Psalm 18

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Superscription (18:1)

This psalm is attributed to David and basically duplicates the words of 2 Samuel 22:1-51. Comments about many of the differences are included in the “Notes” section.

The Hebrew designation natsách is generally understood to mean “musical director” or “leader,” but this is uncertain. In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.”

As the “servant of YHWH,” David looked to the Most High as his Lord to whom he was accountable and the one who also was his helper and protector. Having experienced YHWH’s deliverance from the “hand” or power of all his enemies and of King Saul, David composed the words of this song. The divine acts of deliverance occurred at different times. Therefore, the words “in [the] day” are evidently to be understood as meaning the time after David had been rescued from those who sought to harm him.

18:2-6(1-7)

Because of what he had experienced, David loved YHWH, the one who was his “strength.” In being David’s strength, YHWH imparted power to him and did not allow his enemies to triumph over him.

A massive “crag” or “firm place” (steréoma, LXX) in mountainous area, especially in an elevated and not easily accessible location, provided a secure place for observing the movement of the enemy below. For David, YHWH proved to be such a massive rock. The expressions “my stronghold” or “my fortress” (“my refuge,” LXX) and “my deliverer” identify YHWH as the source of safety, protection, and deliverance. When using such expressions and the words “my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,” David indicated his close personal relationship with the Almighty, the one to whom he turned in times of difficulty and peril. According to the Septuagint, God was David’s helper and the one in whom he hoped, apparently always looking to him to respond to his need in times of distress. YHWH was like a protective shield or a “shield bearer” (LXX) to him, and the “horn” or power that effected his deliverance from danger. The Almighty proved to be his “retreat” or “protector” (LXX).

David regarded YHWH as being deserving of “praise,” evidently because of all that he had done for him. He made his appeal for aid, confident that the Most High would deliver him from his enemies.

Faced with foes, David found himself in extreme danger. It was comparable to already being surrounded by the “cords of death” (“pangs of death,” LXX) that would stop all movement when life ended. So grave was the situation that David portrayed himself as if already in the power of death.

The Hebrew word beliyyá‘al is linked to the torrents that “overwhelmed,” “terrified,” or “troubled” (ektarásso, LXX) David. According to the Septuagint, these were “torrents of lawlessness,” suggesting that he faced serious danger from lawless or godless men. The Hebrew term may be understood to mean “good for nothing,” “uselessness,” or “worthlessness” (words describing persons who are morally corrupt).

As if about to enter Sheol or the realm of the dead, David spoke about being surrounded by the “cords of Sheol” (“pangs of Hades,” LXX) and confronted by the snares of death. So desperate was his situation that he felt he would be ensnared without any possibility of release from the lifeless state to which he appeared to be heading.

In his distress, he called on YHWH his God, the only one who could rescue him. From his “temple,” YHWH did hear David’s cry for help. As evident from the context indicating that the response came from the heavens, the temple evidently is to be understood as meaning God’s dwelling place. There David’s voice and his cry reached the ears of the Most High, indicative of a favorable response.

18:7-15(8-16)

The divine intervention is depicted in terms of fear-inspiring phenomena. As when there is an earthquake, the earth or land did shake and rock. The otherwise stable eminences trembled at the very base; their “foundations” moved violently. David attributed this to God’s anger.

The manifestation of YHWH’s coming to the rescue was comparable to smoke coming from his nose and fire from his mouth, and coals blazing up from him. In the Septuagint, the anthropomorphic aspects are not preserved. It reads, “Smoke rose in his wrath, and before his face fire flamed up; coals were kindled from him.”

The coming of YHWH to effect the rescue is next depicted in terms of a storm. As low-lying dark clouds make their appearance, the heavens or the skies look as though they are bending down. Because God is regarded as being above the gray clouds, he is depicted as bending the heavens and having darkness or gloom under his “feet.”

The speed of his coming is portrayed by his riding on a cherub (cherubs, LXX). Because the cherub would be flying speedily, so would YHWH, the one who is represented as riding. The aspect of speed is further highlighted in the reference to his swift flying or darting upon the wings of the “wind” or a “spirit.” (The Hebrew word rúach may mean “spirit,” “wind,” or “breath,” but the Septuagint rendering ánemos limits the significance to “wind.”)

