your name.
Great salvation he brings to his king,
and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
To David and his offspring forever.
The LORD gave David particular promises regarding his progeny and posterity, and now in his final song David is sounding forth God’s faithfulness for the future. One of the offspring in particular, in the 2 Samuel 7:12 way, brings great salvation.
The image that is used throughout this song, and in other songs, is that of God as Rock. Note verses 2, 31, 46, in three of the five different sections. Stand firm on Him, rest secure on Him.
It is understandable to want to win, and it is possible that we won’t win, not in every situation. But when we pray for help and God gives it, the right response is not just to move on and ask for help with the next round. One of the right responses is to stop and celebrate and sing. If David’s sad songs resonate with you, you’re partially there. Now keep learning to resonate with the songs of triumph.
We’re in a pretty good position. If we win while serving Him, we give thanks to God, and He is glorified. If we lose (or suffer or die) while serving him, we give honor to God, and He is glorified. So whether we live or die, whether we win obviously or win eternally, we are more than conquerors.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35–39, ESV)