Psalm 18:16-30 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of the LORD; I have not done evil by turning from my God. All his laws are before me; I have not turned away from his decrees. I have been blameless before him and have kept myself from sin. The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight. To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd. You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.”
David loved God for what he had done for him. He had been bound fast by sin, and God had personally come down from heaven, through clouds and winds, thunder and lightning and had delivered him. He says, “I cried to God for help. From his temple he heard my voice” (v.6). The Mighty Creator, the upholder of the cosmos heard the voice of young David. Then he says, “Let me tell you again what I’ve been talking about. This is what happened to me: “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me” (vv. 16-19).
David partly lays aside his poetry and dramatic flair (which thrills us to read) and he says what any contemporary Christian would say. I ask her, “Tell me how did the Lord save you?” “It’s very simple. ‘He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters’ (v. 16).” If you ask a Christian woman what is her favourite hymn she might say to you, “From sinking sands he lifted me; with tender hands he lifted me.” Or if she comes from the Hebrides then she might say, “He drew me from the fearful pit and from the miry clay, and on a rock he set my feet, establishing my way.” Whatever the hymns of deliverance based on this psalm might say their message is the same, “Love lifted me . . . when no one but Christ could help his love lifted me.” Are all such people crazy? Are they fantasizing? Are they self-deluded, all of them? Some might be, but every one? Or is there a remarkable moral and spiritual elevation of human lives which is a reality – a lifting up or a deliverance from a pit of despair by the living God – which every true Christian says has been his privilege, that he has been turned from his sins and he believes in Christ? In this psalm David has been ransacking all the meteorological forces of creation to describe how the Creator saved him.
1. DAVID’S GREAT DELIVERANCE. (vv.17-19)
It is both negative and positive, what David has been delivered from, and the new state he has been brought into.
i] Negatively, David says, “He rescued me from my powerful enemy” (v.17). Who or what could that be? Do you know your most powerful enemy? Isn’t it a basic requirement in battle to know your enemy? Who is your enemy? I will tell you who that is. It is sin. It has deceived and corrupted you; it has put you in chains so that now it rules over you. It wants you always under its power. Isaac Watts, in one of his hymns celebrating this great spiritual deliverance, says these familiar words, “Sin, my worst enemy before, shall vex my eyes and ears no more.” Think of it! Never being vexed by submitting to sin’s commands ever again – “Eyes – don’t see any glory in Christ . . . ears – listen to the atheist’s boasting words . . . lips – tell the world you don’t need a Saviour . . . hands – do whatever pleases you.” When you were a slave to sin, then you did exactly what this powerful enemy told you to do, to your later shame and grief. Was that a life of freedom? Now, you’ve been delivered from that by the God of the heavens, the one who comes from glory, who became incarnate by his mother Mary. He came upon you by his Spirit and changed your whole life. This is the God who reaches down from on high and takes hold of favoured sinners and rescues them.
David goes on, and it is a parallel phrase, but do you notice the difference, because it is just one letter; “He rescued me . . . from my foes, who were too strong for me” (v.17). Do you see the little difference? In the first line he says he is dealing with one “powerful enemy” (the word is in the singular), but now in the second line he is dealing with many, “my foes.” In other words, he rescued me from the power of Sin; he rescued me also from my sins. What are they? David here could be referring to our three great enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil. Or he could be speaking of the acts of the sinful nature that cripple any life. Paul refers to them in his letter to the Galatians, “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Gals. 5:19-21). My foes! Your foes! The foes of every gospel Christian. Do you see how vivid and plain-speaking Paul is when he addresses the Galatian congregation? He’s not speak about trivia, about peevish thoughts at the unsuitable nature of another woman’s coat, or inner grumbling attitudes about how a chil
d’s misbehaviour, or the feeling of frustration that your husband doesn’t eat all the meal you’ve prepared for him! No, not niggling minor thoughts like that, but those bold sins which are our foes! They are immorality, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, drunkenness. Those are our powerful enemies.
