With just a few variations, this chapter is also found in Scripture as Psalm 18. A common feature of ancient Hebrew writing is to conclude an extended narrative with a song, as Deuteronomy does, or as we see with Jacob’s prophecies at the end of Genesis. In this case, we find the narrative of both books of Samuel bookended with Hannah’s song and with David’s. Because I have preached through Psalm 18 before, in this message we will focus on one fascinating aspect of the psalm.
“And David spake unto the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul: And he said, The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer . . .” (2 Sam. 22:1–51).
Summary of the Text
The psalm was written in the aftermath of God’s deliverance of David from Saul (v. 1), but it is also appropriately placed here, near the end of David’s life. God is David’s Rock and Fortress (vv. 2-3). No matter the distress, God is there to be called upon (vv. 4-7). When God intervenes, and comes down, He does not do it in a small way (vv. 8-16). But this is not just directionless power; God actually delivers David in real time (vv. 17-20). God delivered David in accordance with his righteousness (vv. 21-25). God uses our own currency in His dealings with us (vv. 26-27). God on high looks down on those who lift themselves up, and He takes them down (v. 28). God enlightens and enables (vv. 29-30). God is the power and strength of the warrior (vv. 31-43). God gives David authority over the heathen (vv. 44-49). He is therefore worthy of all praise (v. 50), and David exults in the final fulfillment of all of God’s kindness in the coming of the Messiah (v. 51).
High and Low
In verse 28, David says that God’s eyes are upon the haughty, and He eyes them because He is taking aim. To walk in the sleekness of your own conceits is to walk along while in God’s crosshairs. This is a similar theme as what we find in Hannah’s great psalm. God throws down the proud, and He lifts up the lowly. Note that when David lays open his life before God, telling God that he has been righteous, this does not automatically place him among the proud.
Pride does not consist in understanding your life. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). Pride is when you choose your own assessment over against the assessment of God. It is folly, when God is telling a particular story for your life, to try to shout Him down with your own version. Everyone one of us has a narrative for our own lives. How well does it line up with God’s narrative for our lives?
But when God declares you righteous, is it humility to argue with Him? When God moves to deliver you, as David recounts that God did for him, is it humility to refuse to go with Him? Humility means agreement with God. It does not amount to automatic “worm theology.”
What It Means to Be Blameless
How are we to understand justification by faith alone, in the light of what David says here (vv. 21-25)? How could this possibly fit with sola fide?
We have to recognize that the Bible speaks of righteousness in two different ways—one vertical and the other horizontal. One is absolute, and the other is relative. One is fixed, and the other is comparative. If we don’t grasp this, we will soon be hopelessly confused, and we will be confused on a point that is right near the heart of the gospel.
First, the psalmist knew, as thoroughly as the apostle Paul did, that no flesh will be justified in the sight of God based on our own performance. “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, That thou mayest be feared” (Ps. 130:3–4). And Paul knows, as thoroughly as the psalmist, that there is such a thing as human righteousness. “A bishop must be blameless . . .” (1 Tim. 3:2). Paul knew that his behavior toward the Ephesians was faultless (Acts 20:25-27). He was upright in his dealings with the Thessalonians also. “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness” (1 Thess. 2:5). The apostle Paul once said, in the book of Romans, something very similar to this sentiment by David.
“Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life . . . But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile” (Rom. 2:6–10).
But Scripture expects us to use, with understanding, two different scales. God is absolute holiness, and to be in fellowship with Him, we need the absolute righteousness of Jesus—David needed that as much as we do, and vice versa. Justification before God is found in Christ alone.
But when this justification happens, does anybody ever notice? And when it is noticed, how does Scripture talk about it? Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations (Gen. 6:9). Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God (Deut. 18:13). And what about the parents of John the Baptist? “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). But use your head. The ordinances of the Lord included instructions on how to approach the Lord with your guilt offerings. Zechariah and Elizabeth were blameless because of how they handled their sins.
The Lord’s Table
God is a tower of salvation. God shows mercy to His anointed—David, and David’s great Son were the anointed of God. But as God’s anointed, David was a recipient of mercy.
In the salvation that God brings, therefore, never forget that justification and sanctification have met, and they have kissed each other. Mercy and truth have met, and they have kissed (Ps. 85:10).