In relation to the storm, God would appear as if covered or concealed in darkness or in a booth or shelter “dark with water” and consisting of dense clouds. The “brightness before him” is apparently to be understood as meaning “lightning.” Flashes of lightning dispel the darkness, and so the dark clouds appear as if “passing through” or coming out of the brightness. Hail and “coals of fire” accompanied the storm. Possibly because lightning can start fires on the ground, this feature of lightning would be comparable to casting burning coals on dry vegetation.

YHWH’s thundering in the heavens is also referred to as the Most High’s uttering his voice, the “voice” being the impressive “thunder.” Hail and “coals of fire” accompany the thunder. “His arrows” are the lightning flashes that scattered and confounded the enemies.

Strong gusts of wind blew waters aside, exposing streambeds. According to the reading of the Septuagint, the “fountains of waters,” possibly meaning the water sources, “were seen.” The tremendous storm created a condition that made it appear as if the very foundations of the habitable land were exposed. Because the cultivated land is situated above the surface of the water, it looks as though it is lying thereon. Therefore, when the water is blown aside, the streambeds underneath appear as if they were the foundations for the waters above which the habitable land lies. The effect the powerful storm produced is referred to as having taken place on account of YHWH’s rebuke and the “blast of the breath” of his “nostrils.” In the Septuagint, the reference is to the blasting of the “breath” of his “anger.” As in the case of the Hebrew rúach, the Greek pneúma can mean either “breath” or “spirit.”

18:16-27(17-28)

The expression “great waters” or “many waters” (LXX) is evidently to be understood as meaning the dire situation in which David found himself when surrounded by enemies. He compared his deliverance to YHWH’s “sending” or reaching out his hand from on high, taking hold of him, and pulling him out of the waters.

David attributed the deliverance from his enemies or those who hated him to YHWH, for he realized that their strength was superior to his own. In the Septuagint, these words are in the future tense, expressing confidence in YHWH as the one who would rescue him from powerful enemies who might rise up against him.

The “day of my distress” could refer to the time when David found himself in a weak and helpless situation. It was then that his enemies came against him, but YHWH proved to be his support, backing him up as his defender. The Most High brought him into a wide place, delivering him from the seemingly hopeless and cramped condition that left no room open for escape. David attributed this rescue to YHWH’s having found delight or pleasure in him. In the Septuagint, the verb for “deliver” or “rescue” is in the future tense, again indicative of David’s confidence in what YHWH would do for him.

David believed that YHWH had rewarded him with deliverance because of his having been righteous or upright. He had been repaid or recompensed because he had not defiled his hands through corrupt acts. David’s hands were clean. He had adhered to YHWH’s “ways” or the commands set forth in his law. He had stuck loyally to his God, not impiously departing from him.

David kept YHWH’s judgments or laws before him, evidently indicating that he always desired to be guided by them. He did not turn away from the divine statutes, suggesting that he faithfully observed them.

David proved himself blameless before YHWH and preserved himself from guilt or iniquity. Therefore, he felt that his God had repaid him according to his righteousness or uprightness and according to the cleanness of his hands. In YHWH’s sight, David’s hands were undefiled, not having been used for base ends. The future tense of the verbs in the Septuagint would point to David’s confidence in his being repaid or recompensed in keeping with the upright manner in which he had conducted himself.

He recognized that personal conduct had a direct bearing on God’s response to the individual. With those who are loyal, YHWH would prove to be loyal, dealing with them compassionately. Those who demonstrate themselves to be blameless would find him to be blameless, evidently in the sense that he would never fall short of the highest standard of faultlessness when recompensing them. If they maintain purity or cleanness in their life, he, as the Holy One, would express to them his purity, evidently through his aid, guidance, and blessing.

With those who are “crooked” or “perverse,” he would respond in kind. This does not mean that YHWH would act in the morally crooked manner of corrupt persons, but his dealing with them would be as persons having his disapproval and coming under his curse instead of experiencing his favor and blessing.

YHWH will rescue the humble or needy, the ones who find themselves in a weak and helpless condition but earnestly seek to do what is right. He will, however, debase or humiliate “haughty eyes,” that is, those whose look betrays an arrogant bearing characteristic of persons who despise and mistreat the poor.

18:28-42(29-43)

YHWH’s lighting David’s lamp apparently meant providing him with the needed illumination or guidance to see the path to be followed. With the Most High lighting his lamp, he would not be walking in darkness and could avoid actions that would lead to his injury. Because YHWH did light up his darkness or whatever obscured his vision and so could have been perilous, David could be confident about the course he was pursuing.

