Psalm 18:20
The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness; He has repaid me according to the cleanness of my hands.
A Retrospect of LifeW. Forsyth Psalm 18:1-50
The Conqueror's Song of Praise and HopeC. Clemance Psalm 18:1-50
The Retrospect of a Life: a Sermon for the Close of the YearC. Short Psalm 18:1-50
God's InterpositionsHomilistPsalm 18:20-27
Justification by WorksW. L. Watkinson.Psalm 18:20-27
Of the Justice of David's BehaviourG. Lawson.Psalm 18:20-27
It is not our purpose, nor is it our province, in this section of the 'Pulpit Commentary,' to write homilies on specific texts; but rather to deal with this psalm (as we have done with others) as a whole - for it is a unity - and to show how grand a basis it presents for the pulpit exposition of the provisions of "the everlasting covenant" to which allusion is made in the last verse of the psalm. The student and expositor might with advantage refer at the outset to Isaiah 4:3, "I will give you the sure mercies of David," with the view of showing that the promises made to David do immeasurably transcend any merely personal reference; that they include all the blessings which come to us through him who, though David's Son, was yet David's Lord. There is no reason to doubt the Davidic authorship of the psalm. There are, moreover, more data than most psalms present, to aid us in deciding the approximate date of its composition. We have it recorded in 2 Samuel 22:4-51. This gives us one historic clue to its date. Besides, the tone of triumph which is heard throughout it was scarcely heard in the later days of David, after his great crime had darkened the remainder of his earthly life. Vers. 19-24 could scarcely have been written after that catastrophe, even though it be urged that David writes rather of his administration as king than of his behaviour as a man. Regarding, then, the inscription at the head as showing us the occasion on which the psalm was first penned, and taking into account the prophetic far-reaching-ness of its closing words, we are called on to view it in a double aspect - one historical, the other typical.


1. Here is a distinct reference to David as king. And while we should miss very much of the significance of the psalm, were we to omit the larger view to which we shall presently refer, yet, on the other hand, if we omit the strictly historical application, our use of the psalm will be strangely incomplete. As, without the historic setting, there would be no basis on which to set anything further, so, without the larger view, there would be no adequate superstructure set up upon that basis. Combine both, and the glory of the psalm stands forth as combining inspiration and revelation in the contents of this triumphant song (see ver. 50, where the remarkable, phrase occurs, "his king;" i.e. God's king). David was God's appointed king for Israel, and as such he tunes his harp for Jehovah's praise.

2. With David as king, God had made a covenant. This is implied in ver. 50, where the mercies already granted are referred to as pledged "for evermore."

3. David had been plunged into fierce conflict. (See vers. 4, 5.) The study of David's life will furnish us with a host of facts in this direction.

4. Conflict had driven him to earnest prayer. (Ver. 6.) Again and again had he passed through this experience (see Psalm 34:6; Psalm 138:3). The believer's most piercing cries are sent upward to God, when he is being pierced by the sharpest arrows of affliction. How is it that we so often need the pressure of sorrow to quicken us from languor in prayer. Sad, - that prayer should be forced out rather than drawn out]

5. Prayer had been followed by timely deliverance. This is set forth in poetry which is truly sublime (see vers. 7-16). 'The Divine deliverance was seen:

(1) In girding the assailed one with strength (ver. 39).

(2) In rescuing him from his pursuers (ver. 16).

(3) In causing the foe to be prostrate under the conqueror's feet (ver. 40).

(4) In bringing forth the conqueror to liberty and gladness (ver. 19).

6. Such deliverance led him to triumph in God. It may be asked, however, "Is not such joy in God rather of an inferior order, when it arises because God has done for us just what we wished? Perhaps so. But that is not a correct setting of the case before us. It is this: God had promised deliverance. David pleaded with God on the ground of the promise; and he found the great Promiser true. Hence the jubilation. When prayers that are presented on the basis of God's promise are abundantly answered, gratitude may well burst forth in holy song (see vers. 1, 2). What joy to a believer to read in the trials and reliefs of life a perpetual revelation of the loving-kindness of God!

