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Psalm 18

by Tim O'Hearn

Peter Mark Roget (1779-1896) was a physician, mathematician, and chess master, among other things. He is not known for his knowledge of physiology, his invention of a pocket chessboard, or his role in the early development of what became modern movies and television. Instead he is noted for his work Rogetís Thesaurus of English Words, the first draft of which was written in one year at age 26, and which was published in 1852. The most familiar part of this work is its list of synonyms, substitutes, replacements, and alternative expressions for English words. The concept is so important that it is built into every word processor. What began as a coping mechanism for depression has become a vital tool for every writer.

David did not have access to Rogetís Thesaurus when he wrote Psalm 18. Nevertheless, he used the concept. In one verse alone he uses eight separate words to describe Godís protection. Throughout the psalm he uses the Hebrew technique of repeating an ideaThe top two fears people experience are public speaking and anything to do with death. in different words, which is essentially the same as the use of a thesaurus.

The problem

The introduction of the psalm showís Davidís reliance upon Godís shelter in the time of trouble. This is where he first uses a list of words.

I will love thee, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies. (Ps 18:1-3)

If God is all those things (rock, fortress, tower, etc.), no wonder David will call upon Him. No wonder he puts confidence in salvation from God. But why did he need that salvation? He explains the problem.

The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death confronted me. (vv. 4-5)

When I was in high school, I was required to do a research paper accompanied by a survey. I chose to do it on the topic of fear. My research said the top two fears people experience are public speaking and anything to do with death. My survey bore that out. People donít want to talk about death. They donít like funerals. They delay pre-planning their own funerals. They especially do not want to be in the presence of a dead body. I had a supervisor who had been sent to the Recruit Training psychiatrist because during a swim test a recruit (draftee) had died of a heart attack in the pool. He climbed out of the pool and disobeyed direct orders to get back in. The psychiatrist let him continue boot camp, saying, ďI wouldnít have gone back in the pool with a dead body, either.Ē

David needed God because he feared death. He was particularly frightened by death at the hands of ungodly men. It is one thing to die a natural death. It might even be acceptable to be killed by someone who believed as he did, if that were possible. It would be a different matter entirely to die defending your faith against unbelievers. To a godly person, that might be the best way to die, protecting the honor of God. But it is still a fearful way to go. David felt he had more to do for God, so he feared death.

A fearful response

Death might be the number one or number two fear, but the way God responds to support David might cause fear in itself. Even nature fought on Davidís side.

Between verses eight and fifteen God uses the following: earthquake, fire and smoke, darkness, fearsome angels, wind, clouds, bright light, hailstones, burning coals, thunder, lightning, and receding water so that the land below the rivers and oceans was revealed.

Any one of those things can cause fear. With all twelve at once, what was fear among Davidís enemies would develop into terror.

Fear upon fear upon fear. When that happens, the result is not just cumulative, it is multiplicative. Pharaoh was able to survive nine out of ten plagues because they came one at a time over a period, according to some, of two years. Had they come all at once, he might have let Israel go earlier.

When there is a massive forest fire, containment must be achieved at great cost. One way to do that is to set smaller fires around the big one. This destroys the fuel the fire would need to spread. In a sense, this is what God has done for David. If the problem is fear of death, God ignites other fears around it, and starves the original fear of its fuel.

Deliverance

To deliver. The verb has different meanings to different people. For someone who ordered a product online, waiting for it to be delivered can take a while. (Even longer, if waiting for a baby to be delivered.) To someone like David, when God delivers, he takes a person out of harmís way. The first idea is summed up in the word delivery; the second in deliverance.

David was faced with many enemies in his life. This psalm was written when he was fleeing from King Saul. Later in his life he faced the Philistines, and even two of his own sons. His was not a life of ease. And yet, even this early in his life, he has experienced Godís deliverance.

He compares it to being saved from drowning. Instead, God planted his feet on a wide plain. Not just a narrow cliff edge, but a secure place. ďHe brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.Ē (vs 19)

Some people have enemies at work. Coworkers may be jealous of oneís ability or position. God will deliver his people. Sometimes it doesnít look like deliverance, if it means leaving that job to find a better one.

Some people have enemies in their own families. It may be harder, they think, for God to deliver them from family members. But God has ways. Has that family member been transferred to a new city? Have they, or you, gotten married and had to move away? God doesnít tell us how he will deliver; he just does it.

Motivation

Verses 23-29 give Godís motivation for helping David. God doesnít really need a motivation; He is His own motivation. Nevertheless, David explains his concept of why God helps him.

Simply put, he avoids sin. He is not sinless. He just tries harder than most not to sin. Then David posits that God will treat man the way man approaches God.

With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright; With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the crooked thou wilt shew thyself twisted. For thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks. (Vv 25-27)

This is similar to what Jesus said in Matthew 6:15. ďBut if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.Ē The way we live is reflected in the way God deals with us.

Most of us have seen comic book superheroes. Superman was ďable to leap tall buildings in a single bound.Ē God makes us superheroes. ďBy thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.Ē (vs 29) Stronger than an enemy army. Able to leap walls in a single bound. Because we follow Godís way, we have superpowers.

God gives

Finally, David describes the God upon whom he relies. He describes the way God has given him the deliverance he desired.

Some people have problems with the descriptions of what God does to Davidís enemies. Others realize that God is dealing out just punishment for opposing his righteousness. Davidís verses about what God does, giving the enemy over into slavery and death, are pretty graphic sometimes. Here he talks about beating them intoSome people have enemies in their own families. It may be harder, they think, for God to deliver them from family members. But God has ways. dust or enslaving them. God has given him the necks of his enemies. It is not uncommon in the Bible to describe the conquering king as putting his foot on the necks of the conquered peoples. How easy it would be to crush the breath out of a person that way. Symbolically, the conqueror has taken their lives, and given it back again if they will submit to him.

The God who can give David the necks of his enemies is a powerful God. David confidently expresses his belief in Godís existence and his deliverance. ďThe LORD liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.Ē (vs 46) How similar this is to what the book of Hebrews says about faith. ďHe that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.Ē (Heb 11:6) David exemplifies that kind of faith.

God has delivered David from those who would kill him. The fear of death is no more. David would face other times when death was imminent. He would face other enemies. In spite of this, David is not worried or afraid. He knows, as did Job, that his redeemer lives. This requires a special response; one that even the enemies cannot mistake.

Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name. (Ps 18:49)