Our lives are not a series of haphazard events. Rather, God is sovereign over every detail. In 2 Samuel 22, we read King David’s song of praise to God, which testifies to David’s personal experience of God’s intervention throughout his life. Alistair Begg explains how David’s poetic description of God’s sovereign activity reflects David’s theology—a true understanding of God and His purposes that we, too, need in order to properly understand ourselves and our place in time and history.
Sermon Transcript: Print
And I invite you, if you’re able, to turn with me to 2 Samuel and to chapter 22 and to follow along as I read the first twenty verses.
Second Samuel 22:1:
“And David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said,
“‘The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold and my refuge,
my savior; you save me from violence.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.
“‘For the waves of death encompassed me,
the torrents of destruction assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.
“‘In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I called.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry came to his ears.
“‘Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations of the heavens trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub and flew;
he was seen on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness around him his canopy,
thick clouds, a gathering of water.
Out of the brightness before him
coals of fire flamed forth.
The Lord thundered from heaven,
and the Most High uttered his voice.
And he sent out arrows and scattered them;
lightning, and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen;
the foundations of the world were laid bare,
at the rebuke of the Lord,
at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.
“‘He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy,
from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
Thanks be to God for his Word.
And we pray briefly as we turn to the Bible:
Father, what we know not, teach us. What we have not, give us. What we are not, make us. For your Son’s sake. Amen.
Well, our text this morning is, if you like, David’s version of “Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee.” It is his great outpouring of praise from the depth of his being. And you will perhaps recall, those of you who have a good memory and a long memory, that when we began these studies quite a while ago in 1 Samuel, at the very outset we were introduced to a song that was sung there. It was sung, you will remember, by Hannah, and it was essentially her prayer that poured out from her heart.
And as we read that, we said on that morning, “There is much in this song that is an anticipation of all that is to follow.” And that song, if you go back and check on it, you will find that it ends looking forward to God “giv[ing] strength to his king and exalt[ing] the [power] of his anointed.” And we said on that occasion, “This whole journey that we now embark upon is going to answer the question: How is he going to accomplish this?” And here, we now find ourselves at the very end of the story, and David is singing. And now, that which was anticipated in the song of 1 Samuel 2 is reflected upon—the way in which God’s purpose has been fulfilled both in David and through David.
And you will notice that we’re told that David actually “spoke” these words, and he spoke them “to the Lord.” He addresses himself to God. In fact, Psalm 18, which is a parallel passage to this—it is essentially the same text—Psalm 18 begins in a very personal expression: “I love you, O Lord, my strength.” And he is singing this, we’re told, on the day when the Lord delivered him from his enemies, and particularly from Saul.
Well, of course, that could almost be just about any day, because he was constantly being pursued, and Saul was the bugbear of his life for so long. I think perhaps if you go back and look, you’ll find yourself in 2 Samuel chapter 7, where it actually says, “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his … enemies,” and then it goes on there in chapter 7 to give to David this great covenant promise of a kingdom that will come, that will never come to an end, and so on. We can’t say categorically, but I think we’re probably in the right direction if we think in terms of 2 Samuel 7.
Now, the history that we have rehearsed over these years—and I hope it hasn’t been too laborious—the history is now being addressed by way of testimony, by way of poetry, and by way of theology. And as I thought about it this week, I thought, “Well, perhaps that can give to us the breakdown for our study this morning.” We are considering David’s song of salvation, and we’re noting first of all that he is testifying.
If your Bible is open in front of you, let me encourage you to pay attention to the “mys.” To the “mys”: “My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my.” My, my, my! Actually, this is David’s version of “Mine! Mine! Mine!” What he’s making clear to us is something that we must actually pay careful attention to. He is not simply declaring an awareness of what is true of God. He’s not simply saying, “I want to tell you things that are true of God.” He is actually testifying to the power of that truth, the power of who God is, as both experienced and enjoyed in his life.
If you look again and you see the nouns, they’re very clear to us: “rock,” “fortress,” “deliverer,” “God,” “stronghold,” “shield,” “salvation,” “refuge.” And he loads these all up. It would be like a boy getting up in the morning wanting to tell his dad how much he meant to him: “Dad, you’re my this, you’re my that, you’re my next thing. You’re so many things to me, Dad.” In other words, he almost falls over himself in trying to adequately say, “I love you.” And that’s exactly what he’s doing here. He is building one on top of the other. He’s almost aware of the fact that he cannot adequately convey to God the depth of his gratitude—a gratitude, again, that is not something that is merely cerebral (i.e., something that is cognitive, something that is out there and true), but rather, it is something that has become personally his.
