Great Salvation for God’s King
Series: Psalms: Experiencing the Truth
Though we face many battles in life, we have reason to rejoice because the LORD brings great salvation to His king, and His king is our king.
Psalms 1-72 (Kidner Classic Commentaries), Derek Kidner
The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon
Humans are wired to celebrate something. On July 4th this year, I’m pretty sure from about 6:30pm-11:30pm, not a single minute passed in which I did not hear a firework going off. On Juneteenth, over a hundred people gathered across the street and on the block across from my house for hours upon hours, eating, dancing, throwing water balloons, painting faces, and much more, in celebration of the freedom of African Americans. We are wired to celebrate, but we also seem wired to battle. Our world has spoken of a war on drugs, a war on poverty, wars against other nations, and even a war on diseases like cancer. Amid such battles, we sometimes look at our lives and feel like there isn’t much to celebrate. As Christians, we are in a battle against the sin that remains in us and the sin of which the world approves, and against even Satan himself. The Psalm on which we are focusing today was written by David, a man whose life was characterized by battle after battle after battle, so much so that the Bible sometimes describes him as a “man of war”. Yet it is a Psalm of exuberant celebration, and a celebration that is not intended for David alone, but for all God’s people. In the superscription at the beginning of the Psalm, we see that he addressed it to the choirmaster, to lead all God’s people in singing it. The words of it originally appeared in an earlier part of the Bible, 2 Samuel 22, toward the end of David’s life, after God had given David victory over all his enemies, and especially over Saul, who I’ll say more about in a bit. Despite all these battles, the reason David found to celebrate, and the reason we still have to celebrate as God’s people today who face various battles is that the LORD brings great salvation to his king. To dig into that, we’ll look at the king’s heart toward the LORD, the LORD’s salvation for his king, the reason the LORD saves his king, the LORD’s salvation in his king, and the king’s praise of the LORD.
The king’s heart toward the LORD
This Psalm begins with a simple, yet profound statement from king David: I love you, O LORD. Note the personal character of the relationship such words express. It begins with the word “I”, and the Hebrew word there for love is a word intended to communicate an intensity of feeling, an intimacy of relationship. Other ways of saying it might be, “My heart is warm toward you, O LORD” or “You are dear to me, O LORD” or “I cherish you, O LORD”. And the last word of this simple statement is ”you.” I love you, O LORD, not merely what you give me, not learning about you, not the sense of belonging I get from you…I, love, you, O LORD. That’s the basic posture of the king’s heart toward the LORD.
But then, as is often the case when you adore someone, he elaborates: between verses 1-2, he describes God with 9 titles: my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my God, then he repeats my rock, but adds that by the LORD being his rock he means that he is the one in whom he takes refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Notice the one thing they all have in common: “My”. My strength, my rock, my fortress, and so on. Once again, this is a picture of what it looks like to have a personal relationship with the LORD. Remember that when you see the LORD printed in all caps like it is here in your Bibles, it means the Hebrew word Yahweh, the unique name of the God of Israel. David is saying that that God is not just a God, a strong one, a rock, a fortress, but my God, my strength, my rock, my fortress. When you enter a reconciled, personal relationship with Yahweh, that’s what it looks like. He goes from being strong to being your strength, from being a fortress to being your fortress.
Recall that David wrote these words after the LORD had given him victory over all his enemies. At this point, he had experienced the LORD as his strength, his rock, his fortress, deliverer, and so on. He had experienced the LORD as these things because he was often without these things in a worldly, visible sense. David’s most notable enemy was Saul, who the introduction to the Psalm specifically mentions, the powerful and physically impressive king of Israel. David had to flee from him in the wilderness, and the wilderness was particularly dangerous compared to the city because in the wilderness you had no walls, no fortress, no rock to hide behind in which to stay safe. Yet David not only survived, but was victorious over Saul. How? Because the LORD was his rock, his fortress, and his deliverer.
