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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 18

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, the servant of the LORD, who spake unto the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul: And he said The title clearly states the occasion of this sublime ode. It must have been written after the Syrian wars, from the allusions of Psalms 18:43-44, while its freshness and jubilant air throughout would fix it soon after. No recognition of David’s great sin appears. The song throughout is in the highest strain of triumph. The style is exceedingly majestic, ornate, and full of inspiration, a fine specimen of true Hebraic poetry. David now stands, in the flush of victory, upon the height of his military conquests and kingly theocratic power, and surveys the long line of victories which have elevated him from the humble shepherd boy to the first rank of the western Asiatic monarchs. In the list of his conquered enemies Saul holds a conspicuous rank. (See note on title.) Jehovah alone has wrought this great deliverance, and that he alone may have the glory, the psalm is written. The subjugation of the heathen offers a typical foreshadowing of Messiah’s triumphs over the nations; but we are probably not to regard the psalm as prophetically Messianic. After Saul, the historic retrospections are mostly recorded 2 Samuel 7-10. The psalm first appeared in 2 Samuel 22:0, and was afterward, with verbal but not important variations, revised for temple service, as its assignment to the chief musician shows.

The strophic arrangement has been variously given. Psalms 18:1-3, introduction; 4-6, a glance at the perils from which David cries to God, 7-19, the wonderful manner and phenomena of divine interference; 20-29, the moral of this great providence, namely, retribution according to character; 30-45, various special descriptions of the mode of divine help, and of the greatness of the victories; 46-50, doxology of praise and thanksgiving for all God’s mercies.


David, the servant of the Lord See on title, Psalms 36:0; and thus God speaks of “David my servant,” Psalms 89:3; Psalms 89:20. It is a designation of office, as one sent of God. Compare Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1. David also calls himself the servant of Jehovah, Psalms 19:11; Psalms 19:13; Psalms 144:10. In his kingship he represented Jehovah, no less than Moses did as lawgiver or Joshua as saviour.

Spake unto the Lord Dedicated to Jehovah. See on Psalms 45:2.

And from the hand of Saul The conjunction is emphatic, as if it read, especially from the hand of Saul. So ו is often used; as, (Joshua 2:1,) “Go view the land, even Jericho,” especially Jericho. Nehemiah 8:15: “In all their cities, and in Jerusalem,” particularly in Jerusalem. The particle here gives Saul the pre-eminence in the rank of enemies. Psalms 18:4-20 are supposed to allude specially to Saul’s persecutions. See note on Psalms 18:20.

Verse 1

1. I will love thee I will tenderly love thee. The word denotes strong and tender love, as that of a parent.

My strength We delight to call God our strength when we love him and feel our weakness.

Verse 2

2. My rock In this verse, which is strikingly similar to Psalms 144:2, six terms, signifying the strongest military defences of those times, are used and applied to God, namely: strength, rock, fortress, shield, horn, tower, or high place. Other titles are also given. David’s earnest heart was overflowing.

Verses 4-5

4, 5. In these verses he gives a rapid retrospect of the collective years of his persecutions by Saul, his wars, and his exposures. He surveys them with a glance without detail.

Sorrows of death Better, cords of death.

“Cords,” here, is not the same word as snares, (Psalms 18:5,) but means the bond, or leash, by which a captive or victim was held or led, as illustrated in 1 Kings 20:31, and note on Psalms 116:3, which see.

Floods of ungodly men Hebrew, floods or torrents of Belial: that is, floods of worthlessness, but, in the concrete, floods of worthless or wicked men. These, like a mad mountain torrent, threatened to sweep him away. It is doubtful whether בליעל , ( Belial,) is ever used in the Old Testament as a proper name. It occurs, however, as such once in the New Testament (which shows the Hebrew usage at that time, 2 Corinthians 6:15) for Satan, just as evil, with the masculine article, ( ο πονηρος ,) means “the Evil One,” (see Matthew 13:19, et al., and Satan, Psalms 109:6.)

Sorrows of hell Literally, cords of sheol, the latter here used for the grave, and the phrase corresponding to “cords of death” in preceding verse. On sheol, see on Psalms 16:10.

