David speaks the words of our song today on the day in which he was delivered from the hand of Saul, who pursued his life persistently (I Sam. 23:14) This psalm was first found in II Samuel 22 in its entirety to express David’s feelings about God and the victory that he found by His divine protection.
Sometimes we sing songs that when we pause and read the lyrics our hearts perceive the song in a totally different light. We will sometimes study the back story of a hymn in order to appreciate the purpose that the hymn writer had in mind. This will also help us here.
There is a hymn that is taken directly from this psalm called I Will Call Upon The LORD: “I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies (vs. 3) Then the chorus (vs. 46) “The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock; and exalted be the God of my salvation.”
We will not read the psalm in its entirety due to its length, but we will cover every verse as we study these words. Let us remember that the content of the psalm is expressed not in the particulars of David’s battle with Saul where he explains every detail. Rather, David tells us how he feels and what God has done to help him through this difficult period in his life. I believe that this helps us to plug this passage into our own battles with our own enemies and share in the feelings, trials, and victories of David in our own lives.
The LORD saves me and I love Him (vs. 1-18)
“I love You, O LORD, my strength.” The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies."
David’s love for the LORD causes Him to describe the character of God (vs. 1-3)
I love you, O LORD, my strength. The love mentioned here is a fervent love that David feels for God that is often used for God’s love for man. It is rarely used by man toward God, yet David felt deeply in love with the LORD. David also felt very weak during the time that he was fleeing from Saul. We learned earlier in Psalm 7 that David would often turn to God to be his strength when being pursued by his enemies (See Psalm 28:8)
I love you, O LORD, my rock. God is a solid place to stand because he never changes. We can fight our battles on Him and in Him and we are better able to defend ourselves from this lofty height. It is a cliff that lifts us up above all enemies.
I love you, O LORD, my fortress. God is a citadel. Not only does God take us to higher ground to fight our battles but He puts up a wall around us for further protection. The enemy would have to not only scale the wall but then deal with us on God’s level. Go back and read the story of David with Saul to see how many times David is protected from Saul by finding a fortress in the hills and a hiding place in the strongholds of the mountains. Saul would search for David without finding him. The true fortress was not found in the topography of the land but in the LORD. David knew that his protection came from the LORD.
I love you, O LORD, my deliverer. God allows us to be involved in our conflicts with enemies. When we have had enough or the battle is too great for us, He steps in and delivers us. Sometimes instead of taking us away from the battle, he equips us for victory and we fight for His cause to His honor and glory.
I love you, O LORD, my God. David calls on the one true God (Yahweh and El) to make sure that He made it clear that there are no other gods before David that He honors as He does the LORD God (See Proverbs 18:10).
I love you, O LORD, my rock. Yes, David has already said rock in English twice, but this is a different word in the original language. This means a cleft or crevice in the rock referring to a hiding place rather than a lofty place from which to get an advantage in battle. David took shelter in the LORD as David adds, “in whom I take refuge”.
I love you, O LORD, my shield. Not only does David have a place to hide that is lofty being surrounded by a fortress, but he is also personally protected with the shield of God. David is able to defend Himself by God’s protection.
I love you, O LORD, the horn of my salvation. The horns of the bull represented strength and power. David didn’t win the victory on his own strength and power. David wasn’t saved because of his own doing. It was God who raised up the horn of salvation for His people and David knew it well (See Luke 1:69).
I love you, O LORD, my stronghold. God has placed David in a fortified place where he is unable to be attacked although Saul and His men seem to have the advantage against David. David clings to God and God to David as he faces every stage of this encounter with Saul. (See Judges 6:2; also Isaiah 33:15-16)
I love you, O LORD, you are worthy to be praised. David calls upon the LORD that he has wonderfully described to us and he states that his prayer leads to being saved from his enemies. Prayer was always a priority and first resort for David.
David describes his circumstances and ends with a prayer to God (vs. 4-6)
"The cords of death encompassed me, And the torrents of ungodliness terrified me. The cords of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, And my cry for help before Him came into His ears."
