This is another of the Psalms of David which undoubtedly sets before us in a very wonderful way some personal experiences which he passed through during those dark and difficult years when he was hunted by King Saul like a partridge on the mountains, when at times he despaired of his own life, and became so discouraged that he felt there was no help for him; but eventually in his greatest distress he looked up and realized that God was for him. While this Psalm, like so many others, sets forth experiences that David passed through, as we read it in the light of New Testament revelation we can see that the Spirit of Christ was speaking through David. Of course David himself was a sinful man and therefore when he speaks he necessarily says some things as he makes confession of his sins to God that our Lord Jesus Christ could not say, for He had no sin to confess. But on the other hand, when he speaks of his rejection, of the way he was spurned and set aside, hunted almost to death by his brethren whom he loved, and then when he tells of Jehovah’s marvelous deliverance, it is not hard to see that David was a typical person and that his life and experiences set forth something of the life and experiences of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In these opening verses, as so often is the case in the Psalms, he gives us the consummation in the very begin- ning. He writes because his heart is overflowing with gratitude to God for His goodness. “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength,” he exclaims. And then notice the many different figures of speech he uses in verse 2 to express his confidence in God. “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” That expression, “The horn of my salvation,” may not be so clear to us as it would be to those who lived in the time that David wrote. The horn refers to the horns of the cattle on Lebanon, and it is used frequently in the Old Testament for a symbol of strength or of power. Think of one of those mighty bulls of Bashan pushing his way through all opposition with those great horns of his. David says, “The Lord…is the horn of my salvation”—the strength of my salvation—“and my high tower.” I think you can get the picture if you think of a vast stony mountain rising up from the plain, right on the top of it a fortress, and at one corner of this a high tower and the enemy on the plain below. David says, “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer.” And He gives all that is needed for furnishing by the way.
Years ago while working among the Laguna Indians, we were asked to speak at a little village called Pawate. We rode in large wagons drawn by horses (for it was in the days before automobiles) for some fourteen miles over rough roads until we reached this village. We had a meeting in the afternoon, and Indians from all about gathered. We started back at 4:30 or 5:00 o’clock because we were to have a meeting at Casablanca that night. We had not gone very far when we saw a terrible storm was evidently to break over us. Soon we could see that the rain was pouring down at a distance and driving rapidly toward us. I said, “We are certainly going to get soaked.” Our driver replied, “I hope not. I think we can make the rock before the storm reaches us. There is a great rock ahead and if we can make it we will be sheltered.” We hurried on and soon saw a vast rock rising up from the plain, perhaps forty or fifty feet in height, covering possibly an acre or more of ground. As we drew near we saw a great cave going right into the rock. Instead of stopping to unhitch the horses, our driver drove right into the cave and in another minute or two the storm broke over the rock in all its fury. The storm raged outside and one of the Indians struck up in the Laguna tongue, “Rock of Ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee,” and we realized the meaning of the poet’s words then as perhaps never before. I think David had something like that in mind. “The Lord is my rock.”
Then if you think of a great fortress above and a high tower on top of that you get the finished picture. The thought, of course, is that no matter what my circumstances may be, no matter what danger may threaten, the Lord is the all sufficient One. If you put your trust in Him, you will never be frightened any more. It is a great thing to be able to say, “I will trust, and not be afraid” (Isa. 12:2). When we get so terrified because of circumstances, when so depressed because of conditions, it shows that we are not really confiding in God. When our blessed Lord was here on earth, nothing ever ruffled His spirit until that awful hour when He was facing the sin question on our behalf, and He could not have been the Holy One of God if that had not distressed Him deeply. But all the shame men heaped on Him, all the suffering He had to bear, the forsaking of His own and the misrepresentations that were circulated, none of these things distressed Him because He was resting in the will of the Father, and if you and I want to be overcomers in hours of temptation and trial we need to rest in God, to find our refuge in the rock, the fortress, the high tower.
And so the Psalmist says, “I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.” And then he tells us of a very bitter experience he went through. With David it was this, he came near to death. He said on one occasion, “There is but a step between me and death” (1 Sam. 20:3), for he felt as though, humanly speaking, all hope was gone and he had to face the terrors of death. He was a young man when going through those sufferings. He was only thirty years old when he was crowned king at Hebron. And so he describes the terrible condition of mind as he was facing death, and could see no way out until he called upon God, and then he depicts in graphic language the way God set all heaven, as it were, in motion for the deliverance of His afflicted child. David came near to death, and God delivered him; our blessed Lord Jesus Christ went down into death, and it was death under the divine judgment, the judgment due to sin, and that made it unspeakably awful to Him, but He went down into death with absolute confidence that God, His Father, was going to bring Him up out of it. I think we may see in this Psalm something of the power of His Resurrection, of which we read in the Epistle to the Ephesians, chapter 1, verse 19, where the apostle prays that the saints may know “what is the exceeding greatness of His [God’s] power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, Which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places.” It was a mighty act of power when God brought Christ up from the dead and then set Him at His own right hand, “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion.” These are different names for hosts of angels, some good, some evil. “And every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.”
