2 Samuel 22:31-51 - David's Psalm Of Thanksgiving.
The facts are:
1 . David asserts the exclusive perfection of God.
2 . He states that his strength and power are from God, and that God teaches him to move and act with advantage in times of war and difficulty.
3 . He refers to the help received through the graciousness of God, and the fact that thereby he was able to subdue all his enemies.
4 . He alludes to the subjugation of the people to himself as the consequence of Divine help, and looks on to further triumphs over strangers.
5 . He recounts the fact of his deliverance, and makes the final reference to them a flesh reason for thanksgiving.
Knowledge of God founded on experience.
From 2 Samuel 22:31 to 37 David seems to state some of the results arising out of his experience of God's dealing with him during the earlier portion of his life. He can now say with emphasis what at one time could only be said as a matter of general profession on the part of a pious Hebrew; and there is in 2 Samuel 22:31 an implied contrast with certain apprehensions entertained during those seasons of isolation and distress, when no one cared for his soul, and the course of providence seemed to be all against him. And in this respect others are like him; the more profound their personal experience in life, the more clear and sure are their conceptions of the ineffable perfections of God.
I. A KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IS MORE A QUESTION OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCE THAN OF SPECULATION . Among the Hebrews there were grand traditional beliefs and conceptions which placed their pure monotheism far above the theistic faiths of other nations, and David in early years inherited these, and could give beautiful expression to them. But the traditional and even reasoned views which he had acquired were not his greatest treasure. A long life of communion, service, conflict, and patient trust had caused him to see that experience was the most important element in this matter of knowledge of God. No doubt it is possible to reason up to God. The logical outcome of the principle of causation is God, and the moral nature of man is only intelligible on the hypothesis of a supreme personal Ruler. It is not true that speculative philosophy leads away from God. All its lines, when straightly pursued, converge on him. The question is one of personal relations, and it is not within the competence of a speculative inquirer to settle this great question regardless of the deep, ineradicable, and most sacred experience of which human nature is capable.
II. AS A MATTER OF FACT , EXPERIENCE GIVES A CLEARER , FULLER , AND MORE ASSURED KNOWLEDGE THAN ANY OTHER MEANS . Experience is of first importance in matters pertaining to spiritual things. We know the reality of unseen beings existing beneath the fleshly covering of the body more truly by the mysterious contact of our self with an invisible counterpart, than by any physiological or psychological arguments. There is an inexpressible knowledge in our conscious intuitions of other minds being in communion with our own, which is the more clear, sure, and satisfying, in that it is inexpressible in words. Likewise the personal experience of holy men brings them so near to the living God, so directly in contact with his Spirit, and gives them such clear and irresistible convictions of his Being and his glorious character, that to such men the light thrown on the question of the Divine existence and character by processes of reasoning seems very cold and dim. They can dispense with it for themselves. Like the Apostle John, they have tasted and handled and felt the Divine reality ( 1 John 1:1-3 ).
III. THE CLEARER AND MORE SURE KNOWLEDGE RELATES ESPECIALLY TO HIS EXCLUSIVE PERFECTIONS . After his deep and often trying experience, David could speak most confidently of God as "perfect" in all things. He alone was worthy of the name God. The points referred to are:
1 . His methods.
2 . His Word.
3 . His care.
His methods of discipline, of guidance, of instruction, and of working out purposes seemed strange and obscure while David was in trial, but in the end he saw that all was perfect. So is it ever, The more we experience of his "ways," the more do we learn their wisdom, goodness, and justice. His "Word," considered as promise, covenant, revelation, or manifestation in Christ, requires personal experience to enable us to see how perfect it is. How hearty an "Amen" can multitudes give to this statement! His care is discovered by our experience through scenes of danger and peril to be indeed sufficient, suited to every emergency, and most gentle and considerate. As our "Buckler," "Shield," and "Rock," we know him more truly, as life advances and the heart becomes charged with unutterable experiences, to be perfect. How vain are all the negations and disputations of restless speculators to the soul rich in such experience!