7. The mercies of the past assure him of help in the future. (Ver. 50.) For evermore." Even so. So often has prayer been turned to praise, so often have we cast our burden at God's feet, and borne a song away, that we cannot doubt him now. Rather will we sing, "Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice." God has helped us, and will "for evermore."

II. LET US NOTE ITS CONTENTS TYPICALLY, AS FULFILLED AND FULFILLING IN ONE WHO IS OF DAVID'S SEED, YET IS DAVID'S LORD. Although it is easy to explain the greater part of the phrases of this psalm by incidents in David's personal career, there are some which seem to tower above his or any man's experience, and which can be adequately interpreted only as the psalm is regarded as having not only historical meaning, but also typical and predictive significance. How this manifests itself will appear, we trust, from the present outlines.

1. The kingship of David was not only personal, but also typical and prophetic. That such was the case may be gathered from the last verse of this psalm, and also from a study of the following passages: 2 Samuel 7:12-16; 2 Samuel 23:2-5; Psalm 16:8-10; Psalm 89:20-37; Psalm 132:11-18; Psalm 110.; Matthew 22:41-45; Acts 2:25-36; Acts 13:32-37. That gracious redemptive work, which began with the calling out of Abraham (Isaiah 51:2, Hebrew), was being carried forward through David with a view to its fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is seated on David's throne. And the glory of King David is infinitely surpassed in David's Lord; while the promises made to David and his seed are made over to all who are in blessed covenant relation to God through the Lord Jesus Christ (Isaiah 4:3).

2. The Lord Jesus and his saints are gone forth to war. (Ver. 34.) In a high and holy sense, as the kingship of David was typical, so also were his wars. One of the early visions of the seer of Patmos indicated this. He sees One who speaks of himself as the Root and Offspring of David (Revelation 22:16) going forth conquering and to conquer (Revelation 6:2); and, indeed, the entire Book of the Apocalypse might be called the 'Book of the Wars of the Lord.'

3. The issue of the great conflict is already foreseen. The "for evermore" with which the psalm closes spans the whole of the present dispensation, and reaches forward to the time when Jesus shall have "all enemies beneath his feet." This is beyond doubt. The everlasting covenant is "ordered in all things and sure."

4. Ere this final victory, there will intervene many a struggle and many a rescue. While David's Lord is on high, controlling the conflict, and administering all, the saints are in the midst of the struggle. As individuals they are called to "wrestle against the world-rulers of darkness." Ministers of the gospel are to "endure hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ." And the Church, as a whole, will have to undergo many a severe struggle. At times it may seem as if the cause were all but lost. But the great Commander will ensure his army all timely rescue as well as final triumph.

5. All the enemies of Christ will be put to shame. (Isaiah 60:12; Romans 16:20; Psalm 18:40-42; also vers. 13, 14, 45.)

6. The great King will receive the homage of the peoples, and be exalted above all. (Vers. 43, 44.) The expression in ver. 43, "the Head of the nations," can be fully accomplished only in Christ as our victorious Lord. "All nations shall serve him."

7. All who are now fighting on the King's side will share his victory. That which is the result for David is ensured also to "his seed" (ver. 50). As our Lord is not alone in the war, so he will not be alone when the war is over. His triumph will be that also of those who are his.

8. The result of all will be a new disclosure of God. (Vers. 1, 2, 30, 31, 46, 47.) Just as David's career was ever unfolding to him the faithfulness and love of God, so will the result of the Church's conflict reveal to believers how great, how vast, was the scheme of mercy for men's deliverance, and for the discomfiture of the powers of ill. The glory of God will stand out revealed in the day of final triumph, putting doubts and fears to fiight, as his love stands forth vindicated in the glorious result of all. And the oft-repeated Scripture phrase, "They shall know that I am the Lord," will be fulfilled with a glory and grandeur beyond our utmost stretch of thought.