Then look at Philippians 2. After we read of the humiliation of Christ, of the depths into which He descended, we read in verse 9, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” All created beings have to recognize the power and majesty of God that raised Christ from the dead and set Him at His own right hand.
Then turn to the Epistle to the Colossians, chapter 2, verses 13 and 14, where we read of His death on the Cross, “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross.” And in verse 15 we read, “And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” These are evil principalities and evil powers, hosts of wicked angels, fallen angels—”Having spoiled [made a prey of] principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” See how graphically David depicts this. Remember, the word “David” means “Beloved” and he is here a type of Christ, God’s beloved, going down into the sorrows of death. Verse 4, “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell [of Sheol, of the unseen world] compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God.” Think of the blessed Lord hanging on the Cross and seeing before Him the awful pit into which men must go who reject His grace, and in His infinite loving kindness to sinners He goes down into that pit Himself.
“The heavens are clothed with shades of night
While Jesus doth with demons fight.”
And there on the Cross He faces death in all its terrible-ness as an expression of the judgment of God against sin, but He commits His soul to the Father. “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46).
“He heard My voice out of His temple, and My cry came before Him, even into His ears.” Surely you have never found in Scripture a more remarkable description of God acting in omnipotent power to bring Christ back from death than you get in these verses. “Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because He was wroth.” We read in the New Testament that there was a great earthquake “And the graves were opened” (Matt. 27:52). “There went up a smoke out of His nostrils, and fire out of His mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.” Listen to this, “He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under His feet.” It is God descending in power to raise His Son from the dead. “He rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, He did fly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His secret place; His pavilion round about Him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. At the brightness that was before Him His thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave His voice; hail stones and coals of fire. Yea, He sent out His arrows, and scattered them; and He shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.” Scattered whom? If you had been there that day when the blessed Christ of God lay in the tomb, you would have seen those soldiers on guard, and away off in the distance you would have seen the frightened groups of His disciples wondering what would happen next; but if your eyes had been opened, you might have seen hosts of wicked spirits, principalities and powers, Satan, the prince of the power of the air, all those hosts of wicked spirits hovering about that tomb saying, “He must never come out. We have Him now where we want Him.” It was the hour of Satan’s triumph, but see what happened.
“Yea, He sent out His arrows, and scattered them; and He shot out lightnings, and discomfited them. Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered at Thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of Thy nostrils. He sent from above, He took me, He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me. They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the Lord was my stay.” Can you not see that David was picturing his experiences before his death, while this is a picture of our blessed Lord after He died, when omnipotent power raised Him from the dead? “He drew me out of many waters”—many waters of death. He was raised up by infinite power, and now as the risen One He begins to speak. Verse 19, “He brought Me forth also into a large place: He delivered Me, because He delighted in Me.” What else could God do when His blessed Son had settled the sin question, when He met every claim that divine righteousness had against guilty men, what else could God do but express His delight in His Son by raising Him from the dead?
“The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath He recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all His judgments were before me, and I did not put away His statutes from me. I was also upright before Him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity.” David could not fully enter into all this. David, even in those days fleeing from Saul, often failed. How perfidiously he acted in the court of the Philistines, how he lost his temper in connection with the bad treatment that he received from Nabal and was only prevented from wreaking a fierce vengeance by the intercession of Abigail. But the One of whom he was a type was the sinless One who could say, “The Lord rewarded Me according to My righteousness.” Of course as far as doing any harm to King Saul was concerned, David could say, “The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath He recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.” But it is the Lord Jesus Christ who comes before us here as the absolutely righteous One, the One whom God exalted to His own right hand after He settled the sin question.
And now he sets forth the principles of divine government, in verses 24 to 30. “Therefore hath the Lord recompensed Me according to My righteousness, according to the cleanness of My hands in His eyesight. With the merciful Thou wilt shew Thyself merciful; with an upright man Thou wilt shew Thyself upright; With the pure Thou wilt shew Thyself pure; and with the froward Thou wilt shew Thyself froward.” Here are principles that we may well take to heart. Do you sometimes feel as though God is not treating you quite as you deserve? You may not say it in so many words, but have you not felt that way? I have had people say, “I do not understand why God allowed this or that to come upon me. I am not conscious of any wrongdoing.” Or some may say, “I do not understand why people treat me as they do.” Here is what the Word says, “With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). Do you know why God seems to be so hard on some of us? It is because we are so hard on other people. We judge so severely; we are so critical of other folk. As a rule people who are the most sensitive to criticism are those who are the most ready to criticize other folk. God is taking note of how we treat other people, and He is treating us in measure according to that. “With an upright man Thou wilt shew Thyself upright.” In other words, God will undertake for the upright man. “With the pure Thou wilt shew Thyself pure; and with the fro-ward”—that is, the self-willed—God will seem to show Himself self-willed. That is, He will visit chastisement upon the self-willed.