IV. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD GAINED BY EXPERIENCE ISSUES IN DEVELOPMENT OF CHARACTER AND FITNESS FOR HIGHEST FORM OF WORK . The holy man enriched by such knowledge is not a mere knowing creature; he becomes a man of higher character and more extended activity. His way is made perfect; his feet are those of the hind; he rises to the best positions in the spiritual sphere; his hands are fit for warfare; he becomes calm and strong in the guarantee of a perpetual shield; and distinction in the highest society and fitness for the holiest service are the outcome of God's gracious dealings. As David, after all his strange experience of God's power and gentleness, was more strong in faith, more skilful in administration, more apt at spiritual warfare, and more conformed to the Divine will; so all who follow on to know the Lord more perfectly, and enter more deeply into the secret of the Lord, rise in spiritual character, and become more fit instruments for doing the purest form of work in the world.
The gentleness of God.
This beautiful saying of David's, in verse 36, is a wonderful illustration of the tenderness of his own heart, and of the deep and thoroughly evangelical thoughts he entertained of the character of God. There is much in this song to remind us of terrible power (verses 7-18); but it was to David the power and terribleness of One who pities the poor and needy, and, out of his deep compassion, throws the shield of his almightiness over them. In one respect this display of power is an expression of gentleness; it is tender care and loving kindness for the needy in their defensive aspect. It was gentleness that took David from the sheepcote to make him King of Israel; that succoured and consoled him when exiled in lonely mountains and heathen lands; that spared his soul and healed his wounds when he fell into his dreadful sin; that upheld his broken spirit when the crushing blow of rebellion came as chastisement for sin; that gradually fashioned his character in spite of adverse influences of the age, and made him a blessing to Israel; and that so toned his life that now in old age, instead of being a proud monarch boasting of his strength, he is constrained to ascribe all the glory of his life to God. It is the gentleness of God that elevates and ennobles all his people.
I. THIS QUALITY IS MOST CHARACTERISTIC OF GOD IN HIS DEALINGS WITH US . To it—called in the New Testament, love—we owe our redemption through Christ. The revelation of "righteousness," of which the Apostle Paul speaks ( Romans 1:17 ), is made because of the deep love of God, his tender pity for his erring children. Our Saviour, who is the express Image of his Person, was, during his earthly course, the embodiment of all that is sweet, tender, pitiful, gentle. The bruised reed, the smoking flax, knew his gentleness. Weeping widows, fallen women, outcast lepers, despised sinners, little children, a sorrowing Mary at the cross, were only a few instances in which the infinite tenderness of his nature went forth in words and deeds of blessing. The spirit of his gospel is that of tender compassion for all men. In our personal experience the same spirit is revealed. He found us bruised, defiled, without hope; and he tenderly bound up our wounds, took away our guilt, and gave us power to become his sons. In our occasional lapses, how tender, how patient, and pitiful! When adversity has come, home laid desolate, or health taken away, how gently his hand has held us up and assuaged our grief! And when by the open grave, and broken down with sorrow, his all-sufficing gentleness has come and turned our sorrow into joy. O blessed gentleness! How dear and precious is our God to our often weary and sinful hearts!
II. THE INFLUENCE OF GOD 'S GENTLENESS ON US IS TO ELEVATE OUR LIFE . It made David "great." That was its object, and he, appreciating its blessedness, found that it did secure its object. A knowledge of this as the distinguishing quality in God's dealings with men, tends in itself to raise our conceptions of God, and of the order of his government. The end for which his gentleness found expression in the work of Christ is that we may be raised from our low estate, and be heirs of his own glory. When we open our hearts to his gentle Spirit, we, like the prodigal, rise from our degradation and become reinstated as beloved and honoured children. In seasons of calamity it gives us strength to endure and to wait, and a deep consciousness of its reality often throws over the character a more than earthly beauty; and when his love has done all its blessed work in us, we shall rise to a far more glorious position than that occupied by David when, as king, he reached the highest honour attainable among men ( John 17:24 ).
