Tonight marks the end of the Olympics. Certainly in terms of athletic achievement it has been a successful games - the most successful for a hundred years. How do we go about assessing such success? Where does it come from, can we repeat it?
The Times this weekend says that each gold medal cost us £5.1 million pounds. Mike Brailsford, director of Britain's cycling team says that success is simply the aggregation of marginal gains; thousand of tiny improvements that add up to victory. Many athletes say that their medals are not their own but belong to the team around them, their coaches, psychologists, nutritionists and the families who have sacrificed time and money to support them.
Our Psalm this evening, Psalm 18 is a Psalm reviewing success. At the end of 2 Samuel we read that David has finally escaped from Saul, defeated his enemies and is about to be installed as king ofIsrael,it's there in chapter 22 that this Psalm is first recorded. But like those athletes David understands that his victory is not his own but God's, hence the title to the Psalm: 'when the LORD delivered him from the hands of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul'.
In this Psalm we see David praising God as his refuge, as his redeemer and his strength as we do so we'll see how David's listening, saving and enabling God is the God who rescues and redeems us to.
1. The LORD is my refuge, v1-6
God is our one sure and safe refuge who hears us in our distress.
David declares his love for God who is his fortress, his shield, his stronghold the person in whom he takes refuge. God's presence is the safe place where David runs to in times of distress. David's words sound like they are recalling the times he spent hiding in caves to escape from King Saul's attempts on his life. But the true hiding place isn't the crags and caves of the desert, it's God himself, the rock who is the stronghold, the concrete lined nuclear bomb shelter that hems David and us in.
When David's enemies encircle him like lions hungry for prey as Psalm 17 describes them, when all else have deserted him, God remains. He is David's strength, the one constant, faithful presence that David can rely on to always hear him. Look at v3-6:
3 I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,and I have been saved from my enemies. 4 The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. 5 The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. 6 In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.
David is in deep distress, he fears that the cords of death will soon entangle him, that destruction will soon overwhelm him completely. He's like a struggling swimmer knocked breathless by the waves unable to catch a breath before the next one threatens to swallow him. So David in his distress, cries out to the God and God hears him; 'from his temple he heard my voice' David says, 'my cry came before him', but not just before him it came 'into his ears'.
I wonder who the person is who you run to when things fall apart. Perhaps it's a parent, your spouse or a trusted friend who's on speed dial, who will open the door no matter what time of night. Perhaps that person is difficult to imagine for you.
Either way David is at pains to make it clear that God is a God who hears the cries of his people. God hears our groaning, he hears our distress, he hears our bitter pain and he doesn't listen dispassionately, he listens with concern. Exodus 2.23ff tells us that when the Israelites groaned in their slavery under the Egyptians and cried out to God he heard their groaning and was concerned about them. God hears our cries in fact he hears Christians even when we cannot find the words to cry out, his spirit which searches our hearts goes to God on our behalf with groans that words cannot express. No matter how good our support network is no one else can offer that.
These are wonderful truths for us. As Dan said last week when we suffer, when we are in pain often what we most want is someone to be with us, to listen to us. David knows that we cannot flee from God's presence but we can flee to it, we can cry out to him our rock, our fortress and take refuge in him. We can cry out and know that God listens to our cries, that he understands even the emotions that we cannot express and that he is concerned for us.
David knew real pain and suffering, trial and death confronted him often - what is his comfort? God's presence, the sure knowledge that God knew his situation.
- We are never alone, never abandoned by God even when we may be abandoned by others.
- So call out to him especially when all you feel like you can manage is a groan.
- Recall God's promises to hear his people eg Exodus 2.23
But God is more than an inactive shelter he is no mere cave but one who comes to our defense, who fights on our behalf and who delights to rescue us. That's what we see in our second point; 'The LORD is my Redeemer'.
2. The LORD is my Redeemer, v7-28
Our mighty God uses his great power to act in history to rescue his people whom he delights in.
In verses 7 - 15 there is some incredible imagery as David recalls God acting to save him: We see that the foundations of the mountains trembling before him. The heavens are parted, dark clouds envelop God as he thunders from heaven his voice resounding. His enemies are scattered before him, lightening bolts rout them as the very foundations of the earth are laid bare.