And in verse 3 he gives us a snapshot of what that looked like: I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. How would the world typically expect someone to fight his or her battles? If Saul is after you, you better build yourself a nice big wall, or find a nice big rock behind which to hide. But here’s how the LORD’s king, the God of Israel’s king, fights his battles: He prays. He simply calls upon the LORD, and the LORD acts to save him from his enemies. Starting in verse 4, David will expand on that pattern and paint for us an even more vivid picture of calling upon the LORD, and the LORD delivering him from his enemies.
But before we look at that, a few questions to consider from these first few verses: How is your heart toward the LORD today? Can you join David and say with sincerity, “I, love, you, O LORD”? If not, what is it about the LORD you’re missing? Is he your strength, your rock, your fortress, your deliverer, and so on? Is he the one in whom you take refuge? If not, it’s probably not because you have no hardships in your life; I don’t know anyone for whom that’s the issue. Instead, it’s probably that you’re taking refuge in something else, or someone else, that you can see. But what if instead of taking refuge in those things, you used your hardships as an opportunity to take refuge in the LORD? What if, instead of merely seeing them as hardships to be avoided or fixed at all costs, you saw them as opportunities to get to know the LORD like this, to cry out to him in prayer with greater fervency and consistency, to taste and see for yourself that he is your strength, your fortress, your deliverer, and your God? Might you not gain power to say with greater fervency, “I, love, you, O LORD”? Let’s dive deeper now into what that looks like as we look at the LORD’s salvation for his king.
The LORD’s salvation for his king
In verse 4, David sets the scene: The cords of death encompassed him, the torrents of destruction assailed him, the cords of Sheol entangled him, the snares of death confronted him. Here death itself is portrayed like a trap, with cords and snares seeking to catch David in their grasp. And David’s saying, “That’s where I was. I was that low. It was that bad. It was that desperate.” Sometimes we get scared, but the situation is objectively not that high-risk. We get scared because of the murder rates in Philadelphia, but honestly, odds are that even if you live here your whole life, you’ll die of something other than murder. I don’t say that to minimize it, but to contrast it with what David is saying here; the situations he was in were not like that. Saul was throwing spears at David. He hated him, wanted him dead, and had the power to kill him. While Saul was seeking to kill him, he ended up in another battle with the Philistines on top of that.
But here’s what he says he does in verse 6: In his distress he called upon the LORD, and to his God he cried for help, and from his temple the LORD heard his voice, and his cry to God reached his ears. Here the LORD’s temple is not a reference to the earthly temple, which hadn’t been built yet in David’s lifetime, but rather to his heavenly temple. David’s prayer on earth reached heaven. God heard it, and God acted. The verses that follow depict God’s action poetically, because when David looks with the eyes of faith at the victory God gave him over Saul, this is what he sees.
Notice in this section he doesn’t enlist David’s help. When David calls upon the LORD in his distress, God doesn’t say to David, “Ok; I’ll help you out, but you know I only help those who help themselves. So I’ll do 60% of the work, but I’m counting on you for the other 40.” In verses 7-19, God is the subject of the verbs. He bowed the heavens and came down, he rode on a cherub and flew, he thundered in the heavens, he took me, he drew me out of many waters, he rescued me from my strong enemy, for they were too mighty for me. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me. Do you see how powerful this God is? Do you see how willing this God is to exercise his power in response to the prayers of his people? In verse 4 the cords of death are encompassing him; all hope looks to be lost. But in verse 6 he calls upon the name of the LORD, and by verse 7, the earth is reeling and rocking as the LORD tears open the heavens and comes down. We pray downstairs every Sunday before the service, we pray in our services, we pray in our Citygroups, and in August we are starting a monthly service focused on prayer, in which we will spend even more time praying together, because prayer can make the kind of impact we see here.
So how do you take refuge in the LORD? Call upon the name of the LORD, ask him in prayer to deliver you from your enemies, and watch what he does. Is anything too hard for him? Whatever threat you are facing, however powerful it seems, however powerful it truly is, its power is nothing in comparison to the power of the LORD. Pray for deliverance, and as you do, remember who your ultimate enemies are. Though God delivered David from Saul, and many others on earth, in verses 4-5 he doesn’t say it was Saul who ensnared him. It was death itself. And behind death itself, behind all of David’s enemies, is the one who has the power of death, the devil, against whom we still battle today. Our battle is never ultimately against drugs, addiction, poverty, another nation, or cancer. Our battle is against the devil, and on earth is not his equal. Did we in our own strength confide, our strivings would be losing. You can’t overcome him, but you can call upon the one who can, and this right here is what he does to save us from the power of the devil.