III. THE REMEMBRANCE OF HIS GENTLENESS IN THE PAST IS AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO US FOR THE FUTURE . David was evidently able to look on to the future with perfect composure. The love of the past was pledge for the future. Our review of God's gracious dealings with us will cause us to sing of his loving kindness, and to fear no evil. Having given us his beloved Son, we are sure he will give us all things.
From verse 38 to verse 44 David takes a general survey of his life's conflicts, and is able to say at the close that his triumph over enemies is complete. The language is strong, and to modern ears fierce and vindictive; but we have to consider the position which he believed himself to hold under God, and which he believed to be imperilled by his adversaries. He was, and knew it well, the anointed of the Lord, set over the people as the representative of God, and for the distinct purpose of preparing the way for the realization of those vast promises of good to the world made to Abraham, and devoutly cherished by every enlightened Hebrew. Consequently, the personal element in his case largely disappeared. The attacks on him were attacks on God's government, an effort to frustrate God's purposes; and, believing those purposes to be the wisest and best, he regarded the attempt to put them aside as most wicked; indeed, as the crime of high treason against the Eternal King. That men who thus oppose the Lord's anointed, and are instrumental in committing so great a sin or doing so serious a mischief in the world, deserved the judgment which God allowed to come is obvious, or he would not have allowed it; and, admitting this, there is no obvious sin in David expressing in figurative terms his acquiescence and even satisfaction in that judgment. There is no sin in a man's spiritual vision being so high and wide that he sees justice, and is glad that justice is done. It is only when we introduce the more personal element, and judge by it alone, that David's words are felt to be improper. His life's warfare suggests ours, and that being led on by the Captain of our salvation.
I. THERE ARE STRONG AND BITTER FOES AROUND US . Cruel men under Saul's leading, Amalekites, Philistines, and rebels within the kingdom, sought the ruin of David, both personally and in his capacity as anointed king. No words can set forth adequately the number, strength, activity, and combinations of the spiritual foes that practically seek our spiritual life, and also oppose the claims and prerogatives of Christ. Every Christian life is a spiritual reproduction of David's temporal life; and in the antagonism of our own Christian experience we have a miniature view of the great conflict going on between the King in Zion and the principalities and powers of darkness and the countless forces that lie concealed in the depths of human depravity.
II. THE CONFLICT IS PROTRACTED AND CHARACTERIZED BY VICISSITUDES . From the day that Saul entertained a wicked jealousy of his powers ( 1 Samuel 18:8 ) till the revolt of Sheba, David had to be on his guard, and in some form or other defend his person and his right to the kingdom. Now he is in deepest distress, and now rescued by the interposition of God. Sorrow and joy were his portion. The lesson for us is obvious. Our warfare is lifelong. As long as there is lurking evil within the domain of our nature, as long as strong and subtle temptations come upon us, and the great enemy seeketh our life, so long we must stand in the whole armour of God, and watch and strive ( Ephesians 6:10-17 ). And, also, we have our seasons of anguish and desolation, our faintings and fears, our falls and wounds, as well as our songs of triumph and joy. The Apostle Paul wrote at the close of his toils and conflicts as one who had suffered much and accomplished much. What is true of us personally is true in a way of the great Church militant; there are, as history reveals, times of sore defeat and sorrow and apparent abandonment, and times again of magnificent triumphs.
III. THERE IS , THROUGH THE CONFLICT , ABIDING TRUST IN GOD AND USE OF GIFTS . The language in which David describes the issue of his conflicts reveals that all through he cherished unceasing faith in God, and used well the fingers to fight which Providence had trained. In darkest seasons his hope was in God. Not armies, but God, formed his Refuge, Strength, and Defence (verses 40, 41). Saving the great lapse, when for a time the soul was estranged from its Source of blessing, there was a calm and unshaken confidence that the great purpose for which he was called to the throne would be realized, and this rendered moral support to all material means employed for subduing foes. It is the characteristic of our warfare that it is the "good fight of faith." From first to last, trust in the presence, help, and succour of God enters into the exercise of all watchfulness, prayerfulness, and resolute endeavours to subdue everything to Christ. Success in Christian warfare springs from a subtle blending of the most absolute faith in the almighty grace of God with the most energetic use of knowledge and resolve. By this combination also, the Church, in its corporate action, seeks to banish spiritual foes from the kingdom, and to extend Christ's supremacy over all people and lands.