The cords of death encompassed me. It’s like a scene from a movie where a vine begins wrapping around your feet and pulling you into the earth. David feels like he is being pulled into the grave.
The torrents of ungodliness terrified me. A torrent is a fast-moving body of water that will sweep you away. David identifies this rushing torrent as the ungodliness in his enemies that have him in complete terror.
David mentions cords again, but this time he mentions Sheol. When we studied Psalm 16, David prophesied of Christ saying, “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol” referring to the place of the dead. David feels like he is going to die, but is confident that God will keep him alive even though he is surrounded (See Psalm 17:9, 13)
Coupled with the cords of Sheol, David adds that the snares of death confronted him. Snares are traps often set by an enemy. David knows that the ungodly from verse 4 are the same enemies that have set up the snares of death. David says that he is being confronted by them. He is in a minefield with tripwires everywhere.
David’s answer is the same as in verse 3. In my distress, I called upon the LORD and cried to God for help (again, using the terms Yahweh and El). David says, “He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears.” David realizes that God is listening even though He can feel far away. He is very attentive to the cries of the righteous when they are up against the ungodly enemies of this world (See Job 35:9).
God terrifies our enemies when He moves on our behalf (vs. 7-18)
"Then the earth shook and quaked; And the foundations of the mountains were trembling And were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up out of His nostrils And fire from His mouth devoured; Coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down With thick darkness under His feet. He rode upon a cherub and flew; And He sped upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, Hailstones and coals of fire. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, And the Most High uttered His voice, Hailstones and coals of fire. He sent out His arrows, and scattered them, And lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them. Then the channels of water appeared, And the foundations of the world were laid bare At Your rebuke, O LORD, At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils. He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, But the LORD was my stay."
The imagery used here is often accompanied by a move of God (Amos 9:5). Anytime that God makes an appearance for judgment there is lightning, coals of fire, hailstone, thick clouds, riding on cherubs, moving with a mighty wind, vapors of smoke, strange occurrences in nature described as being shaken or moved out of their place (Psalm 144:5; Nahum 1:3). God who created it all can shift it to accomplish his purposes. Often this symbolic description of God’s wrath against evil is not actually occurring in real-time but is a way to capture the fierceness of God’s outpouring of anger against His enemies. Cataclysmic events were a portrayal of God’s punishment of the ungodly (See Rev. 6:12-17).
David says that at the breath of God’s nostrils, this deliverance would occur (See Deut. 29:20). God will not sit idle while His chosen and anointed is being overtaken by an enemy, especially when He hears us crying for help. Saul was God’s anointed but even Saul knew that David was his successor. David was already chosen by God and nothing would be permitted to harm him (See Isaiah 29:6; 30:30).
David concludes this section by saying, “He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.” This is likely referring to the torrents that David had encountered in verse 4. David continues, “He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.” David knows that it was not by his own strength that he was delivered. God was His deliverer. Finally, David says, “They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my stay.” This confrontation was mentioned in verse 5 where David says the snares of death confronted him. These enemies that set the trap for David would come away empty-handed because God kept David safe.
God travels on the winds and wings of the angels with Him (See Psalm 68:17; 104:3). Thick darkness shields man from His glory (Job 22:14; Psalm 97:2) God is able to move swiftly and without being seen to accomplish his purposes under heaven. In this case, David is looking for a sudden judgment of God against his enemies with hailstones and fire (See Rev. 8:7)
The same torrent that was coming against David is now coming against his enemies with the arrow (lightning) and His mighty voice of judgment would shake the wicked one pursuing David (Psalm 29:3; 77:17-19). David was about to be rescued but the evil attackers would be destroyed by God (Psalm 32:6; 144:7).
The LORD is good and I serve Him (vs. 19-30)
"He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me. The LORD has rewarded me according to 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 ordinances were before me, And I did not put away His statutes from me. I was also blameless with 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 eyes."
