This psalm of praise and victory was written and sung after the Lord made David king of all Israel and gave him victory over the nations that opposed his rule (2 Sam. 5, 8, 10). Another version of the psalm is found in 2 Samuel 22, and quotations and allusions are found in Psalm 116. No matter how much Saul persecuted David, David did not consider Saul his enemy. “Deliver” is one of the key words in the psalm; it is found in the title as well as in verses 2, 17, 19, 43, and 48 (KJV). It’s possible that the new king used this song at a national day of prayer and praise to give thanks to the Lord for His manifold mercies to Israel. The psalm opens (vv. 1–3) and closes (vv. 46–50) with a doxology. David the servant of God (78:70; 89:3, 20, 39; 132:10; 144:10) addressed the Lord in verses 1, 25–29, 35–36, 39–40, 43, and 48, and in the rest of the psalm, he told the people what God had done for him, so the song blends worship and witness. The focus of the psalm is on the Lord and what He graciously did for His servant, but it also tells us what He can do for us today if we will trust and obey.
God Delivers When We Call on Him (vv. 1–18)
When David expressed his love for the Lord, he used a special word that means “to love deeply, to have compassion.” It’s related to the Hebrew word for “womb” (see Jer. 21:7) and describes the kind of love a mother has for her baby (Isa. 49:15), a father has for his children (103:13), and the Lord has for His chosen people Israel (102:13; Hos. 1:7; Deut. 13:17). It’s a deep and fervent love, the kind of love all of us should have for the Lord (31:23). David expressed his love (v. 1), his faith (v. 2), and his hope (v. 3). The seven metaphors he used certainly reflect the life of an outdoorsman and a soldier. “Rock” (vv. 2, 31, 46) is a familiar metaphor for the Lord, speaking of strength and stability, a place of refuge (19:14; 28:1; 31:2–3; 42:9; 62:2, 6–7; 71:3; 78:20; 89:26; 92:15; 94:22; 95:1; 144:1; 1 Sam. 23:25). It goes back to Genesis 49:24 and Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, and 30–31. “Fortress” pictures God as a stronghold, like the city of Jerusalem on Mount Zion (1 Sam. 22:4; 24:22; 2 Sam. 5:17; 23:14). “Shield” speaks of God’s protection (3:3; 7:10; 28:7; 33:20; Gen. 15:1; Deut. 33:29), but it also is a symbol of the king (84:9; 89:18). David was Israel’s shield, but the Lord was David’s shield. “Horn” refers to strength (Deut. 33:17; 1 Sam. 2:1, 10; 1 Kings 22:11) and has Messianic connotations (Luke 1:69). This kind of God is worthy of our prayers and praise! (See 48:1; 96:4; 145:3.)
After expressing his devotion, David described his distress (vv. 4–6) and pictured himself as a man who had been hemmed in on every side, caught in a trap, bound with cords, and thrown into the water to drown. (See 88:16–17; 69:2, 15; 124:4; Job 22:11.) But, when he called, God began to act on his behalf. The great deliverance (vv. 7–19) is depicted as a storm. The Lord had been long-suffering with King Saul, but now His anger arose and began to shake things, like an earthquake and an erupting volcano (vv. 7–8; Ex. 15:8; Deut. 32:22). God came down in a storm, like a warrior in a chariot, carried along swiftly by a cherub. (See Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:18; 2 Kings 19:15; Ezek. 1, 10). He was accompanied by darkness, rain, wind, hail (a rare thing in the Holy Land), thunder, and lightning (His arrows, v. 14; see 77:17, 144:6). All because David called on the Lord! (v. 6). At just the right time, God reached down and delivered David (vv. 16–19). Like Moses, he was drawn out of the water (Ex. 2:10). The enemy fell in defeat, but David stood firm, supported by the Lord (23:4). He was now king of Israel. Ten years of exile were ended, his life had been spared, and his ministry lay before him.
God Rewards When We Obey (vv. 19–27)
The word “distress” in verse 6 means “to be in a tight place, in a corner, hemmed in,” but when the storm was over, David found himself in “a large place” where he could take “large steps” of faith in serving the Lord (v. 36). God enlarged David’s trials (25:17) and used them to enlarge David! (4:1). David wasn’t perfect, nor are we, but he was “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14, and see 15:28) and a man with a shepherd’s heart (78:70–72; 2 Sam. 24:17). God delighted in David the way parents delight in the maturing of their children in character, obedience, and service. David was faithful to the Lord (vv. 20–24; 17:3–5), so the Lord faithfully cared for David (vv. 25–29). David knew God’s law (v. 22) and obeyed it, in spite of the difficult circumstances of his exile. In the spirit of Samuel (1 Sam. 12:3) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:3), his affirmation of righteousness was an evidence of humility and honesty, not pride and deception. Note the use of the words righteousness and cleanness (vv. 20, 24), upright (blameless, vv. 23, 25), and pure (v. 26).
