His Sacred Song
2 Samuel 22
The second section of Davidís song glides so smoothly into the third that there is scarcely a perceptible break between them: in the one he recounts the Lordís gracious deliverances of him his numerous and relentless enemies; in the other he states the reasons why He had intervened on his behalf. A Few more words now on the closing verses of the former: "He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters; He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them that hated me: For they were too strong for me" (2 Sam. 22:17,18). Here he Freely ascribes unto God the glory of his deliverances: extolling His goodness, power, faithfulness, and sufficiency. If God be for us, it matters not who be against us. Torrents of evil shall not drown the one whose God sitteth upon the floods to restrain their Fury. He has but to speak and the winds are calmed, the downpour ceases, and the floods subside; true alike physically and morally.
"They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the Lord was my stay" (v. 19). This is a parenthetical statement between verses 18 and 20, wherein the writer refers to the determined efforts of his foes to prevent his escape and insure his destruction. "When David had framed any plan for secreting or securing himself in the day of his calamity, his enemies employed every method of treachery and malice to prevent his success. Thus the men of Keilah were ready to deliver him to Saul (1 Sam. 23:7-12) and the Ziphites repeatedly informed of him (1 Sam. 26:1, 2): and therefore, notwithstanding his own prudence and activity, he must have been cut off if the Lord Himself had not protected him by His own immediate and extraordinary interpositions" (Thomas Scott). "But (blessed "but!") the Lord was my stay": his support, the One on whom he restedónor was his confidence disappointed. When the enemy rages most fiercely against us, then is the time to lean most heavily upon the everlasting arms.
"He brought me forth also into a large place: He delivered me, because He delighted in me" (v. 20). It is here that the third division of this inspired song really begins, the main purpose of which is to vindicate David, by showing that he had done nothing to provoke or deserve the fierce attacks which had been made upon him; and to affirm that God had acted in righteousness in Favoring him with deliverance. But before taking up this leading thought, let us observe and admire the ways of the Lord. God does not leave His work half done, for after He has defeated the foe, He leads the captive out into liberty. After pining for years in the prison, Joseph was advanced to the palace; from the cave of Adullam, David was elevated to the throne. This illustrates and exemplifies a most important and blessed principle in the dealings of God with His people, and when laid hold of by faith and hope it affords unspeakable comfort to the oppressed and despondent.
The prison ever precedes the palace in true spiritual experience, not only at our first awakening, but repeatedly throughout the Christian life. The soul is shut up in confinement, before it is brought forth "into a large place." The spirit of bondage is experienced before we receive the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry "Abba, Father" (Rom. 8:15). Our frail craft is made to battle long against the angry waves, before the Lord appears for our relief (Matthew 14:22-33). Bear this steadily in mind, dear reader, while you are passing through the day of calamity: "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you, will complete it . . ." (Phil. 1:6). Enlargement of spirit will be the more appreciated after a season of sorrowful confinement. Remember, then, that Joseph did not die in prison, nor did David end his days in the cave of Adullam: "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Sometimes we are granted a foretaste of that joy even in this vale of tears; but even if we are not, all weeping shall end when the night is over.
Once again we would remind ourselves that the antitypical David must be kept before us as we pass from verse to verse of this song, for the experiences of the members is identical with those which were endured by the Head of the mystical Body. Christ too could say, "They prevented Me in the day of My calamity: but the Lord was My stay" (v. 19). Never forget that the Redeemer Himself passed through a day of calamity: why, then, should the redeemed think it a strange thing if they too encounter the same? He was beset by merciless foes: His liberty was taken away when they arrested Him: He was buffeted and scourgedósufficient, then, for the disciple to be as his Master. O that we also may be able to say with Him "but the Lord was My stay." Yes, He too could say, "He brought Me forth also into a large place: He delivered Me, because He delighted in Me." Yes, He was delivered from the grave, removed from this earth, and given the position of honour and glory at Godís right hand; and this, because God delighted in Him: Isaiah 42:1.
Nevertheless, it is a great mistake to confine our attention, as some have done, to the antitypical David in this passage. For example, in his comments upon this portion of Davidís song, C. H. M. said, "These verses (21-25) prove that in this entire song, we have a greater than David. David could not say ĎThe Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands did He recompense me.í How different is this language from that of Psalm 51. There it is ĎHave mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies.í This was suitable language for a fallen sinner, as David felt himself to be. He dare not speak of his righteousness, which was as filthy rags; and as to his recompense, he felt that the Lake of Fire was all that he could in justice claim upon the ground of what he was. Hence, therefore, the language of our chapter is the language of Christ, who alone could use it" (The Life and Times of David, King of Israel).
