Psalms - Chapter 18 (Part 1)
(The following material is compiled predominantly from an anthology of Orthodox Jewish commentary, written and arranged by Rabbi Avroham Chaim Feuer from the Artscroll Tanach Series Tehillim Volume 1. Additional insights from a Nazarene Israelite perspective have been added by Jason Jordan. Tehillim translation by Rabbi Hillel Danziger)
This extraordinary Psalm properly known as, ‘the Song of David’ was composed in his old age after a life full of trial and tribulation (Rashi). Specifically, it was recited on the day that David’s army swore that their old and venerable king would no longer be allowed to expose himself to the dangers of the battle field with them (Ibn Ezra). 1 Samuel 21:17; But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David's rescue; he struck the Philistine down and killed him. Then David's men swore to him, saying, "Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished."
2 Samuel 18:3; “But the people said, "You should not go out; for if we indeed flee, they will not care about us; even if half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us; therefore now it is better that you be ready to help us from the city.”
This Psalm has the distinction of being the only chapter in Scripture which is recorded twice: here and in 2 Samuel Ch. 22.
Abarbanel, in his commentary to Samuel, is of the opinion that David originally composed this song in his youth when he was still deeply enmeshed in his many problems and misfortunes. He created this song to be an all-inclusive one which would relate to every woe which could possibly occur in his life. Throughout his long life David kept this Psalm at hand, reciting it on every occasion of personal salvation.
The original version appears in Samuel. This version, composed at the end of David’s life, differs from the original in a number of minor variations enumerated in Soferim18.
The second is not a triumphant song of personal victory. David made a gift to Israel of his personal feelings as a prayer and a consolation in times of distress. He who seeks to meditate in solitude, he who seeks private communion with his Maker, he who seeks to pour out his anguished soul in fervent prayer, all of these will find in it precious words with which to express the depths of his feelings.
The Vilna Gaon designates this Psalm as the, Song of the Day,’ for the Seventh Day of Passover.
Harav Gifter explains that the universal and eternal nature of this Psalm is particularly suited to the Seventh Day of Passover when YHWH split the Sea representing the climax of redemption and the forerunner of all future Redemption.
Verse 1; “For the Conductor; of the servant of YHWH, of David, who spoke the words of this song to YHWH, on the day that YHWH delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.”
“…the servant of YHWH…” Midrash Shocher Tov emphasizes the significance of this title: You will find that in all the Torah, whoever called himself ‘Elohim’s servant’ was later addressed as such by Elohim Himself Who endorsed this title. [Anyone who is not worthy of this title would not dare to call himself thus.] We find this to be true of Abraham, Jacob and Moshe. David also said, ‘For I am Your servant the son of Your maidservant’ (Psalms 116:16).
In the beginning of Joshua we read: And it came to pass after the death of Moshe, the servant of YHWH. Radak comments: Whoever places all his might, concentration, and interests in the blessed Name of Elohim, and keeps his thoughts on Elohim even when he engages in worldly pursuits, this man deserves the title, ‘Servant of YHWH,’ as wee find: Abraham My servant, David My servant; the prophets My servants.
Listen to how Ya’akov, Rabbi Yahshua’s own brother, commences his epistle: James 1:1; “From Ya’akov (James), a bond-servant of Elohim and of the Master Yahshua Messiah to: The Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora: Shalom!” Some translations use the word “slave” instead of “bond-servant.” These are also permissible translations.
Here’s another introduction, in this case on behalf of “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Yahshua HaMoshiach, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of Elohim, mature and fully assured.” (Colossians 4:12)
Shimon Kepha (Simon Peter) is another believer identified as a bondservant in 2 Peter 1:1; “Shimon Kepha, a servant and apostle of Yahshua HaMoshiach, To those who through the righteousness of our Elohim and Saviour Yahshua HaMoshiach have received a faith as precious as ours.”
And Rabbi Sha’ul also introduces himself as “…a bond-servant of Yahshua HaMoshiach, called as an apostle, set apart for the full Messianic message of Elohim” in Romans 1:1. The only difference between these believers and post resurrection believers is that they knew the exact identity of the Living Torah, which was King Messiah Yahshua, the Expressed Image of the YHWH, blessed be He. This is why they say Messiah Yahshua as opposed to “YHWH” or “Elohim” in their opening addresses.
