Psalms 18 is God’s answer to the petition of Psalm 17. It is also the sequel to Psalm 88, the dark psalm, the wondrous psalm about the crucifixion of Christ. The psalms do this: they speak to one another and connect in ways not according to their numerical sequence. That is, they are not as a whole arranged in an order that reflects chronologically the life of Christ. The reader therefore needs to be flexible in joining psalms together that tell Christ’s whole story and in listening for echoes that call back and forth among them.
Psalm 18 is an exciting narrative. It is almost as though the psalmist were saying, “Wow! Was I ever in trouble! I called out to God for help, and let me tell you what he did for me!” This psalm is personal testimony–the psalmist as narrator relates his great adventure story to convey to his readers the enormity of God’s saving actions on the day the psalmist lay trapped in the grave and God rescued and resurrected him.
Luke 24:46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,
Acts 10:39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear,
Romans 6:4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
1 Corinthians 15:54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
For those who may be interested in current academic consensus for Christ’s resurrection, see Technical article by Gary Habermas, Accessed on June 27, 2017
II. What Makes Psalm 18 Messianic?
A. The writer to the book of Hebrews quotes vs 2 as having come directly from the mouth of Christ.
Hebrews 2:11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
B. Paul quotes vs 49 in connection with Christ’s having welcomed the Gentiles.
Romans 15:7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”
C. As Andrew Bonar (Bonar, 60-61) points out, these verses form as it were bookends for the entire psalm. If the beginning and end of the psalm is considered messianic by New Testament writers, why wouldn’t the entire psalm?
D. The content and language of the psalm fit more aptly the life of Christ than the life of David.
1. David could not honestly speak words like these:
Psalm 18:20 The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me. 21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God. 22 For all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me. 23 I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from my guilt. 24 So the LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
2. The description of God’s rescuing the narrator is one of the most dramatic in all of scripture. While God did indeed rescue David from many situations over time, God rescued Christ from the grave pointedly in one night, upsetting the entire natural order of life’s always ending in death. And, the historical details of Christ’s death and resurrection were highly dramatic themselves:
Matthew 28:2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
Mark 16:19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
Luke 24:4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen…
John 20:12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
E. Peter tells us in Acts that David was a prophet who had conscious knowledge of the coming of the future Messiah and knowingly wrote about him.
Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ 29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
III. The Structure of Psalm 18
A. Psalm 18 can be classified as a prophetic, narrative poem in which the psalmist/narrator describes 1) an event that happened to him, 2) the reason for the event, and 3) the consequences of the event. He praises God throughout his narration in third person with occasional insertions of second person that speak directly to God.
B. Introduction: Verses 1-3
Psalm 18:1 I love you, O LORD, my strength. 2 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. 3 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.
C. Statement of the psalm’s theme, verse 6: the psalmist’s cry for help and the Lord’s response
Psalm 18:6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
1. Narrative relating what happened: resurrection, vss 4-19a
2. Reasons God resurrected the psalmist/narrator: vss 19b-24
3. Explanation of God’s character and motivations: vss 25-27
4. Consequences for the psalmist/narrator: past, present, and future
a. past: vss 28-30
b. past: the enemies, vss 37-42, include death (1 Corinthians 15:34-36) and “the devil…the rulers…the authorities…the cosmic powers over this present darkness…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12).
c. future: the enemies will also be revealed in the judgment at Christ’s second coming.
Psalm 18:37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed. 38 I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet. 39 For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me. 40 You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. 41 They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them. 42 I beat them fine as dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets.
d. present: Christ is currently the head of nations and worldwide conqueror of souls in the church/missionary age.
Psalm 18:43 You delivered me from strife with the people; you made me the head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me. 44 As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me; foreigners came cringing to me. 45 Foreigners lost heart and came trembling out of their fortresses.
Psalm 18:30 This God–his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. 31 For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?–
46 The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation–
49 For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing to your name. 50 Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.
IV. Encouragement for Today’s Readers
The set of verses in the introduction to this article (see above) encourage us today with the sure knowledge that as believers, after death comes resurrection. Who does not experience from time to time seasons and events that seem like death and dying itself? The promise of God’s word is that we will pass through these multiple deaths unscathed, just as Daniel emerged from the fiery furnace and the lion’s den. God always brings us through our personal experiences of death and dying not only unharmed but stronger in spirit, joy, love and faith for God, better equipped for giving our testimony to others, just as the psalmist in Psalm 18, and more willing and able to offer support to those who are also suffering.