Alfred Place Baptist Church

Psalm 18: Who is God Besides the Lord?

Psalm 18:31-50 “For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great. You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn over. I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them so that they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet. You armed me with strength for battle; you made my adversaries bow at my feet. You made my enemies turn their backs in flight, and I destroyed my foes. They cried for help, but there was no-one to save them – to the LORD, but he did not answer. I beat them as fine as dust borne on the wind; I poured them out like mud in the streets. You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; you have made me the head of nations; people I did not know are subject to me. As soon as they hear me, they obey me; foreigners cringe before me. They all lose heart; they come trembling from their strongholds. The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Saviour! He is the God who avenges me, who subdues nations under me, who saves me from my enemies. You exalted me above my foes; from violent men you rescued me. Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD; I will sing praises to your name. He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants for ever.”
 
Many of the troubles professing Christians experience come either from enthusiastic faith in a small God or small faith in a great God. In Hebrews 11 we are reminded of the heroes of the Old Testament, their triumphs and exploits, that it was through their faith in a great God that they conquered kingdoms, obtained promises and wrought righteousness. I have no greater need than my faith be strengthened, and one thing is indispensable to grow in faith and that is to be sure how mighty and loving our God is.
These verses that close Psalm 18 show us through the confidence of David just how magnificent is Jehovah the Lord of hosts. David tells us what he knows about God, and then tells us what God has done for him.
 
  1. NONE CAN BE COMPARED TO GOD.
 
For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?” (v.31). David thinks of the various fertility gods of the Canaanites, the baals, or the gods of the other nations, Dagon, or Molech. He thinks of their darkness and the wickedness that goes on in their temples. How can they be compared to Jehovah God? He dabbles in comparative religion for a moment, not in a book-lined study bringing up the names of other gods one by one, but David does it from personal experience, for what he has seen of their cults from the times he has visited Philistine cities, the human sacrifice and temple prostitution, and he says from what he knows, “Who is God beside Jehovah?” Our God is holy and loving, reliable and merciful. He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth; he sustains everything. He speaks through Abraham and the patriarchs, and through Samuel and the prophets. Who is there to compare to him? You set him up and then beside him you place Dagon, and then Moloch, and then Baal. How pathetic they all are besides the Lord.
 
David sees him as utterly and totally reliable. He asks, “Who is the Rock except our God?” He uses this metaphor of impregnable strength, a mighty rock – men talk of the ‘Rock of Gibralter’ as a symbol of an inviolable and immovable object. That is our God. How fickle was Baal. When his followers really needed him he wasn’t there. You couldn’t find him when you wanted him. Your prayers to him went into the air and fizzled out. But we know where the Lord Christ is at this moment, he is in the midst of the throne of heaven beyond all that men or devils can do to destroy him.
 
The glory of his mighty power is that he reigns on our behalf. This God, says David, “arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (v.32). I can think of an omnipotent God in the abstract, a God of limitless power and measureless might, and I can imagine him like that – a kind of heavenly Rock of Gibraltar. I can admire the concept, but what does that Rock have to do with me? The Rock of Gibraltar may be quite impregnable but how does that help me in Wales? It seems a distant symbol of the old British empire and little more. David’s God is not symbolically or theoretically omnipotent. He makes David strong. That is what he does with his power. He makes every Christian strong. The king says in our text, “He arms me with strength” (v.32). It is not that God arms us with a Bible or the means of grace or with many Christian friends. He does, but more than that, he makes us strong beleivers. You remember the apostle Paul praying for the congregation in Ephesus that they would be strengthened by the might of God’s Spirit in the inner man. God can make you strong to resist temptation, strong to make you stand against principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world, strong to cleave to that which is good, strong to stand firm in an evil day and having done all to stand, strong to turn the other cheek; strong to forgive someone 70 times seven. The Christian life is all about strength, not the strength of the bully or the tyrant. It’s about the strength you receive from God. You go each day to God, your own great weakness feeling, and you ask him, “Help me to be strong today.” This little Christian boy facing his first day in a new school and asks God to make him a strong boy, not the strength of a bully and a smart Alec but strong in loving God and keeping his commandments.
 