The problem is this doesn't sound much like what happened to David. If you read the latter part of 2 Samuel where we first see this psalm recorded you'll find remarkable military success but not much talk of the heavens being opened or God's thunderous voice scattering his enemies. So is David just using a little poetic license here? Well the psalms are songs and as such do use poetry and symbolism but there's something else happening here. David isn't romanticising the past or trying to embellish the military successes God gave him, impressive though they were. Rather, David is deliberately invoking imagery from other times when God has intervened on behalf of his people.
David's imagery takes us back toMount Sinai, to God's terrifying voice which the people begged not to hear for fear of them being destroyed by the consuming fire of God's holiness. The God who heard the Israelites groans under the Egyptians who raised up Moses as their deliverer and led them out through theRed Seaand across the desert to Sinai, he is David's God. That same God has now delivered David from all his enemies.
It's like David is projecting God's past record and is overlaying it on to his own life, his own experience. As David looks back on the defeat of his enemies he doesn't just see the superior tactics of his brave fighting men he sees the deeper, truer reality behind that; God's powerful hand at work to save him, look at v16 for example:
16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. 18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. 19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
Just like God rescuedIsraelbringing them through theRed Seaand out into a land of their own so God now rescues David from his pursuing enemies. So not only is God a God whose presence we can flee to, one who can cry out to in distress and know that he listens compassionately to us. He is also the God of consuming fire at Sinai, the God of the Exodus who exposes the valleys of the seas. God is a God who acts powerfully in the world, one who orchestrates history around him. It's this God who v16 tells us reaches down to David in his distress and drags him out of deep waters.
David ran to the God of the Exodus, that first redemption of his people from slavery. His confidence resting on the fact that God was still that God who takes pleasure in calling out, in delivering a people who will know and love and worship him. God is doing the same thing now for David, so in v19 David talks about God delighting in him and bringing him out into a spacious place as if he were an Israelite standing on the far side of the red sea. It's this same God who delights to save us, who acts powerfully in the world on our behalf.
Our God is a redeeming God whose passionate mission is to save a people for himself. The God who Exodus and Sinai, the God who rescued David and made him king is our God and he delights to rescue us to.
But why does God delight in David? Why does he act in history so powerfully to save him? David answers that question in verses 20-24:
20 The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord;
I am not guilty of turning from my God.
22 All his laws are before me;
I have not turned away from his decrees.
23 I have been blameless before him
and have kept myself from sin.
24 The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
David says that God has dealt with him according to his righteousness, according to his record of following God's ways. David says that he is blameless before him. How can this be? David followed God and did many wonderful things but he certainly wasn't sinless.
So what is David saying here? I think that David is saying that he is a true follower of God that he follows in his ways. When he does sin he repents and is forgiven so that in God's sight his hands are clean, he is viewed as blameless. It's that forgiveness that David will later celebrate in another Psalm 103:
8 the Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbour his anger for ever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
David has a righteousness that he doesn't deserve, the innocence that comes from being forgiven. It's on this basis that God acts on David's behalf, on the basis of grace. David can be supremely confident, not because he is sinless, but because his sin has been forgiven so that he appears clean, innocent in God's sight.
God is a saving God; he rescues his people out ofEgyptand from their sin. The God that David flees to is not only a shelter, a refuge he is our Redeemer. God acts powerfully on our behalf, why? Not because we deserve it but because God is gracious and compassionate forgiving us our sin. Because of this we can be confident that God will act for our good because it doesn't depend on our performance but on his grace.
But how do we know this? How do we know this is really true when it feels like there is nothing left to hang on. David looked back and understood that the God who had promised to establish him as king was the same God who had rescuedIsraelout ofEgypt- he could be trusted to keep those promises. We however have something even more astounding than the Exodus to put our hope in. Look how Paul argued in our reading from Romans 8. 28-35 p798:
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Our God has given us everything in his son; Jesus. In hindsight David sees ever more clearly the God of the Exodus at work in his life, rescuing him as he rescuedIsraelpreviously. We have the cross that ultimate and final redemption as our confidence. We project the cross onto our experience. We overlay God literally 'coming down', in the person of Jesus, to pull us out of the deep waters of our sin. How will a God who has given us what he treasured most, the most valuable thing in the universe; his son, whilst we hated him. He will hear us in our distress, how will he not provide us with refuge, with a sure hope.