A Word on Slavery from a Hebraic Perspective
Slavery according to Judaism (and the Natsarim branch of it) was not the cruel system adopted by Greece, Rome, and later nations. The prime thought is service; the servant may render free service, while a slave (according to the Greco-Roman concept) is obligatory, restricted service. However, even in Judaism, a slave of men (a master who is not Elohim fearing) is viewed in the negative.
Meir Tehillot explains that David here is demonstrating that the attitude of a servant of Elohim is quite different from that of a slave of men. The latter is deeply bitter and perpetually grumbles over his lot. The former is joyful and sings songs of praise precisely because he is bound to the service of the divine. Such service is not a burden, but a blessing. It is not a restriction, but a release. David himself says at the conclusion of Psalms 116:6, ‘You have released my bonds.”
“…of David…” This is the third word in the verse beginning with the letter ל (Lamed). The numerical value of Lamed is “thirty.” Ball Haturim explains that the hinted at meaning (Remez) alludes to three aspects of David’s royal monarchy. The name of the royal tribe, “Judah” has the numerical value of “thirty.” The house of David possessed thirty special royal privileges and David ascended to the throne at the age of thirty.
Interestingly, whilst in exile David assembled thirty fiercely loyal soldiers known as “The Thirty” who later became his generals as his army grew.
“…who spoke the words…” This teaches that David was not merely singing triumphantly, but rather uttering a prophetic statement of major significance.
“…of this song to YHWH…” The Yalkut Shimoni (Joshua 20) reckons this song among the ten major songs offered to YHWH throughout all history.
‘Rabbi Semon said: Whoever is saved miraculously and responds with a song to Elohim is assured that all his sins are forgiven and he is considered as if he is born again.’
Verse 2; “And said: I will love You, YHWH, my strength.”
“And said: I will love You…” Radak explains what love for YHWH means: ‘love means when a person makes every attempt to draw close to Elohim as is possible in this material world. Fear of Elohim precedes love. Only after a person grows accustomed to fearing Elohim can he ascend to the level of serving out of love without desire for reward.’
“…YHWH, my strength.” I love YHWH because He allows me to be His servant and He gives me the strength to overpower my evil inclination which wishes to interfere, as the Sages of the Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) said: ‘A man’s evil inclination seeks to overwhelm him every day and desires to slay him. If not for the assistance of the Holy One, Blessed be He, no man could withstand the test (Alshich).’
The Sages tell us (Midrash Shmuel) Parsha 26) that David waged eighteen wars in his lifetime. Thirteen were primarily for national purposes, to ward off enemies of Israel. Five were ‘private’ wars to protect himself from his own enemies. Therefore David made this Psalm the eighteenth composition in this Book in order to allude to the eighteen wars he fought against all kinds of adversaries (Tehillah l’David).
Verse 3; “YHWH is my rock, my fortress, and my rescuer. My Elohim, my rock, in Whom I take refuge; my shield, and my horn of salvation; my stronghold.”
YHWH protects me like a fortress hewn from impregnable rock (Radak; Mizudat David).
Rashi tells us that David is alluding to Elohim’s miraculous intervention at the “rock of division’ 1 Samuel 23:28; “Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. That is why they call this place Sela Hammahlekoth (“rock of division” or “parting”).” Midrash Shocker Tov (quoted by Radak) gives us a deeper insight into the entire episode. The treacherous people of Zif revealed David’s mountain hideaway to Saul. Saul’s army encircled the mountain from all sides leaving no avenue of escape. In his despair, David asked YHWH, ‘Where is the promise You made to me when Samuel anointed me to be king?’ YHWH responded, assuring David that every word uttered by Samuel would come true.
