I am reading through the Old Testament in my daily devotions on a plan that will take me through the Bible chronologically throughout the year. I have been reading through the books of Samuel and Chronicles that chronicle David’s life, among other things, and I am reading some of the Psalms David penned. Today, I read Psalm 18.
Psalm 18 is a song David sang to the Lord “when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” In the plan I am reading, it comes toward the end of his life, though I don’t know if, in fact, that is the timing. If it was, however, the things that strike me about it are all the more… well… striking.
The most striking thing about the Psalm (and David’s life) is that he implicitly and intimately trusted God. We see this in the first five verses:
1 I love you, Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and I have been saved from my enemies.
4 The cords of death entangled me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
5 The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
David always turned to God. When he was overwhelmed, as expressed in this Psalm, he turned to God. When he was victorious, he turned to God. When he failed to live up to God’s standards, he turned to God, and when tragedy struck, he turned to God. In everything David did, he was intimately mindful of God. Here David said, “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to God for help.” (Ps. 18:6) All of David’s life was lived in relation to and orientation toward God.
What strikes me about the following verses will , perhaps, curl the hair of people who say we must take every word of the Bible literally. None of it can taken literally, as should be evident to anyone who reads it:
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.
7 The earth trembled and quaked,
and the foundations of the mountains shook;
they trembled because he was angry.
8 Smoke rose from his nostrils;
consuming fire came from his mouth,
burning coals blazed out of it.
9 He parted the heavens and came down;
dark clouds were under his feet.
10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
he soared on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
the dark rain clouds of the sky.
12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.
14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
15 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.
Where exactly is God’s temple? (David didn’t build a temple for God; his son, Solomon, did that.) Did smoke really rise from God’s nostrils and fire and burning coals come out of His mouth? Does God have nostrils or a mouth? Did God really mount cherubim and fly on the wings of the wind? Does the wind have wings? We don’t read about hailstones or lightning in any of the stories about David. Did God shoot arrows? Were the valleys of the sea exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare for David? In a word: no.
Obviously, this is a psalm, a song that David sung, an artistic expression in which he took artistic license to acknowledge that it was God who saved him and protected him from his enemies.
Have you ever wondered what David might have said if/when God didn’t save him? Read Psalm 51. It was written after David committed the heinously immoral act of committing adultery with one of his commander’s wives while he was out fighting for David. To compound evil with evil, David tried to cover up his transgression in several ways, finally ending with orders to abandon the commander to his death at the front lines as David’s army fought – so that no one would know about David’s fling with the commander’s wife.
David coveted his neighbor’s wife though David was king and had everything he could possibly want. He took advantage of his position and satisfied his lust at the expense of his neighbor and neighbor’s family. He lied about it and schemed to cover it up. When the cover up didn’t work, David essentially “put a hit out” on his neighbor, one of his own men. David was selfish, deceitful, immoral and cowardly. He went to extreme measures to protect himself from being found out to save his own pride.
When Nathan, the prophet, put all the pieces of the puzzle together and confronted him, David turned to God. Psalm 51 was David’s response to God, confessing his sin, asking for mercy and for God’s cleansing.
God did forgive him, but God didn’t save him from the consequences of his sin. The son borne to Bathsheba fell ill, as Nathan prophesied. David mourned and fasted and begged God for days to save his son, but he died. David was so distraught that his servants feared giving him the news. When David found out, however, he stopped mourning and “went into the Lord’s house to worship”; then he ate. When asked why the sudden change in attitude, David said:
“While the baby was still alive, I fasted, and I cried. I thought, ‘Who knows? Maybe the Lord will feel sorry for me and let the baby live.’ But now that the baby is dead, why should I fast? I can’t bring him back to life. Someday I will go to him, but he cannot come back to me.”
David accepted what happened to him. David knew that he wasn’t in control. David knew that God was in control.
I am not sure that God actually controls everything that happens in our lives. Jesus dispelled that idea when he was questioned about a group of worshipers who were killed at the order of Pontius Pilate in the temple in Galilee. He said they weren’t greater sinners than anyone else, and neither were the people who died when a tower in Siloam collapsed. The lesson Jesus derived from those incidences is that those listening should repent, lest they too perish! (See Luke 13:1-9)
The implication is that we are all going to die some day, sooner or later, whether by natural causes, illness or sudden catastrophe. David, too, knew he was going to die someday. (“Someday I will go to him [his son], but he cannot come back to me.”) David knew he couldn’t change anything. He resigned himself to what happened, whether in victory, in defeat (of which David also experienced), in the failure of his own sinfulness, in thanksgiving for blessings he enjoyed or in mourning his loses, and in all these things David turned to God.
This was David’s secret: he always turned to God. He lived his life in relation to God. David knew God was in control, and he wasn’t; and he was ok with that.
So many of us “fight” God on that point. We want it our way. We want to be in control of our lives, and we live in the delusion that we can control our lives. And when the reality sets in (that we aren’t in control), we get mad at God. We demand our rights. We cry, “It isn’t fair!” We shake our fists at God.
I’ve come to learn that even that kind of response is “ok” (it’s “human” after all), as long as we return to God. We can vent to God. He knows our feelings, and He even knows our hearts anyway. In relation to God can we work out those feelings. If we trust Him, He can bring us through anything.
Ultimately, we can say, like David, that someday we will go to be with the loved ones we have lost. We can’t have them back. We can rejoice in our victories, giving thanks to God for them, and we can mourn in God’s presence, pouring our grief out to him, knowing that God isn’t distant from us. He knows us intimately. (See David’s Psalm 139) He is also “acquainted with grief”, because God became a man and experienced all the sorrows, rejection, infirmities that we experience – even the full weight of our sin. (See Isaiah 53:2-4)
Since God knows us intimately and is intimately familiar with all that we go through, we can turn to God in everything, like David did. In the Psalms of David, we get an intimate view of what it is like to live a life orientated toward God through all of the ins and outs and ups and downs of life. We learn the secret of David, which is to turn to God always, in everything that we go through, to be intimate with God. We can even vent to Him, knowing that nothing we experience He has not experienced as man like us.
And, when all is said and done, God will sustain us. He meets where we are. He delights in us and loves us – not for what we have done, but for who we are, people He created to have communion with Him. Knowing this and trusting this allows us to face the giants in our lives with confidence that, no matter what, God is with us.