So we need to do two things:
a) Remember the God of the Bible is our God.
God is a God who saves his people, time and time again, over and over. The God of Abraham, of Jacob, of Moses he is at work in us now. The personal reality for Christians is that God has saved us, that he has given his own precious son for us, for you. He is for us! Who can be against us?
We should read the Old Testament. That's number one, many Christians don't. We should read the Old Testament as part of our history, this is our God the holy God of Sinai, the mighty God of the exodus.
b) Know that God treats us according to Christ's righteousness
God saves sinners! God works for our good not because of our record, because of our character but because of Christ's. Therefore we can be confident of our position before God, he has loved us when we hated him how much more will he look after us now that he has called us his children? He will treat us according to our righteousness, the good news is that that is now the righteousness of Christ.
In this psalm David looks back and praises God for saving him from physical death and for establishing him as king ofIsrael. We look back to see that God has freed us from eternal death he has rescued us out of darkness and placed us in the eternal kingdom of the son whom he loves. This God has delighted to save us in Christ and so we can with full confidence trust him with all things.
As David continues to look back he sees God not only preventing disaster but strengthen him for victory. That's our third point; 'The LORD is my strength'.
3. The LORD is my strength, v29-50
God not only hears us but partners with us in battle to bring glory to his name. As David continues this personal retrospective he once again praises God; his refuge, shield and rock:
30 As for God, his way is perfect:
the Lord's word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
David knows that it is God's way not his that is perfect. God's word not David's is without flaw. Who is like him asks David? Who else holds us with a grasp that will not slip, who else always proves faithful? Who else will always hear our cries. Who else acts in power, stepping into history to save his people. There is no God like this, there is no other God at all in fact.
There's an increased confidence to David's rejoicing now, it is God he says who...
... arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You make your saving help my shield,
and your right hand sustains me;
your help has made me great.
David's military abilities are not his own, they are gifts from the Rock and now David wants to acknowledge and praise God for these gifts. David might have held the sword but it was God who trained those hands for battle. The difference is striking when God compares his experience to that of his enemies in v41:
41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them –
to the Lord, but he did not answer.
42 I beat them as fine as windblown dust;
I trampled them[f] like mud in the streets.
43 You have delivered me from the attacks of the people;
you have made me the head of nations.
People I did not know now serve me,
44 foreigners cower before me;
as soon as they hear of me, they obey me.
45 They all lose heart;
they come trembling from their strongholds.
David's enemies have no rock, they call and no-one answers in the end they all lose heart and come trembling from their strongholds. There is only one sure foundation, one rock. There is one true and living God who acts in history to save and deliver his people. He is the mighty God of Sinai; a holy consuming fire. He is the redeeming God of the exodus who reaches down to take hold of his beloved people, delighting over them. He is the God who strengthens with all power according to his glorious power those who trust in him and trains their hands for battle.
46 The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Saviour!
47 He is the God who avenges me,
who subdues nations under me,
48 who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from a violent man you rescued me.
49 Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.
50 He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing love to his anointed,
to David and to his descendants for ever.
The nations will praise God the Rock exclaims David. Paul will later quote these lines as predicting our praises, the praises of the Gentiles who will see this faithful, hearing, almighty, redeemer God act most supremely in his son, Jesus. God will finish what he has started he will redeems us, we will one day be like him. God will draw a people out of every nation to praise him.
So as well as crying out to God in our distress, as well as delighting that he acts to save us we should live with confidence. God is drawing all things together under Christ, he is redeeming his creation and we are part of that. God is at work amongst us, in his church; his beautifully dresses bride and nothing will prevail against it.
The LORD lives! He is not far off, he is near and shows unfailing love to those who trust in his perfect ways. Therefore he will be exalted God the Saviour, God the Rock, God our Redeemer.