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Psalms 18 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

At length the warrior-king was at peace. The hairbreadth escapes of his flight from Saul, when his life was in hourly peril and he knew not whither to turn for safety; the miseries and bitterness of civil strife, through which though chosen by Jehovah to rule His people he had to fight his way to the throne; the wars with surrounding nations, which, jealous of Israel’s rising power, had leagued together to crush the scarcely consolidated kingdom; all were past and over. David had been preserved through every danger; victory had accompanied his arms; he was the accepted king of an united people; the nations around acknowledged his supremacy. To crown all, Jehovah’s message communicated by Nathan had opened out the prospect of a splendid future for his posterity.

In this hour of his highest prosperity and happiness David composed this magnificent hymn of thanksgiving. He surveys the course of an eventful life; he traces the hand of Jehovah in every step; and his heart overflows with joyous gratitude. The inspiring thought of the whole Psalm is that Jehovah has made him what he is. To His loving care and unfailing faithfulness he owes it that he has been preserved and guided and raised to his present height of power.

By expressive metaphors he describes what Jehovah had proved Himself to be to him (Psa 18:1-3); and then depicting in forcible figures the extremity of peril to which he had been brought (Psa 18:4-6), he tells how in answer to his prayer Jehovah manifested His power (Psa 18:7-15), and delivered him from the enemies who were too strong for him (Psa 18:16-19). In strong and simple consciousness of his own integrity (Psa 18:20-23), he delights to trace in this deliverance a proof of Jehovah’s faithfulness to those who are faithful to Him, in accordance with the general law of His dealings (Psa 18:24-27). To Him alone he owes all that he is (Psa 18:28-30); He, the unique and incomparable God, has given him strength and skill for war (Psa 18:31-34); He it is who has made him victorious over his enemies (Psa 18:35-42); He it is who has made him king over his people and supreme among surrounding nations (Psa 18:43-45). It is Jehovah alone; and His praise shall be celebrated throughout the world. Nor is His lovingkindness limited to David only; the promise reaches forward, and embraces his posterity for evermore (Psa 18:46-50).

That David was the author of this Psalm is generally admitted, except by critics who question the existence of Davidic Psalms at all. Not only does it stand in the Psalter as David’s, but the compiler of 2 Samuel embodied it in his work as at once the best illustration of David’s life and character, and the noblest specimen of his poetry.

The internal evidence of its contents corroborates the external tradition. The Psalmist is a distinguished and successful warrior, general, and king ( Psa 18:29 ; Psa 18:33-34 ; Psa 18:37 ff., Psa 18:43): he has had to contend with domestic as well as foreign enemies (Psa 18:43 ff.), and has received the submission of surrounding nations (Psa 18:44). He looks back upon a life of extraordinary trials and dangers to which he has been exposed from enemies among whom one was conspicuous for his ferocity (Psa 18:4 ff., Psa 18:17; Psa 18:48). He appeals to his own integrity of purpose, and sees in his deliverance God’s recognition of that integrity (Psa 18:20 ff.); yet throughout he shews a singular humility and the clearest sense that he owes to Jehovah’s grace whatever he has or is. These characteristics, taken together, point to David, and to no one else of whom we have any knowledge: and the intense personality and directness of the Psalm are a strong argument against the hypothesis that it is a composition put into his mouth by some later poet.

At what period of David’s life the Psalm was written has been much debated. But title and contents both point unmistakably to the middle period of his reign, when he was in the zenith of his prosperity and power, rather than to the close of his life. His triumphs over his enemies at home and abroad are still recent; the perils of his flight from Saul are still fresh in his memory. On the other hand there is not a trace of the sins and sorrows which clouded the later years of his reign. The free and joyous tone of the Psalm, and its bold assertions of integrity, point to a time before his sin with Bath-sheba, and Absalom’s rebellion. The composition of the Psalm may therefore most naturally and fitly be assigned to the interval of peace mentioned in 2Sa 7:1, which may (see notes there) have been subsequent to some at least of the wars described in ch. 8, for the arrangement of the book does not appear to be strictly chronological. But it must be placed after the visit of Nathan recorded in 2 Samuel 7, as Psa 18:50 clearly refers to the promise then given: unless indeed Psa 18:50 is to be regarded as a later addition to the Psalm. In that time of tranquillity David reviewed the mercies of Jehovah in this sublime ode of thanksgiving, and planned to raise a monument of his gratitude in the scheme for building the Temple, which he was not allowed to carry out.

The title of the Psalm is composite. The first part of it, For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, is analogous to the titles of other psalms in this collection: the second part is taken from 2Sa 22:1, or from the older history which the compiler of Samuel made use of.

Comp. the similar titles in Exo 15:1; Deu 31:30.

Here, as in the title of Psalms 36, David is styled Jehovah’s servant. Cp. 2Sa 3:18; 2Sa 7:5; 2Sa 7:8; 1Ki 8:24; Psa 78:70; Psa 89:3; Psa 89:20; Psa 132:10. Any Israelite might profess himself Jehovah’s servant in addressing Him, but only a few who were raised up to do special service or who stood in a special relation to Jehovah, such as Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Job, are honoured with this distinctive title.

Saul is mentioned by name as the most bitter and implacable of David’s enemies. (For the form of expression cp. Exo 18:10.) David’s preservation in that fierce persecution which was aimed at his very life was the most signal instance of the providence which had watched over him. Much of the language of this Psalm reflects the experience of that time of anxiety and peril.

The Two Recensions of Psalms 18

The existence of this Psalm in two forms or recensions, in the Psalter and in 2 Sam., is a fact of the highest interest and importance in its bearing on the history and character of the Massoretic text of the O.T. Two questions obviously arise: (1) how are the variations to be accounted for? and (2) which text is to be preferred as on the whole nearest to the original?

Defenders of the integrity of the Massoretic text have maintained that both recensions proceeded from the poet himself, and are both equally authentic. That in Samuel is supposed to be the original form; that in the Psalter is supposed to be a revision prepared by David himself, probably towards the close of his life, for public use. This hypothesis can neither be proved nor disproved, but few will now maintain it. It is certain that many of the variations are due to errors of transcription (see on Psa 18:4 ; Psa 18:10 ; Psa 18:41-42 ; Psa 18:50); and the great probability is that those which appear to be due to intentional alteration were the work of a later reviser (see on Psa 18:11 ; Psa 18:32 ; Psa 18:45).

Critics differ widely as to the relative value of the two texts. Both texts have unquestionably been affected by errors of transcription, and the text in 2 Sam. has suffered most from this cause, less care having been bestowed on the preservation of the historical books. On the other hand the text in the Psalter appears to the present editor to have been subjected to a literary revision at a later date, in which peculiar forms, which were possibly “licences of popular usage” have been replaced by the forms in ordinary use; unusual constructions simplified; archaisms and obscure expressions explained. If this view is correct, the text in Samuel best preserves the original features of the poem, while at the same time it frequently needs correction from the text in the Psalter.

Consult other comments:

Psalms 18:0 - Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Psalms 18:0 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Psalms 18:0 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Psalms 18:0 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Psalms 18:0 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Psalms 18:0 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Psalms 18:0 - Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Psalms 18:0 - Commentary Series on the Bible by Peter Pett

Psalms 18:0 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Psalms 18:0 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges