The title gives us the occasion of penning this psalm; we had it before (2 Sam. 22:1), only here we are told that the psalm was delivered to the chief musician, or precentor, in the temple-songs. Note, The private compositions of good men, designed by them for their own use, may be serviceable to the public, that others may not only borrow light from their candle, but heat from their fire. Examples sometimes teach better than rules. And David is here called the servant of the Lord, as Moses was, not only as every good man is God’s servant, but because, with his sceptre, with his sword, and with his pen, he greatly promoted the interests of God’s kingdom in Israel. It was more his honour that he was a servant of the Lord than that he was king of a great kingdom; and so he himself accounted it (Ps. 116:16): O Lord! truly I am thy servant. In these verses,
I. He triumphs in God and his relation to him. The first words of the psalm, I will love thee, O Lord! my strength, are here prefixed as the scope and contents of the whole. Love to God is the first and great commandment of the law, because it is the principle of all our acceptable praise and obedience; and this use we should make of all the mercies God bestows upon us, our hearts should thereby be enlarged in love to him. This he requires and will accept; and we are very ungrateful if we grudge him so poor a return. An interest in the person loved is the lover’s delight; this string therefore he touches, and on this he harps with much pleasure (Ps. 18:2): “The Lord Jehovah is my God; and then he is my rock, my fortress, all that I need and can desire in my present distress.” For there is that in God which is suited to all the exigencies and occasions of his people that trust in him. “He is my rock, and strength, and fortress;” that is, 1. “I have found him so in the greatest dangers and difficulties.” 2. “I have chosen him to be so, disclaiming all others, and depending upon him alone to protect me.” Those that truly love God may thus triumph in him as theirs, and may with confidence call upon him, Ps. 18:3. This further use we should make of our deliverances, we must not only love God the better, but love prayer the better—call upon him as long as we live, especially in time of trouble, with an assurance that so we shall be saved; for thus it is written, Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, Acts 2:21.
II. He sets himself to magnify the deliverances God had wrought for him, that he might be the more affected in his returns of praise. It is good for us to observe all the circumstances of a mercy, which magnify the power of God and his goodness to us in it.
1. The more imminent and threatening the danger was out of which we were delivered the greater is the mercy of the deliverance. David now remembered how the forces of his enemies poured in upon him, which he calls the floods of Belial, shoals of the children of Belial, likely to overpower him with numbers. They surrounded him, compassed him about; they surprised him, and by that means were very near seizing him; their snares prevented him, and, when without were fightings, within were fears and sorrows, Ps. 18:4, 5. His spirit was overwhelmed, and he looked upon himself as a lost man; see Ps. 116:3.
2. The more earnest we have been with God for deliverance, and the more direct answer it is to our prayers, the more we are obliged to be thankful. David’s deliverances were so, Ps. 18:6. David was found a praying man, and God was found a prayer-hearing God. If we pray as he did, we shall speed as he did. Though distress drive us to prayer, God will not therefore be deaf to us; nay, being a God of pity, he will be the more ready to succour us.
3. The more wonderful God’s appearances are in any deliverance the greater it is: such were the deliverances wrought for David, in which God’s manifestation of his presence and glorious attributes is most magnificently described, Ps. 18:7-15 Little appeared of man, but much of God, in these deliverances. (1.) He appeared a God of almighty power; for he made the earth shake and tremble, and moved even the foundations of the hills (Ps. 18:7), as of old at Mount Sinai. When the men of the earth were struck with fear, then the earth might be said to tremble; when the great men of the earth were put into confusion, then the hills moved. (2.) He showed his anger and displeasure against the enemies and persecutors of his people: He was wroth, Ps. 18:7. His wrath smoked, it burned, it was fire, it was devouring fire (Ps. 18:8), and coals were kindled by it. Those that by their own sins make themselves as coals (that is, fuel) to this fire will be consumed by it. He that ordains his arrows against the persecutors sends them forth when he pleases, and they are sure to hit the mark and do execution; for those arrows are lightnings, Ps. 18:14. (3.) He showed his readiness to plead his people’s cause and work deliverance for them; for he rode upon a cherub and did fly, for the maintaining of right and the relieving of his distressed servants, Ps. 18:10. No opposition, no obstruction, can be given to him who rides upon the wings of the wind, who rides on the heavens, for the help of his people, and, in his excellency, on the skies. (4.) He showed his condescension, in taking cognizance of David’s case: He bowed the heavens and came down (Ps. 18:9), did not send an angel, but came himself, as one afflicted in the afflictions of his people. (5.) He wrapped himself in darkness, and yet commanded light to shine out of darkness for his people, Isa. 45:15. He is a God that hideth himself; for he made darkness his pavilion, Ps. 18:11. his glory is invisible, his counsels are unsearchable, and his proceedings unaccountable, and so, as to us, clouds and darkness are round about him; we know not the way that he takes, even when he is coming towards us in ways of mercy; but, when his designs are secret, they are kind; for, though he hide himself, he is the God of Israel, the Saviour. And, at his brightness, the thick clouds pass (Ps. 18:12), comfort returns, the face of affairs is changed, and that which was gloomy and threatening becomes serene and pleasant.
4. The greater the difficulties are that lie in the way of deliverance the more glorious the deliverance is. For the rescuing of David, the waters were to be divided till the very channels were seen; the earth was to be cloven till the very foundations of it were discovered, Ps. 18:15. There were waters deep and many, waters out of which he was to be drawn (Ps. 18:16), as Moses, who had his name from being drawn out of the water literally, as David was figuratively. His enemies were strong, and they hated him; had he been left to himself, they would have been too strong for him, Ps. 18:17. And they were too quick for him; for they prevented him in the day of his calamity, Ps. 18:18. But, in the midst of his troubles, the Lord was his stay, so that he did not sink. Note, God will not only deliver his people out of their troubles in due time, but he will sustain them and bear them up under their troubles in the mean time.
5. That which especially magnified the deliverance was that his comfort was the fruit of it and God’s favour was the root and fountain of it. (1.) It was an introduction to his preferment, Ps. 18:19. “He brought me forth also out of my straits into a large place, where I had room, not only to turn, but to thrive in.” (2.) It was a token of God’s favour to him, and that made it doubly sweet: “He delivered me because he delighted in me, not for my merit, but for his own grace and good-will.” Compare this with 2 Sam. 15:26; If he thus say, I have no delight in thee, here I am. We owe our salvation, that great deliverance, to the delight God had in the Son of David, in whom he has declared himself to be well pleased.
In singing this we must triumph in God, and trust in him: and we may apply it to Christ the Son of David. The sorrows of death surrounded him; in his distress he prayed (Heb. 5:7); God made the earth to shake and tremble, and the rocks to cleave, and brought him out, in his resurrection, into a large place, because he delighted in him and in his undertaking.