This psalm is also found with some variations in 2 Samuel 22, and appears to have been written near the end of David’s life. In this form, it is likely a composite, and refers to different occasions of deliverance over the course of David’s life, but most notably to those times when God delivered David from Saul as the note introducing the psalm says. “I will love thee, O LORD, my strength . . .” (Ps. 18:1-50).
The 18th psalm begins with great thanksgiving in advance (vv. 1-6). In the second part, we have a highly poetic description of a divine theophany in a thunderstorm (vv. 7-15). In the third section, we find another burst of thanksgiving (vv. 16-19). David gives a testimony of his integrity next (vv. 20-26). Fifth, we have a short expression of faith and confidence (vv. 27-28). We find a warrior’s battle hymn after this (vv. 29-42), and then the psalm ends with David’s full expectation that he will conquer foreigners, and that he will rule over them with thanksgiving (vv. 43-50). In all this, we have strong typological language concerning the coming Christ, and should remember to read the psalm in this light.
David is armed for battle, and he loves his God. He acknowledges that God is his strength (v. 1). He fits himself for battle in God—God is his rock, fortress, deliverer, strength, buckler, a horn of salvation, and a high tower (v. 2). Think for a moment what the language would have to be today. God is our carrier battle group, our tactical nukes, our smart bombs. David looks away in faith—God will deliver (v. 3). David had been afraid (vv. 4-5), but God heard his cry (v. 6).
In this setting, it is fitting to see God as a God of thunder. We now come to a glorious description of this God of battles. God angrily appears in the sky to fight. God is both hidden and revealed in the storm—we have both darkness and brightness (vv. 11-12). The earth shakes under His anger (v. 7), and we have smoke and fire (v. 8). God stoops in judgment in the storm (v. 9), and He rides on the winds of the cherubim (v. 10). In this thunderstorm, God both speaks and fights (vv. 13-14). Everything is laid bare before Him (v. 15). Few things make us aware of our finitude and mortality like a really good storm.
At the same time, He is the God who delights. This is not the “fury” of an impersonal force. God is doing all of this on David’s behalf. He delivered him from a hateful enemy too strong for him (v. 17). They fought against him, but God fought for him (v. 18). God delivered David because God delighted in David (v. 19).
This points to a righteousness in real time. We have spoken before of the difference between a vertical and a horizontal evaluation of a man’s character. David knows that he is a sinner. But he also knows that, comparatively, in his contest with sinful men, he is in the right and they are in the wrong. David has a clean conscience (vv. 20-24). God is not mocked—under any covenant, a man reaps what a man sows (vv. 25-26). Our condition affects how we see and understand God. The result is humble confidence. Having a God like this on our side does not make us proud—just the reverse. God saves the afflicted, and throws down every high look. God lights our darkness (vv. 27-28).
In the book of Ephesians, we are told to put on the whole armor of God. We find a very similar sentiment here. And in a very real sense, this is not just the armor of God—the armor is God. We run and fight by His power (v. 29). He is our perfect buckler (v. 30). He is our rock, easily defended (v. 31). God strengthens and directs (v. 32). He grants swiftness in battle (v. 33). He instructs us how to fight (v. 34). He gives the shield of salvation, but is a gentle general (v. 35). He protects the warrior’s steps (v. 36). David pursues the enemy until they are destroyed (vv. 37-38). God equips him and fights through him (v. 39). God gives complete victory (v. 40). They cried out, and even prayed, but God did not hear (v. 41). David pounded them to dust, annihilating them (v. 42).
What is the fruit of victory? David finds himself ruling a strange and heathen people (v. 43). God places fear in them; as soon as they hear of his prowess, they submit (vv. 44-45). David knows this is not his own doing—God is exalted (v. 46). God is the one who accomplished all this (vv. 47-48). Thanksgiving belongs to the Lord, and He is to be thanked in the presence of the heathen (v. 49). We then come to the strongest messianic note in the psalm, which is the last. God gives great deliverance, not only to David, His anointed, but also to the seed of David forevermore (v. 50).
As we conclude, what areas of application may we consider? The first is the relationship of David and Christ—all these glorious truths were appropriate to David’s circumstances. How much more do they apply to the extension of the kingdom belonging to the son of David? The second is Christ and Christians—the danger of applying this to Christ “alone” is that many modern Christians misunderstand what this means. We tend to make it an ethereal and spiritual truth, instead of one that has direct application to the civic portion of our lives. The third relationship is that of Christians to the truth—the reason we misunderstand is that we are not yet prepared to hear, sing, eat, drink and obey the Word of God as it comes to us.