He looked to YHWH to make him victorious in warfare. With his God, David could “crush” a “band” of either warriors or raiders. According to the Septuagint, he would be rescued. Knowing that his God was backing him up, he could scale a wall of a fortified city.

David acknowledged that he could rely on God for everything. God’s way is “perfect,” without a single flaw, and therefore always trustworthy. YHWH’s “saying” or every expression that proceeds from him is refined or pure, without the slightest departure from absolute truth. He is like a protective shield for all who “take refuge in him” or, according to the Septuagint, “hope in him,” looking to him for aid and security.

There is no God like YHWH. He is without equal. There is no “rock” other than YHWH, for he alone can provide the refuge and security of a strategically located crag in mountainous terrain. These are the answers to the rhetorical questions: “Who [is] God besides YHWH?” “And who [is] a rock [God, LXX] except our God?”

God’s girding David with “strength” may refer to his being strengthened to wage war. For the Most High to make David’s way “perfect” or flawless apparently means that he would remove all obstacles standing in the way of success.

David credited YHWH with making his feet like those of hinds or deer. This suggests that he was granted surefootedness, agility, and swiftness.

The reference to “my heights” could mean the elevated places where David sought refuge. (In the Septuagint, however, the Hebrew first person singular suffix for “my” is not translated.) On eminences, his God set him, assuring him of remaining in a safe position.

Regarding his God, David said that he trained his hands for war. Apparently for this reason, his arms could bend a bow of copper or bronze. This would not necessarily be a bow made of solid copper or bronze but one decorated with metal. There is a possibility, however, that David was using a figure of speech to indicate the strength he had been divinely granted, that is, strength sufficient to bend a bow of bronze or copper. According to the Septuagint, God had made David’s arms like a bronze or copper bow, that is, strong for waging battles.

YHWH had given David a shield of salvation or deliverance. In connection with “salvation” or “deliverance,” the Masoretic Text includes a second person singular suffix (“your,” applying to the deliverance YHWH provided as by a protective shield). The Septuagint, however, reads “my,” indicating that divinely given protection saved David from being harmed by his assailants. God’s hand of power, his right hand, sustained or supported David. This assured the psalmist of a successful outcome for his undertakings.

David did not take credit for having attained greatness through his personal accomplishments. Instead, he acknowledged that God’s condescension in being willing to help him made him great. The Septuagint rendering, though, conveys a different meaning: “Your discipline supported me to the end, and your discipline will teach me.”

Beneath David, God had widened a place for his step, which meant that he had not been hemmed in and experienced serious difficulty when negotiating a particular course. His ankles did not turn, causing a fall that would have been disastrous in times of battle.

With divine help, David would chase after his enemies and overtake them, not turning back from battle until they were “consumed” or completely defeated. He would shatter them so thoroughly that they would have no power to rise up again and pose a future threat. Under his feet, they would fall, indicating that he had gained a decisive victory.

Triumph over his enemies was made possible because YHWH had girded him with strength to wage war and made those rising up against him or his antagonists plunge before him in shameful defeat. The Almighty gave him the backs of his enemies, either meaning that they turned to flee or that he, to indicate his triumph over them, could place his feet on their backs. (Compare Joshua 10:24.) David exterminated those who hated him.

The hateful antagonists cried for help, but there was no deliverance for them. YHWH did not answer them.

The crushing defeat was so thorough that it was comparable to David’s reducing the enemies to fine dust that the wind could blow away or making them like the mire of drenched, unpaved streets that can be scooped up and “poured out.” According to the Septuagint, he would “crush” them “like the mud of the [city] squares.”

Psalm 18:43-50(44-51)

The “strife of people” from which God delivered David likely refers to attacks against him. According to 2 Samuel 22:44, the people are David’s people (“my people”) or fellow Israelites. In the Septuagint, the reference specifically is to controversies (the plural of antilogía) or gainsaying, but the Greek term in 2 Samuel 22:44 is a form of máche, meaning “battle,” “combat,” or “strife,” and the text reads “peoples,” not “my people.”