Serving God faithfully allowed David to find favor with God (vs. 19-24)
David had been backed into a corner, but God brought him out into the open, broad space so that he didn’t have to live in fear (See Psalm 31:8). God expanded his territory. This is the same as saying that God rescued me. The reason that David offered for God to deliver Him was that he delighted in his servant, David. For God to delight in us is more than simply finding favor. David was in fact the apple of God’s eye and God took pleasure in protecting His chosen one (Matt. 3:17; Psalm 22:8).
David is not boasting about his own righteousness here. He is simply stating that God found him to be righteous. We should never be afraid to proclaim that God has imparted or imputed His righteousness unto us. David says that he was cleansed from sin and remained that way so God has recompensed Him accordingly. Those with dirty hands and impure hearts are told that the wages of sin is death. The one who sins will die. David says that I found grace in the eyes of the LORD (Psalm 24:4).
This righteousness was not imputed without the determined effort of David as if often taught in error. David says, “I have kept the ways of the LORD and have not wickedly departed from my God.” Some teach that there is nothing that we need to do to stay in God’s good grace and favor. That false teaching contradicts what David says (Hebrews 3:12; Psalm 19:12; 130:3).
David adds that the ordinances of God were ever before him. He kept his nose in the book of God and he did not depart from those teachings or statutes. It is hard to be distracted by evil when you are buried in the word of God. When you are looking into the mirror of God’s word, you are forever aware of your need for his direction and guidance. (Psalm 119:102).
David said he was found to be blameless with God. We could say he was found innocent by God because God is the only one who can proclaim us righteous or blameless. Again, David adds that he had to keep himself from his own sin. He had to refrain from unrighteousness in order to be found righteous before God (Psalm 15:2).
David concludes this section with, “Therefore” in reference to everything already stated, I was rewarded by God, not patting myself on the back or gloating about self-righteousness. David refers again to his effort to remain clean before the Lord. Just as Noah found grace and favor in the eyes of the LORD, we know that David was before the eyes of the LORD and he also was determined to be righteous by God and found his mercy and grace (See Col. 1:22).
God is a shield to all who take refuge in Him (vs. 25-30)
"With the kind You show Yourself kind; With the blameless You show Yourself blameless; With the pure You show Yourself pure, And with the crooked You show Yourself astute. For You save an afflicted people, But haughty eyes You abase. For You light my lamp; The LORD my God illumines my darkness. For by You I can run upon a troop; And by my God I can leap over a wall. As for God, His way is blameless; The word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him."
Referring back to some of the imagery in the earlier part of the psalm (rock, shield, etc.) David explains the difference between those who are enemies of God and those who trust in God (See Psalm 4:3).
First, David points out that with the kind, God is also kind. Another word often used here is merciful. We have to show mercy to get mercy (Matthew 5:7; 6:12-15). David adds that with the blameless, God shows Himself blameless. Another word for blameless is perfect, meaning complete in his character (See Job 1:1) This latter statement is worthy of further explanation. If God promises to be faithful to His people, He cannot falter on His promise. David says that God will not be guilty of failing to uphold His end of the agreement. God will be blameless.
Now we see with the pure, God reveals His purity. Purity is sought by those who are cleansed from sin (I John 3:3; Matthew 5:8). Yet, with the crooked sinners of the world God shows Himself astute. Astute means that God is able to show an ability to accurately assess the situation, judge rightly the evil persons, and turn the situation to the advantage of others. God stands in opposition to the wicked plans of evil men (Prov. 3:34). This section of Psalm 18 reminds us of Revelation 22:11 where the unjust will remain so and the righteous will continue in righteousness.
David says that His salvation depends on the astuteness of God. God saves the afflicted but those who are arrogant (haughty) and look down on others will be brought low or abased (Psalm 9:12). The LORD hates a proud look (Prov. 6:17). The wicked will be forced into humble surrender and suffer loss, while the pure will be blessed and experience victory at the hand of God (Isaiah 2:11-12, 17).