9. All this is now God's noblest prophecy, and will be hereafter the theme of the saints noblest song. Psalm 18, may well be regarded as finding its exposition, its supplement, in Revelation 5. In the psalm we have God's providences forecast; in the Apocalypse we have God's providences reviewed. In the former David's conquests are recited; in the latter the conquests of the Root of David. In the former we have the song of the victorious David; in the latter the new song of the victorious Seed of David. And by as much as David's Lord is greater than David, by so much will the new song of the redeemed transcend the noblest flights of Hebrew praise. - C.

The Lord reward me according to my righteousness.
I. DAVID'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. Righteousness consists in rendering to all their due, and the revealed will of God is the standard of it (Deuteronomy 6:25). As we are under infinitely greater obligations to perform our duty to God than we can be under to perform any services to our fellow men, righteousness includes in it that piety which has God for its object, as well as the performance of those duties to which our neighbours have a right. Yet it is not seldom used to denote the rectitude of our dispositions and conduct to our fellow men, as godliness denotes right tempers and behaviour towards God. David laid it down as his settled purpose to walk in the law of the Lord, the great standard of righteousness, and through Divine mercy he was enabled to keep his resolution inviolable through the course of his life. He did not pretend to perfection. He referred all his actions to the glory of God; he loved His testimonies with his whole heart, and took pleasure in the habitation of His house. He made use of all his power to advance the honour of his God.

1. He behaved righteously towards King Saul, his first and great enemy. He was just to all his fellow subjects whilst he lived under the government of Saul. He acquired a high reputation for the prudence with which he managed all his affairs, and he would not have attained this honest fame if he had not abstained from all appearance of evil. We have no reason to form the least doubt of the care that David took, when he was an outlaw and a fugitive, to keep his followers from using any unwarrantable means for the supply of their wants, although they must often have been in extreme poverty. We have a testimonial from Nabal's servants of the honesty of David's men, and even of their generous care of Nabal's substance, at a time when the ,good man was almost reduced to beggary. We have no reason to doubt of David's rectitude of behaviour in all the dealings that he had with strangers. He had transactions in the time of his troubles with the king of Moab, to whom he committed the care of his father and mother when they could no longer dwell with safety at Bethlehem. We have no further account of any dealings with that prince, although we afterwards find him carrying on a bloody war with the Moabites. We have not the means of knowing whether the king of Moab had provoked this war by cruelty to David's father and mother; but we can have no doubt that the cause of the war was just on David's part. After the kind treatment which he received from the king of Gath, he took Gath out of the hands of the Philistines, but the Philistines themselves were the authors of the war. David in his government was a man of blood, but in his disposition he was a man of peace. A necessity was laid upon him to fight the battles of the Lord, and of the people of the Lord. When he was advanced to the throne of Israel it is testified of him that he did justice and judgment to all his people. He tells us (Psalm 75; Psalm 101) how he intended to govern his family and his kingdom, and doubtless, as far as human infirmity would permit, he kept his resolution. Gratitude may well be considered as an ingredient of justice. We owe returns of love and of the proper fruits of it to friends who love us, and who are glad to serve us according to the best of their abilities. David's gratitude to his benefactors was a remarkable part of his character. We find him sending presents of the spoils gained in battle to those places where he and his men were accustomed to haunt. When Saul was dead he was so far from expressing resentment against him, that he inquired whether there were any left of his family, that he might show them the kindness of God for Jonathan's sake, And many years afterwards he showed that Jonathan was not forgotten by him, when he took care to secure Mephibosheth from the destruction brought upon the family of Saul, at the requisition of the Gibeonites. He was grateful for favours even to those heathens from whom he received any kindness. Nahash, king of the Ammonites, showed kindness on some occasions to David, perhaps rather from hatred to Saul than goodwill to the poor man whom Saul oppressed. Yet David showed kindness unto Hanun, the son of Nahash, for his father's sake. Righteousness in a king will dispose him to an impartial execution of the laws against criminals. A wise king crusheth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them. But how was this consistent with the favour showed to Joab and to Absalom? Did he not know that God had forbidden any satisfaction to be taken for the life of a murderer? Yes, he knew it very well, and took measures even when he was dying that Joab's grey hairs should not come down to the grave without blood. It is perhaps impossible entirely to justify him for suffering that bloody man to live so long above the ground. Yet never was lenity to a criminal more excusable. Seldom has a prince or a nation been more indebted to a subject than David and his people were to Joab for brilliant services. And it appears to have been almost impracticable to bring to condign punishment a man so popular, and of such power in the army as Joab. David himself made this excuse for himself when he said, "These men, the sons of Zerniah, are too strong for me." We may observe likewise that David was once indebted for his own life to Abishai, the brother of Joab, who seems to have had some share in the blood of Abner. He might with some appearance of reason think that he owed a life to the family of his sister Zeruiah, or that at least he might incline to the favourable side when plausible reasons could be advanced for their exculpation. We cannot pretend to vindicate his behaviour in the case of Uriah. But we cannot reprobate that part of his conduct in stronger language than David himself did. We may make the same observation concerning another instance of David's procedure, which has given occasion to animadversions on his conduct; I mean the charge given to Solomon concerning Shimei. "Behold thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim; but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the Lord, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword. Now, therefore, hold him not guiltless, for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him, but his hoary head bring thou clown to the grave with blood." We might have observed that fidelity in performing engagements is an essential part of justice in which it cannot be supposed that David would be deficient. But how could David observe his promise and oath to Shimei if he brought down the hairs of Shimei with blood to the grave by the hands of Solomon? A man is no less accountable for what he commands to be done, than for what he does with his own hands. Can we reasonably suppose that David on his deathbed would commit an act of wickedness for which his memory might be detested by all who feared an oath? In fact, we find that the crime of cursing David at Mahanaim was not the ground of the sentence against Shimei, although the reason he had given by that crime to suspect his loyalty was the cause why he was laid under a prohibition of leaving Jerusalem under pain of death. But there is another reading of the last part of the charge equally agreeable to the words of the original, which clears the character of David from all blame, Neither bring down his grey hairs to the grave with blood; keep a strict eye over him as a man disaffected to my family; punish him for any new crime by which he may merit punishment, but let my oath be sacred, and bring not down his grey hairs to the grave with blood, for that crime which I sware by the Lord not to punish with death. Charity is essential to justice. There are duties which we owe to all men, by the second great commandment of the law, the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves. If David had not conscientiously observed this precept he could not have so often appealed to God, the Searcher of hearts, as the witness of his inviolable regard to these Divine testimonies, which were the light to his path and the lamp by which his feet were guided in the way of peace.