Snares of death Death is here personified, and compared to an arch hunter spreading his snares. The word snare is different from cord in preceding verse, and denotes the spring, or trapnet, possibly the trapstick by which it was set. It was concealed in the path, and, when sprung, enclosed its victim, or caught him by the foot. So Proverbs 13:14; Proverbs 14:27. The genitive in all these passages requires us to understand that the object of this leashing and snaring is the death of the victim.

Prevented me That is, the snares lay before him whichever way he turned.

Verse 6

6. Heard… out of his temple God heard and answered from his holy “temple.” Hearing prayer is often put for answering. To the Hebrew all oracles, or answers, proceeded from the holy of holies in the temple, the throne and dwelling of God.

Verse 7

7. Here begins the lofty description of David’s deliverances, continuing to Psalms 18:20. The sublimity of his strain cannot be exceeded. The long years of his sufferings, his war’s, and his triumphs, come under one comprehensive glance. A traceable line of personal history is seen throughout, but the fulness of his descriptions are realized only by the Church in her struggles and victories. In this view, the psalm allies itself to the symbolism of the apocalypse.

Then When God answered his prayer and arose to judgment.

The earth shook and trembled The allusion here seems to be to Genesis 19:25: “And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain:” an earthquake attended by an eruption, as modern geological observation attests.

Verse 8

8. There went up a smoke Compare, on Sodom, Genesis 19:27-28; also, on Sinai, Exodus 19:18 a token of God’s majesty and his anger against sin.

Fire out of his mouth See the passages last quoted.

Verse 9

9. He bowed the heavens… and came down At his command the heavens bend low, as if to convey him to battle. The imagery is partly taken from a severe thunderstorm and is partly Sinaitic. Exodus 19:20; Psalms 144:5.

Darkness Same as thick clouds, Psalms 18:11. See also Exodus 34:5; compare Psalms 97:2. They were as the floor of his pavilion. Nahum (Nahum 1:3) calls them, “the dust of his feet.”

Verse 10

10. He rode upon a cherub The plural is cherubim, and the word commonly occurs in this form. The name is given to those beings which are supposed to symbolize the direct agencies employed to execute the divine will, and who thus stand as the immediate representatives of God, (Genesis 3:24,) answering to the τεσσαρα ζωα ( four living creatures) of the apocalypse, (Revelation 4:6, et al.,) and unfortunately translated beasts in our English Bible. The same are the כרובים ( cherubim) of Ezekiel 10:0, and the four חיות ( living creatures) of Ezekiel 1:0. The cherubim seem to represent the beneficent and avenging attributes of God.

See note on Psalms 80:1. In 1 Chronicles 28:18, compare “chariot of the cherubim” with Psalms 68:17.

Yea, he did fly Literally, he flew swiftly. The verb denotes the rapid flight of birds of prey, as in Deuteronomy 28:49; Jeremiah 48:10. Ainsworth supposes it means the glancing of those swift-winged birds which fly with a swing, as when they swoop for their prey.

Verse 11

11. Darkness his secret place Compare Psalms 18:9 and Psalms 97:2. The allusion is to Deuteronomy 4:11.

His pavilion… dark waters and thick clouds Tempestuous storm clouds were his military tent. See Psalms 104:3

Verse 12

12. Up to this point, from Psalms 18:7, we have a description of the prelude and portents of deliverance. Jehovah has now descended to the scene of action, and the dreadful battle begins.

At the brightness… before him At the effulgence of his divine glory which preceded him.

His thick clouds passed That is, the storm clouds charged with thunderbolts passed on to the point where they were to accomplish the judicial purpose of God.

Hail stones and coals of fire The clouds were surcharged, armed, with hail and fire. The description is highly military.

Verse 13

13. The Lord also thundered… Highest gave his voice This was the word of command to the elements to discharge their burden of wrath upon his enemies.

Hail… and coals of fire The allusion is to Exodus 9:24; Joshua 10:11. Compare “hot thunderbolts,” Psalms 78:48; on which see note.

Verse 14

14. And discomfited them He troubled and defeated them. Here ends the battle, and from this point dates the deliverance.

Verse 15

15. Then Emphatic: when the divine judgments had been fully executed. The psalmist describes (to Psalms 18:19) the wonderful effects of the divine interference.

