A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx., on May 15, 2011.
We don’t really understand what it means to have the presence of God, to have the protection of God. But in Psalm 18 we hear David as he takes great comfort in the fact that God has not abandoned him in his sorrow, God has not abandoned him in his suffering – but God is present, God is real. God is his rock, his shield.
Oddly enough, a companion psalm, almost exactly the same psalm, is found in 2 Samuel 22. At the end of the story of David, found in 1 and 2 Samuel, we read these words describing the setting of this psalm: “And David spoke the words of this song to the Lord in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.”
God had rejected Saul, the first king that Israel had ever known. In his place, Samuel, the prophet and priest, had anointed David – a shepherd boy, one of the sons of Jesse. David, the musician. David, the slayer of the giant. The logical line of succession would be for Jonathan, Saul’s son, to sit on the throne. But David and Jonathan became the very best of friends, formed a covenant together, and Jonathan became David’s defender – willing to give not only his friendship, but his seat on the throne to the one that God had chosen.
When you sit on the throne, you become nervous. Saul was always looking over his shoulder, although David never wronged him. David never tried to usurp Saul’s authority. He was letting God work it out in God’s own way and God’s own time. Nonetheless, Saul was in a state of paranoia – hurling a javelin at David and hurling a javelin at his own son.
Besides, the women were won over by David and his bloody battle skills. They had a little song they sang. “Saul (meaning the king) has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” The biblical writer tells us in 1 Samuel 18:9 that Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on. It’s the day that Saul got green eyes. It’s the day that Saul viewed David with suspicion and jealousy. “How dare they attribute to David more battle victories than they attribute to me?”
Saul hunted David down like a partridge, says the biblical text, all the way from here to there. In fact, once David was hiding up in the wilderness of Engedi – way up in the rocky hills where the goats go. Saul took his men into the hills, and they came across a cave. Saul did not know it, but David was hiding way back up in the recesses of the cave. And David’s men encouraged him to kill Saul. “Saul has come to kill you. God has delivered him into your hands. Now reach out and get revenge.”
But David would not touch God’s anointed king. He spared Saul. He carefully cut off Saul’s robe to show Saul on a later occasion that he had spared him because he was the king.
Upon escaping death by Saul – on one of these occasions of deliverance by the hand of God, on one of these occasions when his ragtag band of men was looking down at the polished armor of Saul’s army – David begins to write Psalm 18.
I. God is worthy of praise.
Look at verses1-3
I love thee, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised.
And I am saved from my enemies.
God is the rock for David, the cave in which he can take refuge.
This magnificent hymn of praise begins with the profound statement: “I love you.” This opening sets forth the intimacy that existed between David and his God. The intimacy develops as we read this Psalm, as David went through great peril and found that God was willing to go with him – even to the dark and tight corners of life.
The thesis for the entire song is there in the first verse. “O Lord, my strength.” God is David’s strength.
You are here this morning because God is worthy of praise. I hope you’ve come to worship Him. We gather together on Sundays to worship God, to focus on Him, to tell Him that He is worthy and glorious. Magnificent. Unbelievable. Powerful. Loving. Caring. He is worthy to be praised.
You may be here this morning for a myriad of different reasons, but the very best reason to be here is because you want to praise God. You want to worship Him. You want to stop your week, call time out, reorder your schedule and say, “I’m going to God’s house, to meet with God’s people, to sing He is worthy, He is wonderful.”
C. S. Lewis has aptly said, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”
God is wonderful and worthy to be praised.
II. God hears the prayers of His people.
Look at verse 4-6.
The cords of death encompassed me,
And the torrents of ungodliness terrified me.
The cords of Sheol surrounded me;
The snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.
In his psalm of thanksgiving, David is surrounded by the underworld – by death, by the fiercest of enemies. But he calls upon God for help. “In my distress I called upon the Lord…” (v. 6).
Not only did he cry to God, God heard. Look at the emphasis. “He heard my voice.” Notice, “My cry…before Him came into His ears.”
Our God is not another deaf idol carved by the hand of humanity. Rather, He hears and He responds. Psalm 10:17 says, “Lord, you have heard the desire of the humble, you will cause your ear to hear.”
God hears you. Of all the comforts you may have in your Christian life, no comfort is more powerful than knowing that when you speak to God, God hears your words. God hears your prayers.
I must admit that sometimes, in a household with so many women, so much talking, that I am able to tune out everyone in the room and live in my own world. One of my daughters in particular may be speaking to me for about three minutes, and she’ll say, “Daddy, you’re not even listening to me. You haven’t hear a word that I’ve said.”
Well, she’s right. My ears can only last so long, and when they’re fatigued and tired, they shut. I become deaf to her pleas and her cries because I’m exhausted beyond the ability to listen, to hear.
But not so with God. God, as my Father, hears me every single time I speak to Him. He’s attentive. He doesn’t sleep, nor slumber. He’s always there, always listening, always attentive, always caring about what is going on in your life and in my life.
