My God is a Rock
My God is a Rock
My God is a rock ...
You might have discovered this along the way somewhere, that sometimes Christians like to put each other in boxes!
Every now and then a Christian person will ask me, “do you believe the Bible literally?”
Now, my friends who aren’t Christians ask me this question as well, but for different reasons;, they’re trying to get their head around stuff. But often Christian people will ask it because they’re trying to put you in a box!
Some Christians insist on what we would call a flat reading of Scripture. They say you take each individual word at its most simple meaning.
And any suggestion that it might be poetic,
That the author might have used this word to try and capture something else, and you’ve got to go and wash your mouth out with soap. That’s what some Christians insist!
So I’ve been told, that my understanding of the Bible is sub-Christian, dishonouring to God, and demonstrates a lack of faith, because I think there are times that the human authors speak metaphorically or poetically.
And I know others here have been told the same sort of thing
But you can see the problem with that over-simplified approach to the Bible here in Psalm 18, can’t you?
Because in Psalm 18, Israel’s King David, says that his God, is a rock.
And he doesn’t just say it once, he says it 4 times! And twice our Bible publishers capitalise the “R”, to make the rock, divine!
And you might say, “hang on, you’re just setting up a straw man. No one actually thinks God is a rock.”
But actually people do!
I know people who are pantheists and pagans and animists, people who have rocks in their houses, because they believe that God is somehow contained in the rock.
Understanding the Bible requires us to use our intellect. It doesn’t require too much intellect which is good news for some of us. But the way to read the Bible is not with your brain switched off, saying, “I don’t have to think about what the author means.”
Now, most of us probably know all this, and really all I’m trying to do, is say, “Isn’t it interesting? This repeated metaphor that David uses for his God; A rock.”
We saw last week when we were looking at Psalm 17, that David was the king of Israel, he ruled God’s people under God,
And so people who were opposed to God,
People who didn’t want God’s rule on earth, well they wanted to fight against David, and kill David, because he was God’s man, God’s representative.
You’ll remember just before Christmas the Russian ambassador to turkey was shot dead. And as he committed this terrible crime the assassin shouted “You killed civilians in Syria.” Now Andrei Karlov, the ambassador, had possibly never even set foot in Syria, but because he was a representative of the Russian government, this Turkish gunman set himself in opposition to him.
And it was the same in David’s day, people’s opposition to God, meant opposition to David.
It’s one of the reasons why we saw last week, we can’t just read ourselves into the stories of the Psalms;,
You and I are not God’s anointed king,
You and I are not the ancestor of Jesus, the saviour of all the world.
Our name comes in at the end. We pick up the letters as we go, but it’s at the end where we find where we fit in this, if you remember that from last week.
But one of the people opposed to David, was the present king of Israel, Saul.
Saul wanted to rule in his own right, not under God, and so God anointed David as king instead.
But it wasn’t until Saul’s death some years later, that David actually replaced him as king, so in the intervening time, Saul knows that God has chosen David to replace him, and he tried to kill him.
And on several of those occasions, recorded in 1 Samuel 22 to 24, David hid among rocks, and in a cave that was described as a fortress or a stronghold.
And so as David remembers how God has protected him, as the title says, from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul, he recalls that God saved him in the rocks,
And in the cave,
And in the fortress, and so he attaches those symbols of his preservation, to God.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
He’s not saying that God was actually that physical rock that he hid behind.
But he recognises that the good gift he enjoyed, came from God.
The rock was so totally God’s provision, that he kind of blurs the line between the 2, as he’s trying to put into words how God has protected him.
This Psalm is one of those interesting parts of the Bible that is repeated almost word for word, in another spot. If you flick over to 2 Samuel 22, it’s page 324 in the blue Bibles. You’ll see it’s almost identical to Psalm 18.
It’s got the Psalm’s title in verse 1, then verse 2, The Lord is my rock,
my fortress and my deliverer; and so on!
One difference though, is what comes next; The very next line after 2 Samuel 22 is David’s last words.
This is probably David as an old man, sitting in his rocking chair, looking back at his whole life, and remembering the refuge and rescue that God has provided, time after time, after time.
See verse 3 as he sums up his reflection, 3 I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and I have been saved from my enemies.