There could be someone in church and he or she has a problem with drink, but he or she is the last person in this congregation that you or I would consider to have such a battle on their hands. Another could be actually surfing the web for the crudest websites, while another man who behaves like an angel in church might have fits of rage in his home with his wife and children. Our foes are these sins, and nearer and nearer they come, right up to us, brazen enemies! They are like Amnon’s terrible friend Jonadab who saw that Amnon was utterly infatuated with his half-sister Tamar and he advised Amnon how he could get Tamar alone in the bedroom with him. Sin is ugly and without shame. See how David describes their consequences in his own life; “They confronted me in the day of my disaster” (v.18). They were not afraid of coming into the presence of a king!
Now it is possible for me at this moment to be confronting you with your very sins, the works of the flesh, and to spell them out before you. In fact it is necessary that I do that because the Holy Spirit does it. I take no delight in this. My purpose is that you call on the name of the Lord (who alone is worthy of praise) that you may be saved from your enemies. It’s possible, of course, for you to be offended, and to dismiss my confrontation, resenting it and dismissing it, grumbling that you don’t come here to listen to a talk about sin. Then what will happen? Those sins will give you no rest; they will come to you again and again throughout your life. They will attack you and conquer you; you will be destroyed, and those you love the most will be hurt by your destruction. You will rue the day your ignored my warning and wouldn’t face up to your sin and take for yourself the power offered to you by the Lord. Gospel rejection will be what David calls here, “the day of my disaster” (v.18). O no! Let this rather be a day of your salvation.
The most famous golfer in the world thought he could do what he wanted to do with any bimbo he fancied, and so his worst enemy, sin, vexed him and confronted him time after time. The cords of death were entangling him. The old dead Buddha whom that golfer worships couldn’t help him. His sins were too strong for him, so that terrible day of public disaster came into his life, and his world is now in tatters and his reputation shot – “Oh, so he is that kind of husband and father, is he?” David had had his disasters too, perhaps worse than that golfer, and so have most of us, but we humbly say, “The Lord was my support” (v.18). David had a terrible fall, and so have we, but the Lord didn’t desert us; the Lord didn’t say, “I’ll wash my hands of you and never listen to you again.” No! The Lord restored David; the Lord gave him a heart of repentance and his grief was commensurate with his sin. The Lord didn’t take his Holy Spirit from David. The Lord washed him again and made him whiter than snow again, because David confessed his guilt and cried to God for help. That is what he tells us in Psalm 51. So there is the negative deliverance from the power of sin. Then David becomes very positive about his salvation.
ii] Positively; God brings David into a wonderful place. How did David begin his pilgrimage? In the strait jacket of all conquering sin. See how he describes his plight at the beginning of his psalm. He says, “The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me” (vv. 4&5). David was horribly restricted, unable to do the good he wanted to do, confined, all tied up, unable to move because of the bondage that unbelief and sin had brought upon him. But when David, in his distress, had called on the Lord for help then God heard him and what a change transpired. Listen to what David says . . . “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me” (v.19). People grumble that they will lose so much when they become Christians, that their lives will become so narrow. That is what the devil whispers to them. Think of it! That we are the ‘narrow’ people! In fact we live in a spacious and broad place, loving God and loving our neighbours; all things are ours; everything is working together for our good. God has given us everything richly to enjoy. We know why we are here on earth. We know our chief end in life. We know who we are. What rich knowledge. What a spacious place and all by a gift of God. Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature’s night, but he rescued me, not because I had done some great thing, or deserved it, or earned it, but for his own mysterious reasons – that he could ‘delight’ in a wretch like me.
Why such a wretch as me?
Who must for ever lie in hell
2. DAVID’S GRAND NEW LIFE. (vv.20-23).
Now David goes on to describe his continuous life with God, what were the consequences of God saving him. You notice the change in the mood of the verbs, that up to 19th verse they have been active verbs all in the past tense. Consider verse 16 and look at the next four verses . . . “He reached down . . . drew me out . . . rescued me . . . brought me out . . . rescued me.” They describe definitive, completed actions of God. Now in the 20th verse the verbal form changes and it describes the state that David has been brought into. See from verse 20 and the next five verses the perfect tense is used, and we notice it in the words ‘has’ and ‘have’ . . . “The Lord has dealt . . . has rewarded me . . . I have kept . . . I have not done evil . . . I have not turned away . . . I have kept myself . . . The Lord has rewarded me . . .” David is describing a settled state of affairs between himself and the Lord. In fact what he is doing is to open up on this “spacious place” that the Lord has brought him into. Remember what had happened? David has described it back in verse three, “I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise; and I am saved from my enemies.” So in this section David is describing the fruit of salvation.
