Sunday School Lesson for August 18, 2002
Background Passage: 2 Samuel 21:1-23:39
Introduction: Words of Praise (22:1-4)
In this song of praise to Yahweh, one that very closely parallels Psalm 18, David pauses to reflect upon the goodness and faithfulness of God who has graciously “delivered him from the hand of all of his enemies” (v.1). The introductory words of this psalm suggest that it was composed several years after David had been placed in power as king over Israel and serve to set forth the central theme of divine deliverance which dominates the king’s thoughts.
Verses 2 and 3 contain an interesting list of eight divine titles or epithets, each of which brings to mind a glorious characteristic or attribute of the God whom David so faithfully served. Each of the eight descriptions are linked with the personal pronoun “my,” indicating the deeply personal nature of David’s God and the intimate relationship he knew with Him. For David, God was “my rock,” “my fortress,” “my deliverer,” “my shield,” the “horn of my salvation,” “my stronghold,” “my refuge,” and “my savior.”
Verse 4 again repeats the central and controlling emphasis in the psalm. That is, God responds to him personally and powerfully with saving power—“I am saved from my enemies”—as he cries out to the Lord “who is worthy of praise.” This was David’s “habitual exercise,” and “a practice he shares with saints of all times and places (cf. Job 27:10; Ps. 50:15; Isa. 55;6; Lam. 3:57; Rom. 10:12; 1 Pet. 1:17) [Youngblood, 1067].
Specific Reasons for Praise and Thanksgiving (22:5-46)
One: The Reality of Salvation (22:5-20)
David depicts the peril he faced from his enemies in terms of a variety of graphic images, several of them related to the sea. This reflects the fact that the two great bodies of water they were most familiar with, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, “were to them mysterious and foreboding and deadly regions of their world” which they only occasionally attempted to explore [Bergen, 453]. Note that David speaks of the “waves of death” and “torrents of destruction” which “overwhelmed” him at times (v.5). In addition, verse 6 describes his situation as being “confronted” by “cords of the grave” and “snares of death” which he faced repeatedly.
With such peril and “distress” constantly surrounding him, the king confidently called out to Yahweh in the midst of his affliction (v. 7). This reveals “the secret that enabled him to cope with the stresses threatening to overwhelm him” [Bergen, 454]. Though the Lord was in His very “temple”—a reference to Yahweh’s heavenly abode—He still “heard” the frail “voice” of His desperate child crying out from within the torrent—“my cry came to his ears.”
Verses 8-16 describe in vivid detail the amazing response of Yahweh to this prayer of desperation. Even more incredible is the fact that such an awe-inspiring display of theophanic glory and divine sovereignty over nature comes in response to “the cry of one person” [Baldwin]. Note how the psalmist depicts God’s power, omnipotence, and sovereignty over all natural phenomena:
In verses 17-20 David describes the direct response of the Lord to his situation. Again, carefully observe the dramatic use of the personal pronouns when David speaks of Yahweh’s actions:
By employing such terminology in relating the manner in which Yahweh personally and powerfully delivered him—“he drew me out”—David reveals that he was spared from death in the same way that other great men of faith were saved, most notably Moses himself (Exodus 2:10).
Two: The Basis of Salvation (22:21-30)
Why did Yahweh act so powerfully on David’s behalf? What was the basis of the Lord’s saving activity? Dale Davis sets up this section by asking if David is
dragging in a Santa Claus theology of works righteousness? Does he claim too much for himself? Has he become blind to his sinfulness? Or do these words reflect a self-righteous attitude and a weakening of the sense of sin? These verses baffle thoughtful believers: how can David who had Uriah’s blood on his hands and Uriah’s wife in his bed (2 Sam. 11) even dream of saying anything like verses 21-25? .
This passage provides the direct answer to such questions and paints an Old Testament portrait of the New Testament concept of justification by faith alone.
