Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter, with numerous slight variations, constitutes Psalms 18, the first verse here serving as the title there, with only such differences as the nature of the Book of Psalms required. With this title may be compared the inscriptions of other historical psalms, as Exodus 15:1; Deuteronomy 31:30.
No more definite time can be assigned for the composition of this hymn than that already given in its title. 2Samuel 22:51 shows that it must have been after the visit of Nathan promising the perpetuity of David’s kingdom.
As comment upon this psalm will naturally be expected in connection with the Book of Psalms, only the differences between these two copies will here be spoken of. On the whole, the form given in the Psalms seems to be the later, and to have been in some points intentionally altered—probably by David himself—to adapt it to the exigencies of liturgical worship; but it must also be remembered that minor differences inevitably grow up in the copying of manuscripts age after age, and that much of the lesser variation is undoubtedly due to this cause.
And David spake unto the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul:
And he said, The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer;(2) He said.—The psalm here wants the opening line of Psalms 18, “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength,” forming a fitting introduction to the whole.
The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence.(3) The God of my rock.—In the psalm, “My God, my rock” (margin). The two expressions of the psalm are here united in one, and the recurrence of the similar expression in 2Samuel 22:47 (but not in the psalm) indicates that this was intentional.
And my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence.—These words are omitted from the psalm, being compensated in part by the opening line there.
When the waves of death compassed me, the floods of ungodly men made me afraid;(5) The waves of death.—In Psalms 18, “the sorrows of death,” in the Authorised Version, but literally, the bands of death. The word is entirely different, and the variation can hardly have been accidental. The form here accords better with the parallelism of the next clause.
In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God: and he did hear my voice out of his temple, and my cry did enter into his ears.(7) Called . . . cried.—The original words are the same here, although differing in the parallel place in the psalm.
My cry did enter into his ears.—Literally, my cry in his ears, an elliptical expression which is filled out in the psalm, “my cry came before him, even into his ears.”
Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven moved and shook, because he was wroth.(8) Of heaven.—Psalms 18, “of the hills.” The thought is the same, but the strong poetic figure by which the mountains are spoken of as “the pillars of heaven” (comp. Job 26:11) is softened in the psalm.
And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: and he was seen upon the wings of the wind.(11) He was seen.—Psalms 18, “he did fly.” The two words are exceedingly alike in the Hebrew, and either could easily be mistaken for the other. The form in the psalm is far more poetical.
And he made darkness pavilions round about him, dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies.(12) Made darkness pavilions.—Psalms 18, more fully, “He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters.” A word appears to have dropped out here, and in the second clause the margin, “binding (or gathering) of waters” is a more exact translation, the word differing in one letter from that used in the psalm.
Through the brightness before him were coals of fire kindled.(13) Through the brightness.—Rather, Out of the brightness. The psalm (with the same correction) is more full, and perhaps the more exact representation of the original: “Out of the brightness before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.”
The LORD thundered from heaven, and the most High uttered his voice.(14) From heaven.—Psalms 18, “in the heavens,” a difference found in the original; the two are otherwise alike in the Hebrew, except that the psalm adds the words, “hail stones and coals of fire.”
And the channels of the sea appeared, the foundations of the world were discovered, at the rebuking of the LORD, at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.(16) Of the sea.—Psalms 18, “of waters.” There are several such slight differences between 2Samuel 22:15-16, and the parallel verses in the psalm, which mark the two as distinctly different recensions. The most striking change is that of the last pronoun from “his” to “thy in the psalm, as appropriate to its use in public worship.
For all his judgments were before me: and as for his statutes, I did not depart from them.(23) His statutes, I did not depart from them.—The psalm, by a very slight change in the original, has “I did not put away his statutes from me.” The former is the more common form, the latter suits better the parallelism here.
Therefore the LORD hath recompensed me according to my righteousness; according to my cleanness in his eye sight.(25) To my cleanness.—Psalms 18, more poetically. “to the cleanness of my hands.”