And it made me wonder, as I was reading it this week, how often do we pause, and remind ourselves, remind others, of the different ways that God has shown his goodness to us?
It’s encouraging reading David’s story of refuge and rescue, isn’t it? How much more we might be encouraged by calling to mind how God has acted for us,
Giving thanks for the many blessings he’s poured out on our lives.
See there’s a terrific intimacy between David and God isn’t there? Even the opening line, I love you, Lord, my strength.
I bought a card for my wife Kathy for our wedding anniversary the other week, it said on the front, “Remember that a marriage will grow stronger the more frequently you say those 3 little words, Let’s, eat, out!
3 little words! But those 3 little words, “I love you” occur only 3 times in the whole Old Testament, and this is the only occasion in the Psalms, and the only occasion when they’re addressed to God.
There’s an intimacy of relationship here, and we see the reason for it; and that’s because God has always been there for David;,
In the face of death.
Just jump down to verse 28, as one example of God’s action for David that’s led to this incredibly close relationship, You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.
David’s experience of God, is that God’s always there,
It’s God who preserves and protects him,
God has proved himself reliable, and so the relationship has deepened.
We see that with people we know too, don’t we? The people who have learnt to trust in God’s faithfulness over and over, they enjoy a closeness in relationship, that sometimes we find ourselves wondering at.
Sometimes people say to me that they feel far from God, that they feel dry spiritually. And I get that there are circumstances of life that put pressure on our relationship with God.
And yet I can’t help but think that if we were to say that to David, he would say something like “Then you need to remember again what God has done for you”,
He’d say “Intimacy in relationship comes from celebrating God’s great saving acts.”
There’s a reason that David goes over and over the things that God has done for him.
Because things did get quite bad for David!
See verse 4, The cords of death entangled me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
5 The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
But actually if you look at the whole of the Psalm, and this is the 4th longest of all the Psalms, at 50 verses, there’s not really a significant amount of attention given to David’s problems is there?
There are these 2 verses, 4 and 5, which basically say the same thing 4 slightly different ways, “David was nearly dead”!
But the point of the Psalm is not to dwell on the problem, but to look to the God who rescues David from the problem, and enables him to pass through it.
And I was a little bit convicted of that this week as I was thinking about this passage. It is entirely right and appropriate for us to tell God how we’re feeling,
And when we’re feeling under pressure,
And when we think we can’t take any more,
And there are certainly occasions when David goes into much more detail than he does here,
But what a great counter-balance, to what is perhaps often our tendency, certainly my tendency, the “woe is me, let me tell you all my problems and how my hard life is”,
Here we have 2 verses, that capture unmistakeably, the desperate situations that David found himself in on multiple occasions, but those 2 verses are sandwiched in between 48 verses that speak of God’s faithfulness,
Of God’s power,
Of God’s presence.
I think reflecting on those proportions is probably a helpful idea for me, and maybe for you too, especially as we see exactly what David says about God in the following verses.
God saw a need and turned up (v 6 – 19)
Verses 6 to 19 are considered the main section of this Psalm. We could say, it’s “what happens when God turns up.” The technical term is a “theophany.” You might have come across that expression. It just means an appearance of God.
And if you look at those verses from 6 to 19, you can see that it is all about God making an appearance in response to David’s distress.
And if you look at these verses, and you think, “some of this rings a bell, then you’re probably right.
This description here echoes what me might call “God’s greatest hits”! The high points of God’s action for his people.
Verse 7, The earth trembled and quaked,
and the foundations of the mountains shook;
That’s the same description that we find in the book of Exodus, when God descended on Mount Sinai to meet his people there.
Or verse 15, The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare
It sounds like the crossing of the Red Sea as God rescued his people from the might and power of the Egyptian army, doesn’t it?
Or jump back up to verse 12, Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.
In Joshua 10, God sent hail to scatter the army of his enemies.
Last week I got a 3 month free trial of Google Play Music. Some of you will know that that is. It basically means you get to download
unlimited music off the Internet, and it seems that practically every album that’s ever been released is there, and you can just choose which one you want to listen to.
And of course, with so much choice, the question is, what do you want to listen to. And I could listen to all the latest music, I could get exposed to a whole world of music that I’m currently unfamiliar with.
