Sermon for July 11th, 2021
Psalm 18 is the 4th longest Psalm in the Book of Psalms, and so I'm going to split it up across two Sundays. We'll cover verses 1-24 today, and then the rest next week. As we often do with longer texts, I'm going to intersperse the reading with the sermon itself. So as we prepare to hear God's Word and message, let us pray.
Psummer of Psalms IV - Psalm 18, Part I
Rosemary was nearing the end of her life, and all of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren had gathered around her one last time, their one last chance to listen to her as she reflected on her 98 years of life. She had been married four times, and the conversation turned to the occupations of her four husbands. The first one had been a banker. The second husband was a circus ringmaster. Her third husband was a preacher. Her fourth and current husband was a funeral director. One of Rosemary's grandchildren asked the question that was on everyone's minds: Why had she married four men with such diverse careers? Rosemary thought about it for awhile, and said, "Well... I married one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go."
Psalm 18 is a Psalm of David, and it actually shows up in two places in the Bible: Here in the book of Psalms, but also in 2nd Samuel chapter 22 -- near the end of David's life, right before the chapter titled "The last words of David." So one way to understand this Psalm is David, reflecting back on his long life, and all the things he had been through.
And yet, if you read the inscription at the beginning of the Psalm, it says that this is "A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul." David's victory over King Saul happened near the beginning of his career, or (more precisely) at the beginning of his 40 year reign as Israel's greatest king.
It's possible that both are true. Have you ever had a song that followed you throughout your life? A song so meaningful and powerful that you kept coming back to it over and over again? A song that somehow spoke to your heart and told your story, in your youth as well as your old age?
I imagine Psalm 18 was like that for King David. It was the soundtrack to his life. And David wrote a lot of songs, too. Over half the Psalms are attributed to him. So what was so special to him about this one? What was it that spoke so powerfully to him, and about him--on the day he wrote it, and every time he sang it, right up to the end of his life? And how can this Psalm speak to us today? How can it inspire us to have faith like King David--the one the Bible calls "a man after God's own heart?" Let's delve in.
1 I love you, O Lord, my strength.
What an opening! There is perhaps no phrase in any language more powerful than those three words: I love you. Those are the words that all children long to hear from their parents, that all parents long to hear from their children, that every person longs to hear from their significant other, and yes, they are the words that we long to hear from God, and that God longs to hear from us. I love you, O Lord, my strength. David doesn't waste any time getting to the heart of the matter.
But wait a minute--not so fast! If a complete stranger came up to you this morning, looked you in the eye, and said, "I love you," you might say something like, "Love me? You don't even know me! How can you love me?" In verse 2, David recalls the relationship he has with God; he demonstrates that he knows exactly who it is that he loves, and he knows why, too:
2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3 I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.
If you want to cultivate a greater love for God in your life, it's worth asking the question (and then answering it): Who is God? More specifically, who is God to me? How do we interact? What's our thing? What's our pattern? What's our history? The way you answer these questions will say a lot about the status of your relationship with God. For example, it's hard to love someone you don't know much about, someone you don't spend much time with, someone you don't communicate with on a regular basis. On the other hand, it's pretty easy to love someone you rely upon, depend upon, and have been through challenging situations with. David shares some of his relationship history with God, beginning in verse 4:
4 The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me; 5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
(In other words, he was in a pretty tight spot!)
6 In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
If we're honest with ourselves, that's the biggest question so many of us have when we pray: Did God hear me? Did my cry reach his ears? Is he even listening?
As a parent of three very inquisitive children, I think I'm qualified to answer this question. When I'm sitting in the recliner in my living room, reading a book, and my children are scattered throughout the house, they ask me lots of questions, usually shouted from another room: Hey Dad, what's for dinner? Hey Dad, can I go outside? Hey Dad, how do you spell Presbyterian? Hey Dad, can I show you something? Hey Dad, what's your favorite Beatles song? Hey Dad, why does my closet smell funny?
I hear every single one of those questions. I don't answer all of them, especially the ones they could probably figure out on their own. But there are some things that will send me flying out of my chair and down the hallway in a heartbeat--like the sound of breaking glass, or crashing furniture, or a frightened cry for help, the kind where you can hear the pain or the panic in the tone of voice. In those moments, no distance, no doorway, no obstacle will keep me from racing to scoop up my child in my arms.
God hears our prayers, and what's more, God knows exactly when to spring into action. This is what David describes in a very poetic (maybe over-the-top) way beginning in verse 7:
7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. 8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. 9 He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. 10 He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind. 11 He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water. 12 Out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire. 13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice. 14 And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them. 15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
And then David translates in a slightly less over-the-top (but still poetic) way what actually happened. Verse 16:
16 He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters. 17 He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me. 18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the Lord was my support. 19 He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
David could be describing a particular instance in his life, or really any number of them. But I love that last line: He delivered me...because he delighted in me. Why did God delight in David? The same reason God delights in you and in me--because we are his children, his special creation, made in his own image, that we may forever delight in his presence, and he in ours. If you want to cultivate a greater love for God in your life, it helps to begin with the knowledge and confidence that God loved you first, loves you still, and always will.
The next words of David (and the place where we'll end for today) strike me as the words of a very young David, a David who still has a long way to go in his life journey, and in his relationship with God. He says in verse 20:
20 The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me. 21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. 22 For all his ordinances were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me. 23 I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt. 24 Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
I say these are the words of a young David, because if you know his story, you know that he didn't always keep the ways of the Lord. He wasn't always righteous, and he didn't always keep himself from guilt. David was human, and there were times when he failed his people, failed his family, and failed his God. I wonder if these last words made him cringe just a little bit when he heard this song later in life, especially in the presence of all the people who knew his story, and his failures.
But I also suspect that these words--even at the end--only deepened David's gratitude and his love for God, because by then he knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that God still loved him; God had still rescued him time and time again, even when he stumbled; God was still his rock and his refuge and his strength, to the end of his days.
We'll pick up again with David's story and the second half of Psalm 18 next Sunday, but today I want to leave you with this question:
What does the song of your life sound like?
I hope it's a long one, with harrowing escapes and amazing adventures.
I hope it's a beautiful one, with heartfelt emotions and poetic interludes.
But most of all, I hope it's a love song--one that you and your Redeemer are writing together.