i] The Lord deals with us according to our righteousness, (v.20). You are aware of what David is saying here aren’t you? He’s not declaring, “I decided I would turn over a new leaf; I made a resolution that I wouldn’t sin any longer; I would begin to live a righteous life. I did that, and then God dealt kindly and lovingly with me because I was now a righteous man.” The Lord does not become merciful to us because by our efforts – by religion and meditation and therapy – we have cleaned up our own lives. Notice again in the next parallel line when David goes on to say, “according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me” David isn’t saying, “I first had to have a real spring clean of all my filth; I made a big pile of all my porno magazines and burnt them. I washed and scrubbed my body until it was as clean as I could make it. My hands did not switch on those websites any long, and then God saw all this and he i
ntervened and rewarded me.” Not at all.
What did David do? He cried to God . . . in his helplessness he cried as a convicted sinner, “God be merciful to me,” while in his bondage to sin, tied up tight by his enemies, without any hope in himself, he understood as never before that his only hope was in an act of God. He called on the Lord, and then God’s answer was above all that David had asked for or even thought. God delivered him. God saved him, justified him, sanctified him, took away his old heart, made him his child, became his new Master. David only cried in his need to God but what a righteous answer came to him. In other words, God didn’t tantalize him. God didn’t say, “Maybe I’ll save you . . . and maybe I won’t.” God was righteous – that is what David is saying. He was straight. David earnestly prayed some such righteous prayers as; “God save me from my sins. Help me to live for Thee. Take away the love of sinning. Show me your glory . . .” Whatever the prayer is, as long as it is a righteous prayer, that is, one that humbles us and exalts Christ, immediately the Lord begins to deal with us. He rewards us. How do you see his rewards? In the fact that we have turned from our sin. What a reward! Saving faith! Repentance! A pure heart! We’ve washed our hands of that filth. We’ve turned away from eating our own vomit and wallowing in the mire. We don’t want that kind of life any more, and God rewards the new hunger for him with purity and godliness and holy living.
ii] The Lord stimulates a new way of life. It is a holy way of life. He tells us from the 21st verse that he is keeping the ways of the Lord, that he refuses to turn from the one he now calls “my God.” Whatever the laws of God demand David will do, whatever they require, without a quibble, never turning away from them – see how he emphasises that for him there’s going to be no turning back (v.22). David determines to live a blameless life, keeping himself from sin, enjoying all the rewards that God gives to those who keep on the narrow path, whose hands are clean (v.24). What a relentless emphasis on the need for godly living. That is the Christian life; it must be. The Lord Jesus told the story of two sons told by their father to work in the vineyard, pruning the vines, attaching the tendrils to the ropes, moving up and down the rows on the steep hillside in the hot sun, weeding. The first boy refused, but later he was sorry that he’d said no to his Dad and off he went to the vineyard. But he didn’t find his brother there, even though he’d heard his brother say, “Yes, Dad, I’ll go.” The other brother hadn’t gone. It was only words . . . just words, not actions, but the brother who originally had been the rebel had now become obedient.
David has committed himself to a life of obedience. “For I have kept the ways of the LORD; I have not done evil by turning from my God. All his laws are before me; I have not turned away from his decrees. I have been blameless before him and have kept myself from sin.” (vv. 21-23). That is the fruit of repentance. When the French drill sergeant on the parade ground wants a radical change of direction in the troops that he’s drilling then he orders them ‘Convert!’ that is, ‘About turn!’ He is ordering them to a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn. When the Bible talks of conversion it is not talking about a decision to add religion to your life. I am not interested in religion, or in people becoming religious. Conversion in the Bible is a turn around, a change of direction, from ignoring God to serving God, from unbelief to faith, from serving sin to serving holiness. There is no reason to believe that a person is a Christian who does not indicate a change of attitude of such dimensions. Isaiah exhorts wicked men to forsake not only their old ways but their old thoughts. The Thessalonians heard Paul preaching the gospel to them and the result was that they did not merely turn from their idols, they began to serve the living God and to wait for his Son from heaven. Their lives became characterized by a work of faith and a labour of love and a patience of hope.
