In every soul-testing trial, the believer must find strength in a refuge greater than himself. He must be anchored to a rock greater than the trial in which he finds himself. The only sure fortress is that rock which is highest of all – the Lord himself. And this is the truth that David discovered and recorded in this psalm.
Psalm 18 is the fourth longest psalm in the Book of Psalms. It contains David’s praise for repeatedly delivering him from all his enemies. The long title mentions that the “the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and the hand of Saul.” Thus, this psalm celebrates David’s victories over all his enemies rather than one absolute triumph. Included in these many deliverances is one of his most famous achievements – his rescue from Saul. This psalm also appears in 2 Samuel 22; it was recorded after the death of Saul.
Throughout this psalm, God is revealed as a rock (vv. 2, 31, 46), or the all-sufficient protection that David found in God. During the years he fled from Saul, and later Absalom, David escaped to the rocky cliffs, knowing he would be safe there. But in reality, it was God who was his fortress of protection, a sure foundation for his soul.
I will love You, 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 shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies. Psalm 18:1-3
David began with a vow to praise God. He was confident of divine protection for his life. He declared, I love you, O LORD, my strength, using a word for love that emphasizes the strong favor and tender intimacy of his heart toward God.
He used seven military metaphors to picture God’s love:
- My Rock, a foundation of stability and protection;
- My Fortress, a high place of refuge and defense when under attack;
- My Deliverer, a savior in the evil day;
- My Strength, meaning a strong defense;
- My Shield, a piece of heavy armor to deflect the enemies’ arrows and swords;
- Horn Of My Salvation, a description of power in battle;
- My Stronghold, meaning God’s care for his servant.
God was all this to David. And this prompted him to call on the Lord when his enemies attacked.
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. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. Psalm 18:4-6
David was in danger as the cords of death surrounded him as if he were tied down and unable to escape. Furthermore, the torrents of destruction overwhelmed him as if he were drowning. The cords of the grave coiled around him, entrapping him. So strong was their grip that the snares of death would not yield David, their helpless prisoner. In this perilous situation, he cried to God for help, confident that he would hear his voice.
The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
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. The valleys of the sea were exposed, and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, Lord at the blast of breath from your nostrils. Psalm 18:7-15
The Lord came to David’s rescue, intervening dramatically on his behalf. This bursting upon the scene is represented poetically as an earthquake. The earth trembled and quaked, and mountains shook to overturn his circumstances. God parted the heavens and came down in wrathful vengeance to deal with David’s enemies. Attended by the cherubim, God descended from heaven to answer David’s prayer like a violent thunderstorm with dark rain clouds, hailstones, and bolts of lightning.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Psalm 18:16-19
In this divine intervention, God reached down and took hold of David to deliver him out of deep waters. He rescued David from his enemies who were too strong for him – but not so for God. The LORD was my support, David testified. He released him out of this tight squeeze into a spacious place.
The Lord 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 judgments were before me, and I did not put away His statutes from me. I was also blameless before 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 sight. Psalm 18:20-24
David also declared that the Lord rewarded him. And this happened because he walked in cleanness, having refrained from evil, having kept God’s law, and having been blameless. For this, the Lord rewarded him according to his righteousness. David did not make a claim for sinless perfection. He only stated that he had devoted himself to following the Lord and this had resulted in a godly life.
With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; With the pure, You will show Yourself pure; And with the devious, You will show Yourself shrewd. For You will save the humble people but will bring down haughty looks. Psalm 18:25-27
God rewards a man according to his character. To those who are faithful to God, the Lord, in turn, is faithful (1 Sam. 2:30). Likewise, God shows himself to be blameless and pure to those who are the same. But those who are crooked find God to be shrewd to them, meaning that he will judge them in harsh ways. If a person insists on pursuing devious ways, God will reward him accordingly, giving him what he deserves. According to David, the Lord exalts the humble but will bring low the haughty.
For You will light my lamp; The Lord, my God, will enlighten my darkness. For by You I can run against a troop, By my God, I can leap over a wall. As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer and sets me on my high places. He teaches my hands to make war so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great. You enlarged my path under me, so my feet did not slip. Psalm 18:28-36
Furthermore. David claimed that God caused his life to flourish by his favor. He declared that the Lord would keep his lamp burning; God would cause his life to thrive. With the Lord’s help, he could advance against all opposition, even scale a wall in battle. Because God was his shield and Rock, the Lord enabled David to stand with strength on the heights, a place of victory. David could fight triumphantly because God empowered him supernaturally to bend a bow of bronze. God alone sustained him to make him great before his enemies. The Lord made David’s footing sure on the path to victory so David would not fall.
I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them; neither did I turn back again till they were destroyed. I have wounded them so that they could not rise; they have fallen under my feet. For You have armed me with strength for the battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me. You have also given me the necks of my enemies so that I destroyed those who hated me. They cried out, but there was none to save; even to the Lord, but He did not answer them. Then I beat them as fine as the dust before the wind; I cast them out like dirt in the streets. Psalm 18:37-42
Empowered by divine strength, David defeated all his enemies and overtook them; he even destroyed and crushed them. Clearly, it was God, he testified, who armed him with strength to utterly beat them. Every victory David won was due to God’s empowering him.
You have delivered me from the strivings of the people; You have made me the head of the nations; a people I have not known shall serve me. As soon as they hear of me they obey me; the foreigners submit to me. The foreigners fade away and come frightened from their hideouts. Psalm 18:43-45
Having routed his enemies, David was elevated by God to rule over them. He testified you have made me the head of nations, a position of political and military superiority. These once-imposing foes were now subject to and obeyed him because God had given him the victory. So complete was this God-given triumph that they cringed before David and lost heart.
The Lord lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted. It is God who avenges me, and subdues the peoples under me; He delivers me from my enemies. You also lift me up above those who rise against me; You have delivered me from the violent man. Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the Gentiles, and sing praises to Your name.
Great deliverance He gives to His king, and shows mercy to His anointed, to David and his descendants forevermore. Psalm 18:46-50
With a concluding outburst of praise, David raised his voice to declare, The LORD lives! He had witnessed God’s intervention in his life. And this compelled him to shout; Praise be to my Rock! God vindicated David and subdued his foes that were violent men. David concluded I will praises to your name because God had given great victories. So total were these triumphs that they extended not only to David but also to his descendants forever.
David’s example in this psalm calls out to every believer to make God his refuge in every trial, trusting him for deliverance. The Lord is an immovable rock who will save those who attach themselves to him. NO threatening enemy can overcome God; he is a fortress to everyone who takes refuge in him. With unwavering hope, the righteous should rest in the Lord, assured of his ultimate victory. They should place all their faith in God, the rock who cannot fall or falter.
With no confidence in the flesh, the people of God should entrust themselves to the Lord, steadfast in their dependence on him. Even after God rescues from the day of the attack, the believer should persevere, knowing that other enemies lurk in the shadows whom God alone can defeat. God alone is our hope and shield.
Holman Old Testament Commentary