IV. CERTAIN AND COMPLETE VICTORY IS THE ISSUE . If we Compare David when an outcast among the eaves of the mountains, or a wanderer among an alien people, dependent on heathen hospitality for his sustenance and protection ( 1 Samuel 27:1-7 ), with David at the close of his reign, dwelling in regal splendour, and in peace from all his foes, we can see how complete his triumph, and how tree in effect is the bold language of this song. Helpless, unbefriended by the Judge of all the earth, his oppressors are as the beaten dust and trampled mire. Aliens and the rebellious among his own people (verses 41-44) alike are brought low, and all their pride and strength has vanished. It is only when we come to the end of our Christian career that we can say this of all our foes; but it can even now be said of many in the past. The strongest language of David will be inadequate to express the completeness of the victory we shall at last obtain over all spiritual foes. As Israel saw no living Egyptian as they stood on the shore of the Red Sea, and as the multitude in Revelation 15:2-4 looked over the calm glassy scene of a former arena of conflict and peril, so we each shall, through Christ, be able to survey the past and see our enemies no more. More than conquerors, we shall sing the song of triumph. Sin and temptation, the horrible dangers, the slippery places, the roaring torrents, the deep waters, will have been overcome, and our sanctified nature will constitute a domain in which the voice of tumult is no more heard. Our personal triumph will be analogous to the triumph of Christ over all the evil forces that once opposed his blessed reign.
The glory of the accomplishment of life's purpose due to God.
In the section from verse 45 to verse 51 David looks on to what God will yet do for him; he reflects on what is now his happy position, and on the connection of this with the great deliverances of the past; and, thus taking a threefold view of his life, he ascribes all the glory of real and possible achievements unto God (verse 50). His own people and the heathen would regard him as a great king, and ascribe his wonderful successes to his superior prowess in war, and skill in administration. Not so the man of God. To his God he ascribes all the glory. Taking the particulars of David's life as means of illustration, we also may see that the accomplishment of our life's highest purpose is no occasion of praise to ourselves, but solely of glory to God.
I. GOD HAS CHOSEN US . David was called to leave the sheepfold, and raised by the distinct will of God to be what he subsequently came to be. Never does he forget this. It was all of free sovereign grace. No conquests over Philistines, no succession to Saul, no subjugation of people under him, no lofty piety for the enrichment of the world by its poetic utterances, would have had place but for the Divine choice. It is so of all men after God's own heart. He hath begotten them. He hath made them kings and priests unto himself. "We love him, because he first loved us." Whatever conquests we achieve in the spiritual life are an outcome of our having that life which, as clearly taught in the New Testament, is not of man, but of God ( John 3:5-8 ).
II. IN OURSELVES WE ARE UNWORTHY OF ANY BLESSING . David knew and felt that there was no worthiness in him that he should be called to be king. Whatever moral and mental fitness there may have been in him as compared with others, it was all o! God, and constituted no more merit than the sweetness of the rose gives merit to the rose. And during his career he fell again and again, so that his spiritual condition was, so far as it depended on his watchfulness and care, not so perfect as it should have been. It was God's wonderful "gentleness" (verse 36), and not his superior spiritual qualities or natural force of character, that had made him what he was. The experience of good men is the same in all ages. The ancient patriarch ( Genesis 18:27 ), the evangelical prophet ( Isaiah 6:5 ), and the Christian apostle ( Romans 15:10 ), are one with the "sweet psalmist of Israel" in confessing entire unworthiness of the least of God's mercies. Self-renunciation before God is essential to true godliness. All the honour and glory are due to him.
