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Monday, September 28, 2015

Are there any nations you need to conquer? David and Psalm 18

Psalm 18:29 For by you, I advance through a troop.
By my God, I leap over a wall.
30 As for God, his way is perfect.
Yahweh’s word is tried.
He is a shield to all those who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God, except Yahweh?
Who is a rock, besides our God,
32 the God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect?
33 He makes my feet like deer’s feet,
and sets me on my high places.
34 He teaches my hands to war,
so that my arms bend a bow of bronze.
35 You have also given me the shield of your salvation.
Your right hand sustains me.
Your gentleness has made me great.
36 You have enlarged my steps under me,
My feet have not slipped.
37 I will pursue my enemies, and overtake them.
I won’t turn away until they are consumed.
38 I will strike them through, so that they will not be able to rise.
They shall fall under my feet.
39 For you have armed me with strength to the battle.
You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
40 You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me,
that I might cut off those who hate me.
41 They cried, but there was no one to save;
even to Yahweh, but he didn’t answer them.

42 Then I beat them small as the dust before the wind.
I cast them out as the mire of the streets.
43 You have delivered me from the strivings of the people.
You have made me the head of the nations.
A people whom I have not known shall serve me.
44 As soon as they hear of me they shall obey me.
The foreigners shall submit themselves to me.
45 The foreigners shall fade away,
and shall come trembling out of their strongholds.
46 Yahweh lives; and blessed be my rock.
Exalted be the God of my salvation,
47 even the God who executes vengeance for me,
and subdues peoples under me.
48 He rescues me from my enemies.
Yes, you lift me up above those who rise up against me.
You deliver me from the violent man.
49 Therefore I will give thanks to you, Yahweh, among the nations,
and will sing praises to your name.
50 He gives great deliverance to his king,
and shows loving kindness to his anointed,
to David and to his offspring, forever more.
(World English Bible, public domain)

According to the Bible, Psalm 18 is "By David the servant of Yahweh, who spoke to Yahweh the words of this song in the day that Yahweh delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul."

I'm not exactly sure when, in his life, David wrote this Psalm. Perhaps he was a fugitive, leading an army of a few hundred loyal followers, while King Saul was trying to capture and kill him. Perhaps he had, as King David, captured some enemy country, and was reflecting on what God had done for him over a longer period of time. We don't know, and we don't need to know, because, in either case, the lessons are the same.

David mentions two related themes, over and over.
1) God has helped me be victorious and
2) I have been victorious.

Although it's pretty clear that some of this Psalm is poetic exaggeration -- David never really ground up his enemies so that they blew away as dust (verse 42), so far as we know, and perhaps he didn't literally leap over a wall or run through a troop (verse 29) -- it is also pretty clear that David is thanking God that he has been victorious over his enemies. And he should have thanked God for this. Some of his battles were won in miraculous ways, starting with his victory over Goliath, the well-armored champion of the Philistines.

So what does this have to do with you and me? I'm not fighting anyone. I don't expect to conquer any enemies, in a literal sense. You probably aren't and don't, either. But still ... 

If God could help David defeat his heathen enemies in battle, and escape King Saul, then God can help us. Raising our children, acting Christ-like on the job and in the neighborhood, standing up for the right, or those who are oppressed, defeating the temptations that beset us, all of these are battles that most of us are fighting, in the 21st century. And, in their way, they are just as difficult, and require just as much miraculous help, as David needed to escape Saul or kill Goliath.

I didn't quote the first part of the Psalm, but will now. It establishes conditions for victory: 
20 Yahweh has rewarded me according to my righteousness.
According to the cleanness of my hands, he has recompensed me.
21 For I have kept the ways of Yahweh,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all his ordinances were before me.
I didn’t put away his statutes from me.
23 I was also blameless with him.
I kept myself from my iniquity.
24 Therefore Yahweh has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.

God helped David because He was pleased with David, and David knew it, and gave God credit. None of us are without sin -- we probably would think of ourselves, or our fellow believers, as unduly proud, if we called ourselves "blameless," and we realize that our salvation is not paid for "according to my righteousness." But God's grace gives us believers the power to take care of that sick relative, to work at a hard job with patience and humility, to minister, through the Holy Spirit, to those around us, to grow spiritually, to develop good habits and stop bad ones, to find God's will for our lives. These are our cities to conquer, our enemies to defeat. And, like David, by God's help, we can do this.

Thanks for reading. I thank my church Small Group leader for having us examine this Psalm, recently.

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