II. GOD'S REGARD TO DAVID'S RIGHTEOUSNESS IN THE DELIVERANCES GRANTED TO HIM FROM HIS ENEMIES. Without all doubt, David ascribed all the rich favours he received from God to that sovereign and free mercy to which every saint of God must be infinitely indebted (Psalm 86:11, 116:4, 5). He was sensible, like his father Jacob, that he was not worthy of the least of God's mercies, and that there was no merit in the least of his works (Psalm 138:2, 3). But he knew at the same time that, through the infinite mercy of God, the good works of His people are accepted and rewarded by Him (Psalm 11:6). Mercy and truth meet together in God, righteousness and peace kiss each other, and display their united glories in the administrations of His providence to His people. The Lord shows forth the exceeding riches of His grace in making them righteous, and when they are made righteous He shows both His grace and His justice in rewarding them according to their righteousness. There is so much sin mingled even with their good works that, if they were still under the law, they could not escape the condemnation at once of all their works, and of their persons likewise. But all their iniquities, and amongst other iniquities those which cleave to their holy things, are covered from God's sight. Their good works, therefore, cannot but be well-pleasing to God, and richly rewarded by Him. He will never be unrighteous to forget any of their works or labours of love, and therefore those who follow after righteousness shall have a sure reward. But did not David glory in himself rather than in the Lord when he spoke of his own righteousness m such high terms. This question leads us —

III. TO CONSIDER DAVID'S CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS. He speaks with perfect assurance concerning the regard which God expressed to his righteousness. Is this the language of humility? It would indeed be very presumptuous to form and to express such a judgment concerning ourselves without searching our own hearts, without comparing them with the law of God, and without finding good evidence that our hearts are sound in God's statutes. But in none of these particulars had David been negligent.