But that’s not what I do! I search through this endless catalogue of albums, for the handful of songs I used to listen to when I was growing up,
I listen to the albums that we used to have on LP, when I was a kid.
And I try and teach my children, this is what music used to sound like!
I remind myself of what was significant back then,
I hear a particular song, and I’m taken back to a different place, and a different time, and I’m reminded of things that happened a long time ago.
That’s what David’s doing here.
He’s reaching back into God’s greatest hits, and applying the experience of God back then, to his life now.
So is David doing what I keep saying we must never do, reading himself into stories that are about somebody else?
You might have come across that Bible that you can buy, where they take out the personal pronouns and they print your name in it instead, about 7000 times!
So, for example, 2 Corinthians 5:18 & 19 becomes,
But, God, reconciled Clayton to Himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to Clayton the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling Clayton to Himself, not reckoning Clayton’s trespasses against him, and having committed to Clayton the ministry of reconciliation.
Which, maybe is true, but it’s dangerous to make that our first step when it comes to the Scriptures.
But is that what David’s doing?
Has he got himself the Bible with his name in it?, “God led David through the Red Sea!
God led David into the Promised Land”!
Well, I don’t think so!
I think the fact that David so consistently picks up language from Israel’s history, suggests he’s not being careless with his imagery, but rather is being very deliberate.
As far as I could tell, all of the imagery and poetry of this section reflects the history of God acting for his people in the Exodus from Egypt,
In the wilderness,
At Mount Sinai,
And in their taking possession of the Promised Land.
David hasn’t slipped into using the language of Israel’s history, he’s reached back and deliberately dragged it into the description of his own experience.
And here’s the thing. Those events back there, they were considered the greatest acts of God for his people.
And David thinks, the kindness and refuge that he’s received from God, is just as much a display of the glory and power of God, as those huge events in the nation’s history.
Everybody knew that God was mighty and powerful in the days of Moses.
Everyone knew God could be trusted when Joshua was in charge.
In using that history to describe his experience, David is saying to his people “Our God still acts for rescue and deliverance.”
And this is probably part of the reason why this bit is in the Bible twice.
The Psalms were the prayer book, and the hymn book of ancient Israel. In the days before screens and projectors and printed leaflets, this is what God’s people sang and said when they gathered as the church of God.
This is part of David’s life story, but it’s included in the Psalms, for all the people of Israel to know, and to sing, and to share.
When the assembly sings these words, they’re reminding themselves, and reminding each other, that God acted in their day with the same power with which he’d acted in the past.
God activity for the leader that God had given them, were just as much manifestations of God’s glory, as his actions for the leaders he had raised up for his people in previous generations.
God was just as much in the business of deliverance, of making his presence known, in their day, as he had been during those well known moments in their history.
Of course, the means, of how God brought about rescue and made his presence known were different.
And we’ll see as the story progresses, how we as Christians see the glory and power and presence of God displayed.
God is just as much a refuge in times of trouble now, as he was in David’s day, as he was in the time of the Exodus.
But how? How is God a refuge?
Well, we’re just about to see that this Psalm is fulfilled in Jesus, and the gospel of Jesus tells me that those who, perhaps, oppose me for my faith will not eventually triumph.
The gospel of Jesus gives me a framework and worldview completely different to that of the world around me, it give me value, and significance, and purpose, and speaks to me of the value and significance and purpose of others.
The gospel of Jesus invites me to find rest in him;, to find in his promise, the assurance that I can complete the work that he calls me to.
The gospel of Jesus tells me that even if, those who oppose God’s king and his kingdom take my life, they don’t have the last word on my life, that I will stand before the God who has made me his dearly loved child, and he will welcome me in.
Our God, is a rock, a refuge.
God’s king is perfect (v 27 – 31)
Now, we spent a fair bit of time last week considering how David is able to make the claim of being innocent, so we won’t really go into that, but if you have questions about how David can say that God is acting towards him according to my righteousness verse 20, or according to the cleanness of my hands, have a listen to last week’s talk in Psalm 17.
But this is considered one of the Messianic Psalms. Israel came to understand it to be a promise about another king, the eternal king whom God had promised his people, the Messiah, or the Christ.