“For Thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks.” If I want the favor of God, I must be sure that I am taking a lowly place before Him. As long as I justify myself, God can only condemn me but when I condemn myself, then God is there to justify me.
“For Thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.” No matter what the gloom around, faith can look up to Him and can count on Him to give the needed light. “For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.” He just imagines himself as one man with a great troop of the enemy before him but he fixes his heart on God and in perfect confidence in Him runs through them. Or, he sees a great wall around him, and they are hemming him in, and he says, “By my God have I leaped over a wall.” Faith just counts on God as the Deliverer. You remember what God said to Israel, “If you walk with Me, obey My word, one of you shall chase a thousand and two of you shall put ten thousand to flight.” And so we need never be afraid of the foe as long as we are really going on in fellowship with God.
Then we have that beautiful word, “As for God, His way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: He is a buckler to all those that trust in Him.” Would it not be well if we all had this firmly implanted in our souls—God never makes any mistakes? Sometimes you have had an idea that He has made a few mistakes in connection with you; deep in your heart you have felt it but faith can stand with David and say, “As for God, His way is perfect.” Never any mistake. I may not understand the why of a great many experiences that God permits me to go through, but I will by and by.
“When I stand with Christ on high,
Looking o’er life’s history,
Then, dear Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe.”
And I will realize that all God’s ways with me were in perfect love and righteousness.
And now in the verses that immediately follow you have once more an expression of faith, of the Messiah in the days of His humiliation. “For who is God save the Lord? or who is a rock save our God? It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect.” What had he said before? “As for God, His way is perfect” but if I walk in fellowship with God, “It is God that maketh my way perfect.” “He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet [that is, deer’s feet] and setteth me upon my high places.” These particular hinds were found on the mountains. They were very sure footed and would leap from crag to crag. David says, “He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places.” It is a great thing to have the faith that enables us to surmount the difficulties and rise above the mistakes of earth.
And then when we have to meet the foe, “He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms. Thou hast also given me the shield of Thy salvation: and Thy right hand hath holden me up.” And now, is not this the spirit of Christ speaking through David, “And Thy gentleness hath made me great”? Who but Jesus could say that in all its fullness? And He says to us, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:29). We miss it so when we become so dignified and stern and hard in our ways with people. The Lord Jesus conquered by gentleness. “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” I picked up an old book in Canada one time, a history of the world, written back in the sixteenth century, printed in Old English type. I was thumbing through it, and I came down to the beginning of the Christian era and saw these words, “It was in these days that that goodly Gentleman, Jesus Christ, was born in Bethlehem of Judea.” I said to myself, “Dear me, I never heard Him spoken of like that before.” It gave me a shock for a moment, and then the next moment I thought, but what better term could describe Him, “That goodly Gentleman”? A Gentleman? What do you mean by that term? The idea some people have of a gentleman is a man that does not work for a living. But a gentleman is a gentle man, a man who is considerate of other people. If you want to be recognized as a gentleman, you must learn to be considerate of other people. When I was a boy my mother used to tell me that politeness is doing or saying the kindest thing in the kindest way. That is what Jesus did. “Thy gentleness hath made me great.”
“Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip. I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed.” David is speaking here of having triumphed and instead of fleeing from his enemies they are fleeing from him. The spiritual foes are now fleeing from the Lord Jesus. “I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet. For Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: Thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me.”
And then look at verse 43 where we have a prophetic picture of our blessed Lord as Head of the new creation and Head over all the world when He reigns in power. “Thou hast delivered Me from the strivings of the people; and Thou hast made Me the head of the heathen [of the nations].” Do not think that the word “heathen” always means idolaters. Our word was originally heath-men, men who lived in the wild places as contrasted with the cities. In other words, “Thou hast made Me the head of the Gentile nations,” and some day He will be manifested as such. “A people whom I have not known shall serve Me.” “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). “As soon as they hear of Me, they shall obey Me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto Me. The strangers shall fade away, and be afraid out of their close places. The Lord liveth; and blessed be My rock; and let the God of My salvation be exalted.”
In the closing verses he comes back to that with which he began. He strikes again, as it were, the key note of absolute confidence in Jehovah. “It is God that avengeth Me, and subdueth the people under Me. He delivereth Me from Mine enemies: yea, Thou liftest Me up above those that rise up against Me: Thou hast delivered Me from the violent man. Therefore will I give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto Thy name. Great deliverance giveth He to His king; and sheweth mercy to His anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore.” We know who His King is. David was a faint foreshadow of the true King. “And sheweth mercy to His anointed [His Messiah, the beloved] to David, and to his seed for evermore.” David was promised that his seed should reign for ever and ever. The only way that could ever be is through David’s Son triumphing over death, never to die again, and that is fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ.