His Sacred Song
2 Samuel 22
As pointed out in our last, the main divisions of Davidís sacred song in 2 Samuel 22 are more or less clearly marked. In the first (vv. 1-4) he is occupied with extolling Jehovahís perfections: this section we have already considered. In the second (vv. 5-20), which is now to be before us, he magnifies the Lord for His delivering mercies. The section of the song is couched in highly figurative and poetic language; which indicates how deeply stirred were the emotions of its inspired composer. Its contents may be regarded in a threefold way. First, as depicting the physical dangers to which David was exposed from his human foes. Second, the deep soul distress which he experienced from his spiritual enemies. Third, the fearful sufferings through which Christ passed while acting as the Substitute of His people, and the awe-inspiring deliverance which God wrought for His servant. We will endeavor to consider our passage from each of these viewpoints.
"When the waves (pangs) of death compassed me, the floods of ungodly men made me afraid; the sorrows (cords) of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented (anticipated) me" (2 Sam. 22:5, 6). Thus opens this second division: that which it so vividly portrayed is the large number and ferocity of his enemies, and the desperate danger to which David was exposed by them. First, he employed the figure of an angry sea, whose raging waves menaced him from every side, until his frail craft was in immediate prospect of being swamped by them. Next, he likened his lot to one who was marooned on some piece of low-lying ground, and the floods rapidly rising higher and higher, till his destruction seemed certain. The multitude of the wicked pressed him sorely on every side. Then he compared his plight to one who had already been taken captive and bound, so that the very cords of death seemed to be upon him. Finally, he pictures his case as a bird that had been caught in the fowlerís snare, unable to fly away.
The above references were to the attempts made by Saul, Abner and Absalom to capture and slay David. So fierce were their attacks, so powerful the forces they employed against him, so determined and relentless were his foes, that David here acknowledged they "made me afraid." "The most sea-worthy bark is sometimes hard put to it when the storm Hood is abroad. The most courageous man, who as a rule hopes for the best, may sometimes fear the worst" (C. H. Spurgeon). Strong as his faith generally was, yet on one occasion unbelief prevailed to such an extent that David said, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul" (1 Sam. 27:1). When terrors from without awaken fears within, our case is indeed a miserable one: yet so it was with Moses when he fled from Egypt, with Elijah when he ran away from Jezebel, with Peter when he denied his Lord.
But these lamentations of David are also to be construed spiritually: they are to be regarded as those harrowing exercises of soul through which he passed in his later years: Psalms 32 and 51 cast light upon them. "The sorrows (cords) of Hell compassed me about; the snares of death anticipated me": such was the anguish of his soul under the lashings of a guilty conscience. "The temptations of Satan and the consciousness of his sins filled him with fears of wrath and dreadful apprehensions of future consequences. He felt like a malefactor bound for execution, whose fetters prevent him from attempting an escape, for whose body the grave hath certainly opened her mouth, and who is horribly alarmed lest the pit of bell should swallow up his soul" (Thomas Scott). Fearful beyond words is the suffering through which many a backslider has to pass ere he is restored to fellowship with Godóone who has experienced it will not deem the language of these verses any too strong.
But there is something deeper here than the trials David encountered either from without or within: in their ultimate sense these verses articulate the groanings of the Man of sorrows as He took upon Him the obligations and suffered in the stead of His people. As we pointed out in our last, two of the verses of this song are quoted in the New Testament as being the very words of Christ Himself: "In Him will I trust" (v. 3) is found in Hebrews 2:13, and "I will give thanks unto Thee O Lord, among the heathen (Gentiles), and I will sing praises unto Thy name" (v. 50) is found in Romans 15:9. "The Messiah our Saviour is evidently, over and beyond David or any other believer, the main and chief subject of this Song; and while studying it we have grown more and more sure that every line has its deeper and profounder fulfillment in Him" (C. H. Spurgeon). Let this be kept before us as we pass from section to section, and from verse to verse.
"When the waves (pangs) of death compassed Me, the floods of ungodly men made Me afraid; the sorrows (cords) of hell compassed Me about; the snares of death prevented (anticipated) Me." Here was the Spirit of Christ speaking prophetically through the Psalmist, expressing the fierce conflict through which the Redeemer passed. Behold Him in Gethsemane, in the judgment-halls of Herod and Pilate, and then behold Him on the Cross itself, suffering horrible torments of body and anguish of soul, when He was delivered into the hands of wicked men, encountered the fierce assaults of Satan, and endured the wrath of God against Him for our sins. It was then that He was surrounded by the insulting priests and people. His "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matthew 26:38) was but an echo of these words of Davidís song.
"In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God: and He did hear my voice out of His temple, and my cry did enter into His ears" (v. 7). Here we behold Godís suffering servant making earnest supplication to heaven. The one so sorely pressed by his enemies that the eye of sense could perceive not a single avenue of escape, yea, when death itself immediately threatened him, seeks relief from above, and so it should be with us: "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray" (James 5:13). Ah, it is then he is most likely to really pray: cold and formal petitions do not suit one who is in deep troubleóalas that so often nothing short of painful trial will force fervent supplications from us. An old writer expressed it, "Prayer is not eloquence, but earnestness; not the definition of earnestness, but the feeling of it; it is the cry of faith in the ear of mercy": yet either pangs of body or of soul are usually needed before we will cry out in reality.
"In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God: and He did hear my voice out of His temple, and my cry did enter into His ears" (v. 7). So many neglect prayer when they are quiet and at ease, but as the Lord declares, "In their affliction they will seek Me early" (Hosea 5:15). Yet it is well if we do seek unto God in our affliction, instead of sulking in rebellion, which is to forsake our own mercy. The Lord is a very present help in trouble, and it is our holy privilege to prove this for ourselves. The Hebrew word for "cried" here is an expressive one, signifying such a cry as issues from one in a violent tempest of emotion, in the extremity of grief and anxiety: in fact Alexander Maclaren renders it "shriek." David was all but sinking and could only give vent to an agonized call or help.
"Prayer is that postern gate which is left open even when the city is straightly besieged by the enemy: it is that way upward from the pit of despair to which the spiritual miner flies at once, when the floods from beneath break forth upon him. Observe that he Ďcalls,í and then Ďcriesí; prayer grows in vehemence as it proceeds. Note also that he first invokes his God under the name of Jehovah, and then advances to a more familiar name, Ďmy Godí: thus faith increases by exercise, and he whom we at first viewed as Lord is soon seen to be our God in covenant. It is never an ill time to pray: no distress should prevent us from using the divine remedy of supplication" (C. H. Spurgeon).
"In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God." The fulfillment of these prophetic words in the case of out suffering Redeemer is well known to all who are acquainted with the four Gospels. Blessed indeed is it to behold that One, who was supremely the Man after Godís own heart, betaking Himself to prayer while His enemies were thirsting for His blood. The deeper His distress, the more earnestly did He call upon God, both in Gethsemane and at Calvary, and as Hebrews 5:7 tells us, "Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared." Let us not hesitate, then, to follow the example which He has left us, and no matter how hardly we are pressed, how desperate be our situation, nor how acute our grief, let us unburden ourselves to God.
"And he did hear my voice out of His temple, and my cry did enter into His ears." This is in explanation of all that follows: the gracious interpositions of the Lord on Davidís behalf and the wondrous deliverances He wrought for him, were in answer to prayer. Godís lending a willing ear to the cry of His distressed child is recorded for our encouragement. It is indeed deplorable that we are often so prayerless until pressure of circumstances force supplication out of us, yet it is blessed to be assured that God does not then (as well He might) turn a deaf ear unto our calls; nay, such calls have the greater prevalency, because of their sincerity and because they make a more powerful appeal unto the divine pity. Let the fearing and despondent believer read through Psalm 107 and mark how frequently it is recorded that the redeemed "cry unto the Lord in their trouble," and how that in each instance we are told "He delivered them" Then do you cry unto Him, and be of good courage.
"Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven moved and shook, because He was wroth" (v. 8). Davidís prayer was answered in a most effectual manner by the providential interpositions which Jehovah made on his behalf. In a most singular and extraordinary way the Lord appeared for his relief, fighting for him against his enemies. Here again David adorned his poem with lively images as he recorded Godís gracious intervention. The mighty power of God was now exercised for him: such language being employed as to intimate that nothing can resist or impede Him when He acts for His own. God was now showing Himself to be strong on behalf of His oppressed but supplicating servant. See here, dear reader, the response of heaven to the cry of faith. "Then the earth shook and trembled": let these words be pondered in the light of "And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed . . . and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every oneís bands were loosed" (Acts 16:25,26)!
Again we would remind the reader that a greater than David is to be kept before us as we pass from verse to verse of this Psalm. "Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven moved and shook, because He was wroth:" who can fail to be reminded of the supernatural phenomena which attended the death and resurrection of Davidís Son and Lord? He too had called upon Jehovah in His deep distress, "And was heard" (Heb. 5:7). Unmistakable was heavenís response: "from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour . . . Jesus, when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened" (Matthew 27:45, 50-52). Yes, the earth literally "shook and trembled"! As another has rightly said, "Tremendous was the scene! Never before and never since was such a battle fought, or such a victory gained, whether we look at the contending powers or the consequences resulting Heaven on the one side, and hell on the other: such were the contending powers. And as to the consequences resulting, who shall recount them?"
"There went up a smoke out of His nostrils, and fire out of His mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under His feet" (vv. 9, 10). These expressions are borrowed from the awe-inspiring phenomena which attended the appearing of Jehovah upon mount Sinai: compare Exodus 19:16-18. It was Jehovah the Avenger appearing to vindicate His servant and vanquish his enemies. David considered that in his case the Lord God manifested the same divine perfections which He had displayed of old at the giving of the Law. We cannot do better here than quote from Matthew Henryís comments on the spiritual significance of the vivid imagery which was here employed by the Psalmist.
"These lofty metaphors are used. First, to set forth the glory of God, which was manifested in his deliverance: His wisdom and power, His goodness and faithfulness, His justice and holiness, and His sovereign dominion over all the creatures and all the counsels of men, which appeared in favour of David, were as clear and bright a discovery of Godís glory to an eye of faith, as those would have been to an eye of sense. Second, to set forth Godís displeasure against his enemies: God so espoused his cause, that he showed Himself an Enemy to all his enemies; His anger is set forth by a smoke out of His nostrils, and fire out of His mouth. Who knows the power and terror of His wrath! Third, to set forth the vast confusion which his enemies were put into and the consternation that seized them; as if the earth had trembled and the foundations of the world had been discovered. Who can stand before God, when He is angry? Fourth, to show how ready God was to help him: He Ďrode upon a cherub, and did flyí (v.11). God hastened to his succour, and came in to him with seasonable relief."
"And He rode upon a cherub, and did fly: and He was seen upon the wings of the wind" (v. 11). Though the Lord "wait that He may be gracious" (Isa. 30:18), and sometimes sorely tries faith and patience, yet when His appointed time comes, He acts swiftly. "And He made darkness pavilions round about Him, dark waters and thick clouds of the skies" (v. 12): just as that pillar of fire which gave light to Israel was "a cloud and darkness" to the Egyptians (Ex. 14:20), so were the providential dealings of the Lord unto the enemies of David. The One who is pleased to reveal Himself unto His own, conceals Himself from the wicked, and hence the fearful portion of those who shall be everlastingly banished from the presence of the Lord is represented as "the blackness of darkness forever."
"Through the brightness before Him were coals of fire kindled. The Lord thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice. And He sent out arrows, and scattered them; lightning, and discomfited them. And the channels of the sea appeared, the foundations of the world were discovered, at the rebuking of the Lord, at the blast of the breath of His nostrils"(vv. 13-16). All of this is an amplification of "because He was wroth" (v. 8). Nothing so arouses Jehovahís indignation as injuries done to His people: he who attacks them, touches the apple of His eye. True, God is not subject to those passions which govern His creatures, yet because He hates sin with a perfect hatred and sorely punishes it, He is often represented under such poetic imagery as is suited to human understanding. God is a God to be feared, as those who now trifle with Him shall yet discover. How shall puny men be able to face it out with the Almighty, when the very mountains tremble at His presence! Satan-deluded souls may now defy Him, but their false confidence will not support or shelter them in the dread day of His wrath.
"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" (vv. 17, 18). Here is the happy issue to Davidís prayer and the Lordís response. Observe, first, that David gives God the glory by unreservedly ascribing his deliverance unto Him He looked far above his own skill in slinging the stone which downed Goliath and his cleverness in eluding Saul: "He sent . . . He took me, He drew me . . . He delivered me" gives all the honor unto Him to whom it was truly due. Note, second, the particular reason mentioned by David as to why the Lord had intervened on his behalf: "for they were too strong for me"óit was his confessed weakness and the strength of his foes that made such a powerful appeal to Godís pity: compare the effectual plea of Jehoshaphat: "O our God, wilt Thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us" (2 Chron. 20:12). Finally, while the "strong enemy" of verse 18 is an allusion to either Goliath or Saul, yet Davidís deliverance from them but prefigured Christís victory over death and Satan, and here He ascribed that victory unto His God.