Psalms 17-20 The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness

From Psalms 17-20

19 Psalms Fragment

In today’s psalm David takes refuge in the LORD from his enemies. He cries out to the LORD and the LORD responds coming to his defense. David believes he has been rewarded for his righteousness. He has been victorious over his enemies and now they serve him. The psalm is messianic and points us to Jesus. It also highlights the interrelated notions that God’s people act in righteousness and the LORD in his generosity rewards them because he is pleased.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.


Ps 17.1-15; Book One; David; In the Shadow of Your Wings

Ps 18.1-50; Book One; David; The LORD Is My Rock and My Fortress

Ps 19.1-14; Book One; David; The Law of the LORD Is Perfect

Ps 20.1-9; Book One; David; Encouragement for those who trust in the LORD

Passage and Comments

The title traditionally given the Psalm indicates it was used on the day David was delivered from his enemies. The context of the title in the parallel passage (2 Sam 22) associates the psalm with a particular event or military victory. It follows an account of Saul’s death and then a summary account of a series of military campaigns against the Philistines (2 Sam 21:15–22).

18 I love you, O Lord, my strength. 

2 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.

3 I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. (Ps 18.1-3)

The psalmist begins in praise. He loves the LORD and describes him in several ways. His ‘strength’, ‘rock’, ‘fortress’, ‘deliverer’, ‘refuge’, ‘shield’, ‘salvation’ and ‘stronghold’. The number of terms says something in itself of his feelings.

Do any of these characterize your relationship with the LORD?

He says all this because of what the LORD has already done for him. He praises the LORD for a past act of deliverance.

4 The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me;

5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.

6 In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. (Ps 18.4-6)

Death, destruction and Sheol threatened him. He called out to the LORD for help. The LORD in turn heard the cry of his servant from his temple. The place where God as the creator king resides and rules.

7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.

8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. (Ps 18.7-8)

God, in response to his servant’s plea, was preparing for battle against those who were afflicting his servant. The power of the LORD rocks the world. The LORD was angered at how his servant had been treated. The imagery of smoke, fire and coals hint at his burning anger.

9 He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.

10 He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.

11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water.

12 Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.

13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire.

14 And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.

15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. (Ps 18.9-15)

The imagery of darkness, hailstones and channels of the sea echo similar happenings in the exodus narrative. The LORD came to save his people from distress in Egypt and sent many plagues.

16 He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.

17 He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.

18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support.

19 He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. (Ps 18.16-19)

Again the psalmist’s imagery echoes elements of exodus narrative. Being drawn out of many waters and rescued from the strong enemy capture what happened when the LORD saved Israel from the Egyptians at the Red Sea. Eventually bringing Israel into the promised land (‘a broad place’?)

Its a royal psalm as we will see later on. The psalmist refers to himself in the singular, perhaps establishing a link between himself as the Christ and Israel.

20 The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.

21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.

22 For all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.

23 I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from my guilt.

24 So the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

25 With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;

26 with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.

27 For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down. (Ps 18.20-27)

The righteousness of the psalmist placed him in that intimate relationship with God from which he could call upon God in distress and expect God’s deliverance. He had lived a life of moral integrity, he had walked in God’s ways and avoided wickedness, he had lived within God’s judgments and statutes and had been blameless, yet nevertheless he had been attacked by enemies.

The assault of enemies had not been a consequence of his behavior. It did not reflect divine judgment. So he had been able to call for divine deliverance, and deliverance had come. That deliverance was a reflection of God’s fair dealings with him.

The notion that  there are people who are righteous, clean, blameless and who keep the law is not unusual in the historical context of the psalm or the rest of scripture. Nor is the fact the LORD is generous and rewards people who live like this.

The psalmist commends a series of attitudes. Mercy, blamelessness, purity and humility.

The psalmist explains how he came to live like this in what follows.

28 For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.

29 For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.

30 This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

31 For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?—

32 the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.