1. He had searched his heart as well as his ways. "I thought," he says, "upon my ways., and turned my feet unto Thy testimonies." He was far from thinking that his ways could be right unless his heart was right in the sight of God.

2. His standard by which be tried himself was the law of his God. He was fully sensible of the folly of trying himself by any other standard.

3. He found in his heart and ways an habitual conformity to the law of God. He was indeed constrained to acknowledge that in many things he had offended God. When he meditated on the admirable purity of the law he cried, "Who can understand his errors? cleanse Thou me from secret faults." Yet he could with confidence say that he had hoped for God's salvation, and done His commandments. This conclusion he did not rashly form from the consideration of a few of his actions, or of the frame of his heart at some particular periods of his life. Many deceive themselves by forming a hasty judgment of themselves, founded on temporary impressions made upon their minds in some moments of seriousness, excited by some particular circumstance of providence, or by the transient influence of some Divine truths. He knew the deceitfulness of the heart of man, and that without Divine illumination he might easily deceive himself. He therefore referred himself to God, the Searcher of hearts, to preserve him from entertaining any false hopes of the goodness of his own condition (Psalm 139:23, 24).

IV. THE ASSURANCE WHICH DAVID HAD OF GOD'S RESPECT TO HIS OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS IN THE DELIVERANCES GRANTED TO HIM BY HIS GRACIOUS PROVIDENCE. We must not place humility ill all affected ignorance of what is true, either concerning oar own personal righteousness or concerning God's acceptance of it. Nothing could be more dangerous than the presumption that God is well pleased with us if our way or our heart is perverse before Him (Micah 3:10-12). Nothing could be more unbecoming in a Christian than the forgetfulness of his infinite obligations to that grace which has blotted out his innumerable transgressions. Yet it is desirable for every child of God to be well assured of the cleanness of his hands in God's sight, and of the acceptance of his works as well as of his person. As it is our duty to pray to God for the acceptance of our services, it must be our duty likewise humbly and thankfully to acknowledge God's righteousness and grace in His dealings with us. The riches of Divine mercy appear in the acceptance of our works, and in the consequent rewards bestowed on them, as well as in the acceptance of our persons. Were it not that our iniquities are hidden from God's sight, such works as even David's could not have been rewarded by that God who is of purer eyes than to behold evil. "Go thy way," says Solomon, "eat thy bread with cheerfulness, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for God now accepteth thy works." If God does not accept our works, we can have no well-grounded pleasure in the bounties of His providence. On the whole learn —

1. The great advantage of walking in the ways of God. "The Lord loveth him that followeth after righteousness. Say ye to the righteous, it shall be well with him." What reason have we to adore that plan of mercy which allows us to hope for Divine acceptance, and for the reward of our works done to please God, although they are so imperfect that we must daily seek from God the pardon of our iniquities.

2. God's people ought patiently to hold on in the way of righteousness amidst the most discouraging dispensations of providence. David had, after all his dismal days, a new song put into his mouth to magnify the Lord.

3. When we obtain deliverances it is our duty to consider how we behaved under our troubles. Yet we still ought to bless God for deliverances hem trouble, although we should not dare to say that we have kept the way of God when we are under it.

4. Let us give praise to God for the great salvation wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ. The deliverances of David were salvations to all Israel. It is to be feared that many of us are totally destitute of righteousness.

(G. Lawson.)