David’s greater longing is that God will make the king’s way perfect (v.32). He has already acknowledged one thing as non-negotiable, that whatever God does with him, for him or in him, “as for God, his way is perfect” (v.30). Though sometimes that might involve a cross or a thorn in the flesh so that our way is a lonely painful path, yet David won’t blame God. He won’t drown in self-pity or bitterness for what God is doing, “his way is perfect.” But now he moves one step further and he confesses, “he makes my way perfect.” It is one thing for a grand master to make a work of art that is absolutely perfect; all the training of many years means everything he paints is superb. We can appreciate that, but it is another thing for his apprentices to say, “He makes my way perfect.” In other words, “My paintings have a perfection abut them and it is all through his influence.” What trust, when clouds and darkness veil God’s lovely face, when, as the hymnist says, all around my soul gives way, and I am just feeling my way along one little step at a time, at such times to be sure that God is making my way perfect. We walk by faith not by sight, as Horatius Bonar wrote;
 
“I dare not choose my lot; I would not if I might;
Choose Thou for me, my God, so shall I walk aright.
Not mine, not mine the choice in things both great and small;
Be Thou my Guide, my Strength, my Wisdom and my All.
 
Bonar could pray that because he knew David’s Lord, and he was making Horatius Bonar’s way perfect too. So that is where David begins, that our God is incomparable.
 
2. GOD KEEPS US WHEN WE’RE AT THE HEIGHT OF OUR POWERS.
 
When we are really up – what a dangerous place, when things at work are going well for us and we are making money, when we are strong and healthy in body, when our children are all doing well at school, when our influence and reputation have never been so high, when people are reading our books, when men and women write to us and want to meet us and learn from us. Then David says, “I can survive this fame, and success and wealth. I don’t come crashing down in disgrace. “He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights” (v.33). A deer can run up the steepest of rock faces without falling. He can stand on the edge of a precipice without vertigo. So God can deliver us from pride in those days when we stand on the heights; he can keep us thanking and praising him for his mercy, giving him all the glory from your heart. He kept Daniel Rowland all those years he blessed him in Llangeitho and made his ministry internationally known. There is no evidence that that man ever became puffed up. We are able to say from our hearts in our prosperity, “It’s all through his love. Everything from the ground up is all of grace.” We don’t get swollen-headed. We don’t come crashing down. We can stand on the heights. Again . . .
 
  1. GOD PREPARES US FOR THE BATTLE.
 
So we are saved from cowardice or from inhumane and wretched behaviour. He helps us to get ready for the war. David says, “He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me;” (vv. 34&35). God doesn’t set us as children on the front line and leave us there as boy soldiers. He trains our hands for battle. He puts us on the barracks’ square and we are drilled, marching up and down. He takes us on manouvers; he teaches us how to handle weapons. He instructs us how to use a mighty bow of bronze and a shield. All the time his arm is strengthening and sustaining us . . . “Hold it like this . . . pull it back like this . . . you are too tense, relax and lean into it . . .” His right hand is putting us in the correct position sustaining us. He is a wonderful counsellor because he is the God of grace, the maker of the universe helping us. In other words, he makes us brave.
 
What is the grace of God? David says the following which describe it so movingly, “you stoop down to make me great,” (v.35). Think of the Lord’s coming into the world, stooping down to enter the womb of the virgin Mary, and we are made great through the arrival in this world of Jehovah Jesus. Think of his years living in Nazareth in the home of a joiner. Think of his submitting to baptism by John, standing as one indistinguishable man in a long line of sinners waiting to be baptized; John is overwhelmed at the thought of how greatly Jesus has stooped to be baptized by him. Think of his three years of ministry, despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Stooping so low but sinners raising heavenward by his eternal plan. Think of his arrest and the lashing he endured, how they mocked him and blindfolded him and hit him in the face and spat at him. They crucified him and taunted him. He humbled himself to death, even the death of the cross! How low he stooped to make us great. To make us sons of God and heirs, joint heirs with Christ; to raise us up with him and seat us in the heavenlies with him. To become our eternal companion, to say to us that one day we would judge angels! He stooped down and down from the midst of the throne of God to raise us up there. Again . . .
 