Such confusion of thought is really inexcusable in one who posed as a teacher of preachers, and who was so fond of criticizing and condemning the expositions of servants of God which issued from pulpits in what he dubbed the "sects" and "systems" of Christendom. One might just as well affirm that "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the Faith" (2 Tim. 4:7) is "the language of Christ, who alone could use it." And then add "how different is the language of Paul in Philippians 3," "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ" (vv. 7-9). The simple fact is that the apostle was speaking from two radically different viewpoints in those respective passages: in Philippians 3 he defines the ground of his acceptance before God, whereas in 2 Timothy 4 he refers to his ministerial fidelity. It was thus with David: in Psalm 51 he states the basis on which he sought Godís forgiveness; in 2 Samuel 22:21-25 he relates his innocence in connection with his enemies.
We hardly expect one who belonged to the religious school that Mr. Mackintosh did, to be capable of drawing theological distinctions, but we are surprised to find such an able exegete as Alexander Maclaren erring on this same point. He too failed to grasp the Psalmistís scope or object in the passage which we are now considering, as is clear from his remarks thereon in his otherwise helpful work on "The Life of David as reflected in his Psalms." It was his mistaking of the purport of these verses (20-25órepeated in substance in Psalm 18:19-24) which caused him to argue that this song (and Psalm) must have been written before his awful sin in connection with Uriah: "The marked assertion of his own purity, as well as the triumphant tone of the whole, neither of which characteristics correspond to the sad and shaded years after his fall, point in the same direction" (p. 154).
"He brought me forth also into a large place: He delivered me, because He delighted in me." The "large place" is in designed contrast from the cramped confinement of the eaves in which David had been obliged to dwell when his enemies were so hotly pursuing him: it may also refer to the vast extent of his dominions and the great riches he was blest with. God not only preserved, but prospered him, granting him liberty and enlargement. The Lord not only displayed His power on behalf of His servant, but also manifested His particular favor toward him: this is intimated in "He delivered me, because He delighted in me," which signifies that God acted not from His general providence, but from His covenant love. Should it be asked, How would David know this? The answer is, by the communications of divine grace and comfort in his soul which accompanied the deliverances, and by the communion he had with God in them.
"The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath He recompensed me" (v. 21). It seems strange that these words have perplexed anyone with a spiritual mind, for if they be not strained beyond their original and obvious intention, there is nothing in them to occasion any difficulty. Let them be read in the light of their context, and they are plain and simple. David was alluding to Godís delivering of him from Goliath and Saul, and from others of his foes: what had been his conduct toward them? Had he committed any serious crimes which warranted their hostility? Had he grievously wronged any of them? Had they justly or unjustly sought his life? His own brother preferred a charge against him (1 Sam. 17:28) just before he engaged Goliath, and from several of the Psalms there seems to be good ground for concluding that Saul accused him of pride, covetousness and treachery. But what real basis was there for such? Read the record of Davidís life, and where is there a hint that he coveted the throne or hated Saul?
No, the fact of the matter is that David was entirely innocent of any evil designs against any of those who persecuted him. Further proof of this is found in one of his prayers to God: "Let not them that are mine enemies wrong fully rejoice over me, neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause (Ps. 35:19). It was because he had neither given his enemies just cause for their persecution, and because so far from retaliating, he had borne them no malice, that he enjoyed the testimony of a good conscience. Davidís character had been grievously maligned and many hideous things laid to his charge; but his conduct had been upright and conscientious to an uncommon degree. "In all his persecutions by Saul, he would not injure him or his party; nay, he employed every opportunity to serve the cause of Israel, though rewarded by envy, treachery and ingratitude" (Thomas Scott). When maligned and oppressed by men, it is an inestimable consolation to have the assurance of our own hearts of our innocence and integrity, and therefore we should spare no pains in exercising ourselves "to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and men" (Acts 24:14).
In saying "The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness" David enunciated one of the principles operative in the divine government of this world. "Albeit that the dispensations of divine grace are to the fullest degree sovereign and irrespective of human merit, yet in the dealings of Providence there is often discernible a rule of justice by which the injured are at length avenged and the righteous ultimately delivered" (C. H. Spurgeon). That statement manifests an intelligent grasp of the viewpoint from which David was writing, namely, the governmental ways of God in time, and not the ground upon which He saves eternally. These declarations of the Psalmist had nothing whatever to do with his justification in the high court of heaven, but concerned the innocency and integrity of his conduct toward his enemies on earth, because of which God delivered him from them.