And as we’ve been reading the Bible and studying this, we’ve been recognizing the way in which God brings his Word to us, first to our minds, in order that we might think clearly, and then home to the very epicenter of our being, to our hearts, the control center of our existence, that involves our mind and our emotions and our wills. All of that is gathered up here in this testimony.
And he begins in this way not because it’s a sunny day and he’s having a fantastic time. No, he is reflecting, and you will see in the text, in verse 3, that he is no stranger to violence. God is the one who saves him “from violence.” He is painfully aware of the fact that he has spent a large amount of his time hiding from his enemies. And what he’s actually doing—he’s pointing to the fact that when he is overwhelmed, when he’s feeling as though the bottom has apparently dropped out of his world, he is calling. He is calling to the Lord. He says, “I call to the Lord. I call to the Rock, because here I find a solid place to put my feet. I call to the one who is a fortress, because here I find a safe place in which to hide.”
Now, it’s not that he is undergoing, as it were, first-world problems. It’s not that he has woken up in the morning and said, “Can you believe that gas is $5.19 a gallon? What in the world are we going to do with our lives? I don’t know if we’re going to manage.” Go to Europe. Try it there for a little while. You’ll come back and go, “Isn’t this fantastic to be living here, where gas is only $5.19!”
No, it’s not that at all. Look at verse 5: “The waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me.” It’s not as if he’s troubled by minor difficulties. No! He is “entangled,” he says. He’s snared. “The waves of death” stare him down. You will remember, I hope, that on one occasion when he’s talking with his friend Jonathan, he says to him, in the midst of all of these extremities, he says, “Jonathan, you know, there is but a step between me and death.” You can find that in 1 Samuel 20. “There’s but a step between me and death.” That was the prevailing sense in which he was living: the fact that these people pursued him, that Saul had it out for him, and that it would look, from every human perspective, as if he was absolutely finished.
When you read the Psalms, his poems, this comes across clearly. He often talks in these terms. “I was pushed back,” he says, “and I was falling.” But what did he do? You know, who are you going to call when the bottom drops out from your existence? Who are you going to call when you are confronted by the reality of a blood test that comes back exactly in the opposite direction that you had hoped? Who are you going to call? Who am I going to call? Is there anybody to call? Ghostbusters? No.
No, he calls. He calls: “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I called.” You see, he actually believed him to be his rock, his fortress, his salvation, his strong tower. He believed. And therefore, he was confident that since God was this, then God would be able for this. You see that the conviction of who God is and what God is gives a basis for his cry. There’s no point in crying to somebody who can’t hear. There’s no point in crying to somebody who can’t fix anything. No, he understands this. He cries to the only one who is able to hear his cry.
“From his temple”—we might say “from heaven”—“he heard my voice … my cry came to his ears.” It’s wonderful, isn’t it? You have these little things now—we never had them when our children were tiny—monitors. They’re a jolly nuisance, actually, in one sense—and I shouldn’t say that, but I just did, so… Because you live your life on the knife-edge with those things: “Did you hear that? Was that it?” “No, that was the air conditioning.” “You sure? No, I think that was the thing.” You’re supposed to have it so that you can just go to sleep and relax. The jolly thing keeps you awake half the night: “I think I heard it.” “No, you…” Oh! The child isn’t remotely concerned, because they know that you care. They know that if they cry, you answer. “I cried to him.” He cried to the only one who is able to bring “the waves of death” and “the torrents of destruction” under control. Who else can deal with this?
You fast-forward, and you discover that the disciples who’d been enlisted by this Jesus of Nazareth and are discovering in ways beyond their comprehension just who and what this person is, they, as out of a background of the Old Testament, understood this about God—that God is the one who is able to deal with the torrents; he’s the one who is able to deal with the waves. They had that in their minds. And therefore, on this occasion when they find themselves out on the sea, almost overwhelmed by it all, this Jesus of Nazareth stands up, and he bids the winds and the waves and the torrents and potential destruction to be absolutely calm, and the sea is calm. And they said what we would have said too: “Who is this, that even the winds and the waves obey him?” There’s only one person who can control the winds and the waves—the only one to whom we might cry.
You know, I was thinking about it in terms of our view of everything. All of us live our lives with the changes and uncertainties and difficulties and disappointments. None of us can escape that. And often we’ll turn to music as a solace, people tell me all the time—apart from the ones who try and encourage me by saying, “When I awake in the night, I listen to your sermons, and I’m asleep within a couple of minutes.” I always tell them the same thing: “Listen, I read my notes on a Saturday night and fell asleep. Why would it be any different for you on a Sunday morning?”