Suddenly a messenger angel appeared before Saul saying, ‘Hurry away for the Philistines have spread out to attack the land’ (1 Samuel 23:27). Saul’s advisers were divided on which course to take. Some urged him to neglect all dangers and seize this unprecedented opportunity to kill David. Others, however, wisely counselled that the security of all Israel is the king’s foremost obligation. Saul heeded the latter advice and swiftly departed to pursue the marauding Philistines. Because his counsellors were divided on this spot they called the mountain “the Rock of Division.”
In years to come when David’s army passed by this rock, he and his original soldiers which at that time had grown from thirty to six hundred, would separate from the rest of the army and prostrated themselves on the ground and recite the benediction, “Blessed is He who performed a miracle for us in this place.”
Verse 4; As the One who is praised, I call out to YHWH, and am saved from my enemies.”
With praises I call out to Him and pray before Him. In other words, even before the victory and salvation, already I praise YHWH as if the victory was an accomplished fact (Rashi).
Verse 5; “The pains of death encircle me, and torrents of G-dless men would frighten me.”
David says his misfortunes threaten to snuff out his life. They constantly roll over him, like a wheel visiting him in pairs like the double thread of a loom. Misfortunes fly and soar over his head like birds. All these allusions can be siphoned from the Hebrew root word meanings within the language used in this verse.
Verse 6; “Bands of wicked surround me, they confronted me with snares of death.”
“…snares of death” can also be translated as ‘pains and trials of the lower world.’
They confused me with snares of death.
The allusion of the lower world is used because the wicked threaten to bring about David’s death and to drag him down to the lower world.
The numerical value of the expression snares of death equals 902. The Talmud (Berachos 8a) says that there are 903 forms of death in this world, the very best being death by the Divine Kiss for which the righteous yearn. David bemoans the fact that his enemies always sought to do away with him by means of the 902 other forms of death.
Verse 7; “In my distress I would call upon the YHWH, and to my Elohim would I cry for salvation. From His Sanctuary He would hear my voice, my cry to Him would reach His ears.”
When I am distressed by the aforementioned threats I call to YHWH and to none other (Radak).
Although YHWH is in heaven, he hears me when I call (Radak).
Verse 8; “The earth quaked and roared, the foundations of the mountains shook, they trembled when His wrath flared.”
Abarbanel adds that YHWH will go to any length to save the deserving righteous, even as far as overturning the earth and toppling mighty kingdoms. Thus, He created a crater in the earth to swallow Korach and his assembly who threatened Moshe and A’aron.
Verse 9; “Smoke arose from His nostrils, a devouring fire from His mouth, flaming coals blazed forth from Him.”
This depicts YHWH’s wrath. Elohim is described here in human terms, because the heat of His anger makes it seem as if smoke is coming out of His nostrils. Similarly we find “Your nostrils smoke” (Psalms 74:1).
Verse 10; “He bent down the heavens and descended, thick darkness was beneath His feet.”
YHWH descended so swiftly that it seemed as if He bent down the heavens in order to come with greater speed; when He passed over the land of Egypt (Rashi).
Verse 11; “He mounted a cheruv and flew, He soared on the wings of the wind.”
To what may this verse be likened? To the king whose son was kidnapped by bandits. His servants began to harness his many horses to his carriage so he might give chase, but this king said,’ If I wait until they finish this lengthy preparation my son will be lost.’ What did the king do? He grabbed a single cheruv from those which support the heavenly throne and descended to do battle with the Egyptians (Midrash Shocher Tov).
Verse 12; “He made darkness His concealment, and enveloped Himself in His shelter – dark waters and thick clouds.”
‘Darkness’ refers to all the woes and misfortunes which YHWH visits upon the enemy and which serve to conceal His Presence from them (Radak).
Verse 13; “Because of the brilliance before Him His clouds passed on, Hailstones and flaming coals.”
I.e. because of the bright splendours which Elohim waits to bestow upon His beloved ones He passed His clouds of disaster on to their enemies (Radak; Metzudat David).
Verse 14; “YHWH thundered at them in the heavens, the Most High cried out, Hailstones and flaming coals.”
YHWH did everything to frighten them and make them tremble, just as a person trembles upon hearing a thunder-clap (Rashi).
Verse 15; “He sent forth His arrows and scattered them; many thunderbolts and frenzied them.”