How courageous David is in these three claims he humbly and truthfully makes:
A] “I have not turned away from his decrees,” (v.22). A decree is a law – you remember the Authorized Version speaks of a decree that went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed and Joseph obeyed taking his pregnant wife Mary to Bethlehem to register for the census. He did what the imperial decree demanded. David is speaking of divine decrees – thou shalt have no other gods before me, thou shalt not make any graven image, though shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, honour your father and your mother, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet. Ten simple abiding decrees, and David did not turn away from any of them. He did not choose the ones he appreciated and disregard the others. “I have not turned away from his decrees” he said. It is a great affirmation of love for God’s law.
B] “I have been blameless before him” (v.23). David is not claiming sinless perfection, but he is saying that in his outward profession and conduct no one could point a finger at him and say, “That man is a perennial liar, or a thief, or a violent man, or a Sabbath-breaker.” He was none of those things and even God himself looked at him and was pleased with the direction of his life: “Before God I have been blameless.” Remember Paul makes the same claim in his letter to the Philippians where he describes his past conduct as a Jew, “as for the righteousness that comes from the law, blameless” (Phils. 3:6). That is not all of Christianity by any means, but it is a very important part, that as the world watches us it is seeing people who would die rather than turn away from the decrees of God, who live lives of total integrity in the office and in the home. I met a man last week who works for the most prestigious software computer company in the world. He has climbed to the very height of that organisation from unbelievably ordinary beginnings in a little orphanage, taken to a Gospel Hall each Sunday by the Christian lady who ran the orphanage by trusting that God would supply their needs. Without a father or a mother you do not have your feet on the first rung of the ladder. He now travels the world representing that company, an international travel-shooter. He has built a beautiful home for himself and his wife who is a pastor’s daughter, and their little children, but now he has down-sized his work, giving up a couple of days each week to serve people in need in this country and in Africa. He is deeply humble, aware of what God’s grace has done for him – he could have been just another statistic – and longing to help other people know and serve God. With all his wealth he is blameless before God.
C] “I have kept myself from sin” (v.23). Now there are two truths that run through Scripture and we do not always see how you reconcile them both, but we don’t have to work out their reconciliation. The one is that God is Sovereign in all things in creation, redemption, sanctification and providence. The other is the full responsibility of man. God is sovereign, 100% and man is responsible, 100%. David is her acknowledging his responsibility to keep himself from sin. God keeps David by his power through faith
unto salvation. David also keeps himself from sin. When the devil tempted our Lord in the wilderness Jesus kept himself pure by using the Scriptures he had memorized, “It is written . . .” When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife he kept himself from sin by fleeing from her presence. The writer of the Proverbs gives much counsel about keeping ourselves from sin, in fact you could say that the whole message of the book is the need to keep yourself from sin: “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbour, ‘Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow’ – when you now have it with you. Do not plot harm against your neighbour, who lives trustfully near you. Do not accuse a man for no reason – when he has done you no harm. Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways, for the LORD detests a perverse man but takes the upright into his confidence” (Provs. 3:27-32). Keep yourself from sin.
