To the Chief Musician.
A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song on the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said:
I will love You, O LORD, my strength.
As any pastor worth his salt will tell you, context is everything. Of course, pastors say that because we often like to quote things OUT of context. It is a favorite practice of movie advertisers to pick one good phrase out of a bad review and feature that one good thing on movie posters–“Great special effects”–rather than any bad thing–“but horrible acting and no plot.” Taking things out of context is often called “cherry-picking,” because we only search for the ripest and most beautiful things on the tree, rather than talking about the whole tree. Cherry-picking is the province of those who are searching for proof of their argument, rather than building their argument on the whole of the proof that’s available. In the context of religion, cherry-picking leads to legalism and lightweight faith, because we only search for and learn the things we WANT to know, rather than all the things we NEED to know.
Recent surveys show that fewer than 25% of church-going Christians actually read their Bible on anything like a regular basis, but among those who do, more than half said they read because of something their pastor said in a sermon. Why would that be? It happens because the job of the pastor and his sermon is to place things in context–both in the context of the Bible and in the context of people’s everyday lives. Like I said before, context is everything, and when a pastor puts the Word of God into its place in our lives, then he encourages us to look for more of how we can fit the Bible into our lives–or, to be more accurate, how we can fit our lives into the context of a life lived by Biblical principles.
Occasionally, as you read the Psalms, you will come across a short title or opening line. If there is any title at all, it is often as simple as “A Psalm of David.” When we are reading, we typically just gloss right over those titles. Ask yourself: When you are praying the Twenty-third Psalm, do you ever say “A Psalm of David”? It is there in the text, but we just skip right over it to the meaty parts and say the prayer. But many of these psalms–especially those from David–were written in particular contexts, were sung or spoken on particular occasions and for specific reasons. So, let me say it again: context is everything.
In today’s opening verse from the Psalms 18, we have one of the longest opening titles. It starts with “To the Chief Musician.” Many of our favorite verses from the Psalms have been set to music in modern times, but we need to remember that when David and others first set down these psalms, they understood them ALL as songs. Yes, some are labeled as prayers or meditations, but nearly all of them were meant to be sung. Here in Psalms 18, since the music would accompany a song about how God has triumphed over David’s enemies and saved the young king, we can imagine that the music would be quite inspiring. The title is addressed to the Chief Musician–whom we might today call “Worship Leader”–and it reminds that person about what is about to be sung.
This is a “psalm of David.” It is not written by Moses or Asaph or the Sons of Korah. It is written by the great Psalmist himself. And lest we forget who David was, the title puts it in context for us: “the servant of the LORD.” Note what that title DOESN’T say. It doesn’t say “King David” nor “David who slew ten thousands” nor even “David the friend of God.” No, it says David was the servant of God, and this song was sung IN THAT CONTEXT. David served the Lord, and the Lord saved him from his enemies and made him king over Israel. We who read or sing this song need to place ourselves in that context, being servants of the Lord.
Next we read that David “spoke to the LORD the words of this song.” David didn’t sing a victory song for his troops. He didn’t invite others to sing along. The “servant of the LORD” simply sang to the Lord. He worshiped His savior privately and abundantly. He held nothing back, praising God for His power and righteousness, for His mercy and faithfulness. “The LORD lives!” David cries. “Blessed be my Rock!” (Psalms 18:46) David gives all the credit to God. And when we read in the books of Samuel about what David has gone through, and how he managed to finally assume the throne of Israel, then we see WHY he would give credit to God for all that. The Lord God certainly did come through for David.
It is in that context that David spoke this song “on the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” You can read all about that in Second Samuel, especially chapter 22, where this psalm is quoted almost verbatim. In that context, David has finally defeated Saul and his family–sparing Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson–and stopped more incursions by Philistine giants. David comes straight off of that series of victories and sings this song. Seen in that way, we certainly understand why David is thankful and full of praise.
Without that context for David’s life, we might tend to think that this song is about us, about our own struggles and God’s victory over them. It is certainly applicable to our own lives, but who among us has faced a Philistine giant with just a sling and five stones? Who among us was anointed king while we were still a simple shepherd? Who among us has been physically hunted by our own king and nearly all his armies? Who among us saw his own best friend die in battle during that hunt? Who among us saw the true power of the Lord in battle? Who among us was chosen to be the branch from which the Savior of the world would come? THAT is the context in which David then sings: “I will love you, O LORD, my strength.”
David could have stopped right there and the song would be complete. He could have kept it simple and just said he would love the Lord. But like Moses before him (Exodus 15:1-18), David went on to sing of God’s great victories and God’s love and God’s majesty and God’s salvation. Oh, yes, SALVATION. As Moses sang:
“The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.”
David and Moses both praised and exalted God for His salvation. David and Moses both knew that God didn’t just give them strength, He WAS their strength, the only reason they were still alive. He saved them from their enemies, and He led them into His righteousness. That is the God they both labeled as “Rock,” “redeemer,” “strength,” “salvation.”
What is YOUR context today? Where is the Lord in your life? Is He your God, whom you will praise and exalt as your strength and salvation? From what has He saved you? What has He taught you? How has He brought you out of the depths?
Today, take a moment to put God into your own context. Read about David and his life, and then read Psalms 18. Read it, and then speak it aloud to the Lord. Speak it from your own context, from your own life, from your own heart. Let David’s words be yours, or, better yet, make up your own song. Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing of His righteousness, His strength, His glory! Sing of how Jesus has brought you eternal life. Sing of how Christ has washed your life clean of all the stain of sin. Sing of how the Lamb of God has paid the price that redeemed your life from the pit of death. Say to the Chief Musician that this is YOUR song, that this is YOUR context, that YOU are the servant of God who sings with David and Moses right now:
“I will love You, O LORD, my strength!”
Amen, and amen.