Channels of waters In the parallel place (2 Samuel 22:16) it reads, “channels of the sea.” The plural denotes the Red Sea and Jordan. Exodus 14:21-22; Joshua 3:15-17.

Foundations of the world The Hebrews had no knowledge of the interior of the earth below the bottom of the sea and the rocky foundations of the mountains.

Jonah 2:6. The figure is in harmony with ancient geogony, and poetically admissible in any age. See notes on Psalms 24:2; Psalms 104:5; Psalms 104:9

Verse 16

16. He sent from above See the full expression, Psalms 144:7. The dawn of the psalmist’s deliverance breaks from on high.

He drew me out of many waters An expression probably borrowed by David from the deliverance of Moses from the waters of the Nile. A hand “from above” drew him out. The verb משׁה , ( to draw out,) occurs nowhere else but in Exodus 2:10, and 2 Samuel 22:17. “Many waters” symbolically denote multitudes of people, especially of different tongues, (Revelation 17:15,) such as composed ancient armies. Jeremiah 47:2

Verse 17

17. My strong enemy The singular may be taken collectively for all his enemies; or, more probably, as pointing to Saul, who in the title of the psalm holds this distinction.

Verse 18

18. They prevented me They met me in a hostile manner. The Hebrew word for “prevented” means, they stood before me.

Verse 19

19. Large place A roomy place a phrase indicating freedom and safety, complete deliverance. Psalms 31:8; Psalms 4:1.

Because he delighted in me Compare 1 John 3:22

Verse 20

20. According to my righteousness Psalms 18:20-26 seem to date the psalm before David’s great sin. But he specially appeals to his righteousness as relating to the causes of his wars, for which he had given no provocation. In this his history vindicates him. The frank and positive character of David is here brought out. If he has sinned, his confessions and repentance are open and hearty. If he has acted uprightly, he stands firm in his innocence.

Verse 23

23. Mine iniquity The iniquity that a king in my circumstances is exposed to, such as ambition, pride, revenge, forgetfulness of God. All conditions of life have their besetting sins. Hebrews 12:1

Verse 24

24. Recompensed me according, etc. In Psalms 18:24-26 the great principle of the divine government is clearly recognised, namely: that God will deal with men as they deal with one another. He will apply their own principles of action to themselves. See Proverbs 21:13; Job 22:6-10; Matthew 6:15; James 2:13. The heaviest of all the divine judgments is the abandonment of a wicked man to his own wickedness. Romans 1:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12

Verse 27

27. Afflicted The word often takes the adsignification of humble, meek, and the antithetic clause gives this sense here.

Verse 28

28. Light my candle Or, lamp; a figure denoting joyfulness, prosperity.

Job 29:3. On the contrary, “the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.” Proverbs 13:9; Job 21:17

Verse 29

29. Run through a troop Charged through a troop. The term is military. Job 15:26; Job 16:24.

Leaped over a wall Scaled the wall of a besieged city, or, as the Chaldee, “taken a fort.” Joel 2:7

Verse 30

30. As Psalms 18:20-29 are an appeal to his righteousness as the reason why God took his part, so Psalms 18:30-43 are a zealous rendering to God of all the praise of all his victories and prosperity. They are an enlargement of the first strophe, (Psalms 18:1-3,) and of the titles there given to God.

As for God, his way is perfect Hebrew, The God, perfect his way. The article is emphatic the great, the only God.

Tried Refined, as metals in a furnace; therefore his “word” is not as drossy ore, but as pure gold. Psalms 12:6. See the fundamental passage Deuteronomy 32:4

Verse 31

31. Rock Quoted from Deuteronomy 32:31-39; 1 Samuel 2:2

Verse 32

32. Girdeth “The figure of girding is significant, because, in the Oriental dress, the girdle is essential to all free and active motion.” Alexander.

My way perfect Upright before God.

Verse 33

33. Like hinds’ feet Not only swift but sure footed, so as to walk in difficult places safely. In the Egyptian paintings the hind is the symbol of fleetness. See on Psalms 42:1.

Setteth me upon my high places Perhaps, causeth my feet to stand sure on elevated, and hence insecure, paths, like the hind: but it is probably better to take high places for strongholds. “He establishes me in fastnesses,” which were commonly on tops of hills or mountains. The passage is parallel to Habakkuk 3:19, where to “walk upon high places,” or fortresses, means to have the military control of the land. So, also, Deuteronomy 33:29, et al.

