Psalms - Chapter 18 (Part 2)
(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 is a continuation of the extraordinary Psalm properly known as, ‘the Song of David’ which was composed in his old age after a life full of trial and tribulation (Rashi).
Psalms 18 Continued
Verse 27; “With the trustworthy You act trustingly and with the crooked You act perversely.”
This refers to our father, Jacob who was completely true and trustworthy to You and so You chose his children from among all the nations and You cleansed his seed of all impurities. [Unlike the offspring of Abraham and Isaac, all of his sons were righteous.] (Targum).
“And with the crooked…”
This describes Pharaoh and the Egyptians who planned “crooked,” evil schemes against Israel, Your nation. Ultimately You confounded and twisted their plans (Targum).
Tehillat Hashem points out that both of these characteristics of Elohim are included in the verse to emphasize that YHWH has the ability to act according to two contradictory patterns at one and the same time. At the same moment that He tricked the Egyptians to plunge into the sea, He was fulfilling His trust to rescue Israel.
It is written, ‘And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s brother’ (Genesis 29:12). But was he not really Lavan’s nephew? Rather he was telling her ‘I am your father’s brother [his match] in trickery’ i.e. if he attempts to trick me I can match his divisiveness and protect myself. Is it then permissible for a tzaddik to act deviously? Yes, as we read, ‘With the trustworthy You act trustworthy, with the crooked You act perversely’ (Meggilah 13b), [i.e. if he is forced to resort to trickery in order to protect himself from the wiles of the wicked, it is permissible.]
Verse 28; “For You save the afflicted nation and haughty eyes You bring down low.”
You are with Israel in the darkness of exile (Targum).
“Come and see the ways of the Holy One, Blessed be He, differ from the ways of flesh and blood. If a man is rich and has a poor relative he tries to deny this relationship. Whenever he sees the pauper he hides because he is ashamed to talk to him. Elohim is not so! Who is His nation? ‘the poor, afflicted nation!’ When He sees the poor He always strives to join them” (Midrash Shmos Rabba 31:13).
Micah 4:7; “I will make the lame a remnant, those driven away a strong nation. YHWH will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and forever.”
Psalms 101:5b; “…No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.
Dorash Moshe observes that all misery stems from the fact that people are dissatisfied with their own lot and they cast an envious eye on their neighbour’s possessions. If everyone were content with his own portion, then poverty would not be a disgrace. Therefore, David says that YHWH will save the poor, afflicted nation by lowering the envious eyes which always look up to those who are wealthier. When envy disappears, imagined poverty will go with it.
Verse 29; “For it is You Who will light my lamp, YHWH, my Elohim, will illuminate my darkness.”
YHWH is the master of illumination and so He kindles a ray of light for Israel in exile (Tarum). Psalms 119:105; “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”
Rashi explains that this verse refers to the time when David fought all night against the bands of Amalek who attacked Ziklag as it is written, ‘And David smote them from the evening until the dusk of the next day’ (1 Samuel 30:17). Midrash Shocher Tov explains that David battled Amalek for two nights and one day, and Elohim provided miraculous illumination throughout that time. The Midrash concludes: ‘The Holy One Blessed be He said: My light [i.e. the commandments] is entrusted in Your hands, and your light [i.e. the soul] is entrusted in My hands. If you will guard My light I will guard yours.’
Proverbs 6:23; “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; And reproofs for discipline are the way of life.”
When Israel is redeemed, YHWH will console them and make them shine in the World to Come (Targum).
Verse 30; “For with You I smash a troop, and with my Elohim I leap a wall.”
An alternative translation according to Radak and Ibn Ezra could read, “With my faith in You I charge at and shatter armed soldiers.” An example of this is David’s encounter with Goliath: “And he charged into the line of battle, towards the Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:48).
The word “leap” denotes the extraordinary speed and ease with which David captured even the most heavily fortified cities (Radak).
Rashi cites the words of Midrash Tehillim: when David began his campaign against the Jebusites who were fortified in Jerusalem, he proclaimed ‘Whosoever will be the first to smite the Jebusim will be made a leader and a general’ (1 Chronicles 11:6). Tradition holds that David bent back a sapling so it might catapult him over a wall. On seeing this, Joab jumped onto the sapling allowing him to be catapulted instead, threatening David’s prophetic role as leader. What did YHWH do? He immediately lowered the wall to allow David to engage the enemy first.