But the fact of the matter is, we often turn to music, don’t we? And the music that we turn to will either help or hinder. I know that I mustn’t mention groups like Pink Floyd, but I often do. I’m not sure what this song is actually about when I’ve listened to it. It’s called “Comfortably Numb.” “Comfortably Numb.” Those of you who listen to this music will know it. It begins like this:
Hello? Hello? Hello?
Is there anybody [out] there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Do you cry out in the night, “Hello? Hello? Hello? Anybody out there?” Listen to Isaiah: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” The Lord “bestow[s] … riches on all who call [up]on him. … ‘Everyone who calls [up]on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
Is there anybody out there? Yes! To him David calls. That’s his testimony.
Now, we move from testimony to poetry. Some of you like poetry. Others of you—often, I find, men—think poetry is a bit of a waste of space. And it was always rather daunting to have to do poetry interpretation at school. I confess, I always looked for a couple of my friends who were very bright and sat next to them and derived the wisdom that was needed in order to make your way through the class.
But anyway, here we are with poetry—poetry that is describing for us a dramatic intervention. That’s it. Verses 8–16: What is going on here? Well, it is a poetic display. It is the history of David, described in dramatic metaphor. And what David is pointing out is that God is not indifferent to the fact that his enemies—that is, David’s enemies—have his life in their view in the hope that they can snuff it out. And we’re told very clearly in verse 8 that when this great, dramatic unfolding of things took place—“The earth reeled and rocked; the foundations of the heavens trembled and quaked”—we’re told, “because [God] was angry.” “Because [God] was angry.”
Now, when I read this this week, I found myself reflecting on the fact that people used to tell me, when I was frightened by thunder and lightning as a boy, they used to say, “Oh, that’s just the clouds banging their heads together,” as if they had heads and so on. Well, it’s a picture, isn’t it? What is happening when the universe rocks and reels and rolls? What is happening when the seas lift up? What is happening in the midst of climate change? What is going on? Well, David here is pointing out in a dramatic way that God expresses himself in natural phenomena as well.
Now, you may find it very hard to think about it in these terms—the whole idea of God being angry. Because after all, “God is love.” We know that. And it is because he is love that he is angry. Because he is love, he is angry. On Father’s Day… Well, I don’t want my father to be angry with me. But what father is not angry when he sees the impact of drugs taking a toll on his son or on his daughter? It is the extent of his love for his child that reveals itself in anger. What husband is not angry at those who would invade the unique territory of his relationship with his wife? You could never say that he truly loved unless he was genuinely angry at everything that threatened the well-being.
So, what we discover is that the Father, God, is angered, because, remember, he has set his love upon his anointed one, David. And now those who pursue David and seek to bring him down are under the jurisdiction of his care. Woodhouse has a wonderful sentence on this, and I’ll quote it to you now. He says, “It is good news that God is angry about violence and hatred and death and destruction, about cancer and war, about starvation and cruelty. Would you rather that God didn’t care?”
So, the paragraph—and I’m not going to try and do the interpretation. That’s an assignment for you at home, and you can come back and tell me the fruits of your diligent study. We simply need to recognize that this is a poetic description of events that have taken place in David’s life. In the battles and in the escapes, in death and in deliverance, the experience of David is dramatized in such a way that it almost appears as though the events of the exodus—remember, when God brought his people out of bondage in Egypt, when he passed them through the sea, when he brought them into Sinai, to that mountain where you have all this striking manifestation of the power of God, again in a metaphorical way, in natural phenomena—when you read this and you read David’s reflection, it’s almost as though David is saying, “You know, the drama that was represented back there is really the drama that has unfolded in the experience that has been mine.”
“But,” you say, “why didn’t he just write, ‘The Lord intervened on my behalf’? That would just be six words instead of a hundred and forty-one words!” Well, it wouldn’t be much of a poem, would it? “The Lord intervened on my behalf.”
No, you see, what is happening here is he’s not simply informing us. We have walked this path with him, those of us who’ve been studying. He’s not simply informing us of what has taken place; he is dramatizing what has taken place. He wants us to be grasped, if you like, by this. In contemporary terms, this would be like a fantastic video game that’s all lights and flashing and drama and everything, and most of us, as adults, are going, “What in the world is this about?” And the children are going, “Well, it’s really obvious, you see. This guy was over here, they were over there, they went over there, he went there, and they were there.” And still we don’t know what he’s talking about! And here we have it. Dale Ralph Davis says he wants us to understand the drama “in all of [its] phosphorescent splendor.” That’s nice: “phosphorescent splendor.” That’s what we have here.