In fact John Calvin, who was a leader in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century said that there is lots in this Psalm that, “agrees better with Christ”, than with David.
His point was, yes, it’s true of David, but it’s even more true of Jesus.
See, have a look at verse 20, or verse 21, I have kept the ways of the Lord;
I am not guilty of turning from my God.
David was generally obedient and a faithful servant to his God, as the title says, but those verses, say down to verse 26, they were certainly not true of every episode of his life.
But they are true of every episode in Jesus’ life.
Jesus is the king from the line of David, the Messiah, and Jesus could honestly say, verse 23 for example, I have been blameless,
and have kept myself from sin.
You can see what Calvin means when he says it’s more true, true in every way of Jesus.
But if we are, to use the language of the New Testament, in Christ, if we trust in the sufficiency of Christ’s sinless life and his death in our place,
If we believe that he is able to pay the penalty for our sin and rebellion before God,
Then this language can also apply to us.
The Bible tells us that when God looks at his people, those who trust in Jesus for forgiveness and relationship, what catches his eye is not our sin, but the perfect sin-lessness of Jesus.
We know immediately which side of these comparisons we want to be on, don’t we?
We know which one we want to apply to us!
Free from sin.
Because Jesus was those, that’s how God sees us.
But even though David wasn’t all of those things, all of the time,
God still acted for him, didn’t he?
The personal experience of God’s victory and judgment (v 32 – 50)
Verse 32, It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
David could look back on his life and know that God had always been faithful to him.
You may have heard in the news last week that a Chinese American artist passed away just before Christmas. His name was Tyrus Wong, and he was 106 when he died and he was most famous, for designing the look of the Disney film, Bambi.
And if you’ve seen that film, you know how great his work was, how beautifully and lightly the deer leap magnificently through the countryside.
God gave David exactly what he needed, which included the ability to be sure-footed, to be able to move quickly.
Perhaps not a need that we have, but David’s personal experience of God’s provision might make us stop and look take note of God meeting our different needs.
The metaphor then changes to one of strength;, my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
God is David’s shield, verse 35,
He makes a broad path for David’s feet.
If you’ve ever sprained your ankle, imagine leading an army into battle like that!
The worst sprain I’ve ever received I did in the street here in Mount Barker just before Christmas a year ago. I put my foot down, and it just went sideways underneath me. It hurt so much, I thought, “this must be what childbirth is like!”
No, but it hurt so much I thought I’d broken it, and as I lay there sprawled on the footpath, unable to move at all, a little old lady came up to me, pointed to my shoe and said, “Your shoelace is untied. That’s why you fell over!” And kept walking!
Which, you know, didn’t really help me at all!
But the picture of God acting for David, is that he’s, he’s got all bases covered. God is dealing with every detail as David battles his enemy.
God doesn’t take care of the big issues, and then say to David, “Well, I’ve trained your hands for battle, verse 34, and I’ll be your shield, verse 35, but you’re responsible for making sure your shoe-laces are tied!
And even in the next stanza, verses 37 down to 45 where we get a re-telling of how God acted for David, the emphasis is on God’s action, even though David is describing what he does!
In that first section with all that early Old Testament imagery, the camera is on God.
God’s in focus,
God’s doing these things, just as he’s done them in the past.
In 37 to 45, David comes back to this idea of “What happens when God turns up”, but now the camera’s zoomed in on David.
See verse 37, I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
I did not turn back,
I crushed them, verse 38,
I destroyed my foes verse 40,
Verse 42, I trampled them,
You get the picture.
That first part is about what it looks like for God to turn up, on a grand scale,
Now we’re talking about what it looks like personally for David, when God turns up.
The camera has zoomed in on David, but of course God’s not out of the picture, is he?
Even in this section, about what it is for David personally, what he is able to do, because God strengthens and protects him, God’s action is still very much in the picture isn’t it?
David’s in focus, but God is unmistakeably in the background.
I mentioned the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. Because Andrei Karlov was speaking at a public event, there were cameras there, and I think one of the most haunting photos was taken just seconds before he was shot, and filling the front of the frame is the ambassador, but in the background you can see his would-be assassin.
You look at the awful photo, and knowing what we know, you can’t take your eyes off, the figure in the background.