Verse 31; “The Elohim Whose way is perfect, the promise of YHWH is flawless, He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him.”
YHWH possesses all might and ability (Radak). Everything He does is with perfect equity. He repays each man in accordance with his deeds (Radak).
suggests a purity that is completely free of flaws, like refined silver. When YHWH makes a promise, nothing goes to waste. Every detail of his words come true (Metzudat David).
YHWH derives no benefit from our mitzvah performance. Only the man who fulfills them gains. Just as the craftsman who refines silver intends to extract the impurities and dross, so are the mitzvoth intended to rid our hearts of low character traits and false beliefs. The Midrash cites the example of the humane laws of ritual slaughter to emphasize another point, that we should not think that the prohibition against cruelty to animals is because of Elohim’s concern for these creatures per se. It is not them He cares about, it is us. He is concerned lest we become cruel and insensitive to their suffering. Therefore, He commanded us to be humane in order to refine our soul with noble characteristics (Ramban, Deuteronomy 21:6
; Chinuch 545).
King Solomon repeats this verse almost verbatim in Proverbs 30:5; "Every word of Elohim is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” This is because both he and his father David knew that if a man safeguards the word of YHWH and trusts in Him, he will merit divine protection from all troubles.
Verse 32; “For who is Elohim besides YHWH, and who is a rock except for our Elohim.”
Who can nullify His promises or interfere with His decrees? (Radak; Ibn Ezra).
When You will perform miracles for Messiah and the remnants of Your people who will be with him, all peoples and nations will Praise You and proclaim ‘There is no Elohim besides YHWH.’ Israel will respond, ‘There is no strong rock except our Elohim’ (Targum).
Psalms 62:2; “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
Verse 33; “The Elohim Who girds me with strength and Who kept my way perfect.”
The Word is related to a belt or a girdle (Metzudat Zion). YHWH removed every obstacle and stumbling block from David’s path so that his way was smooth and perfect (Rashi). My [military] campaign was perfect and complete, for not one of my men was lost in battle (Radak; Metzudas David).
Verse 34; “Who straightens my feet like the hinds, and stood me on my heights.”
Even if King David had to flee a battle to save himself, Elohim would make him as swift as the hind so that no enemy could overtake him (Radak).
The Talmud (Yoma 47a, Niddah 31a) explains the differences between this verse and the version in 2 Samuel 22:34; “He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.”
The human embryo is not conceived from a random drop of semen. Rather, Elohim carefully selects the purest one. Thus we can find that David said two things, that Elohim selected him and made him straight.
Verse 35; “Who trained my hands for battle and my arms to bend a copper bow.”
When I succeeded in battle I did not take credit for my powers and skills, rather I attributed all to YHWH who trained and accustomed my hands in the martial arts (Radak). YHWH taught David military strategy and tactics (Metzudas David).
A great many copper bows hung in King David’s palace. When Gentiles would visit and see them on display they would say to each other, ‘Do you really think that David has the strength to bend and string these? Of course not! They are here merely to frighten us!’ Hearing this, David would proceed to bend the bows in their presence (Rashi).
Verse 36; “You have given me Your shield of salvation, and Your right hand sustained me. You have treated me with great humility.”
In all of my battles Your salvation was my shield for I was never defeated (Radak).
All credit for this uninterrupted success is due to the fact that Your right hand has constantly upheld me (Radak).
You have amplified Your usual trait of humility in all of Your dealings with me (Rashi).
‘In Your excessive humility You have always given me more than I deserve and You granted my handful of men victories which would befit large armies.’ Thus ‘You have made me greater’ than my massive enemies (Radak).
Verse 37; “You have widened my stride beneath me, and my ankles have not faltered.”
The man who widens his strides does not fall easily (Rashi). The joints of David’s lower leg adjoining his feet that secure him have remained steady.
Verse 38; “I pursued my foes and overtook them and returned not until I had annihilated them.”
As in the campaign against Amalek, David furiously poured through them (Radak).
David destroyed the entire army of Amalek with the exception of four hundred young men who escaped on swift camels (1 Samuel 30:17)
Verse 39; “I struck them down and they could not rise, they feel beneath my feet.”
Since only a handful of Amalekites survived, they did not recover from this mortal blow.
Verse 40; “You girded me with strength for battle, You bring my adversaries to their knees beneath me.”