III. GOD PROVIDES THE MEANS BY WHICH OUR LIFE 'S PURPOSE IS WROUGHT OUT . The natural gifts that distinguished David, and the wisdom to use them, and the disposition to use them for the right ends, were provided for him. The mountain fastnesses in which he found a shield from the oppressor, belonged to him who claims the "strength of the hills." The repressive influences brought to bear on the rebellious factions, and the concurrent events which issued in their death or depression, were ordered by a higher wisdom. The gift or non-withdrawal of the Holy Spirit on the occasion of the dreadful fall ( Psalms 51:10 , Psalms 51:11 ) was all of pure mercy. And thus it was through God alone that the tempted, tried, sorrowing king was enabled to pursue his course. In his case we have in miniature an illustration of the great provision which God makes for us. We are stewards only of gifts of God. The life and death of his beloved Son is the great Gift by which all else is guaranteed. He directs us to the Rock of Ages. His Spirit worketh within us to will and to do. The faith by which we cling to him in the dark and cloudy day is his own gift ( Ephesians 2:8 ). If we conquer our spiritual foes, it is he who teacheth our hands to war and our fingers to fight. By him alone we are more than conquerors. If we arrive at last "perfect" in Zion, it is because be has led us on by ways we knew not.
IV. HE CONTROLS THE INFLUENCES AT WORK AGAINST US . The "strangers" and his own "people" are brought under him because there is an unseen power so working on them that their force is weakened and their will turned. The life of David is full of this Divine control of adverse influences. Saul and Doeg were baffled and restrained. Philistines at Gath ( 1 Samuel 27:4-7 ) were favourably disposed to him in the bitter time of his exile. The nation was made willing to accept him in place of the successors in the line of Saul. The wise counsel of Ahithophel was turned to foolishness, and when for a time the chastisement of rebellion seemed to crush his heart, the hour of deliverance came, and the people were made willing to welcome him once more to his beloved Jerusalem. So is it still. Land and sea, men and evil spirits, life and death, are all alike in the hands of God, and he can say, "Thus far, and no further;" "Touch not mine anointed." Our Lord is Lord also of all. Our highest interests are in his holy honda, and there is nothing, seen or unseen, that can sever us from the love of God that is in Christ our Lord ( Romans 8:35-39 ). How natural, then, the words "Therefore, I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord" (verse 50)! " He " showeth mercy forevermore.
Additional topics —
1. The influence of success in promoting success (verse 45).
2. The accelerated influences of the spiritual world analogous to the laws of motion (verse 45).
3. The inherent sense in all men of the majesty of righteousness (verse 45).
4. The power of reputed character and of deeds in extending personal influence over strangers (verse 46).
5. Foreshadows of the final collapse of the forces of evil before the victorious Christ (verse 46).
6. The ever-living God the Joy and Hope of the Christian amidst the vicissitudes of life (verse 47).
7. The adoration of God a natural expression of the sanctified heart, and its Christian element based on an experience of his mercy (verse 47).
8. The qualities of the rock as illustrating the Divine perfection (verse 47).
9. The reality of providential retribution for the oppression of the righteous and the needy, as seen in individuals and nations, and revealed in history and Scripture (verse 48).
10. The various methods by which God acts on human souls to bring them into submission to Christ (verse 48).
11. The Divine process of brining souls out from embarrassing circumstances, temporal and spiritual (verse 49).
12. The concurrence of Divine and human action in spiritual conquests (verse 49).
13. The setting forth of the wonders of redeeming mercy before men who profess no interest in Christ. How to do it (verse 50).
14. All the resources of the Divine nature in their pledged relation to the accomplishment of the purpose of Christ, the Anointed One (verse 51).
15. The inheritance of Christ's people in the resources belonging to him (verse 51).
16. The permanent character of the work of redemption (verse 51).
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
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