Psalm 18 Study Notes


Ps 18 title This title contains more information about its setting than any other psalm. It is linked with the Lord’s deliverance of David . . . from . . . all his enemies and from . . . Saul. This rescue is not specified or described any further in the title. Neither does its parallel, 2Sm 22, give any detailed information about its precise setting in David’s life. However, it is clearly set against the backdrop of a military victory where the Lord fought for David and delivered him from his enemies. Such was the promise for those who obeyed the Lord. He would fight for them and bring them victory (Dt 32:41-42). Elsewhere in the OT, only Moses and Joshua are called the servant of the Lord (cp. Ps 36 title).

18:1-2 In no other psalm is there such a large number of metaphors used to convey God’s attributes. All of these relate to a military setting where God is seen as the real strength behind the person who fights. He also protects the psalmist as a hiding place from the enemy (his rock . . . fortress, and stronghold). God also protects him by guarding him against the onslaught of weapons (he is his shield) and rescues him from his enemies (he is his deliverer and his salvation). In keeping with the military imagery in this psalm, the horn of salvation may refer to one of the horns of the altar, which represented a place of refuge (1Kg 1:50-51). However, it more likely refers to the horn of a wild animal that gored its enemies (Dt 33:17; Ps 92:10), signifying military strength.

18:3 Worthy of praise in some contexts is based on the attributes of God (48:1; 96:4; 145:3), but here it is clearly connected with specific events in the life of the psalmist.

18:4-5 The perception of the inevitability of death is pictured in a number of ways in the psalms (such as being “near Sheol,” 88:3). In this case it is pictured as being entangled in ropes and unable to escape (116:3; 119:61). Torrents is an image of being overwhelmed with water and in danger of drowning (Jnh 2:3,5). When pieced together, such imagery describes being tangled in ropes while overtaken with a flood of water. There was absolutely no chance to swim away since the psalmist’s limbs were bound and unable to move. Death itself confronted him in the same way enemies did and would not allow him to escape.

18:6 Temple most likely refers to heaven in this context (see note at 11:4-5).

18:7-15 These verses describe a theophany where God reveals his power through natural phenomena such as an earthquake (v. 7) and a thunderstorm (vv. 13-14). Mountains represent stability within the natural order, so their shaking and trembling describes God’s power to bring upheaval to what seemed secure (Jdg 5:5; 1Sm 14:15). Smoke and consuming fire combined with God’s voice that thundered from heaven is reminiscent of the Sinai experience (Ex 24:17; Dt 4:12,24; 9:3). The image of God acting as a warrior who fights for his people and uses the natural elements as his weapons is also connected with Israel’s past experiences (Jos 10:11; Jdg 5:4,20). God’s riding on a cherub—imagery found in creation hymns (19:1; 104:3)—blends the supernatural with the natural. Such a mixture is a common feature in many ancient Near Eastern myths, particularly those related to Baal, the Canaanite storm god. Some interpreters see this section of the psalm as a polemic against Baal, showing that the Lord is the sovereign Lord of creation. Ps 18:15 seems to be connected with the exodus event when the depths of the sea became visible because of God’s breath (see Ex 14:21).

18:16-19 Reaching down, taking hold, and pulling out are anthropomorphic descriptions of God’s condescension to rescue the psalmist in his time of need. These terms also allude to the image of a well as the place where one feels trapped during times of distress, connecting the concepts of “drawn up” and rescued (30:3; 40:2; Jr 38:10). The deep water is related to the “torrents of destruction” in v. 4 and is identified more specifically as enemies. The spacious place is another illustration of being delivered from one’s enemies (see note at 4:1). There is assurance that God delights in his people when he rescues them from harm and protects them from their enemies (41:11).

18:20-24 This declaration of innocence is set off by similar statements in vv. 20 and 24. Unlike its use in prayers, these statements of innocence are part of thanksgiving for answered prayer, indicating why God delivered the psalmist from his calamity. Righteousness is further clarified as cleanness of . . . hands, meaning integrity in his obedience to God’s commands (24:4; see note at 7:3-5). The psalmist was not absolutely perfect and free from sin, but he was blameless in terms of his faithfulness to God (15:2; Dt 18:13).

18:25-26 These verses make the connection between the statements of innocence in the previous section and the Lord’s covenant faithfulness. This is an outworking of the covenant stipulations in Dt 28 whereby God is faithful to those who are faithful to him.

18:27 Oppressed can also mean “humble” and is the opposite of haughty. To humble is literally to “bring down.”

18:28-29 Light is sometimes connected with salvation (deliverance) and provides security and assurance that God protects his own (27:1). The security becomes confidence in 18:29 with the sense that the psalmist could leap over a wall. In other words, he could accomplish the impossible with God on his side (Mt 19:26; Mk 9:23; Lk 18:27).

18:30 The Lord’s word is pure in that it is true and reliable.

18:31 The uniqueness of the Lord is significant in Israel’s theology, and it forms the basis for the distinctiveness of Israel among the other nations (35:10; 89:8; Ex 15:11; Dt 4:32-40).

18:32-36 The descriptions in these verses are of traits important for warfare. Strength is the clothing (1Sm 2:4). Feet of a deer represent swiftness (2Sm 1:23; 2:18). God made the psalmist more skillful by training his hands. The bow of bronze is unusual since bows were not covered with metal. The point seems to be that it was strengthened and made more effective as a weapon (Jb 20:24). The shield is perhaps related to its earlier mention where it was identified with God himself (vv. 2,30). On a spacious place, compare v. 19 and see note at 4:1.

18:37-42 Rather than being pursued (7:1,5), those who are strengthened by God pursue their enemies. The shift between first-person and second-person forms in these verses indicates that God is the one who is at work through his warrior. Though God can work directly, he also uses people as his instruments to accomplish his purposes.

18:43-48 The designation head of nations along with the verb subdues refers to the dominion over the nations that was promised to the Davidic ruler of Israel (110:1-2; Jr 31:7). Some interpreters see this as recalling situations where David himself conquered other nations (2Sm 8:9-10; 10:19).

18:49 The nations are not just defeated and subdued by Israel’s king; they become the audience for the praises of the Lord among his people (57:9; 108:3) so that they too participate in singing praise to God (67:4).

18:50 The combination of king . . . anointed . . . David and his descendants makes the connection with the Davidic covenant even more explicit than the previous verses (110:1-2; 2Sm 7:8-14).