Scripture: 2 Samuel 22
We are nearing the end of David’s reign in the Bible. David is probably best known for two stories. The first, and most well-known, is when he faced and killed the giant, Goliath. The second story is probably his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. In other words, most people know David by his greatest success and his greatest failure.
But when you consider the entire story of David as a whole, he is a remarkable character. He actually killed more than one giant. He and his men were responsible for defeating several giants. You can read about them at the end of chapter 21. One of them was a man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot!
But only a few short verses are given to us about these battles. David was a warrior king, but his legacy in the Bible is far outweighed by something else. David was also a poet. He wrote almost half of the Psalms. And the writer of 2 Samuel wants us to know about this side of David before he ends David’s story.
2 Samuel 22 is one of David’s longest poems, almost identical to Psalm 18. That will be our text this morning and this will be the longest sermon I’ve preached in years – on purpose.
2 Samuel 22:
1 And David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. 2 He said,
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
3 my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold and my refuge,
my savior; you save me from violence.
Twelve times in three verses David uses personal possessive pronouns. Yahweh is MY God, MY rock, MY fortress. He uses a lot of different metaphors to describe God, and we could talk about each of them in detail. But I want you to focus on the personal pronouns. He is describing an inseparable closeness – a deep, anchored dependence on God.
4 I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.
5 “For the waves of death encompassed me,
the torrents of destruction assailed me;
6 the cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.
7 “In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I called.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry came to his ears.
David is describing his relationship with God in practical, prayerful terms. I call and God answers. I need help and He saves. But notice what that salvation looks like:
8 “Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations of the heavens trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
9 Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
10 He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
11 He rode on a cherub and flew;
he was seen on the wings of the wind.
12 He made darkness around him his canopy,
thick clouds, a gathering of water.
13 Out of the brightness before him
coals of fire flamed forth.
14 The Lord thundered from heaven,
and the Most High uttered his voice.
15 And he sent out arrows and scattered them;
lightning, and routed them.
16 Then the channels of the sea were seen;
the foundations of the world were laid bare,
at the rebuke of the Lord,
at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.
17 “He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters.
18 He rescued me from my strong enemy,
from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.
19 They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the Lord was my support.
20 He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
This picture of God coming down to save David is not the typical image of God we have when we think of salvation. We usually think of the loving and compassionate Jesus when we hear the word “Savior”. But this picture of God the “Savior” is very different. This God comes angry, devouring his enemies with fire and darkness and lightning. This God is charging into battle and no enemy stands a chance. But David understood—the strong God who destroys is also the strong God who is able to save.
And again, we don’t think of Jesus in that way – but we actually should. Jesus was gentle and compassionate with His lost sheep, but He was a force to be reckoned with when it came to His enemies. Jesus cleared the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip. He hurled angry insults at the Pharisees.
But my favorite picture of a Psalm 18 Jesus is John 11. Just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he showed us a moment of righteous fury. In English, the text says he was deeply moved and troubled. But in Greek, the word is very unique. It’s a word used to describe the snort of a war horse as it charges into battle. That is our Psalm 18 God. But what was Jesus so angry about? He was angry at sin and death – the real enemies of God and our real enemies.
Now we come to the middle of David’s poem and the most difficult to understand.
21 “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
22 For I have kept the ways of the Lord
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
23 For all his rules were before me,
and from his statutes I did not turn aside.
24 I was blameless before him,
and I kept myself from guilt.
25 And the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to my cleanness in his sight.
26 “With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
27 with the purified you deal purely,
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
28 You save a humble people,
but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.
We don’t know if David wrote this before he committed adultery and murder or after, but it doesn’t matter. The writer of Samuel includes this psalm AFTER that story on purpose, which makes these verses a very bold claim.
How could a man like David describe himself as righteous? And blameless?
In fact, David says things like this in many of his other psalms. Not knowing the whole story, it sounds braggy and self-righteous. But knowing that David actually had some very serious failures makes him sound deluded! Only a sociopath would commit such crimes and then declare himself righteous!
I think it is important to remember that everything David said here about himself was only true in relation to the covenant and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David wrote some things that had greater meaning and significance than he could have imagined at the time.
David was not righteous on his own, but David was still faithful within the context of God’s covenant. There are hints of this in the text. Vs 22 – “I have not departed from my God.” Vs 23 – “I did not turn aside.” David was sinful, like us, but when confronted with his sins he repented.