David contrasts light with darkness as we often see throughout the word of God. But David doesn’t claim to be a light by himself. He credits God with lighting his lamp (candle). It is the LORD that sheds light on His darkest situations in life. No doubt David is referring back to where he walks in the light of the words of God as opposed to the wicked (dark) ways of men (Prov. 13:9). Nevertheless, God’s presence in the life of David helps him to see the pathway to life. It is a type of spiritual clairvoyance where David is given the advantage to see which way to go in order to overcome the wicked men who pursue him (Psalm 27:1).
We often hear the passage from Phil. 4:13 quoted, where Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Most of the time, it is used to say that nothing will be impossible to me because I follow the Lord. Paul actually wrote that verse in light of his being forced to live in humble means in service to the Lord. Yet we realize that at times Paul also lived in abundance. David begins to speak in this way when he says, “For by You I can run upon a troop, And by my God, I can leap over a wall.” Earlier David spoke of weakness, hiding places, and hiding behind shields. Now he is boldly proclaiming that with the LORD he is able to run up to an entire army instead of retreating. He could be referencing his battle with the Amalekites (I Sam. 30:8, 17) With the wall he could be referring to the time that he was told he wasn’t permitted to enter the stronghold of Zion but he was able to overtake it (II Sam. 5:6-7). In either case, former victories at God’s hand give us the certainty of God’s ability to deliver us. Instead of having to stealthily and tactically fight a battle and tear down an enemy wall with his own mind and human strength, he can simply leap over the wall in a single stride and charge the enemy. He is able to move by faith in God. David wants God to know that he feels empowered when God is with him. Nothing is impossible with God. David is not proclaiming superhuman strength or abilities but rather divine empowerment to win against his enemies.
David ends this section with his acknowledgment of God as the source of His ability to overcome the enemy. He says, “As for God, his way is blameless (perfect).” David has already said this once and we pointed out that God is faithful and will keep his covenant with His elect. God does not lie and He cannot go back on His promises. God’s word is tried and is always true (Psalm 119:140). David is reassured in this that God will protect him and surround him as a shield. But beyond David, we are invited into that protection when David says, “He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.” (See Prov. 30:5)
The LORD gives me victory and I give thanks and praise (vs. 31-50)
"For who is God, but the LORD And who is a rock, except our God, The God who girds me with strength And makes my way blameless? He makes my feet like hinds’ feet, And sets me upon my high places. He trains my hands for battle, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, And Your right hand upholds me; And Your gentleness makes me great. You enlarge my steps under me, And my feet have not slipped."
David echoes again that God is the rock and shield (vs. 31-36)
Who is God but the LORD (Eloah as opposed to the plural form Elohim)? David has been consistent in pointing out that he is not talking about some foreign god, but the only true and living God of heaven and earth. While other gods may have been formed from rock, they were not David’s rock (Deut. 32:31; See II Sam. 7:22-29).
As David has done throughout the song, he refers to God as a rock. Earlier we said that two words were used for rock in the context, one meaning a high place to find sure footing to gain an advantage over the enemy and another meaning a cleft in the side of a mountain for a hiding place. Surely as David reminds us that God is the rock, he has both uses in mind.
David also asks in the form of a question “Who is the God that girds me with strength and makes my way blameless?” It is the only God that David will serve and this is where His strength comes from (See Eph. 6:10-17). Here David says both my strength and my blameless condition are offered and declared by God (See Matthew 5:48). God completes and equips David and gives him power to gain victory. The word “way” here is a march as opposed to just conduct.
Like a graceful deer that can cling to what appears to be an impossible place on the mountainside, God gives David sure footing so that he doesn’t fall and he is in a place where his enemies cannot reach him. David has been taken to lofty heights and higher ground (I Chron. 12:8; See also Hab. 3:19).
David credits God with being his trainer. He trains David in archery so that he can bend a bow of bronze (steel). David realizes here that the battles of this life will not cease and even though we are fighting in the strength of the LORD, we still have to fight the good fight and be on the battlefield for the LORD. Training takes time, but with God, we are well-equipped for the battles that lie ahead (Psalm 144:1).