In a much less horrific way, that’s the picture David gives us here.
He’s in the foreground,
He’s telling us what he’s able to do, which is really to fulfil his role as king;,
Defend his people,
Uphold God’s law,
Defeat his enemies.
But even when we’re looking at David, we can’t ever really take our eyes off God.
It’s God who enables David to fight for his people,
It’s God who gives David the victory,
It’s God who judges those who do evil.
That’s the picture down in 40 to 45 isn’t it?
And similarly, we had, kind of, the cosmic scale of God’s judgment in that earlier section, in verse 8,
Smoke rose from his nostrils;
That’s all about judgment!
A consuming fire is how Deuteronomy pictures God in his jealous, protective relationship with his people.
But then as we come to the end of the Psalm, we see what God’s judgement on sin and evil looks like personally.
And truth be told, some of us might find this quite confronting;,
David’s enemies being crushed and falling, verse 38,
Trampled, verse 42,
But in our, probably right distaste for war and battle, let’s not miss what we’re supposed to learn here.
God’s judgment on sin and evil is complete and utter.
God’s defeat of his enemies is total. Because, let’s remember, these people being spoken about in these last few verses, are not just people who, say, King David didn’t like. He’s not settling personal vendettas.
In fact the episode most called to mind by the repeated imagery of the rock, is when King Saul was trying to kill David, and David had the perfect opportunity to kill him but he chose not to.
He is not out to exact personal revenge.
As the chosen king, David is God’s instrument for justice,
And God uses David, to punish sin and wickedness.
It’s a terrible thing, to have to face God’s judgment, to experience personally what’s described at the end of this Psalm.
God’s great king brings judgment and salvation
But also, we know that God’s judgment of sin and evil didn’t stop in David’s day, any more than his acts for the good of his people didn’t stop back then.
The New Testament tells us that the other king who came after David, also acts for the good of God’s people,
And is God’s agent of justice.
Jesus is both, saviour, and judge.
And if this judgment here is unpleasant, which is, to put mildly, Jesus’ final judgement on sin and evil, will be in every possible way, total,
And entirely just.
The glimpse of judgement here, should be warning enough for us, about the consequences of sin,
About turning our backs on God’s anointed king.
Psalm 18 taught the Israelites of a thousand BC, the same thing it teaches us;, The God of Moses,
The God of Joshua,
The God who saved his people through the sea, and brought them into the promised land, is our God, too.
God didn’t just decide one day to stop working for the good of his people, he’s still at it.
He didn’t decide one day to stop acting for justice, he’s still committed to it.
We tend not to see, these miraculous demonstrations of God’s power and glory.
The revelation of God’s blessings to the world isn’t any longer through the conduit of one particular nation of people.
Our inheritance as God’s children, is no longer just a specific patch of land, so the displays of God’s power and might aren’t focused on geography
But we know, in ways that David could only dream of, what it looks like for God to turn up. We know what the ultimate theophany looks like.
We can know the God of Psalm 18, even better than David did, because Psalm 18 speaks to us of the Messiah;, the promised king who could come from the line of David, to rule, and lead, and protect his people,
To defeat his enemies,
To judge sin,
To provide a refuge for those who put their hope in him.
The Apostle Paul quotes verse 49 of this Psalm, near the end of his letter to the Christians in Rome, Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.
For Paul, set apart by Jesus as apostle to the Gentiles, those words were a promise that God’s greatest act,
His most spectacular display of glory,
The ultimate theophany,
The most excellent manifestation of God’s presence,
And the final judgment of sin,
It was all still to come, in the days of David.
The Psalm was true, but incomplete, until the arrival of Christ.
Friends, we can say the words of verse 46, with a meaning greater even than what David could have imagined,
46 The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Savior!
We know what it is for the Lord to live!
For our saviour to be exalted.
The dramatic displays of God’s glory didn’t finish with the time of David.
The extraordinary turning up, of God among his people, didn’t stop with the battles of the ancient kings.
In Christ, God saw a need, and turned up.
In the cross of Christ, the New Testament authors speak of God’s glory being displayed more clearly than ever before.
Friends, if you’re a follower of Jesus, behold your God, in Psalm 18.