I don’t know what you’re suffering through today. I don’t know if it’s a hardship at work. I don’t know if you’re looking for employment and things are scary right now. I don’t know if divorce is knocking at the door. I don’t know if death is down the street, about to rob you of someone you love beyond measure. But I do know, as you cry out for help, God will listen to you. His ears are open. He hears the cries of his children.
Not only is God worthy of our praise,
Not only does He hear our prayers…
III. God is powerful in response.
David is surrounded by the cords of death, by the powers of the netherworld. But he calls upon God, and God hears. But even more, God, who is so very powerful, responds in a big way.
The help of God for our individual needs is like the Amazon River flowing down to water a single daisy. God cares, and God responds.
Look at verses 7-15.
Then the earth shook and quaked:
And the foundations of the mountains were trembling
And were shaken, because He was angry.
Smoke went up out of His nostrils,
And fire from His mouth devoured;
Coals were kindled by it.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With thick darkness under His feet.
He rode upon a cherub and flew;
And He sped upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him,
Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.
From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds,
Hailstones and coals of fire.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
And the Most High uttered His voice,
Hailstones and coals of fire.
He sent out His arrows, and scattered them,
And lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them.
Then the channels of water appeared,
And the foundations of the world were laid bare
At Your rebuke, O Lord,
At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.
Here we have a description of God in all of His grandeur, all of His glory, all of His splendor. It’s a picture of God. It’s a picture of power. It’s a picture of a judge who makes right the wrong.
It’s so hard to capture God. On the Art Linkletter show, there was a small boy drawing a picture. He inquired, “What are you drawing?” The boy replied, “A picture of God.” Linkletter told the lad that no one knows what God looks like, to which the boy confidently responded, “They will when I get through.”
When David gets through with his psalm, we know what God looks like. The earth shakes and quakes, the mountains tremble because He’s angry. Smoke blasts from His nostrils. And there is fire that proceeds from His mouth, devouring. He even ignites the coals with it. He comes down in mystery and thick darkness, riding the cherub of heaven, riding the wings of the wind. He hides in darkness, a canopy all around Him so we can’t fully see Him. There are dark waters, thick clouds, hailstones and coals of fire. There is thunder, and there is lightning that He slings like arrows from His hand. All the foundation of the world is laid bare at the rebuke of God – “at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.”
In this passage, God leaves His cosmic abode, or temple, to move to the place where David, His servant, is afflicted – the one who loves Him, the one whom He loves. Upon His arrival, He thunders – a representation of a divine voice. He sends forth lightning, His weaponry. Everything in the description denotes a God of judgment.
But for God to judge evil is, at one and the same time, deliverance for it’s victim, for God’s people – for David.
The smoke reminds us of Isaiah 6:4 which dramatizes the reaction of a holy God to sin. The flaring nostrils are the organ of anger, snorting as an angry beast snorts. The devouring fire comes from Deuteronomy 4:24, where it is said that we hear the voice of God in the midst of His fire.
God has heard the cry of David, and God responds.
God is big and magnificent and powerful.
Wilbur Reese writes with biting sarcasm:
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of Him to really make any changes in my life.
I want ecstacy, not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want about a pound of the eternal in a paper sack.
I’d like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
How much of God do you want?
We cannot manipulate God. We cannot diminish God’s glory. We cannot control His power. God is God. And God is big.
IV. God delivers.
Look at verses 16-19.
He sent from on high, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
But the Lord was my stay.
He brought me forth also into a broad place;
He rescued me, because He delighted in me.
Given the enormity of God, it is surprising to find God responding to an individual need. But He does. He does for David, and He does for you.
We have difficulty, sickness, financial stress, hardship in every form and shape. But we know that God is with us and that ultimately, although we may despair – as the Psalmist often does – in waiting, weary from the waiting, God will deliver us in this life and in the life to come.
Look at verse 36. God delivers. “You enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped.”
David asks the question, “Who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? The God who girds me with strength and makes my way blameless?” (vv. 31-32).
I don’t know your pain this morning. I don’t know your hardship. I don’t know what weighs heavy on your soul. But God does.
And God this morning – even in the midst of your hardship and even in the midst of your difficulty – God is worthy of praise.
And God hears you when we come together and cry out as His people – some of you, even now, whispering a word of prayer: “O God, help me. God, deliver me. God, be my rock and my fortress as you were for David.
And God responds. God delivers. Sometimes, we too, like David, must wait on God. And maybe right now you’re in that time of waiting – waiting upon the Lord. But know there is no other to turn to, there is no place else to go – for who is God, but the Lord? There is none.
O God, it’s amazing that you take interest in our lives. That when we are surrounded by our enemies, as David was, you care for us. That you, too, place us in the cleft of the rock. That we, too, can evoke your fury and your wrath and your judgment and your deliverance. O God, give us patience as we call out to you – the only God who hears, cares, and delivers.