This psalm overlaps a good deal with what David prayed in Psalm 18, as well as in 2 Samuel 22, near the end of his life. His life had been a long series of battles and conflicts, and he certainly knew the truth of what he was expressing here. This is a psalm of jubilation, rejoicing in the sort of prosperity that the deliverances of Jehovah can bring to a people. It begins with war, but concludes with the harvest of true peace.
“A Psalm of David. Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight: My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; My shield, and he in whom I trust; Who subdueth my people under me. Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! Or the son of man, that thou makest account of him! Man is like to vanity: His days are as a shadow that passeth away . . . Happy is that people, that is in such a case: Yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 144).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
David was a man of war, and he blessed the name of Yahweh, the one who had taught him how to fight (v. 1). In battle, the Lord was both his strength and his instructor. God Himself was his goodness, and his fortress—high tower, deliverer, and shield (v. 2). The word for fortress is masada, and it is possible the place called Masada is in view. Why would the infinite God condescend to deal with man, who is a trifle (v. 3)? Man’s lifespan is like that of a mayfly, with an average life span of a day (v. 4). The plea is for God to bend the heavens and come down (v. 5). David wants God to answer with volcanoes, lightning storms, emptying the divine quiver (v. 6). David then prays for his Fortress God to undertake for him (v. 7), saving him from the strangers. All men are vanity, but these adversaries speak vanity (v. 8), and they lie with great dexterity (v. 8). David anticipates the resulting victory, and he promises to praise God with a new song (v. 9). God even gives salvation to kings, and so He delivers David (v. 10). He prays for deliverance again, and repeats his point about how they speak vanity, and lies are their right-hand weapon (v. 11). What will the peace that follows this victory be like? Our sons will be strong and sturdy, like well-rooted plants (v. 12), and that our daughters might be the sort of cornerstones you would find in a palace (v. 12). In short, that our sons would be strong and brave, and that our daughters would crucial and beautiful. His anticipation continues—that our storehouses might be full (v. 13), that our flocks would be abundant (v. 13), and that our oxen would be strong (v. 14). The crime rate would be low—no burglaries, no need to flee in a refugee column (v. 14). Under godly rule, the people rejoice and there is no complaining in the streets (v. 14). Such people would be happy (v. 15) . . . but then he catches and corrects himself. Such people are happy provided God is their Lord (v. 15).
DON’T WASTE YOUR BATTLES
The psalmist routinely assumes that God, when He intervenes in human affairs, does so in order to take sides. There is a division in the human race between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Remember the antithesis. Always remember the antithesis (Gen. 3:15). You have enemies. We all have enemies. And God instructs to fight them, and to fight them in the way that He leads. He provides the strength to fight, and He teaches the techniques of fighting.
This is one of the reasons we are to sing psalms. The psalms are filled with enemies, and in our music we are learning how to deal with them. The hymnody of the last few centuries is distinguished by its singular lack of enemies.
THE GREATNESS OF GOD, THE BREATH THAT IS MAN
When man, who is vanity itself, speaks of the greatness of God, he is doing so because God has placed eternity in his heart (Ecc. 3:11). But when man, who is vanity itself, takes up a lie in his right hand, he starts to speak vanity, which he has no business doing (vv. 8,11).
God is infinitely high, but we learn in Scripture that He is also infinitely condescending.
“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15).
God dwells in two places. He inhabits eternity—He dwells in that high and holy place. That is one. But He also dwells in the hearts of the lowly. Men cease to be vanity when they acknowledge that they are vanity, and confess the greatness of Almighty God.
When a mayfly puffs himself up in his own conceits, imagining himself to be the next Alexander or Bonaparte, it is clear that he has no scriptural map of the cosmos, and he has no x on that map indicating his actual position, and the actual state of affairs. Man is scarcely a breath . . . and yet, created in the image of God. And yet, the prayer of v. 5 was answered. Bow the heavens and come down, which is exactly what He did in the Incarnation.
And this brings us to a subject that is guaranteed to make the pietist’s left eye twitch. It is easy for pietism to say that the simplistic “health and wealth” gospel is a heresy, which it is. But it is equally true that the masochistic “sorrow and borrow” gospel is also a heresy. The former assumes that we are just so many swine, happy when the trough is full. The latter assumes that we are just emaciated swine, who ought to be happy with the occasional acorn.
Balance, always balance. Not Epicureanism, and not Gnosticism. What is the fruit here of learning how to fight with God the instructor? What is the fruit of adoring the greatness of the Almighty? What happens when vain men repent of speaking vanities? The answer is that God exalts them, and this is not limited to the spiritual plane. I call these Deuteronomic blessings. Take care that when the blessings multiply that you do not forget the Lord your God (Dt. 8:7-14). Remember the conclusion of this psalm—provided that God is their covenanted Jehovah.
Remember Him . . . in the name of Christ, remember Him.