Look at what it says. For example, the picture… Do you pull the curtains in the morning? Sometimes I do. Sometimes my wife does. You pull the curtains; you open up to a day. That’s what it says here in verse 10: he pulled the curtains in the heavens; he “bowed the heavens,” and he “came down.” In verse 14, he “thundered from heaven.” You remember when we studied in 2 Samuel, there is at least one occasion where just when it looks as though David is about to be grasped, somebody comes with word that there is an army and there’s an enforcement and there’s word on the wind, as it were, of this taking place. And all of a sudden, Saul turns in another direction, and David is safe. Metaphorically, he says, “[And] the Lord thundered from heaven.” The natural phenomenon of thunder is interpreted in terms of the words that emerge from their lips—the upheavals of the earth, the zigzagging pattern of lightning.
The God who parted the Red Sea is the one who saved David from his enemies. The God who parted the Red Sea is the one who saved David from his enemies. David is able to look back and say, “That’s what you did—that you are that kind of God, that you are that powerful. And I’ve actually seen it,” he says, “in my own life, when you parted the curtains and came down and helped me.”
Why is it so hard for us to wrestle with this? Because it is hard, if we’re honest. Some of you prize yourselves on being very scientific. And some of you, I guess, are very scientific, and you’re schooled in that way, and it is a benefit and a blessing to you. But there is an inherent danger in it, and the inherent danger is simply this: that we begin to think great thoughts about ourselves and very small thoughts about God. We begin to think that we are actually in control, despite the fact that all of the hypotheses of science have to be repeated again and again and again in the hope that we’re actually on to something and that we have, really, no category for the dramatic intervention of that which actually perplexes us and may actually paralyze us.
And I want to say to those of you who are in the world not of the arts but in the world of the sciences and the world of mathematics: you don’t need to somehow or another set aside this immense truth in order to, as it were, safeguard God. No. What you need to do is you need to be prepared to employ the same clarity that Paul employed when he spoke to the intellectuals of Athens. And you remember how he began with them, after he said, “I can see you’re a religious people” and so on. What’s his opening line? “The God who made the world and everything in it, … he … gives to all mankind … breath and everything.” That’s his line. “The God who made the world, everything in it—every one of you that I’m speaking to,” he says, “he is the one who gives you the breath to awaken in the morning, and on the day when you take your final breath, it will be by the Lord’s appointing.”
Now, that is a dramatic statement, isn’t it? Where does he get it from? Well, because he read his Bible. He knew the prophet Isaiah: “It is he”—that is, God—
who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
You see, theology matters. Theology matters. A true understanding of God and his power and his purposes is actually necessary for us to have a proper understanding of ourselves and our place in time and our place in history.
Well, we’ll leave the poetry there and come to our final point, which is this matter of theology, as I mention it. Verses 17–20. “See now what God has done.” You will notice that the, if you like, parenthetical section of verses 8–16 sits there, and verse 17 essentially picks up from what he was saying in verse 7. Verse 7 ends, “From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry came to his ears.” Then he picks up from there, and he says, “This is what happened: he sent from on high.”
Now, something that I should mention now, and we’ll come back to it next time, is that this theological commentary on the history of David comes at this point—that the writer has chosen to include this song at the end of the narrative—in order that we might understand all that has gone before in light of this song. Now, this will become very, very important next week. If you read on, you will understand why. It’s as if David is saying, “You know, if you want to know”—if you put it in the first person—David says, “If you want to know”—and we do want to know—“how this whole deal went down, let me tell you.”
And this is what he tells us in verses 17–20: “The events of my life,” he says, “haven’t been haphazard. I’m not the plaything of arbitrary forces. I’m not bouncing around like a cork on the ocean of life. I am not held in the grip of an impersonal fate. No,” he says, “my times are in his hands. He is sovereign over these things, in every part of it.” Look at that: “He sent from on high,” and “he took me.” “He sent from on high,” and “he took me.”
Now, you’re going to have to flash back all the way to 1 Samuel 16. Samuel shows up at the house of Jesse: “I’m here! I’m looking for somebody, a potential king.” “Well, I have some sons. I could bring them out.” You can read it for yourself again. You remember, one comes out, and another comes out, and another comes out, and Samuel says, “It’s not the guy, it’s not the guy, it’s not the guy. Is there anybody else?” You remember what Jesse says? “Well, there is one more, the youngest. But behold, he is keeping the sheep.” You might say he’s a good shepherd. “He sent from on high,” and “he took me.” “He took me.”