"For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not departed from my God" (v. 22). We regard David as continuing to refer unto how he had conducted himself during the time that his life had been in danger. Certainly his language here is not to be taken absolutely, nor even as a relative declaration upon his life as a whole. Notwithstanding the provocations he received from Saul, and later from Absalom, and notwithstanding the efforts which we doubt not Satan made at such seasons to make him question Godís goodness and faithfulness, tempting him to cast off allegiance to Him, David persevered in the paths of righteousness and refused to apostatize. The Psalms written by him at these trying periods of his life make it unmistakably clear that Davidís piety waned not, despite the most aggravating circumstances.
"For all His judgments were before me: and as for His statutes, I did not depart from them" (v. 23). "His conscience witnessed to him that he had ever made the Word of God his rule, and had kept to it. Wherever he was, Godís judgments were before him, and his guide; whithersoever he went, he took his religion along with him; and though he was forced to depart from his country, and sent, as it were, to serve other gods, yet, as for Godís statutes, he did not depart from them, but kept the way of the Lord and walked in it" (Matthew Henry). This was sure evidence of the genuineness of his piety. It is comparatively easy to discharge the external duties of religion while we are at home, surrounded by those likeminded, but the real test of our sincerity comes when we go abroad and sojourn among a people who make no profession. David not only worshiped God while he abode at Jerusalem, but also while he tarried in the land of the Philistines.
"I was also upright before Him, and have kept myself from mine iniquity" (v. 24). This declaration manifestly clinches the interpretation we have made of the preceding verses: in them he had referred solely to his conduct unto his enemies which conduct has been strictly regulated by the divine statutes: particularly had he heeded "thou shalt not kill" when Saul was entirely at his mercy. Now he appeals to God Himself, and declares that in His sight too he had acted blamelessly toward his foes. "Sincerity is here claimed; sincerity, such as would be accounted genuine before the bar of God. Whatever evil men might think of him, David felt that he had the good opinion of God" (C. H. Spurgeon). Various explanations have been given of "mine iniquity"; but in the light of the context, we regard the reference as king to Davidís refusal to slay Saul when in his power.
"Therefore the Lord hath recompensed me according to my righteousness; according to my cleanness in His eyesight" (v. 25). They greatly err who suppose that David here gave vent to a boastful spirit: he was pleading his innocency before the bar of human equity. A man is not guilty of pride in knowing that he is truthful, honest, merciful; no, nor when he believes that God rewards him in providence because of these virtues, for such is a most evident matter of fact. Yea, so patent is this, that many of the ungodly recognize that honesty is the best policy for this life. It would he self-righteousness to transfer such thoughts from the realm of providential government into the spiritual and everlasting kingdom, for there grace reigns not only supreme, but alone, in the distribution of divine favors. A godly man with a clear conscience, who knows himself to be upright, is not required to deny his consciousness, and hypocritically make himself out to be worse than he is.
Having shown how the above verses may be understood, relatively, of David himself, let us briefly point out how they applied to Christ without any qualification. "I have kept the ways of the Lord": when tempted to forsake them, He indignantly cried, "get thee hence, Satan." "And have not wickedly departed from My God": "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" (John 8:46) was His challenge to His enemies. "For all His judgments were before Me": "I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me" (John 17:8) He affirmed. "I was also upright before Him": "I do always those things that please Him" (John 8:29) was His declaration. "And have kept Myself from Mine iniquity": so far from slaying those who come to arrest, He healed one of them (Luke 22:51). "Therefore the Lord hath recompensed Me according to My righteousness": "Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows" (Ps. 45:7) is the Spiritís confirmation.
"With the merciful Thou wilt show Thyself merciful, and with the upright man Thou wilt show Thyself upright But Thine eyes are upon the haughty, that Thou mayest bring them down" (vv. 26-28). These verses announced a general principle in Godís government of this world: we say "general," for God exercises His sovereign discretion in the actual application of it. If on the one hand we are told that some of the Old Testament heroes of faith "quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword," etc., yet we also read "others had trial of cruel mockings . . . were stoned," etc. (Heb. 11:36-37). The Baptist was beheaded and Stephen stoned, yet Peter and Paul were miraculously delivered from their enemies until they had served long and well.