That is how the Christian life begins. Acts 22:16 describes baptism as a “calling on his name”. In baptism we publicly call on the name of Jesus to deliver us from the power of the devil and, ultimately, from death itself, and this is what God does in response, entirely by his own power, so much so that once he does it, you realize even the power to call on his name came from him. We contribute nothing to our salvation but the sin that made it necessary. God does the saving work for us; our part is to watch, to see, and to rejoice. To you who are still stuck in your sins this morning, who remain under the power of the devil, cry out to the LORD for deliverance, and watch what he will do. To you who have been saved from your sins, give God the glory for it, for he has done it all.
Now, returning to David’s story, in verse 19 he begins to give us the reason the LORD saved him, on which he then expands in verses 20-29. He says it’s because the LORD delighted in him. So let’s unpack that further as we look at the reason the LORD saves his king.
The reason the LORD saves his king
In verse 20 David begins to explain what it means that the LORD delighted in him. He says the LORD dealt with him according to his righteousness; according to the cleanness of his hands the LORD rewarded him. So, in other words, the LORD didn’t save his king simply because he was his king, as though the LORD were indifferent to how the king acted. He will not reward sin, whether in the lowliest peasant or the most exalted king; God shows no partiality. But in the case of David against his enemies, David was righteous, and his hands were clean. He is not claiming here absolute perfection under the law of God; this was written after David had committed adultery and murder, and he himself said not even one is righteous (Psalm 14:3).
And yet, let’s just use the example of his dispute with Saul as an example since that’s the enemy the introduction to this Psalm specifically mentions. Saul hated David and sought to kill him because Saul was jealous of him; suffice it to say that is not righteous. Saul’s hands were not clean. On the flipside, there was a time when Saul went into a cave where David and his men were hiding, and David’s men encouraged him to kill Saul. Instead, David cut merely off a corner of Saul’s robe, felt convicted of sin even for doing that much, and not only did he not proceed to kill Saul, but he forbade his men from doing so (1 Sam 24:6-7). Then, even after Saul died, when David heard of it, he lamented Saul’s death, and ordered the execution of the one who said he killed Saul, because he violated God’s law by reaching out his hand against the LORD’s anointed (2 Sam 1:1-16)! When it comes to his dispute with Saul, David was righteous, and his hands were clean, so God rewarded him according to his righteousness, and according to the cleanness of his hands.
Even David’s description of his righteousness in this passage does not assume a perfection of his own. He says in verse 21 that he has kept the ways of the LORD, and has not wickedly departed from his God. It is possible for an imperfect sinner to nonetheless be described this way: Their path in life, their general direction, is to keep the ways of the LORD. They sin, and they may even sin grossly, as David did, but David’s sin was the exception, not the rule, in his life, and it was followed by David’s repentance. He did not wickedly depart from his God by renouncing his faith or plunging headlong into sin with no repentance. All God’s rules were before him, and his statutes he did not put away from him. In other words, there were no commands of God that he moved to the back burner and left there. Even the command to not commit adultery, which he turned from for a time, got moved back to the front burner when he was confronted and repented. Are there commands of God you’re putting out of your mind today? Are there some you’ve moved to the back burner? Bring them back to the front.