Why did God delight in David? The Psalmist declares that the ultimate reason was no arbitrary favouritism, but that God delighted in His servant because of his personal faith and character. David asserts the sincerity of his desire to please God; he asserts the uprightness of his conduct before God. The spirit of this appeal is far removed from Pharisaism; it is not an outburst of self-complacency and vain gloriousness, but the legitimate expression of conscious integrity. If the grace of God has done anything for us, why should we not simply and candidly realise and express the fact? Nothing succeeds like success, and we are ignoring a fountain of inspiration when we timidly shut our eyes to, the clear evidences of the victories of the inner life. To the glory of God's grace let us honestly acknowledge to ourselves and others the growing dominion of righteousness in our soul.

1. God deals with us as we deal with Him. "Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me." God had dealt with him as he had dealt with God. He trusted God, and God delivered him; he loved God, and God delighted in him; he served God, and God honoured and blessed him. This is ever the great canon of the Divine rule. As we love God, He will love us. "We love God, because He first loved us"; but having known His love, there is a very true sense in which its proportion is henceforth determined by the measure of our reciprocation. As we trust God, He will succour us. A great faith sinks Alpine ranges to a plain, it crosses Atlantic depths dryshod. The lack of such faith entangles us in many embarrassments and miseries. As we serve God He will requite us. According to the measure of our love, faith, and service shall be our safety, strength, and bliss. Are any poor in joy, grace, power, and peace? Let them act more generously towards God.

2. God deals with us as we deal with one another (see vers. 25, 26). The great truth taught in these verses is, that God's dealing with us is regulated by our dealing with one another. This is the clear, hill teaching of the whole of revelation. How mistaken are those who imagine spiritual religion to be anti-social. It is a common complaint that religious faith is a weakening, impoverishing, disintegrating influence in social life: the love given to God is supposed to be subtracted from our love to humanity; the service rendered to the kingdom of God is considered as so much filched from the service of humanity. No mistake could be greater. God does not judge us apart from society, but strictly in and through our relation to it. As we deal with our brother the great Father deals with us. Some people are religious without being good; that is, they are not kind to their fellows, just, generous, truthful, helpful. This will not do. A true Christian is both religious and good. God does not test us by our ecclesiastical life, but by our social, human life. Social duty and spiritual prosperity are closely related. When we suffer stagnation of spiritual life we search for the reason in the neglect of Church fellowship or worship, the reading of God's Word, or of the sacraments; but the reason will just as often be found in our failure to do justly and to love mercy in our social relation.

3. God deals with us as we deal with ourselves. "I was also upright before Him." As we honour ourselves by keeping ourselves pure, God honours us by abundance of grace and peace. There is a true sense ill which He accepts us according to our own valuation. If we reverence our body, hallow our gifts, prize our fair name, esteem our time and influence as choice treasure, God follows up such self-respect by great spiritual enrichment and blessing. If we would realise the fulness of blessing we must respect ourselves and keep from iniquity.

(W. L. Watkinson.)


1. He — David — regarded his character as very excellent. Of that excellency he speaks in terms emphatic and strong. Can his language be justified? Not in an absolute sense. Morally, in the sight of God, David was very far from a perfect man. It can be justified in an average sense, and in an official sense.

2. David regarded his character as divinely influential. Was he right in supposing that God came to his deliverance on account of what he was in himself, or on account of what he had done to serve Him?

1. Individual character is known to God.

2. Individual character is interesting to God. Nothing in the universe touches the heart of the Great Father so much as the moral character of His children.

II. AS AN ILLUSTRATION OF GOD'S MANIFESTATION. He rises to a view of the great principle with which God deals with all His moral creatures. As man is, so is God to him. This is true in two respects.

1. As a personal power. God treats man according to his character.

2. As a mental conception. Man's idea of God is his God, it is the deity, he worships. Man worships the God he has imaged to himself; and men have different images, according to the state of their own hearts. The revengeful man has a God of vengeance, the sectarian man has a God of sects, the capricious man has a capricious God, the selfish man has a greedy God, the despotic man has an arbitrary God, and the loving man has a loving God. Our moral nature rises and falls with our conception of God, for "man must need assimilate himself to what he worships." "Every man copies the God in whom he believes."


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