Nothing was more common in ancient warfare than for a warrior, while he was engaged in using his offensive weapons, especially the bow, to be protected from the missiles of the enemy by a comrade who held a shield before him. The Assyrian kings were constantly thus defended in battle, and it was even common for an ordinary archer to be similarly guarded (see ' Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 2. pp. 30, 32, 33, for illustrations) One other truth that occurred to me as I studied this text is that a bow is a two-handed weapon that requires one arm to hold the bow and another arm to pull back the string with the arrow. When David says that God is a shield of salvation about him, it reminds me that the shield that we carry as Christians is of faith. Our faith in God moves God to protect His own. David will fight and God will protect him on every side by His right hand that is used to uphold him. This shows us where the third hand or arm comes in. It belongs to God (Psalm 20:2; 94:18).
David mentions that the LORD is gentle. While David is living in circumstances where he is surrounded by the cruelest and most vicious enemies, God is gently helping and upholding David through it all. David says that this care takes him from being good to being great.
Because David has reached the pinnacle of protection with God, he feels confident that his footsteps are unable to falter as long as he serves the LORD (Prov. 4:12). David often used this language in his psalms about his footsteps being kept from slipping with the help and blessings of the LORD (Psalm 31:8). His feet are planted firmly on the rock of his salvation and he is shielded from any attack (Psalm 118:5).
David now goes on the offensive and receives victory at God’s hand (vs. 37-45)
"I pursued my enemies and overtook them, And I did not turn back until they were consumed. I shattered them, so that they were not able to rise; They fell under my feet. For You have girded me with strength for battle You have subdued under me those who rose up against me. You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me, And I destroyed those who hated me. They cried for help, but there was none to save, Even to the LORD, but He did not answer them. Then I beat them fine as the dust before the wind; I emptied them out as the mire of the streets. You have delivered me from the contentions of the people; You have placed me as head of the nations; A people whom I have not known serve me. As soon as they hear, they obey me; Foreigners submit to me. Foreigners fade away, And come trembling out of their fortresses."
While David appears to be on the defensive and fearful at first, as he contemplates all that God is doing for him, his demeanor changes from retreat to a full-on charge. Earlier he said that God makes him feel like he can rush an army or clear a city wall in a single bound. David shows us just how victorious you can be on the LORD’s side. Here he is most likely reflecting again on past wars and wins, but not necessarily on the struggle with Saul (II Sam. 8:1-13). Remember that David had killed his ten thousand all by God’s strength.
David says that he consumed his enemy by pressing against them in battle to the point that there was nothing left of them. There was no thought of turning back. Full steam ahead until the enemy was run down, shattered, and unable to get back up (Deut. 33:11).
David doesn’t lose sight of who is behind the battle when he reiterates that God is the one who gave him power to fight and that the LORD is the one bringing the enemies into subjection under his feet (Deut. 33:29; Josh. 10:24). In fact David went so far as to say that not only was he unwilling to retreat, but that his enemies have now turned away from David and as they turned, he destroyed his haters (Ex. 23:27; See also Isaiah 25:10; Luke 21:24).
The enemies of David cried out but their plea fell on deaf ears (Proverbs 1:28-29). First, it appears that they sought help from others. This is usually the first effort made by those who don’t serve the LORD. Next, it says they tried to call on the LORD but because the LORD has his face toward the righteous and his ear is open to their cry their prayer was not heard. These enemies were not only against David but also against God. You don’t come against the anointed or chosen of God without repercussions. You cannot cry for help to God and be living contrary to His will or requesting things that are against His will. For God to help David’s enemies would be out of character for God.
David says I beat my enemies into dust and tossed them out like trash, or like refuse in the streets (II Kings 13:7). There was nothing left of his enemies when God was done using David in battle (Isaiah 10:6).