Do you understand that your life, our lives, the drama of history, is not a series of haphazard eventualities, despite what historians may say? That God is sovereign over the affairs. That he sweeps even my mistakes, my disappointments, my difficulties, my regrets into the unfolding drama of his purposes.
And that’s what David is saying. Look: he not only “took me,” but “he drew me out of many waters.” For those of you who like stuff like this, let me tell you that this verb here, “drew me out of many waters,” only appears one other place in the whole of the Old Testament: Exodus chapter 2. Who is drawn out of the water? Well, the little baby that was put in the basket. And what does it say? That Miriam named him—not Miriam, the mother—the daughter of Pharaoh “named him Moses, ‘Because,’ she said, ‘I drew him out of … water.’” And the verb sounds like “Moses”—that his name was given to him, having been drawn out of water. And David says, “In the same way that he brought him out of the water, he has brought me out of lots of waters. He’s rescued me from my enemies,” verse 18, “people who were too strong and too mighty for me to handle. When I was trapped,” verse 19, “in the day of my calamity—in the day of my calamity—he brought me out into a broad place.”
Now, the phrase there, “in the day of my calamity,” actually means, “when I was in a tight spot.” “When I was in a tight spot, he brought me out, and he set me in a broad place, because he delighted in me.” The love of the Father for us: “He delighted in me.” David says that knowing all that he was, all of his messes, even in the midst of his adultery. “He did this,” he says. “Do you hear my song? This is my song of salvation,” he says. “He did this! This is what God does.”
Well, his testimony of God’s theological purpose, revealed in poetry, points us ultimately to Jesus himself. But it also gives to us the inevitable challenge. How are we planning on facing the day of our calamity? You have made plans for various things in your life, I’m sure. Have you made a plan for the day of your calamity—from the tight corner of death, when finally somebody either destroys you by fire or traps you in a coffin? What is the plan? Is there anyone who can deal with that tight corner? Only one. The Rock, the Fortress, the Deliverer, the Savior.
And what we learn here is that this whole story, this poetic manifestation of God’s goodness, is actually not about David. It’s about God. It’s about the one who is worthy to be praised. He is “worthy to be praised,” he says. “I want you to know this God. I want you to know God.”
Blaikie, in an old commentary which I have on my shelves, records for us the impact of the Battle of Agincourt, which took place in the fifteenth century. Henry V was the leader of his troops. And at Agincourt, the English won a remarkable and unanticipated victory. As a result of that, Henry V said to his troops, “Let us prostrate ourselves before Almighty God, and let us take the words of the 115th Psalm and say it to him: ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory.’”
You see, in this posture, there is the only hope for life and death. In this posture, there’s actually the only hope for the future of our nation. So we say to one another, “Come, let us worship God. Let us bow before the rock of our salvation.” And having considered David’s song of salvation, the inevitable question ought to be in mind: “Am I able to sing that song? Do I have a song of salvation to sing?”
Father, thank you that your Word is all that you declare it to be. Help us to weave through my many words and to hear your voice calling us, Lord, to the one who is our rock and our fortress, our deliverer, our salvation. Our biggest problem is the fact that we’re lost in relationship to you. All the bits and pieces of our lives, the fragments, the jigsaw puzzle—we’re trying to put it all back in the box to make the picture fit. And here, we look at this, and we realize: “Oh, you are the one who fixes things!” You are the one who has provided for us in Jesus. So bring us to an understanding of this—not what is true at arm’s length, as it were, but in order that we might be able to say, “My, my, my, my.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 Carl Boberg, trans. Stuart K. Hine, “How Great Thou Art” (1885, 1949).
 1 Samuel 2:10 (ESV).
 Psalm 18:1 (ESV).
 2 Samuel 7:1 (ESV).
 Anna Hudson, “Dear Savior, Thou Art Mine.”
 1 Samuel 20:3 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25 (paraphrased).
 Roger Waters, “Comfortably Numb” (1980).
 Isaiah 55:6 (ESV).
 Romans 10:12–13 (ESV).
 1 John 4:8, 16 (ESV).
 John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, Preaching the Word, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 507.
 Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Focus on the Bible (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus, 2018), 286.
 Acts 17:22 (paraphrased).
 Acts 17:24–25 (ESV).
 Isaiah 40:22–23 (ESV).
 1 Samuel 16:6–11 (paraphrased).
 Exodus 2:10 (ESV).
 W. G. Blaikie, The Second Book of Samuel, The Expositor’s Bible (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1892), 353. Paraphrased.
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.