TITLE.–“To the chief Musician, a Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who spake unto the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” We have another form of this Psalm with significant variations (#2Sa 22|), and this suggests the idea that it was sung by David at different times when he reviewed his own remarkable history, and observed the gracious hand of God in it all. Like Addison’s hymn beginning, “When all thy mercies, O my God,” this Psalm is the song of a grateful heart overwhelmed with a retrospect of the manifold and marvellous mercies of God. We will call it _THE GRATEFUL RETROSPECT_. The title deserves attention. David, although at this time a king, calls himself “_the servant of Jehovah_,” but makes no mention of his royalty; hence we gather that he counted it a higher honour to be the Lord’s servant than to be Judah’s king. Right wisely did he judge. Being possessed of poetic genius, he served the Lord by composing this Psalm for the use of the Lord’s house; and it is no mean work to conduct or to improve that delightful part of divine worship, the singing of the Lord’s praises. Would that more musical and poetical ability were consecrated, and that our chief musicians were fit to be trusted with devout and spiritual psalmody. It should be observed that the words of this song were not composed with the view of gratifying the taste of men, but were _spoken unto Jehovah_. It were well if we had a more single eye to the honour of the Lord in our singing, and in all other hallowed exercises. That praise is little worth which is not directed solely and heartily to the Lord. David might well be thus direct in his gratitude, for he owed all to his God, and in the day of his deliverance he had none to thank but the Lord whose right hand had preserved him. We too should feel that to God and God alone we owe the greatest debt of honour and thanksgiving.
If it be remembered that the second (#2|) and the forty-ninth (#49|) verses are both quoted in the New Testament (#Heb 2:13; Ro 15:9|) as the words of the Lord Jesus, it will be clear that a greater than David is here. Reader, you will not need our aid in this respect: if you know Jesus you will readily find him in his sorrows, deliverance, and triumphs all through this wonderful Psalm.
DIVISION.–The first three verses (#1-3|) are the proem or preface in which the resolve to bless God is declared. Delivering mercy is most poetically extolled from verse #4-19|; and then the happy songster, from verse #20-28|, protests that God had acted righteously in thus favouring him. Filled with grateful joy he again pictures his deliverance, and anticipates future victories from verse #29-45|; and in closing speaks with evident prophetic foresight of the glorious triumphs of the Messiah, David’s seed and the Lord’s anointed.
“_I will love thee, O Lord_.” With strong, hearty affection will I cling to thee; as a child to its parent, or a spouse to her husband. The word is intensely forcible, the love is of the deepest kind. “I will love heartily, with my inmost bowels.” Here is a fixed resolution to abide in the nearest and most intimate union with the Most High. Our triune God deserves the warmest love of all our hearts. Father, Son and Spirit have each a claim upon our love. The solemn purpose never to cease loving naturally springs from present fervour of affection. It is wrong to make rash resolutions, but this when made in the strength of God is most wise and fitting. “_My strength_.” Our God is the strength of our life, our graces, our works, our hopes, our conflicts, our victories. This verse is not found in #1Sa 22|, and is a most precious addition, placed above all and after all to form the pinnacle of the temple, the apex of the pyramid. Love is still the crowning grace.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS.
Whole Psalm.–The general argument of the Psalm may be thus stated: it is a magnificent eucharistic ode. It begins with a celebration of the glorious perfections of the divinity, whose assistance the speaker had so often experienced. He describes, or rather, he delineates, his perils, the power of his enemies, his sudden deliverance from them, and the indignation and power of his divine deliverer manifested in their overthrow. He paints these in so lively colours, that while we read we seem to see the lightning, to hear the thunders, to feel the earthquake. He afterwards describes his victories, so that we seem to be eye-witnesses of them, and take part in them. He predicts a wide-extended empire, and concludes with a lofty expression of grateful adoration of Jehovah, the author of all his deliverances and triumphs. The style is highly oratorical and poetical, sublime, and full of uncommon figures of speech. It is the natural language of a person of the highest mental endowments, under a divine inspiration, deeply affected by remarkable divine benefits, and filled with the most lofty conceptions of the divine character and dispensations.–^John Brown, D.D., 1853.
Whole Psalm.–Kitto, in “The Pictorial Bible,” has the following note upon #2Sa 22|:–“This is the same as the eighteenth Psalm … The Rabbins reckon up seventy-four differences between the two copies, most of them very minute. They probably arose from the fact that the poem was, as they conjecture, composed by David in his youth, and revised in his later days when he sent it to the chief musician. The present is, of course, supposed to be the earlier copy.”