God took David and literally placed him over his enemies. He was made king and there would be no end to the throne of David. There would always be a successor. We know that the final occupant of David’s throne is Jesus and He is now reigning over all (See Dan. 2:35). David says that he was delivered from the contentions of the people. Whatever group Saul had formed to destroy David, they were defeated in the worst way (II Samuel 3:1). David was now ruling and the people under him were servants to him. David says they were a people he had not known. This is certainly Messianic in scope since the Gentiles and foreign nations would eventually come to Jesus through the gospel and become His followers.
David says, “as soon as they hear me, they obey me”. Even foreigners were in submission to him. Every tongue, tribe, people, and nation would eventually be under the rule of David’s throne in Christ (Psalm 66:3). Foreigners fade away and come trembling out of their fortresses while David remains in the high place that God established for him. This no doubt has some reference to the Gentiles that would listen to and surrender to Christ on David’s throne (Acts 13:48; 28:28)
David blesses the LORD and gives thanks and praise to the rock of his salvation (vs. 46-50)
"The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock; And exalted be the God of my salvation, The God who executes vengeance for me, And subdues peoples under me. He delivers me from my enemies; Surely You lift me above those who rise up against me; You rescue me from the violent man. Therefore I will give thanks to You among the nations, O LORD, And I will sing praises to Your name. He gives great deliverance to His king, And shows lovingkindness to His anointed, To David and his descendants forever."
Verse 46 begins with the well-known words to that song, “I Will Call Upon The Lord” which reinvents the lyrics, “The LORD liveth, and blessed be the rock and let the God of my salvation be exalted.” First David says that the LORD lives. This is in contrast to the false idols that are lifeless (I Thess. 1:9; Josh 3:10; Psalm 42:2). Once again, David refers to God as the rock. David knows where his sure footing is, and David knows who it was that exalted and saved his life. It is important that we look at Matthew 16:16-18 where Jesus is called the Son of the living God and it was upon this truth (Rock) that Jesus would establish the church.
Mirroring verses 46 and 47 “The LORD” and “The God” are used to refer to not only the Savior or David but the one who makes him strong in battle. David realizes that the same God that delivered him also brought vengeance on his enemies and subjected the people under David (See I Samuel 24:12). We have to leave room for God’s vengeance today (Rom. 12:19). Jesus and His kingdom have set up a day of wrath wherein the righteous are comforted (Is. 61:2).
David said that God did 3 things in verse 48: God delivers me from my enemies, lifts me above those that rise up against me, and rescues me from the violent man (Psalm 140:1, 4, 11). But what is David’s response?
Again, David uses the word, “therefore” to transition into offering a reason for his next move. He says, “I will give thanks to You, O LORD among the nations, and sing praises to Your name.” The outpouring of praise and thanksgiving should always be the response of the saved and those who are protected by God (Psalm 96:3, 10; See also Deut. 32:43) Give thanks among the foreigner because the gospel is for all (Isaiah 11:10). Paul used this text in reference to the Gentiles rejoicing over salvation (Rom. 15:9). That includes me and you today!
David closes with a few more things that God does for him. He says, “He gives great deliverance to His King and shows loving-kindness to the anointed who are David’s descendants forever.” (II Sam. 7:12-16, 25-26) The word descendants could also be seed or offspring. Those who are in Christ have received son status (child of God) and are heirs with David according to the promise (See Matthew 1:1). We are seated with Christ in heavenly places and we anticipate eternal glory (Psalm 89:35-37; Isaiah 9:7; Luke 1:32-33) There is secure safety in the LORD (Prov. 18:10).
We can reflect on the events that occur in our lives and connect with the feelings that David expresses in this psalm. We should also learn to lean upon the LORD and trust Him to deliver us from all of the plans of the ungodly against us.
Next, time you sing the words to “I Will Call Upon The LORD” in one of our singings, I hope that this psalm comes flooding back into your heart and you are able to recall the circumstances behind the beloved hymn.
When God blesses us, we should praise Him and give thanks. We should also proclaim our testimony to as many people as we can. Thank you for participating in this study. I hope you found it to be encouraging and a source of strength in whatever you are up against today.