David’s Song of Praise (1)
2 Samuel 22:1-16
David’s song of praise in 2 Samuel is also included (with minor differences) in God’s Word as Psalm 18. I will therefore lean on John Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 18 as we work our way through this magnificent prayer.
David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. 2 He said:
Note first that this prayer was composed late in David’s life, after he had experienced danger and want due to everything from persecution by King Saul, to foreign wars, to treason by his own son, among much more. Let Calvin provide the background.
David had discomfited many foreign enemies, and had also suppressed the rebellion of his own son Absalom. But, persuaded that it was a singular manifestation of the grace of God towards him, and eminently worthy of being remembered, that he had for so many years escaped from innumerable deaths, or rather that as many days as he had lived under the reign of Saul, God had wrought, as it were, so many miracles for his deliverance, he firstly mentions and celebrates in particular his deliverance from the hands of this relentless enemy. By calling himself the servant of God, he doubtless intended to bear testimony to his call to be king, as if he had said, I have not rashly, and by my own authority, usurped the kingdom, but have only acted in obedience to the oracle of heaven. And, indeed, amidst the many storms which he had to encounter, it was a support highly necessary to be well assured in his own mind of having undertaken nothing but by the appointment of God; or rather, this was to him a peaceful haven, and a secure retreat in the midst of so many broils and strange calamities.
John Calvin Commentary on Psalm 18
So now King David begins his prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
3 my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—
from violent people you save me.
When God ordained that young David would become King of Israel the powers that be did not quietly submit. Rather, they struck out with cunning and cruelty, making every possible attempt to void God’s purpose by killing David.
What surprises is, after reading the story in 1 and 2 Samuel, we see that it apparently was David’s own guile and prowess by which these enemies were defeated. And yet, here we find David in prayer, giving all of the glory to God. How can this be so?
When we examine the facts, though, we see that throughout David’s entire life on the run the opposition usually had an overwhelming power advantage. An unredeemed man who had overcome in these circumstances would find the temptation of pride irresistible. However, David, redeemed and justified by God, responds in the opposite way. Thus, this prayer of thanksgiving and praise was spoken not because David was a better person, but because God chose to work through this particular person. Perhaps the Apostle Paul can help us to understand.
For I am the least of the apostles and am unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:9,10)
David now proceeds to describe in vivid detail the depth of danger and the height of grace which he had experienced.
4 “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and have been saved from my enemies.
5 The waves of death swirled about me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
6 The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
We simply cannot imagine the terrors that David had experienced.
7 “In my distress I called to the Lord;
I called out to my God.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came to his ears.
8 The earth trembled and quaked,
the foundations of the heavens shook;
they trembled because he was angry.
9 Smoke rose from his nostrils;
consuming fire came from his mouth,
burning coals blazed out of it.
10 He parted the heavens and came down;
dark clouds were under his feet.
11 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
he soared on the wings of the wind.
12 He made darkness his canopy around him—
the dark rain clouds of the sky.
13 Out of the brightness of his presence
bolts of lightning blazed forth.
14 The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.
15 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
16 The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at the rebuke of the Lord,
at the blast of breath from his nostrils.
What troubles so many current Western Christians in the above passage is the violence of God’s response. God is filled with anger at those who oppose His decree. He thus induces terror in those who oppose Him. This response is the opposite of the kumbaya expectation of those who have fallen prey to the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” theological error. Therefore, too many current Christians choose to spiritualize or even outright ignore passages such as this.
I don’t stress this point to provide blanket justification for any act of war/violence by a Christian majority group/country. Rather, my purpose is to correct those among us who have turned Christianity into a suicide pact when confronted by aggressive evil. This idea is spread by the falsehood that pacifism is central to God’s character. I have addressed this issue in detail, starting here.