Notes (NET Translation)
For the music director; by the LORD’s servant David, who sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD rescued him from the power of all his enemies, including Saul.
A variant of this psalm appears in 2 Sam. 22. This heading says David sang the psalm after he had been delivered from all his enemies. The psalm itself refers to “my enemy” (singular) and “my enemies” (plural).
[The psalm] testifies to Yhwh’s involvement in David’s life as a whole and reflects the awareness that Yhwh acted in extraordinary and decisive ways in his life, granting him escapes and achievements that are hard to parallel, not for his own sake but also for the sake of Israel, in whose story his reign has a decisive place. But the last verse also indicates that the psalm was open to being claimed by subsequent kings and implies a permanent commitment to David’s line on Yhwh’s part, justifying both a use by subsequent kings and an eschatological reading.1
1 He said: “I love you, LORD, my source of strength!
A unique verb expressive of love for God opens the psalm. Hebrew has various ways to express devotion and love for God, but usually the verb translated here as “love” (from raham, GK 8163, “to have mercy”) is used to affirm God’s compassion for people. The verb implies the need of the one who receives the compassion and is associated with a mother’s care for her children. David thus expresses his commitment to the Lord, who is his source of strength, comfort, and sustenance. The phrase “I love you” communicates the intimacy of his relationship with the Lord based on experience.2
2 The LORD is my high ridge, my stronghold, my deliverer. My God is my rocky summit where I take shelter, my shield, the horn that saves me, and my refuge.
The psalmist continues by piling up a series of words and epithets, in a kind of staccato style, which express pungently the nature of God as he has been experienced. The names reflect two themes, though each is closely related to the other; one theme is military (God is deliverer, shield, and safe retreat) and the other evokes the rocky wilderness which was for so long a part of David’s experience (God is cliff, stronghold, and rock); it was in the wilderness that David in his military campaigns experienced God’s intimate presence.3
3 I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I was delivered from my enemies.
4 The waves of death engulfed me, the currents of chaos overwhelmed me.
5 The ropes of Sheol tightened around me, the snares of death trapped me.
6 In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried out to my God. From his heavenly temple he heard my voice; he listened to my cry for help.
7 The earth heaved and shook; the roots of the mountains trembled; they heaved because he was angry.
Verses 7-15 are probably symbolic ways of speaking of God’s act of deliverance. Consider that in Judges 4-5 the prose account of Deborah and Barak’s victory speaks of God working by human means whereas the poetic account contains more figurative language.
8 Smoke ascended from his nose; fire devoured as it came from his mouth; he hurled down fiery coals.
9 He made the sky sink as he descended; a thick cloud was under his feet.
10 He mounted a winged angel and flew; he glided on the wings of the wind.
A winged angel is a cherub. The picture is of God’s throne being carried by a cherub (Ezek. 1-3).
11 He shrouded himself in darkness, in thick rain clouds.
12 From the brightness in front of him came hail and fiery coals.
13 The LORD thundered in the sky; the sovereign One shouted.
14 He shot his arrows and scattered them, many lightning bolts and routed them.
15 The depths of the sea were exposed; the inner regions of the world were uncovered by your battle cry, LORD, by the powerful breath from your nose.
The idea is that the seas parted and what is normally under the water is exposed.
16 He reached down from above and took hold of me; he pulled me from the surging water.
17 He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hate me, for they were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in my day of calamity, but the LORD helped me.
19 He brought me out into a wide open place; he delivered me because he was pleased with me.
20 The LORD repaid me for my godly deeds; he rewarded my blameless behavior.
21 For I have obeyed the LORD’s commands; I have not rebelled against my God.
22 For I am aware of all his regulations, and I do not reject his rules.
23 I was innocent before him, and kept myself from sinning.
24 The LORD rewarded me for my godly deeds; he took notice of my blameless behavior.
25 You prove to be loyal to one who is faithful; you prove to be trustworthy to one who is innocent.
26 You prove to be reliable to one who is blameless, but you prove to be deceptive to one who is perverse.
A perverse (iqqesh) person twists the way of integrity. The Hebrew states that God responds in kind with a twist (pathal) of his own. The NET dangerously translates this as “to be deceptive.” “The idea is that Yhwh can match the faithless in the capacity to throw a curve ball or bend a free kick.”4 “The principle is illustrated by God’s use of Laban to educate Jacob, and perhaps supremely by his unsettling treatment of the devious Balaam.”5
The psalmist does not say that God shows himself “shrewd” (v. 26) in the sense that he deals wisely with the wicked but that he “acts corruptly” (“crooked”) with those who are “crooked.” Even as God deals lovingly with those who love him, he lets the crooked acts of the wicked boomerang on their own heads. They receive their just deserts.6
27 For you deliver oppressed people, but you bring down those who have a proud look.
28 Indeed, you are my lamp, LORD. My God illuminates the darkness around me.
29 Indeed, with your help I can charge against an army; by my God’s power I can jump over a wall.
30 The one true God acts in a faithful manner; the LORD’s promise is reliable; he is a shield to all who take shelter in him.
31 Indeed, who is God besides the LORD? Who is a protector besides our God?
32 The one true God gives me strength; he removes the obstacles in my way.
33 He gives me the agility of a deer; he enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain.
34 He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend even the strongest bow.
35 You give me your protective shield; your right hand supports me; your willingness to help enables me to prevail.
The last clause of this verse is translated by the KJV as: “thy gentleness hath made me great.”
For the remarkable expression in the Hebrew text, ‘they gentleness made (or will make) me great’ (cf. AV, RV, RSV mg.), various commonplace substitutes have been suggested since ancient times. But the truth it expresses is profound, and the only question is whether David had the perception to see it. On so subjective a matter the text should have the benefit of the doubt. The Hebrew noun is akin to the adjective anaw, humble, meek, the second word discussed at verse 27 above; and while it was the gentleness God exercised that allowed David his success, it was the gentleness God taught him that was his true greatness.7
36 You widen my path; my feet do not slip.
37 I chase my enemies and catch them; I do not turn back until I wipe them out.
38 I beat them to death; they fall at my feet.
39 You give me strength for battle; you make my foes kneel before me.
40 You make my enemies retreat; I destroy those who hate me.
41 They cry out, but there is no one to help them; they cry out to the LORD, but he does not answer them.
The second colon is commonly understood to suggest that they were crying to Yhwh, but this would be an unparalleled use of al. That regularly denotes the subject of a cry, not its object (e.g., Exod. 8:12); one might even translate “against Yhwh” (cf. Job 31:38). The enemies are crying out about the way Yhwh is a threat to them, presumably crying to their gods. But there is no one to defeat Yhwh.8
42 I grind them as fine windblown dust; I beat them underfoot like clay in the streets.
43 You rescue me from a hostile army; you make me a leader of nations; people over whom I had no authority are now my subjects.
Cf. 2 Sam. 8:3-12; 10:19.
44 When they hear of my exploits, they submit to me. Foreigners are powerless before me; 45 foreigners lose their courage; they shake with fear as they leave their strongholds.
46 The LORD is alive! My protector is praiseworthy! The God who delivers me is exalted as king!
47 The one true God completely vindicates me; he makes nations submit to me.
48 He delivers me from my enemies; you snatch me away from those who attack me; you rescue me from violent men.
49 So I will give you thanks before the nations, O LORD! I will sing praises to you!
50 He gives his chosen king magnificent victories; he is faithful to his chosen ruler, to David and his descendants forever.”
Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.
Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2006.
Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.
VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.