With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself unsavoury.(27) Unsavoury.—Rather, froward, for although the form here is anomalous, it is the same word, and has the same reference to the previous word as in the psalm.
And the afflicted people thou wilt save: but thine eyes are upon the haughty, that thou mayest bring them down.(28) Thine eyes are upon the haughty.—More briefly, but in more common form, the psalm, “wilt bring down high looks.”
For thou art my lamp, O LORD: and the LORD will lighten my darkness.(29) Thou art my lamp.—Comp. Psalm 27:1. The psalm changes the figure, “thou wilt light my candle (margin, lamp).” With this comp. Psalm 132:17; 1Kings 11:36; 1Kings 15:4.
God is my strength and power: and he maketh my way perfect.(33) God is my strength and power.—Better, my strong fortress. The psalm has quite a different thought, which is expressed in 2Samuel 22:40, “It is God that girdeth me with strength.”
Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy gentleness hath made me great.(36) Thy gentleness.—This is the translation of the word in Psalm 18:35. The word here, which differs very slightly, and is otherwise unknown, is undoubtedly meant for it; if taken as it stands it would, by its etymology, mean thy answering, viz., to the prayers offered. The psalm inserts between the two clauses of the verse, “and thy right hand hath holden me up.”
I have pursued mine enemies, and destroyed them; and turned not again until I had consumed them.(38) Destroyed them.—In the psalm, “overtaken them,” an expression intended to suggest the same thing as the plain expression here. The second clauses are identical in the original.
And I have consumed them, and wounded them, that they could not arise: yea, they are fallen under my feet.(39) I have consumed them, and wounded them.—The former clause is wanting in the psalm, and the latter needs a stronger word—crushed them.
They looked, but there was none to save; even unto the LORD, but he answered them not.(42) They looked.—By the change of a letter this becomes in the psalm “They cried,” and it is so translated here in the LXX., “they shall cry.” One of the readings is doubtless a mere clerical error.
Then did I beat them as small as the dust of the earth, I did stamp them as the mire of the street, and did spread them abroad.(43) Dust of the earth.—Psalms 18 reads, “Dust before the wind,” and in the second clause omits “did spread them abroad.” The psalm thus combines in one compact figure what is here spread out in two clauses. The change is certainly designed, and heightens the poetic effect.
Thou hast kept me.—The wording of the psalm, “Thou hast made me,” involves only a slight difference in the original, and is a mere clerical variation.
Strangers shall submit themselves unto me: as soon as they hear, they shall be obedient unto me.(45) As soon as they hear.—This and the previous clause are transposed in the psalm, this clause there constituting 2Samuel 22:44.
Strangers shall fade away, and they shall be afraid out of their close places.(46) Shall be afraid out of their close places.—The English here follows Psalm 18:45. but the Hebrew verbs differ by the transposition of a letter. This is probably a mere clerical error, but if it be retained the sense will be a little changed. The psalm means, came trembling from their fastnesses, representing the conquered as submitting with fear; the text here, came limping from their fastnesses, suggesting that the remnant of the enemy had already been injured and wounded.
He is the tower of salvation for his king: and sheweth mercy to his anointed, unto David, and to his seed for evermore.(51) He is the tower of salvation.—This translation follows the margin of the Hebrew. The text is found in the ancient versions and in Psalm 18:50. “Great deliverance giveth he.” The difference in the original between the consonants of the two words is extremely slight.
This brief review of these two recensions of this magnificent hymn is instructive, as showing that Providence has dealt with the MSS. of the Old Testament as with those of the New, securing them during the long succession of ages from all substantial error, and yet not so destroying ordinary human action but that mere slips of the pen should sometimes creep in, and care and diligence be required to ascertain precisely what was originally written, and sometimes, perhaps, in the merest minutiæ, leaving the original form still uncertain.
The Psalm is a grand anthem of thanksgiving of David for the many mercies he had received—a full and confident expression of his trust in God under all circumstances, and of his well-assured hope in the fulfilment of the Divine promise of the perpetuity of his kingdom through the coming of Him “in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed.”