David had clean hands (vv. 20, 24) as well as skillful hands (v. 34; 78:72).
The way we relate to the Lord determines how the Lord relates to us (vv. 25–27). David was merciful to Saul, and God was merciful to David (Matt. 5:9). David was loyal (“blameless”), and God was faithful to him and kept His promises to bless him. David wasn’t sinless, but he was blameless in his motives. The “pure in heart” (Matt. 5:8) are those whose hearts are wholly dedicated to God. Saul had been devious in his dealings with God, David and the people, but David was honest and straightforward. It’s true that early in his exile, he lied to Ahimelech the priest and to Achish, king of Gath (1 Sam. 21), but he soon learned that faith is living without scheming. Read verse 26 in the New American Standard Bible or the New International Version to see that God meets our “perverseness and crookedness” with His own shrewdness. The word translated “astute” or “shrewd” means “to wrestle,” which reminds us of the way God dealt with Jacob (Gen. 32). God’s character and covenants never change, but His dealings with us are determined by the condition of our hearts.
God Equips When We Submit to Him (vv. 28–45)
What was God accomplishing during those difficult years of Saul’s reign? For one thing, He was disciplining His people for running ahead of Him and making Saul king (Hos. 13:10–11). In His long-suffering, He was also giving Saul opportunities to repent. At the same time, He was equipping David for his years of service. God takes time to prepare His servants: thirteen years for Joseph, forty years for Moses, and forty years for Joshua. The lessons David learned about himself and God during those years of exile helped to make him the man that he was. The images in these verses reveal God developing a great warrior, a compassionate leader, and a godly man.
The image of the lamp (v. 28) speaks of God’s grace in keeping David alive during those dangerous years (Job 18:5–6; Prov. 13:9). It also speaks of the perpetuity of his family and dynasty (132:17; 2 Sam. 21:17; 1 Kings 11:36, 15:4; 2 Kings 8:19; 2 Chron. 21:7), culminating in the coming of Jesus Christ to earth (Luke 1:26–33). Because David trusted God (v. 30), God enabled him to run, leap, fight, and defeat the enemy (vv. 29, 32–34, 37–45). He could run through a troop, scale a wall, or leap like a deer up the mountains (see Hab. 3:19). This is not a glorification of war, for God trained him to fight His battles (v. 34) and protect Israel so they could accomplish His purposes on earth. David did not invade other countries just to add territory to his kingdom. Whatever land he gained was the result of his defeating armies that first attacked Israel.
Though David was a man of war, he recognized that it was God’s gentleness that made him what he was. The word means “condescension.” God condescended to look down and call David (1 Sam. 16), bend down and mold David (v. 35), and reach down and save David (v. 16); and then He lifted him up to the throne (vv. 39–45). This reminds us of what Jesus, the Son of David, did when He “stepped down” to come to earth as a servant and die for our sins (Phil. 2:1–11; see also John 8:1–11 and 13:1–11). Because David was submitted to the Lord, God could trust Him with the authority and glory of the throne. Only those who are under authority should exercise authority.
God is Glorified When We Worship Him (vv. 46–50)
After looking back at God’s gracious ministry to him, what else could David do but praise Him? “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). David didn’t take things into his own hands but allowed the Lord to vindicate him when the time was right (1 Sam. 24:1–7; 26:1–12; Rom. 12:17–21).
Paul quoted verse 49 in Romans 15:9 and applied it to the Jews praising God among the Gentiles. In Romans 15:10–11, the Jews and Gentiles rejoice together—the result of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles—and then Romans 15:12 announces Jesus Christ reigning over both Jews and Gentiles (see Isa. 11:10).
The psalm climaxes with David exalting the Lord for His covenant to him and to his descendants (v. 50; 2 Sam. 7). Little children often use their own names when they ask for something (“Please give Tommy a cookie”), and David used his own name here, just like a little child. (See also 2 Sam. 7:20). David used the word “forever,” so he must have realized that it would be through the promised Messiah that the kingdom promises would be fulfilled. “And he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).