In the midst of his shame and guilt, he did not distance himself from God – he ran back to God. It was that covenant union that allowed David to speak with such authority about his blameless status.
This actually becomes clearer as we move on.
29 For you are my lamp, O Lord,
and my God lightens my darkness.
30 For by you I can run against a troop,
and by my God I can leap over a wall.
How was David successful? By God’s help.
31 This God—his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
32 “For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?
33 This God is my strong refuge
and has made my way blameless.
34 He made my feet like the feet of a deer
and set me secure on the heights.
How was David’s way blameless? It was made that way by God!
35 He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
36 You have given me the shield of your salvation,
and your gentleness made me great.
Why was David great? Because God made him great. This is not self-righteousness. This is very confident humility. This is a man who knows He is nothing without God, but that with God he is unstoppable. This is salvation by grace through faith in the raw. The seeds of the Gospel are sprinkled throughout the psalms of David, just like this.
And now we come to the second most difficult part of the psalm:
37 You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
and my feet did not slip;
38 I pursued my enemies and destroyed them,
and did not turn back until they were consumed.
David is talking about actual human enemies that he killed.
39 I consumed them; I thrust them through, so that they did not rise;
they fell under my feet.
40 For you equipped me with strength for the battle;
you made those who rise against me sink under me.
41 You made my enemies turn their backs to me,
those who hated me, and I destroyed them.
42 They looked, but there was none to save;
they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.
This is starting to sound rather barbaric, right? It gets worse…
43 I beat them fine as the dust of the earth;
I crushed them and stamped them down like the mire of the streets.
44 “You delivered me from strife with my people;
you kept me as the head of the nations;
people whom I had not known served me.
45 Foreigners came cringing to me;
as soon as they heard of me, they obeyed me.
46 Foreigners lost heart
and came trembling out of their fortresses.
This is not one of David’s more heart-warming psalms. “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” “You have displayed your splendor in the heavens.” No! This is, “I cut my enemies down and beat them into dust. My enemies served me in fear.”
It’s kind of difficult to dress this up with bows and ribbons. This is David the warrior. I could go back and try to explain again why the enemies of Israel deserved all of the violence that God initiated against them, but I’m not going to do that this morning. If you have questions, call me.
Instead, I want to flip this and remind you that David is dealing with his enemies the way God deals with His enemies in the first half of the psalm. No mercy. None. And unless we repent, we remain enemies of David’s God.
And to make sure this point is clear; I want to show you the last picture of Jesus in the Bible. This is Revelation 19:
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.
13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.
15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
This is literally the last depiction of Jesus in the Bible! Jesus the Warrior. And then he wins the great battle and leaves his enemies for the birds. The point is – you don’t want to be His enemy.
And you don’t have to be. The only difference between David and His enemies was repentance and faith in God’s covenant promises. The only way we escape the wrath of God is repentance and faith in Christ, the fulfillment of those covenant promises. And that’s because Jesus Himself became the bearer of that wrath, swallowing up the curse of sin and death.
And David’s Psalm ends with that good news:
47 “The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation,
48 the God who gave me vengeance
and brought down peoples under me,
49 who brought me out from my enemies;
you exalted me above those who rose against me;
you delivered me from men of violence.
50 “For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations,
and sing praises to your name.
51 Great salvation he brings to his king,
and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
to David and his offspring forever.”
This is already a lot of words, and I don’t like preaching long sermons, but I want to make one final plea. 2 Samuel 22 is a poem. The Bible is full of poems, but our culture is quickly losing the ability to appreciate what that means.
A pastor friend of mine recently posted a poem by Wendell Berry entitled “How to Be a Poet”. I want to read it to you.
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
In other words, poetry comes from rest, experience, and humility. But he keeps going.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
In other words, get outside and get off screens. Live and breathe, in the moment. And this is the last stanza:
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
In my attempt to explain this poem quickly, I’m not doing it justice. My attempt to explain 2 Samuel 22 in half an hour doesn’t do it justice. It was written from a lifetime of David experiencing God’s salvation. And to really understand it, you have to experience God’s salvation too.
This personal possessive pronoun kind of relationship with God is not born from a quick experience. I can’t tell you how to feel this way about God in 3 easy steps. Walk the aisle… Pray the prayer… No. It comes from a lifetime of walking with God and experiencing His grace time and time again.
Let’s pray together for God’s help to slow down, rest, and reflect today on the Rock of our salvation.