There was way too much I wanted to cover in the sermon, things that needed to be said about Psalm 18, that time did not allow me to say. So here's the rest of the sermon, off the cutting room floor.
David's life was all about God. God at the core. God's power, strength, deliverance, and grace. David lived by God's grace. That being said, the next few verses of this Psalm seem not to reflect the gospel of grace or the life and heart of David. Starting in verse 20:
The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me,
and his statutes I did not put away from me.
I was blameless before him,
and I kept myself from my guilt.
So the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight. (Psalm 18:20-24; ESV)
How does this line up with the reality of David’s life? How can he say this after what he did to Bathsheba and Uriah, not to mention everyone who died with Uriah when David arranged his murder? How does this align with the gospel of God’s grace that permeates David’s songs and his life story? And this is only one of many passages like this in the Bible. This doesn’t sound any different than what you’d hear at the self-improvement seminar or the synagogue or the mosque.
So, what do we make of this?
David, the worshipping Jew of the Old Testament, even the New Testament writers and Jesus, distinguished between sins committed and the sin of apostasy. Apostasy is turning away from God and leaving the faith.
The key verse here is v. 22: "For all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me." Then in the very next verse where he says he was blameless, he’s obviously not saying he is sinless. He’s saying he has not turned from God. In fact, that word for blameless often carries the connotation of “integrity.”
“David does not claim perfection in life's particulars but wholeheartedness in life's commitment” (Dale Ralph Davis)
In his commentary on 2 Samuel, Dale Ralph Davis tells a story from his seminary days. One day he overheard a student asking a professor if he could make up a test he had missed. He explained, right to the professor's face, that he missed it because he rarely went to class because he didn't think it was that important to go to class. The last bit he overheard of the conversation was the professor saying, "That makes me angry." The student was essentially saying, "I don't care about you or your class, but please do me a favor." David is saying here that that is not what he's doing. He may have sinned spectacularly, but he had never walked away from God.
David is expressing a lifelong covenant relationship with God, He has been and continues to be a part of God's people and to live under God's law. He lives his life in God, and when he breaks God’s law, he does it as a child who breaks the house rules, but who still loves and respects his parents and who does not abandon or reject the family. David understands that atonement for his sins is found in the sacrificial system God has graciously provided. David isn’t someone who just turns to God in times of need, expecting God to help him. David is in a relationship with God, and it’s personal.
One more thing: David's words here reflect the fabric of the universe God created. God’s rules emanate from his character, and the way he created the world is based on principles reflecting his character. Breaking God's rules--going against our design--breaks us. There is wisdom in the moral instructions found in the Bible, but in Christ we also know that moral wisdom is not the most important message of the Bible. If it were, it would leave us hopeless.
And David doesn’t remain here, in the world of moral wisdom. Look how he slips from moral wisdom back into a gospel of God’s grace starting in verse 25.
With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified [note the passive voice] you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
For you save a humble people,
but the haughty eyes you bring down.
For it is you who light my lamp;
the Lord my God lightens my darkness.
For by you I can run against a troop,
and by my God I can leap over a wall.
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. (Psalm 18:25-30; ESV)
As his praise song proceeds, David continues to bring his story and God's story together. David was a warrior king. He was surrounded by enemy nations who were determined to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. So David proclaims God's enabling in his triumphs. In worship gathered David celebrates God at work when his people scatter, even in the ugly, bloody conditions of war.
For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?—
the God who equipped me with strength
and made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer
and set me secure on the heights.
He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation,
and your right hand supported me,
and your gentleness made me great.
You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
and my feet did not slip.
I pursued my enemies and overtook them,
and did not turn back till they were consumed.
I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise;
they fell under my feet.
For you equipped me with strength for the battle;
you made those who rise against me sink under me.
You made my enemies turn their backs to me,[e]
and those who hated me I destroyed.
They cried for help, but there was none to save;
they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.
I beat them fine as dust before the wind;
I cast them out like the mire of the streets.
You delivered me from strife with the people;
you made me the head of the nations;
people whom I had not known served me.
As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me;
foreigners came cringing to me.
Foreigners lost heart
and came trembling out of their fortresses.
The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation—
the God who gave me vengeance
and subdued peoples under me,
who delivered me from my enemies;
yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me;
you rescued me from the man of violence. (Psalm 18:31-48; ESV)
David doesn't leave the world behind in worship gathered. His story as a warrior king--his work, his vocation--is understood within God's story. Your workplace or home or neighborhood may be tough places to live out your faith and to see God's story unfolding. Escaping this world is not an option. David demonstrates that even in the violence and sex saturated land, where the culture has been shaped by the Philistines and the Canaanites, God is present and at work and to be worshipped.