Verse 21 supplies the initial statement regarding David’s commitment and saving relationship to Yahweh. He claims that the Lord has “dealt with” him on the basis of “my righteousness” and has “rewarded” him according to the “cleanness of my hands.” Yet, how are we to reconcile these claims with the facts known about David’s sin against the Lord? Is David claiming that his righteousness has earned him favor before God? Perhaps the best way to deal with these questions is to understand David’s words from two separate vantage points:
In Verse 25, David speaks of the blessings of obedience—“the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness.” Again, this in no way suggests that David merited salvation. Rather, it emphasizes that a “God-centered faith was the wellspring of David’s scrupulous attention to the law and personal conduct. David received his reward from God because he had a faith-based righteousness that produced actions consistent with it” [Bergen, 457]. We should also understand that there are abundant blessings associated with obedience such as peace, a sense of divine approval and spiritual well being, a special awareness of God’s presence and power, and many others which David knew and experienced as he closely conformed his life to Yahweh’s will.
Three: The Results of Salvation (22:31-46)
First, in verses 31-37, we find what some might call David’s profession of faith. Here he extols the glorious character of the God he worships and serves. There is no God like Him who is worthy of such single-minded devotion. The two questions posed by the psalmist in verse 32—“who is God beside the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?—each clearly anticipate the resounding answer, “no one.” Thus, Yahweh was the only authentic source of saving power for David. “Every other external hope was a sham; only ‘our God’—the God of Israel—was ‘the Rock’ capable of shielding David from the terrors and troubles of life” [Bergen, 459]. Verse 31 provides the promise that others, too, may confidently rest their faith in David’s God. Since His Word and promises are “flawless,” He is “a shield for all who take refuge in him.”
In verses 38-46 David recalls the utter defeat of his enemies which he came to experience as empowered by the Lord. Note the vivid descriptions of his victory:
Finally, David makes it abundantly clear that such a comprehensive deliverance was due to the power of Yahweh and “not any talent or ability naturally present within David himself” [Bergen, 461]. His words are emphatic—“You have delivered me . . . you have preserved me” (v. 44). That is, the One who was truly responsible for making his enemies “all lose heart” and “come trembling from their strongholds” was the God whom David loved and served.
Conclusion: A Final Word of Praise (22:47-51)
In light of the mighty saving acts of Yahweh, there is only one sufficient conclusion—“The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!” (v. 47). This final declaration “throbs with conviction based on all that David has been relating in his poem” [Baldwin, 290]. David has witnessed the irrefutable evidence that Yahweh is Lord and King. Thus, He is duly to be praised, not only by those in Israel, but “among the nations” who will also hear of His mighty deeds (v. 50). David had no way of anticipating that “the time would come when the nations would translate his words into every language of the world, and use his poems to worship the same living Lord” [Baldwin, 290].
Verse 51 appropriately concludes this amazing and beautiful psalm of salvation by reminding the reader once again of the “unfailing kindness,” or covenant love of Yahweh. This steadfast love serves as the absolute guarantee that “the ‘kindness’ here affirmed, [and] the unfailing ‘love’ that is freely given and knows no bounds, would continue to bring untold blessings to the Davidic line for all future generations” [Youngblood, 1077].
One: Thanksgiving and worship—Note the close connection between David’s experience of victory and his engagement in worship and thanksgiving. Why is it important to worship and praise God in the spirit of gratitude after such successes in life? What error do we often make after experiencing God’s power at work in our lives? Hint: The book of Judges is devoted to this problem.
Two: The persistent grace and mercy of God—In our study of 2 Samuel we have focused upon the massive failures of king David and the horrific consequences of his sinful choices. Yet, despite it all, God still blessed Him abundantly. Why? Is rebellion against God not as severe a sin as we might think? Is God’s holiness tainted when He blesses sinners? Does this encourage people to sin in order that they might experience God’s mercy? Hint: Look carefully at Paul’s words in Romans 5:20-6:4.
Three: A portrait of Christ in the life of David—How does king David point us forward to the work of Christ? Where in this psalm do we find images of His saving work on our behalf?
Four: The universality of God’s saving purposes—Here in this passage, and throughout the Old Testament, we see that the blessings promised Israel were also for the nations as well. Clearly, there is no elitism with God. How does this fact challenge and convict us? How is the Davidic Covenant ultimately fulfilled?