Because this is not just the way the LORD deals with his king. The impartiality goes both ways. He doesn’t let his king off the hook, but he also doesn’t hold the king to a higher standard than he holds all people. So verse 25 states a general principle: With the merciful God shows himself merciful, with the blameless man you show yourself blameless, with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. Some of you have been asking me questions in the past few months about the doctrine of God’s impassibility, the idea that because God does not change, God does not have emotions, for emotions exist only where change exists, from happiness to sadness, from compassion to anger, etc. How do we handle the reality, then, that in the Bible, God sometimes reveals himself as angry, as in this Psalm in verse 7, where we read that God was angry, but also sometimes reveals himself as compassionate? These verses show us that what is changing in those cases is not God, the creator, but the situation, the creation, and different situations call for different attributes of who God unchangeably is to be shown. With the merciful God doesn’t enter a merciful mood after being in angry one. With the merciful he simply shows himself to be the merciful God he always is, whereas with the crooked he makes himself seem tortuous, which is simply how his justice, which he always is, shows itself when it encounters sin. The same light appears as different colors when it shines on objects of different colors. Though the light never changes, the objects do, and therefore the light appears different to us, though it is unchanging in itself.
So here, to Saul, and to David’s enemies more broadly, God looked like an angry, avenging God, whereas to David, he looked like a merciful, blameless, pure God. Which one is the real God? They both are, but to the merciful he shows his mercy, whereas to the crooked he shows his wrath, making himself seem tortuous. This is what you must believe when you face the opposition of the world. This is what enables you to turn the other cheek, to show mercy to even your enemies, and to pray for those who persecute you. How hard must that have been for David’s flesh? He knows Saul is out to kill him, and he has multiple shots at him, to end it himself, right then and there, and instead he shows mercy, in hope that the LORD would be merciful to him. Now having been given victory over all his enemies, he can rejoice that his faith in the LORD was not misplaced. The LORD did deal with him according to his righteousness, and to merciful David God showed himself merciful. David is no exception; he is merely an example of that more general principle. So when you are insulted, don’t insult in return, or to others. Consider how you could use your words to build up the very people who insult you, and as you are merciful, God will show himself merciful to you. The saints in heaven, who were willing to be killed for their faith without retaliating, know this now, and they rejoice that though they lost here on earth, their faith in the LORD was not misplaced, for LORD has shown himself merciful to them. May we join them one day, and to do so, we will need not only the LORD’s salvation for his king, but the LORD’s salvation in his king.
The LORD’s salvation in his king
In verses 4-19, the LORD did everything for his king. But in verse 32 we also read that the LORD did something in his king. He equipped him with strength, and made his way blameless. So notice, even the blamelessness David had, imperfect as it was, was not the product of his own strength, but of the LORD’s work on him. And in the battles David did win by fighting, it was the LORD who strengthened him for them. He made his feet like a deer, he trained his hands for war, so that David pursued his enemies and overtook them. Many fled, and those who did not he beat fine as dust before the wind. Even foreign nations came cringing to him as God made him head over the nations. David’s experience of war was one of total domination, and he knows from where it came, verse 39: You equipped me with strength for the battle, you made those who rise against me sink under me.
This is how God’s salvation works. It begins for us, but then moves into us. Let me give you some theological language for that. Regeneration, the new birth, wherein God awakens us to the reality of our sin and gives us a new desire to trust and obey him, is monergistic, meaning one (mono) energy works in it: God’s alone. David’s victory over Saul is, once again, probably the clearest illustration of this in David’s life. He does absolutely nothing to defeat Saul. He devises no plan, and he refuses to wield a weapon even when he has the opportunity to do so. And yet, he is victorious over Saul. Why? Because God does it all by himself. But then, once David becomes king, there are other battles, like his battle with the Amalekites or the Philistines, in which David and his men do fight, but only with the strength that God provides. That’s a picture of sanctification, which is synergistic, in that there are two energies working together: Our energy works, though all our energy ultimate comes from God’s energy working in us. In regeneration we see the LORD’s salvation for us; in sanctification we see the LORD’s salvation in us.
Do you see what that means, then? It means if you have been born again of God’s Spirit, you now have his very power working in you to put to death the sin that remains in you! Sometimes there are certain sins Satan seems to just give up on when you are regenerate. They are like the enemies that flee. I think of a man who was converted in this church out of a life of adultery, and once he was converted, Satan couldn’t even get him to go near a pornographic website. That enemy fled because the LORD had given this man such strength over it. On the other hand, Satan doesn’t flee entirely when you are born again. He still has some sins he’s determined to pester you with as long as you are in this body on this earth, but you have power from God to beat them as fine dust before the wind, to cast them out like the mire of the streets. Do you believe that today? Do you believe that if you’re still looking at pornographic websites? Do you believe that if you’re still getting angry with your wife? Do you believe that if you’re still struggling to submit to your husband? Do you believe that if you still feel like you can’t tame your tongue?