2 Samuel 22:15; “He shot arrows and scattered [the enemies], bolts of lightning and routed them.”
Deuteronomy 23:23; 'I will heap misfortunes on them; I will use My arrows on them.
Verse 16; “Streams of the water became visible, the foundations of the earth were laid bare by the breath of Your Nostrils.”
The streams of water are symbolic of the tragedies and dangers which befell David. The waters were parted or divided. The drowning person may be rescued in two ways. The first is through a wondrous parting of the swirling waters as described here, a simile for the enemies being repelled, thwarted, and routed into retreat. The second is described in verse 17.
Verse 17; “He sent from on high and took me, He drew me out of deep waters.”
YHWH sent His messenger angels down to rescue Israel from the sea and from the Egyptians (Rashi).
Verse 18; “He saved me from my mighty foe, and from my enemies when they overpowered me.”
“Foe” in the singular, because it refers to when David was threatened by a single combatant (rather than an entire army) such as Goliath or Yishbi at Nod [ ] (Radak).
Verse 19; “They confronted me on the day of my misfortune, but YHWH was my support.”
“…On the day…” denotes a special time designated for disaster or misfortune as in “For the day of their misfortune is near” (Deuteronomy 32:35).
Verse 20; “He brought me out into broad spaces, He released me for He desires me.”
YHWH took David out of the narrow place where he was in the enemy’s grasp to a large area where he could elude him (Metzudat David).
Verse 21; “YHWH recompensed me according to my righteousness, and He repaid me befitting the cleanliness of my hands.”
Rashi says: This refers to the righteousness and perfect trust of Israel who left Egypt and unquestioningly followed Elohim into a barren wilderness (The whole nation of Israel did the same thing by faith that Abraham did when he left his country to a place YHWH was yet to show him).
Verse 22; “For I have kept the ways of YHWH and I have not departed wickedly from my Elohim.”
I have erected safeguards to keep from laxity in fulfilling YHWH’s commandments (Chozeh David).
I was scrupulous in the observance of Elohim’s commandments whether He appeared to me as YHWH [i.e. the Attribute of Mercy] or as [the Attribute of Justice] (Eretz HaCaim). I.e. Whether YHWH showed me kindness or evil I still strove to maintain vigilance with my observance of His ways in either situation.
King David would rule without showing partiality, but in a way that showed mercy. If a rich man and a poor man appeared before him for justice and David ruled in favour of the rich man, causing the poor man to pay him a fee. David would later, after the hearing was over provide charity for the poor man.
Verse 23; “For all His judgments are before me, and I shall not remove His statutes from myself.”
If you wish to understand how I could restrain myself from harming Saul and how I managed to accept all the trials of life with joy, it is because I never forgot for a moment that every occurrence is the result of Elohim’s perfect judgment. I accept all miseries with the full knowledge that I deserved them because of my sins (Mahari Ya’avetz haDoresh).
Verse 24; “I was perfectly innocent with Him, and I was vigilant against my sin.”
Ibn Ezra comments that David proclaimed his fulfillment of the commandment, “You shall be perfectly innocent with YHWH your Elohim” (Deuteronomy 18:13). Malbim elaborates on this important theme and portrays this as one whose entire being is perfectly attuned to the performance of Elohim’s will. Neither in his mind nor in his body, does there exist the slightest obstacles or hindrance to interfere with his service of Elohim. [This was the status which David yearned to achieve all of his life – that of Adam before the sin].
“…against my sin” indicates personal sin. Every person is different and is tempted with a particular sin for which he has a weakness. He is challenged to conquer his own shortcomings (Hirsch).
Verse 25; “YHWH repaid me in accordance with my righteousness, according to the cleanliness of my hands before His eyes.”
For Saul and his family perished and vanished, but (David) survived and (his) royal dynasty endured (Radak).
Verse 26; “With the devout You act devoutly with the whole hearted man You act wholeheartedly.”
This is the way of YHWH, to repay ‘measure for measure’ (Rashi).
Just as the devoted go beyond the letter of the law, so do You repay them with generosity surpassing the extent of their deeds (Radak).