4. GOD KEEPS US IN PETTY INJURIES AND INCONVENIENCES.
 
Few of us are likely to know enormous trials requiring months in hospital and major surgery when our life hangs in the balances in intensive care wards. It may happen, but only to a few believers; there is just one Joni Eareckson rendered a paraplegic through breaking her back as a teenager and paralyzed for the rest of her life, just one, comparatively speaking, but all of us will know niggling accidents, illnesses, bumps to our car, our sight starts to fail, we lose our teeth, our hair and our hearing. Sometimes our children are home from school for a few days with a bug, we have troubles with our neighbours, uncertainty with our work, and we’re needing to take constant medication. We have a line of boxes of pills. It is frail people like ourselves, surviving in those circumstances, day after day, who need God’s daily help keeping us, and this is what David speaks of here. He is speaking from his own experience as he says to God, “You broaden the path beneath me so that my ankles do not turn” (v.36). How do we survive the petty troubles of life like a twisted ankle? It is painful but does it merit inclusion in our prayer letter? Do we tell the whole congregation about our twisted ankle? It depends. It could be stopping us doing something important. It mattered enough to the Holy Spirit to tell us through David that God prevented David’s ankles turning. Here is a God who knows us; yes he knows about each sparrow that falls, but he knows about my twisted ankle.
 
In other words, God knows what are our resources, what we can endure, where are our breaking points, physically and mentally and spiritually. Paul puts it like this; “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (I Cor. 10:13). You may be about to face a very rocky stretch in the months ahead. He will broaden the path beneath you. You are almost giving way with the strain of it all but he can see. He knows; he loves; he cares. He prevents you from turning on your ankle so that you will be laid up for a week or two unable to do what is essential for God’s kingdom. It seems that every four years in the World Cup year the nation holds its breadth to see if its star striker is going to hurt his foot, and almost invariably he does. Men in the pub say they don’t know words like ‘justification’ but they know about Rooney’s ‘metatarsals.’ Here in this psalm God promises to keep us in the smallest troubles of life so that we can do what he wants us to achieve in the months ahead. There is a way of escape prepared by God that we are able to bear up and do what God wants us to do. Again . . .
 
  1. GOD MAKES US MORE THAN CONQUERORS.
 
Now the scene moves on to kingdom growth and triumph; “I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them so that they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet. You armed me with strength for battle; you made my adversaries bow at my feet. You made my enemies turn their backs in flight, and I destroyed my foes. They cried for help, but there was no-one to save them – to the LORD, but he did not answer. I beat them as fine as dust borne on the wind; I poured them out like mud in the streets. You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; you have made me the head of nations; people I did not know are subject to me. As soon as they hear me, they obey me; foreigners cringe before me. They all lose heart; they come trembling from their strongholds.” (vv.37-45).
 
This psalm vividly reflects the whole message of the Bible. It says we’re in a fight. Wartime living isn’t easy and trouble-free. You can’t just “name and claim” victory, or “let go a
nd let God.” You have to battle on to survive. Of course you depend on God’s power, not your own, but you still must fight with all the strength God gives you. “I pursued my enemies . . . I overtook them . . . I did not turn back until they were destroyed” says David. Living for Jehovah Jesus is warfare; it is not a holiday cruise. When Winston Churchill became prime minister it was at the start of a terrible war with the mighty and well equipped Nazi forces of Hitler. Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, had promised “peace in our time”; he’d even said these words to the nation, “get a nice, quiet sleep.” But when war came, it was no time for false peace and phony comfort. Winston Churchill didn’t promise pleasant times and easy victory. He told his nation, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs – victory in spite of all terrors. Victory, however long and hard the road may be.” Now suppose Churchill had said, “The Nazis are wimps. We can easily defeat them. It’ll be a breeze . . .” Anyone who expected a quick, easy victory would have given up in the face of the wretched defeat of Dunkirk and the abject scurrying back to England of the British army with their tails between their legs. But because Churchill told his people ahead of time what to expect – blood, toil, tears, and sweat – then the troops and people of England stood firm and eventually gained the victory.
 