33 He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.

34 He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

35 You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.

36 You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip. (Ps 18.28-36)

He gives all the credit to God. As indicated by a multitude of expressions – ‘you light my lamp’, ‘by you I can run’, ‘by my God I can leap’, ‘God equipped me with strength’, God ‘made my way blameless’, God made my feet like a deer, God set me secure, God trains my hands, God gives me a shield, etc, etc.

The psalmist acknowledges that every good in peoples lives comes from God. God is in fact rewarding his own gifts. Give glory to God.

37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed.

38 I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet. 

39 For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me.

40 You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed.

41 They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.

42 I beat them fine as dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets. (Ps 18.37-42)

In the practice of warfare in the ancient Near East, it was frequently considered advantageous to seek the assistance of foreign gods, as well as of one’s own gods. They did this in order to increase the advantage over the enemy. This practice may be seen in Balak’s attempt, through Balaam, to curse Israel in the name of the LORD (Num 22–24). But the enemies’ plans were to no avail. ‘They cried for help, but there was none to save. They cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them’. Unlike the psalmist, they were not in such a relationship to God that they could expect the Lord’s help when they cried, as could the psalmist (vv 21–31). Thus they were thoroughly conquered by the warrior psalmist and became cringingly subservient to the one whom they had sought to oppress and conquer.

43 You delivered me from strife with the people; you made me the head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me.

44 As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me; foreigners came cringing to me. 

45 Foreigners lost heart and came trembling out of their fortresses. (Ps 18.43-45)

As a result of the LORD’s gifts, the psalmist has not only been saved from his enemies. He has overcome them and become their head.

Now the foreigners, the Gentiles, serve him. They serve the king.

46 The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation—

47 the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me, 

48 who delivered me from my enemies; yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me; you rescued me from the man of violence. (Ps 18.46-48)

The two passages tell the same story from different perspectives, but the culmination is the same in both instances—deliverance and victory for God’s servant.

49 For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing to your name.

50 Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever. (Ps 18.49-50)

The psalm ends with a reference to the human king, the authorized representative of the cosmic King. The human king has victory (v 51), but only because the divine King grants victory as a sign of his covenant faithfulness “toward his anointed” (namely, David and the Davidic kings who would succeed him). It is this closing reference to David and his seed which, taken in conjunction with the title (v 1), lends strong probability to the view that the psalm’s historical situation is to be located in the life of King David.

Story of Israel

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Like Ps 2, Ps 18 is a royal psalm and refers to the king as the anointed one (18:51; cf. Ps 2:3) or messiah. But neither the former nor the latter are messianic psalms in any prophetic or predictive sense; their primary concern is with the Davidic king and with the first manifestation of the Kingdom of God in ancient Israel.

Story of Jesus

Whereas Ps 2 is one of the psalms most frequently quoted in the NT, Ps 18 did not gain the same significance. The main points of interest in the Psalm are the psalmists estimation of his righteousness, the reward for his righteousness and the comments regarding the foreigners. Each of these points are reflected in the gospel. The story of Jesus.

Jesus instructed,

6 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Mt 6.1-4)

He links the concept of righteousness with reward. He mainly refers to giving to the needy. The poor who need help. Maybe the next time a homeless person asks you for small change you could give him some?

Jesus believes his Father rewards peoples righteous behavior which is done in secret.

Paul draws briefly upon the psalm (Rom 15:9, quoting Ps 18:50) in some comments concerning the Gentiles. The gospel predicts the Gentiles will put their hope in Jesus.

15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;

20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory;

21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (My 12.15-21)

Jesus is the suffering servant. The anointed one. The Spirit filled messianic king. He came for the lost sheep of Israel and the benefits of his life, death, resurrection and the kingdom he inaugurated reach into the lives of foreigners as well.

He conquered them with his costly love. Now we put our hope in him. He won us over and now we serve him.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.