Psalm 18 Devotion – A song for when we want to run away
By Kat Cowell
When we find ourselves backed into a corner, facing trouble of some kind, it is good to have an ally. Someone who can defend and protect us. Someone who can speak up on our behalf and go into battle for us when the time comes.
I wonder if you have ever had someone like this in your life. Perhaps you had an older brother or sister who came to your aid against playground bullies. Or maybe it was a colleague or boss who you could always count on to have your back in workplace disputes. Whoever it might have been, for them to actually make a difference in your situation they would have needed to possess some measure of power – the power to stand up against a menacing foe and offer protection. But when we are experiencing trouble or distress, we usually want more than just sheer power on our side. We also want love. We want our helper and defender to be motivated by compassion. We want them to want to help us because they care about us, not only because they have the power to do something.
It can be rare to find this combination of power and love in the world around us, but in Psalm 18, another of David’s psalms of deliverance, we find him praising the Lord for both His mighty power and tender love. The inscription tells us that David “sang the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” This was no doubt a very difficult time in David’s life and saw him spending years as a fugitive, moving from place to place and even hiding in caves. In Psalm 18:4-5 David uses vivid imagery to describe his situation: “The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.” David was on death’s door, but in his distress he called to the Lord for help, and his cry did not go unanswered.
In the next section of the psalm (verses 7-19), David uses startling imagery to describe God’s response to his prayer: “Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it” (v. 8); “The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them” (vv. 13-14). The interesting thing is, while God certainly appeared to his people in wind and fire at other times in their history, He never literally did this for David! If you were to read the narrative account of David’s life in 1 & 2 Samuel, no consuming fire, lightning bolts or trembling mountains are to be found. So what is going on?
As Tim Keller says, “with hindsight, …David now sees that God was active beneath the surface of things, even when he seemed absent at the time.” He was using his power and might to rescue David from his powerful enemies and foes, “who were too strong for me” (v.17). And so while these descriptions of God may be astounding to us, they show that David was in no doubt as to who really held the power in his situation. He uses the most awe-inspiring words and images he can find to express what he knows to be true about his God.
But it’s not just God’s power and strength that David sings about. He also declares about God: “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters…He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me” (vv. 16, 19). Though David’s God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, with unparalleled power and might, He extends love and compassion to David himself! He delights in His people, and uses His power to save those He loves; “he shields all who take refuge in him” (v. 30).
When we come to the New Testament, we see the same power and love of God displayed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s anointed one. He is the One who came down from on high to save us, entering into our dark, broken world with all its sin and suffering, becoming flesh and making His dwelling among us (John 1:14a). He came so that all who receive Him, all who believe in His name, might become children of God (Jn. 1:12-13). And the victory Jesus has won over sin, death and the devil, he shares with us so that we can stand firm in the face of any trial that comes our way. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:56-57, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So when we are tempted to feel alone in our struggles, or when we would rather run away from our foes and fears, let us remember that through Christ’s work on the cross, and His Spirit within us, “It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure…Therefore, I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name” (Ps. 18:32, 49).
A prayer for today:
Gracious God and Heavenly Father,
I praise you for being my fortress and deliverer, my rock and my refuge. Thank you for always hearing my cries for help, and for rescuing me from sin and death through the Lord Jesus Christ. Help me to remember that my salvation in Christ is complete – the great debt already paid, the great enemy overcome. Help me to look to you for strength each day, and to trust in your unfailing power and love.
In Jesus’ powerful name I pray,