There is work for you to do to put such things to death. But call upon the LORD, and he will equip you with strength, and he will make your way blameless, so that in the end, you will triumph by his strength. Would you give up your self-pity and despair today and believe God for that? Do so, and in the end, you will be able to say with David that the LORD delivered you from all your enemies, and made your way blameless, which ultimately ends in praise to him, because he did it. So let’s close by looking at the king’s praise of the LORD.
The king’s praise of the LORD
David’s praise of the LORD begins again in verse 46. As his heart toward the LORD began with a simple yet profound profession in verse 1, so it begins here with a simple yet profound attribute of the LORD: He lives. The gods of the nations? They’re idols. They’re dead. They can’t do anything for their people; they can’t do anything in their people, because they can’t do anything at all. They have no strength to exercise or to give, but the LORD, Yahweh, the God of Israel, is alive. When David looks back on the great salvation the LORD has given him, that’s what he sees: The LORD lives. I’ve been no fool to give my life to this God, to trust him even when the cords of death entangled me, even when I could have taken matters into my own hands, even when other helps failed, the LORD has proven that he is alive. So blessed be this rock, he says, and exalted be the God of his salvation. He reveals once again in verses 47 and 48 what God has done, and then he says in verse 49, for this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations.
What can you do when you see all that the LORD has done for you? You can’t pay it back. Even the good you can do comes only from his strength working in you. But what you can do is praise him. You can sing to him among the nations. And here is the big thing for which David praises him: Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever. Isn’t that what this whole Psalm has shown us? The LORD is a shield to his king, a rock to his king, a fortress to his king. When his king was ensnared by the cords of death itself, the LORD tore open the heavens, came down, and delivered him by his great might. When the king showed mercy to his enemies, the LORD showed mercy to his king. When the king went into battle against other nations, the LORD strengthened his hands for the battle. Great salvation he gives to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring after him.
You see, when the LORD, Yahweh, promised to be David’s God, he didn’t just promise to be David’s God, but to be God to David’s offspring after him, and it is only through David’s offspring that the things in this Psalm could be true of us, and even of David. The reason the cords of death ensnared David, and the reason we all are likewise destined to perish, is because we have sinned against the LORD, and death is the punishment due to us for our disobedience. How can it be, then, that when the LORD gets angry in verse 7, he gets angry with our enemies, but not with us? How could David be ultimately viewed by God as blameless when he knew as well as we do that he wasn’t? How can you and I? He could, and we can, because David’s offspring, Jesus Christ, our true king, came, and lived the truly blameless life. There are no exceptions to his perfection. In David’s life we see a pattern of faithfulness, but then there are these exceptions for things like adultery and murder. But in Jesus’ story, there are no exceptions. There is no story of adultery, no murder; he was tempted in every way as we are, in every way as David was, yet without sin. Yet on the cross, the LORD made himself tortuous to him as he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and got no answer, because he took upon himself the sins of David and of all his people and bore the judgment we deserved, so that we could share with him in the reward he deserved. The snares of death didn’t merely confront or entangle him; they consumed him. He truly died and was buried, but the LORD worked salvation for him, and did ultimately deal with him according to his righteousness, and according to the cleanness of his hands the LORD rewarded him when he raised him from the dead, never to die again. In this king, our king, sin, Satan, and death have been defeated.
He is God’s salvation for us. In his face, God shows himself merciful. If you are still dead in your sins today, cry out to him, and he will save you from your sins, deliver you from the power of the devil, and give you eternal life, so that though you die, you will live again. And as you go on with him, cry out to him in prayer for strength. He will work in you love for God. He will make your way blameless by giving you strength from his Spirit to put to death the sin that remains in you. As you go through hardship, take refuge in him.