Today’s passage: Psalm 18
Today’s chocolate: Green & Black’s 85% Cacao Dark Chocolate
In the early 90s, in both children’s church and the main service, “I Will Call Upon the Lord” was a worship music mainstay, with lyrics based on this psalm. Well, on the first three verses and also verse 46, anyway. The psalm is fifty verses long, spanning two and a half pages in my Bible, and contains verses like “I shattered [my enemies], so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet” (38). To make it suitable for a contemporary worship service…well, some abridging was necessary.
According to Walter Brueggemann’s classification scheme, this chapter is a textbook example of a psalm of reorientation. David begins with praise to God, recalls a time when he was once again faced with death, then calls out to God, who arrives on the scene with ferocious fire and thunder to rescue David. As a result, David is a new person in a new place, able to praise God, his righteous deliverer. Thus, a reoriented man, David composes this song to brag on his savior, and also on himself.
That’s right–David takes five verses in the middle of this psalm to talk about how good he is. “The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me” (20), he says. And again: “I was also blameless with Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity. Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness” (23-24). I was a good guy, says David, and God paid me back for being a good guy by being good to me! Is David saying that he earned his salvation from his enemies? Like Psalm 7, this passage raises the question: how does all this jibe with grace?
For the answer, I look ahead, as the psalm returns to praising God. David describes him as “the God who girds me with strength and makes my way blameless” (32). The word translated “blameless” is the Hebrew “Tamim,” meaning “complete” or “sound.” David, I believe, isn’t claiming that he is without sin. Instead, he is complete as a moral being because God, who is complete, has made him complete. When David appears to praise his own purity, I believe, he is simultaneously praising the righteousness of God which constitutes the foundation of his own righteousness. All of David’s excellence is God’s excellence. And God’s excellence is David’s excellence, and then some.
The whole psalm, then, is a psalm of praise to God. Even when David appears to praise himself, he is praising the Creator of the universe who is the source of any praiseworthy thing in any of us. God is generous enough to share the credit with his people and give us a real basis for healthy self-esteem–which, in turn, is another reason to praise him! God can not only deliver you from evil people; he can even deliver you from being an evil person. He can make you good.