Three distinct elements inspire Song 18: David’s feelings of gratitude (afterall, it is a Praisesong); imagery so startling that it seems the stuff of dreams; and, finally, David’s desire to establish his dynasty .
The first verse gives the context of the song’s composition: King David is celebrating his having been saved “from the grip of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul”. The metaphor of a hand and its grip heightens the sense of David’s escape from powers that would have crushed him. Interesting, Saul is not included under the broad term “enemies”, but receives his own mention.
Verse 2 is David’s affirmation of God; indeed it resounds throughout the verses that follow it:
and he said: I adore You, Adonai, my strength….
In Hebrew, the line has a significance not captured in the English translation: both the Hebrew verb used for “love” or “adore” and the Hebrew noun “womb” share a common root (R-Ch-M \ ר.ח.מ.)עב). Thus, in declaring his love for God, David is, in effect, saying that God is his “womb”, that out of God his deliverance from his enemies comes; that, in fact, all that is fruitful, all that thrives, in his life, comes from God, the source and protector of his being. David thereby credits, for the victories he has achieved, not his own skills and bravery, but rather
Verse 3 sounds a sequence of images:
Adonai, my crag, my fortress, my deliverer, my Deity;
my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield,
the source of my rescue, my haven.
David thus builds a mountain of images, each descriptive word elevating the one preceding it, so that “crag” becomes the lowest step leading to the highest point, God’s dwelling, in which David finds refuge and solace. In this elevated and protected haven, David can escape the horrors of Sheol, of the demon Belial (Literally: ‘Useless’), which seek to snare him with “ropes” that would drag him to the pit of death. The imagery of ensnarement and mortal danger prepare the listener of the song for the triumphant images of verses 8 to 15: immediate, powerful, God is portrayed as more terrifying than any demon; in His championing of David, He has all the energies of the natural world under His command. Not only does He cause earthquakes, but He makes the heavens into a bridge, uses clouds as His highway. His Being blazes:
smoke went up from His nostrils,
consuming fire from His mouth;
coals blazed forth from Him.
But He does not touch the battleground; as appropriate, he remains above it,
He mounted a cherub and flew,
soaring on the wings of the wind.
Darkness, water, sky-high clouds, all become His manifestations and His tools (v. 12). Thunder, lightening, the very foundations of the earth are blasted by His voice,
The watercourses were exposed;
the foundations of the world were laid bare
by Your mighty roaring, Adonai,
at the blast of the wind from Your nostrils.
In verses 17 to 20, the storms quiet; the singer praises his rescuer. He makes clear, in verses 20 to 25, as he had in Song 17, that it is his righteousness, his clinging to and practice of God’s precepts, that have rewarded him with his “freedom” (v. 20), and allowed him to escape his all-encompassing foes –foes “all too strong for me” without God’s aid (v. 18). Yet, he continues, he is not unique in meriting God’s favour; it is given in plentitude to the “loyal”, the “blameless”, the “pure” and the “lowly” (verses 26 to 28). And, since God gives back what is given to God, God is “wily” to the “perverse” (v. 27), punishing to the “haughty” (v. 28).
Praising God for giving him the necessary weapon –God’s instrument is “light”, not armaments (v. 29)– and the necessary strength –God’s provision to David of physical ability of such prowess that he can “rush a barrier”, “vault a wall” (v. 30)– David describes the abilities God has granted him in battle. Just as God commands the natural world (verses 8 to 15), so David, as His favoured one, has “feet like a deer ” (v. 34); just as God’s temple is in the heavens, so David is able to “stand on the heights” (v. 34); just as God can bend the heavens (v. 10), so David can “bend a bow of bronze” (v. 35). And just as God’s might shakes the world (v. 16) and spans the heavens (v. 14), so David’s strength, with God’s guidance, smashes his enemies (v. 41), “making those who rise against me bow beneath me” (v. 40):
I grind them fine as windswept dust;
as dirt of the streets I tread them flat.
Dust, his enemies are as insignificant as blown ashes.
The startling imagery of the song can now be understood: in describing God as an avenger who harnesses the natural world, David is not personifying God; he is not envisioning Him as if one of the superhuman gods of pagan mythologies. Rather, it is his gratitude that David personifies. He gives life to, animates, his overwhelming appreciation of God who has recognized his righteousness and given him victory. By embodying his gratitude and adoration in the figure of strength and power of verses 8 to 15, David is able to express not only God’s magnitude but also to recount his own military might. He has achieved what Saul (Saul whom verse 1 makes special mention of) could not –he has defeated the worst enemies of the people Israel, Amalek, whom God commanded not to leave a living soul of them). And though his enemies, in their defeat, cry out to God, “He did not answer them” (v. 42), for they are among the haughty and the arrogant whom David has already condemned to God’s punishment (verses 27 and 28).
A breath between verses 46 and 47, as if the storms of battle, the chords of discord, have abated. Verses 47 to 49 again recount David’s deliverance and victory because of God’s favour:
Adonai lives! Blessed is my Rock!
Exalted be God, my rescuer….
Verse 50 could very well give David’s reason for composing his songs;
For this I offer Your praise among the nations, Adonai,
and sing praises to Your name.
In return for his praise, in an astonishing twist that blends surety and yearning, hope and the bravado of conviction, David ends the song with a declaration of the covenant he has forged with God: the establishment of the dynasty of David,
[God] makes great rescues of His king,
keeps faith with His anointed,
with David and his offspring forever.