This psalm is a psalm of triumph in the Christian campaign against sin and evil; its outcome is guaranteed by Christ coming and crushing the Serpent’s head, winning the decisive battle through his death and resurrection. This psalm rejoices in his victory over principalities and powers, but in the note of triumph we’re not promised that it would be quick and easy. He does not guarantee ‘health and wealth’ to those who ‘name it and claim it.’ He promises blood, toil, sweat, and tears. Listen to David’s martial language, “I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them so that they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet. You armed me with strength for battle; you made my adversaries bow at my feet” (vv.37-39). David was in a real war not just defending all the time but attacking and routing the enemy. That is our task. Expect an attack this week. Prepare for it. Endure it and stand firm. The Bible says, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:3-4). Stay focused on your mission. A good soldier has to be able to endure hardship and keep his mind free from distractions and hamper his effectiveness.
 
The most important thing about spiritual warfare is to look to the strength and leadership of the ultimate Warrior. Scripture says plainly, “The Lord is a warrior” (Exodus 15:3). Why did Jesus come to earth? To pick a fight! Jesus says, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The final result of Jesus’ coming will be peace, but before he brings peace, he draws his sword against evil; he brings division between those who join him and those who reject him. So our great comfort is having the mighty Captain of our salvation to turn to at every stage of the campaign. Our poor enemies have no such deliverer. “They cried for help, but there was no-one to save them – to the LORD, but he did not answer” (v.41). Their own gods let them down and so they said, “We must try the God of the Christians,” but he refused to listen to them. They were like the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel crying to their god to listen to them, but all they heard was the echo of their own voices.
 
We have a warrior Lord who did not come to earth to negotiate with Satan. He did not come for diplomacy or to work out a compromise. Jesus came to destroy. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). The Son of God became one of us and died for us “to destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). So by his power David rejoiced in triumph, “I beat them as fine as dust borne on the wind; I poured them out like mud in the streets” (v.42). This is a picture of total victory, of Christ spoiling principalities and powers on the cross and putting them to shame. Demons are not wimps. They are rebel angels who have lost all goodness but still have terrible strength. Human power won’t scare them, but the divine power of Jesus terrifies them. In fact, Jesus only had to speak a few words to make the demons flee.
 
The Lord Jesus Christ has gained a comprehensive victory; hear his words: “You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; you have made me the head of nations; people I did not know are subject to me. As soon as they hear me, they obey me; foreigners cringe before me. They all lose heart; they come trembling from their strongholds” (vv.43-45). He is taunted and mocked on Golgotha. They think they have dealt with him once and for all, but what a triumph on the third day. If you’ve always thought of Jesus as a mild-mannered wimp, please watch the real Christ in action. When he’s confronted by a legion of demons, Jesus sends them fleeing in terror. When he’s told that King Herod wants to kill him, Jesus fearlessly denounces him as a fox. When he’s told that his words have offended some elite religious leaders, Jesus offends them even more by calling them “blind guides.” When he sees God’s temple made into a marketplace, Jesus goes on a rampage with a whip, driving out the merchants and flipping their tables upside down. When he sees a mob coming to arrest him, Jesus calmly tells them that he’s the one they’re after – and his words, “I am he,” make them shrink and fall on their faces. When Jesus enters death itself and takes on the ultimate enemy, the ground shakes, the grave opens, its mighty stone is tossed aside, and death is defeated. These are not the actions of a passive, harmless weakling. This is the Lord of hosts, the commander of angels, the head of nations, foreigners cringe before our Captain who trains us for the fight. Here is one of the final glimpses that the Bible gives us of Jesus: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him” (Revelation 19:11-14).
 
  1. GOD ENABLES US TO REJOICE IN HIM.
 
David cries out three words of praise to God. “The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Saviour!” (v.46) What rejoicing! Then David lists all that he has personally experienced from the Lord helping him in the battle. God has avenged him when men said all manner of evil against him. God subdued nations – kingdoms of darkness – that opposed him. God saved him from his enemies. God exalted him above his foes and rescued him from violent merciless men. David had experienced all that as did great David’s greater Son also. In fact it was because Christ triumphed that David could triumph a thousand years earlier.
 
So what impact should the triumph of David have on us? We are not to think that he gained
the victory because unlike us David was a perfect man. We know what a sinner David was. He triumphed by grace, and grace is omnipotence acting redemptively. So the impact David’s victories should make on us is that as we fight, we are not to be discouraged if the battle is especially long and fierce or if we suffer a setback here or a wound there. Rejoice that God sends us on a mission where the fighting is the fiercest. The greater the opposition we face, the greater the victory when we triumph. The worse the temptations we have to resist, the worse blows we deal to Satan’s forces when we succeed.
 