Evidently because of having defeated nations with divine help, David spoke of God’s making him “head” or ruler of nations. People whom the psalmist had not even known or with whom he had no previous dealings would serve him or submit to his rule. Upon hearing about David’s successful exploits, they would obey him. “Sons of foreigners” or aliens would “deceive” him, apparently in the sense that, out of fear, they would feign submission.

“Sons of foreigners” lost “heart” or courage. The Septuagint speaks of them as “growing old” or “becoming worn out,” suggesting a loss of strength. Out of their fortresses, they came trembling or, according to the Septuagint, “they limped from their paths.”

Unlike the lifeless gods other nations revered, “YHWH lives.” He was the “rock” (“my God,” LXX) on whom David relied for security and who deserved to be “blessed” or “praised.” As the God who brought about David’s salvation or deliverance, he would indeed be “high,” “uplifted,” or “exalted.”

In making it possible for David to triumph, YHWH had proved to be the God who executed vengeance for him and subjected people under him. The Most High delivered him from his enemies and exalted him by making it possible for him to triumph over those who had risen up against him.

The expression “man of violence” could refer to Saul who had wanted to kill David. It is more likely, however, that the words are to be understood as having a collective sense. From all men who were determined to attack David, God had rescued him.

Because of all that YHWH had done for him, David resolved to “confess,” “acknowledge,” or “laud” him among the nations, letting others know about his God. To God’s name or the person represented by the name, to YHWH, David would sing praises.

Probably because of attaining remarkable victories when faced with seemingly impossible odds, David referred to YHWH as having made the “deliverances of his king” great. Based on his experiences, he could say that YHWH acts with “compassionate concern,” “abiding loyalty” (chésed) or “mercy” (éleos, LXX) toward “his anointed one, to David and to his seed [offspring],” for time without limits or for eternity.

Notes:

For comments about the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.

In 2 Samuel 22:2, the reference (Psalm 18:1[2]) to David’s loving YHWH is not included.

After “my retreat” (Psalm 18:2[3]), 2 Samuel 22:3 adds “and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence.”

Instead of “cords of death” (Psalm 18:4[5]), 2 Samuel 22:5 reads “breakers of death.”

In Psalm 18:4(5), the Hebrew word for “overwhelm” (ba‘áth) can also mean “fall upon,” “startle,” “frighten,” or “terrify,” whereas the corresponding term in the Septuagint (ektarásso) has the sense of “confound,” “agitate,” or “trouble.”

In 2 Samuel 22:8, “foundations of the mountains” (Psalm 18:7[8]) is “foundations of the heavens.” To the observer, high mountains appear as if they are touching the heavens or the sky, and so may here be referred to as the “foundations of the heavens.”

Psalm 18:12(13) reads, “From the brightness before him, his [the, LXX] clouds passed through—hail and coals of fire.” The parallel verse in 2 Samuel (22:13) is shorter. “From the brightness [light, LXX] before him, coals of fire were kindled.”

In the Septuagint, the words “hail and coals of fire” appear in verse 12 (13) and, unlike the Masoretic Text, are missing in verse 13 (14). These words are also not found in 2 Samuel 22:14.

In connection with “lightning,” the point about “flashing” (Psalm 18:14[15]) is not included in 2 Samuel 22:15.

Instead of referring to YHWH’s lighting David’s lamp (as in Psalm 18:28[29]), 2 Samuel 22:29 speaks of YHWH as being David’s lamp.

2 Samuel 22:33, refers to God as “my refuge of strength” or “my strong refuge,” whereas Psalm 18:32(33) indicates that God girded David with strength.

After “shield of salvation” (as in Psalm 18:35[36]), 2 Samuel 22:36 does not include the words “your right hand sustained me.”

Instead of “dust before [the] wind” (as in Psalm 18:42[43]), 2 Samuel 22:43 reads “dust of the earth.”

After “mire of the streets” (as in Psalm 18:42[43]), 2 Samuel 22:43 says “I pulverized them and trampled on them,” not “I poured them out.”

With the exception of not including the designation “Lord,” Romans 15:9 parallels the text of Psalm 18:49(50) (17:50, LXX). In the letter to the Romans, the words are quoted to indicate that, based on what non-Jewish peoples would hear, they would glorify God for his mercy.

In the concluding verse, the Hebrew word chésed may be understood to denote graciousness, abiding loyalty, and mercy. It is a compassionate care and loving concern that expresses itself in action. In the Septuagint, the corresponding word is éleos (mercy, pity, or compassion).