You gave the limbs of my body the strength to endure the terrible hardships of war (Ibn Ezra).
Verse 41; “You presented the backs of my enemies’ necks to me and my antagonists I cut down.”
My enemies turned and retreated, showing me the backs of their necks.
This also refers to Goliath, of whom it says: ‘And the stone sunk into his forehead and he fell down to the ground on his face’ (1 Samuel 17:49). Such a frontal blow should cause the victim to topple backwards, why then did he fall on his face? An angel came and pushed him down frontward, for the Holy One Blessed be He said: ‘Let the foul mouth which blasphemed and insulted me now bite the dirt.’
Goliath also fell forward because he had the image of his idol, Dagon, engraved over his heart. He fell forward on top of the idol to fulfill the curse ‘and I shall place your corpse on top of the corpses of your idols’ (Leviticus 26:30) (Midrash Shocher Tov).
Verse 42; “They cried out, but there was no saviour, to YHWH, but He answered them not.”
Those who deny the Torah cried out to their idols but they had no power to offer assistance (Rashi).
Verse 43; “I pulverized them like dust in the face of the storm, Like the mud of the streets I poured them out.”
The mud in the streets is ground to a powder by the traffic and eventually the wind blows it all away and the streets are emptied of it. So to will be the fate of the enemy, ‘I will empty them out.’
Verse 44; “Rescue me from strife of the nation, place me at the head of the peoples, a nation unknown to me, will serve me.”
David prays for the future rescue from the involvement in their arguments and litigations: ‘If I judge them, I fear that I risk punishment either passing an unjust sentence or for wielding my authority too forcefully (Rashi).
Verse 45; “As soon as they hear they will obey me, foreigners will cringe before me.”
Even when they are not in my presence, but merely hear of my wishes through a messenger they obey me (Rashi).
Because they fear me they lie and deny their participation in the wars waged against me. Or, ‘they betrayed,’ for they deserted their allies because they feared me (Radak).
Verse 46; “Foreigners will wither away and be terrified by their imprisonment.”
Fear will wear out David’s enemies (Ibn Ezra). The Hebrew word that has been translated as “terrified” has no counterpart in all of the Scriptures. Targum translates it as “and from within the chambers, the terror of death.”
Hebrew 10:31; “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living Elohim.”
Romans; “Consider therefore the kindness and severity of Elohim: severity to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.”
Verse 47; “YHWH lives and blessed is my rock! May the Elohim of my salvation be exalted.”
All of the aforementioned success happened because my Elohim is the living Elohim who has power to perform miracles (Radak).
Verse 48; “The Elohim who grants me vengeance and subjugates nations beneath me,”
YHWH grants me the strength to take revenge (Rashi; Radak). If one is operating in the perfect will of YHWH, his enemies are YHWH’s enemies. Such a man harbours no malice or rage that is in exclusion to YHWH, in fact he is at peace toward whatever person or people might normally cause him to seek retribution, but if this man obeys YHWH and seeks His council, YHWH may use him to extract revenge, which was never the desire of this man, but of YHWH.
Romans 12:19; “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for Elohim’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says YHWH.”
Verse 49; “Rescues me from my foes and raises me even above my adversaries, from the man of violence He delivers me.”
Psalms 140; “Rescue me, OYHWH, from evil men; protect me from men of violence.”
YHWH did not just rescue David, He placed him high above his enemies (Radak). After David was rescued from Saul, YHWH allowed him to achieve all of his glory (Radak). Romans 8:37; “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Verse 50; “Therefore, I will thank You among the peoples, YHWH,”
I will proclaim before all of the peoples who serve and obey me that my right to rule is drawn from You, YHWH (Radak).
Verse 51; “He magnifies the victories of His king, and does kindness with His anointed, to David and his seed, forever.”
Midrash Shocher Tov explains: Rabbi Yudan says, The redemption of this nation will not come about all at once. Rather it will appear little by little. Therefore, it is described in Psalms as “magnifies” He makes great (constant present tense) meaning that it gradually become greater and greater. This is like the dawn which breaks slowly, for if the sun would rise all at once its fiery light would blind all. So, too, will be the redemption: if it would come all at once the people of Israel who for so long have been accustomed only to oppression could not endure the experience and it would overwhelm them.
Messiah Yahshua will be a tower of strength for Israel as it says, “A tower of might is the Name of YHWH; with it the righteous will run and be elevated” (Proverbs 18:1).