A smart soldier doesn’t just look at his own personal success or failure; he looks at how his country and cause is doing. The good news for the Christian soldier is that Jesus triumphs and his whole cause is assured of victory. The biblical writer sees the church as awesome as an army with banners. Satan is defeated and doomed. If individual setbacks trouble you, then remember the big picture. Our God reigns.
 
Whatever else we find in this psalm we find no victim mentality. Many wounded people turn to Jesus and go to church looking for relief from pain, and healing for their damaged spirits, and that’s O.K. Jesus offers to heal sin-sick souls and injured spirits. “Come unto me all you that labour and are heavy-laden . . .” But once he heals you, he doesn’t leave you in a hospital bed. Jesus sets you on your feet; he trains you for battle; he equips you with the full armour of God; he sends you out to fight and to attempt great things for him. The church of Jesus is not just a hospital for victims but an army of victors.
 
I think that the pressures and hostility from anti-Christian forces are so strong today that many gospel churches are suffering from a defeatist mentality. We’re developing the mindset of hospital patients. We don’t do any soldiering. Every military force has medical units for the wounded, but it also has fighting units, and the fighting units had better be larger than the sick bay. A military force is in big trouble if the weak and wounded outnumber those ready for the fight. If everybody remains as sick as ever, you have to wonder if the doctors know what they’re doing. If the officers are content to lead a lot of sick patients with no active troops, are those officers fit to lead? In this congregation who are the troops and who are those in sick bay?
 
The church is God’s army not God’s hospital, and the majority of the church ought to be strong and ready for combat, not lying around weak and helpless, depending on pastors to stroke their affections and saying “There . . . there” Sunday by Sunday. We are warned that there was a time when some churches were too quick in shunning sinners and shooting their own wounded. I am not so sure that that was the case. I know that today many congregations have gone to the opposite extreme, accepting as normal a situation in which many church attenders remain broken, pitiable, dysfunctional victims of sin for years and years. Few of them are strong in the Lord or strike fear into Satan’s forces. This is what happens when the church’s motto is merely “find a hurt and heal it” instead of “find a stronghold of Satan and conquer it.”
 
Of course, the church mustn’t shoot its wounded members. It must minister to the hurting. Sinners must be restored gently, and doubters must be encouraged, but not to remain in that same miserable condition. All our ministry is to the end that you become healthy, strong, and ready to take up spiritual weapons in the Lord’s mission. If a church prides itself on being compassionate and accepting but fails to call for transformed lives or to lead people to march in Christ’s army, such congregations end up full of people who limp and stagger and fall and doubt and struggle. The church becomes like an army where almost everybody is in the sick bay and almost nobody is advancing against the enemy. A church that’s all therapy and no military, has to recover its identity. Like a mighty army moves the church of God. A person who’s always in a pity party and never in a war party, always a weakling and never a warrior, is being challenged by the conclusion of this psalm to shake off the victim mentality, draw on Jesus’ strength, put on the full armor of God, and learn to stand firm.
 
Jesus doesn’t promise trouble-free victory, but he does promise victory. When you venture on him, venture wholly and let no other trust intrude, you’ll be amazed at what you can do in his power. You might say to yourself, “I didn’t think I had it in me!” – and you didn’t have it in you until God armed you with strength, and trained your hands for battle, his right hand sustaining you. Then, by the mighty working in you of God, you could sing of triumphs wrought and enemies beaten to fine dust blown by the wind. You will see again David slaying Goliath. You will learn again the claim of the apostle, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Listen to these climatic notes of triumph in the voice of David: “He is the God who avenges me, who subdues nations under me, who saves me from my enemies. You exalted me above my foes; from violent men you rescued me. Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD; I will sing praises to your name. He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants for ever” (vv.47-50). Is the church in Europe seeing such days? Chocolate soldiers and self-pitying victims won’t do much for Jesus Christ. You have to know that there is none besides the Lord; who is the Rock except our God? Then you will be equipped and ready to triumph in the evil day. You will be one of those heroes of faith who turned to flight the armies of the enemy. You will praise him among the nations; you will sing praises to his name because you have received what David receives, great victories and unfailing kindness from God, you and all the church for ever and ever.
 
11th April 2010 GEOFF THOMAS