Verse 34

34. He teacheth, etc. Whether in peace or war, his skill and strength to act well his part the psalmist ascribes to God.

Bow of steel is broken A bow of copper, or bronze, is bent by my arms. The idea is, that of drawing a heavy bow in battle, and thus shooting at long range. The verb נהת , ( nahath,) signifies to go or come down, to descend; and, in Piel, to press down, to bend, as in the text. The Hebrews, so far as is known, were not acquainted with the use of steel and נהושׁ ( nahoosh) should be translated copper. The elastic copper or bronze bow was far more powerful and more difficult to bend than the wooden bow; but David could draw it. See Job 20:24

Verse 35

35. Thy gentleness hath made me great The humbling or condescending love of God to him had so inspired him with faith and hope, and had so reproduced itself in David’s character, that it was the cause of all his greatness.

Verse 36

36. Thou hast enlarged my steps See on Psalms 18:19. Hengstenberg: “Thou makest large my steps. One takes small steps when many stumbling blocks or hindrances are in the way.”

Verses 37-42

37-42. In these verses David describes his victories and the stirring scenes of the battle field. Calvin says, “David seems to speak too soldierlike.” But his expressions have a Messianic outlook upon the triumphs of the cross, like Revelation 19:17-21, through the literal imagery of war.

Verse 38

38. Under… my feet Emblematic of complete subjugation. See on Psalms 110:1

Verse 39

39. Girded me with strength Putting on the military girdle completed the military dress.

Verse 40

40. Given me the necks of mine enemies To “turn the neck” in battle is to be put to flight. See Joshua 7:8, where “backs” should read necks, so elsewhere. To put the foot upon the neck of an enemy denotes his complete and abject submission. Joshua 10:24. See note on Psalms 110:1

Verse 41

41. They cried… even unto the Lord They first cried to their gods, but, getting no answer, they called upon Jehovah, as even the heathen sometimes did in their distress, (Jonah 1:5-14;) but, as they were insincere, he did not answer them.

Verse 43

43. From the strivings of the people This better applies to internal faction, such as was experienced during the seven years that Ishbosheth disputed the throne with David, rather than to foreign war. 2 Samuel 2-3. In the parallel place, (2 Samuel 22:44,) the people reads “my people.” confirming this view.

Head of the heathen Or, the nations. True of David, and more true of Christ.

Verse 44

44. Strangers shall submit themselves The verb kahash, to submit, in Piel takes the signification of feign, flatter, and denotes an insincere or feigned submission, such as a captive gives to a conqueror. But this indicates the amazing power of David’s name. No sooner will the people dwelling beyond the subjugated kingdoms hear the news of his conquests, than, however unwillingly, they will hasten to acknowledge his superiority and conciliate his favour. Such was the effect upon the nations of the exodus miracles. Exodus 15:14-16. And thus did the fame of the miracles of Christ and his apostles everywhere precede them, and prepare the way for further conquests.

Verse 45

45. The strangers shall fade away The same class who, in Psalms 18:44, yielded an unwilling obedience, shall wither like grass before the hot wind of the desert. Comp. Micah 7:16-17

Verse 47

47. Avengeth Executeth justice for me.

Verse 49

49. Thanks unto thee… among the heathen Or, among the Gentiles, for the word is translated indifferently nations, Gentiles, and heathen. Co-extensive with David’s victories and fame should be his praise of Jehovah. The language is prophetic of Christ’s triumph over the nations, and is thus quoted and applied, Romans 15:9

Verse 50

50. Great deliverance giveth he to his king Hebrew, magnifying the salvations of his king. In the parallel place (2 Samuel 22:51) the Keri, or Hebrew margin, reads, “tower of salvations,” and this is the sense here. God had been to him a tower of salvations, or deliverances.

Anointed Same as his king in the previous line, and David in the following, but pre-eminently belonging to Christ, who also is called David. Ezekiel 34:23-24.

His seed That is, Jesus. Acts 13:23.

For evermore Hebrew, To eternity, eternity, two of the strongest Hebrew words denoting endless duration, and applicable, in its true sense, only to Christ.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 18". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.