3. GOD’S GREAT GOODNESS TO DAVID (vv. 24-30)
David begins the conclusion of this section by telling us once again that the Lord has wonderfully rewarded him as though he can’t get over it. He has mentioned this in verse 20, but now he repeats in verse 24. David sees all the blessings he enjoys as the fruit of God’s rewards. That is the way a believer looks at life; “All I have has come to me from God,” he says. That is the kind of God he is. “Let me tell you more about him,” says David. Think of a piano tuner, how he tunes a hundred pianos to a tuning fork, and so they are all in tune with one another. God does that to us. My God is faithful – that is the standard – and so he rewards faithful people (v.25). My God is blameless, and so he rewards blameless people (v.25). My God is pure, and so he rewards pure people (v.26). He encourages the same glorious graces in us all. But don’t get the idea that God is just like Father Christmas. To those who are crooked he shows himself shrewd (v.26). My God is not gullible. Yes he will save the humble poor, but those who strut about as if they owned the whole world, looking down their noses at ordinary folk – he will bring them low. Here is a great principle of true church growth. If we are to grow as a congregation it is because God is acting; he is adding to our company; he is truly blessing us. Whom does he bless? The faithful, the blameless and the pure. Remember, he is not going to bless the shrewd, and he will bring low the haughty. How does David end this section? With three words:
i] A word about illumination. “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (v.28). There are people we knew who once had such a bright testimony. How they shone for Jesus Christ. All their family knew that they were Christians; their friends knew it. They were wise in their language and behaviour and relationships, generous and patient, quite unashamed of the gospel they believed. Where are they now? What has happened to them? We don’t see them any longer in our meetings. We don’t hear their voices in our prayer meetings. They no longer take their stand with us. Their light which once shone so brightly seems to have been extinguished. Like Demas left Paul and like Judas left Jesus they have also left us. How afraid we ought to be, and never take for granted that as we have come so far that we are going to keep going. We need to watch and pray. If we are Christians still today then there is one reason, “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning.” God supplies us with heavenly oil. Zechariah saw a vision of a solid gold lampstand with a vast receiver bowl at the top and seven lights on it. On the right and left of the reservoir bowl at the top of the lampstand were two great olive trees and their oil was dripping all the time into the bowls replenishing the oil as the lamps burned brightly. The lampstand is you. You are the light of the world. The olive trees are the fulness of the heavenly reserves of fuel. From that fulness we receive light and power to shine before the world day by day. “Lord, keep my lamp burning. Turn my darkness into light.” I need to pray that and we as a congregation need it. Our only hope is God replenishing us and making us burning and shining lights.
ii] A word about triumph. “With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall” (v.29). What can we do with God’s help? What can’t we do with God’s help? Is anything impossible with God? Think of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae under Leonidas keeping the pass against a troop of 20,000 men day after day. Think of Gideon’s 300 men defeating the Midianite army. Consider little David despatching Goliath. Think of James Paton going to the New Hebrides. When he arrived in those islands he was virtually the only Christian on the islands, but when he left there was scarcely anyone who was not a Christian. An amazing transformation had taken place on an island of cannibals. Weren’t these words true for Paton, “With your help I can advance against a troop”? Think of the walls of resistance people raise up to stop us reaching them with the gospel – walls of scientific pretension, and walls of fearful superstition, and walls of sensuality, and walls of theological confusion, and sheer walls of ignorance. Yet how many of these people have been won for Christ. Those walls were not impregnable after all, but like Jericho’s came tumbling down when the trumpet of the Lord sounded. You were not nearly as educated as your scornful opponent and you despaired at times that you would ever see him enter the Kingdom, but “With my God I can scale a wall.” Some things you said got over this walls of resistance and got through to him and he changed. This is a word of triumph
iii] A word about confidence. “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him” (v.30). This beloved phrase is often quoted by Christians when something they love more than anything else in the world has been taken from them. When their plans are all destroyed, their hearts are broken, their hopes have been shattered, and their dreams are lying in ruins. Then they are able by the grace of God to bow before him and say, “As for God, his way is perfect.” They are not going to be bitter. They are not going to destroy themselves asking questions which neither they nor anyone else in the world can answer. They say, “Even so Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight . . . as for God his way is perfect.” God knows what he is doing. God has been with them through that time and he has done what he has said and “the word of the Lord is flawless.” Their minds and their understanding are far from flawless, and so they rest in God. They have taken their refuge in the Lord, and he has shielded them from despair and from apostasy. “He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.”
“Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his work in vain;God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.” (William Cowper.)
All this is the fruit of God’s great goodness to David. He keeps David’s light shining, gives him victory over all his foes, helps him overcome the most daunting obstacles, helps him trust in God in dark days, shielding and protecting him. I cannot understand why all of you do not want such blessings! If I were you I would want this God of David to be my God for ever and ever. I would give him no rest until I knew he was my God. What blessings would then be yours.
28th March 2010 GEOFF THOMAS