Whole Psalm.–The eighteenth Psalm is called by Michaelis more artificial, and less truly terrible than the Mosaic odes. In structure it may be so, but surely not in spirit. It appears to many besides us, one of the most magnificent lyrical raptures in the Scriptures. As if the poet had dipped his pen in “the brightness of that light which was before his eye,” so he describes the descending God. Perhaps it may be objected that the _nodus_ is hardly worthy of the _vindex_–to deliver David from his enemies, could Deity ever be imagined to come down? But the objector knows not the character of the ancient Hebrew mind. God in its view had not to descend from heaven; he was nigh–a cloud like a man’s hand might conceal–a cry, a look might bring him down. And why should not David’s fancy clothe him, as he came, in a panoply befitting his dignity, in clouds spangled with coals of fire? If he was to descend, why not in state? The proof of the grandeur of this Psalm is in the fact, that it has borne the test of almost every translation, and made doggerel erect itself, and become divine. Even Sternhold and Hopkins its fiery whirlwind lifts up, purifies, touches into true power, and then throws down, helpless and panting, upon their ancient common. Perhaps the great charm of the eighteenth, apart from the poetry of the descent, is the exquisite and subtle alternation of the _I_ and the _Thou_. We have spoken of parallelism, as the key to the mechanism of Hebrew song. We find this as existing between David and God–the delivered and the deliverer–beautifully pursued throughout the whole of this Psalm. “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.” “I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised.” “He sent from above; he took me; he drew me out of many waters.” “Thou wilt light my candle.” “Thou hast given me the shield of thy salvation.” “Thou hast girded me with strength unto battle.” “Thou hast given me the necks of mine enemies.” “Thou hast made me the head of the heathen.” It has been ingeniously argued, that the existence of the _I_ suggests, inevitably as a polar opposite, the thought of the _Thou_, that the personality of man proves thus the personality of God; but, be this as it may, David’s perception of that personality is’ nowhere so intense as here. He seems not only to see, but to feel and touch, the object of his gratitude and worship.–^George Gilfillan, in “The Bards of the Bible,” 1852.
Whole Psalm.–He that would be wise, let him read the Proverbs; he that would be holy, let him read the Psalms. Every line in this book breathes peculiar sanctity. This Psalm, though placed among the first, was penned among the last, as the preface assures us, and is left as the epitome of the general history of David’s life. It is twice recorded in the Scripture (#2Sa 22|, and in this book of Psalms), for the excellency and sweetness thereof; surely that we should take double notice of it. Holy David, being near the shore, here looks on his former dangers and deliverances with a thankful heart, and writes this Psalm to bless the Lord: as if each of you that are grown into years should review your lives and observe the wonderful goodness and providence of God towards you; and then sit down and write a modest memorial of his most remarkable mercies, for the comfort of yourselves and posterity; an excellent practice. What a comfort would it be for you to read how good your God was to your father or grandfather, that are dead and gone! So would your children rejoice in the Lord upon the reading of his goodness to you; and you cannot have a better pattern for this than holy David, who wrote this Psalm when he was threescore and seven years old; when he had outlived most of his troubles, and almost ready for his journey to his Father in heaven, he resolves to leave this good report of him upon earth. And I pray mark how he begins: he sets not up trophies to himself, but triumphs in his God–“_I will love thee, O Lord, my strength_.” As the _love of God_ is the beginning of all our mercies, so _love to God_ should be the end and effect of them all. As the stream leads us to the spring, so all the gifts of God must lead us to the giver of them. Lord, thou hast saved me from sickness, “_I will love thee_;” from death and hell, “_I will love thee_;” on me thou hast bestowed grace and comfort, “_I will love thee, O Lord, my strength_.” And after he had heaped on God all the sweet names he could devise (verse #2|), as the true saint thinks he can never speak too well of God, or too ill of himself, then he begins his narrative. 1. Of his _dangers_ (verse #4|); “_Snares of death_,” “_Floods of ungodly men_,” “_Sorrows of hell_.” Hell and earth are combined against each holy man, and will trouble sufficiently in this world, if they cannot keep him out of a better. 2. Of his _retreat_, and that was, earnest prayer to God (verse #6|), “_I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God_.” When our prayers are cries ardent and importunate, then they speed: “_My cry came before him, even into his ears_.” The mother trifles while the child whimpers, but when he raises his note–strains every nerve and cries every vein–then she throws all aside, and gives him his desire. While our prayers are only whispers, our God can take his rest; but when we fall to crying, “Now will I arise, saith the Lord.” 3. Of his _rescue_ (verses #7-20|), by the powerful and terrible arm of the Lord, who is in a lofty strain brought in to his servant’s help, as if he would mingle heaven and earth together, rather than leave his child in the lion’s paws. 4. Of the _reason_ of this gracious dealing of God with him (verse #20|, etc.) He was a righteous person, and he had a righteous cause. And thereupon he turns to God, saying, Thou hast dealt with me just as thou art wont to do, for “_with the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt show thyself upright_.”–^Richard Steele’s “Plain Discourse upon Uprightness,” 1670.
Whole Psalm.–Sometimes the Lord cheers and comforts the hearts of his people with smiling and reviving providences, both public and personal. There are times of lifting up, as well as casting down by the hand of providence. The scene changes, the aspects of providence are very cheerful and encouraging; their winter seems to be over; they put off their garments of mourning; and then, ah, what sweet returns are made to heavenly gracious souls! Doth God lift them up by prosperity? they also will lift up their God by praises. See title, and verses #1-3| of Psalm 18. So Moses, and the people with him (#Ex 15|.), when God had delivered them from Pharaoh, how do they exalt him in a song of thanksgiving, which for the elegancy and spirituality of it, is made an emblem of the doxologies given to God in glory by the saints. #Rev 15:1|.–John Flavel.
Title.–“_The servant of the Lord_;”–the name given to Moses (#Jos 1:1,13,15|, and in nine other places of that book) and to Joshua (#Jos 24:29; Jud 2:8|); but to none other except David (here, and in the title to #Ps 36|.). Cp. #Ac 13:36|, _hup