Notes for teaching on 2 Samuel 22, which is featured in Explore the Bible, Summer 2018, Session 12.
David reflects on his life in a Psalm.
The passage is applicable today because it invites us to consider God’s action in our own lives and our appropriate response.
Notes on the Text
(Quotations taken from the NIV)
22:1 David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.
This introductory note, when added to other hints, is important for dating the psalm. Put all together, here is the evidence they provide:
- 22:1 – David has been delivered from his enemies and Saul.
- 22:22-25 – David is at a point in his life where he can call himself “blameless,” which intimates a date before the Uriah/Bathsheba chapter of his life.
- 22:51 – David has already received what has come to be known as the Davidic covenant.
All this in mind, I think that ETB, 124, is helpful in placing the psalm “at the high point of [David’s] reign, after many victories but before he was beset by sin and trouble.”
2 He said:
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
3 my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—
from violent people you save me.
4 “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and have been saved from my enemies.
5 The waves of death swirled about me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
6 The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
7 “In my distress I called to the Lord;
I called out to my God.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came to his ears.
The Psalm can be divided into five sections. This first section focuses on God’s rescue of David, probably during his flight from Saul. Note that the adjectives used to describe God here allude to either his protection or intervention: God is a rock, a fortress, a deliverer, a place of refuge, a shield, the horn of salvation, a stronghold, a refuge, and a savior. These adjectives for God combined with David’s bleak description of his plight (vv 5-6) paint the picture of a person who is experiencing extreme difficulty in life, even to the point of thinking that he will die. They also show the relief of rescue. As Walter Brueggemann says, “This is the voice of one whose end seemed near, yet whose life has been opened in unexpected goodness.”
8 The earth trembled and quaked,
the foundations of the heavens shook;
they trembled because he was angry.
9 Smoke rose from his nostrils;
consuming fire came from his mouth,
burning coals blazed out of it.
10 He parted the heavens and came down;
dark clouds were under his feet.
11 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
he soared on the wings of the wind.
12 He made darkness his canopy around him—
the dark rain clouds of the sky.
13 Out of the brightness of his presence
bolts of lightning blazed forth.
14 The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.
15 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
16 The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at the rebuke of the Lord,
at the blast of breath from his nostrils.
17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
19 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the Lord was my support.
20 He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
While God can certainly show up in the majestic and terrifying way described here, the point is not to take these lines literally. Rather, they tell us of the dramatic and amazing nature of the rescue. It was so great and God was so obviously involved that David uses tremendous language to describe it. We might say that while David did not actually experience God in the way described, he felt as if he had. His deliverance was such that it seemed as if God himself had gone to battle for him with all of the terror and glory that entails.
Once again the focus is on deliverance. David was in deep waters, overcome by the enemy, and in the day of disaster. God himself intervened on David’s behalf and reversed his fortunes. God is the one who does the work here. David’s only action was to cry for help in the previous section. Of course, David was doing what he could in the midst of his troubles; he didn’t just lie there passively. The point is that all of his action was coming to nothing. God was the one who tipped the scales and brought deliverance.
21 “The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
22 For I have kept the ways of the Lord;
I am not guilty of turning from my God.
23 All his laws are before me;
I have not turned away from his decrees.
24 I have been blameless before him
and have kept myself from sin.
25 The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to my cleanness in his sight.
26 “To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
27 to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.
28 You save the humble,
but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low.
In this section, David identifies what he believes to be the reason for God’s goodness to him, that being David’s own righteousness. Vv. 21-25 serve as a kind of testimony to David’s good standing, while vv 26-28 are a theological proclamation that undergirds the previous verses. In principle David is not saying anything new. Psalm 1, for instance, contains much the same sentiment:
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
Note here that the one who follows God’s law is blessed, while the wicked experience judgment. In Psalm 22, David is expressing the same idea as it applies to himself. He has been righteous, and God has therefore treated him well. The problem, of course, is that David identifies his own righteousness as the reason for God’s attention. If that were true, he would have lost God’s favor when he sinned in the Uriah/Bathsheba episode! While the sentiment behind the connection between obedience and blessing is true, we need to think hard about what it means to be blessed. Moreover, we need to weigh the sentiment against life experience – what about when good things happen to good people? Making this into a moral equation takes us down the wrong path, because it makes God dependent on us. David’s own life shows that God is often far more gracious than we deserve. That said, the self-description in vv 21-25 are not wholly inappropriate. As John Goldingay explains:
Such claims are inclined to worry Christian readers as a matter of principle because they sound like self-righteousness. Yet both Testaments imply the conviction that there is something strange if people who are supposed to be committed to God cannot make claims of this kind (in the New Testament, see, for instance, 2 Timothy 3:10–4:9). Such claims do not imply sinlessness; they do imply that one’s life is oriented in one direction and not another.
Goldingay’s insight in mind, these words still sound strange in light of our place in the story. We have just finished with the latter section of David’s life, which begins with sin regarding Uriah and Bathsheba and ends after he has experienced the judgment for that sin. David, it seems, cannot make these kinds of claims, and this makes a difference in how we read the psalm. As Walter Brueggemann explains:
For David to make such a claim is odd and incongruous, for Israel knows better. Israel dares to say of David that he is blameless—“except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5). This of course is no small exception! The episode of Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam. 11–12) establishes that David is not blameless and therefore not entitled to the benefits Yahweh gives him. Thus the didactic part of the psalm seems to make a point about moral coherence, but in fact it asserts that God gives gifts and rescues well beyond moral symmetry. The middle portion of the psalm thus affirms something very different from what it seems to confess. The words invite reflection on the tension between the moral seriousness of covenant obedience, which David confesses but does not live, and the free rescue of God, which is done even for those who are blameless
This section of the psalm, then, invites us to think about both obedience and grace. A good place to land might be in thinking of the call to obedience as indispensable to the Christian life but not as the basis of God’s goodness to us. That is where David goes wrong – he assumes that his own good behavior is the cause of God’s goodness. In fact, God is gracious and good because that is who he is.
29 You, Lord, are my lamp;
the Lord turns my darkness into light.
30 With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.
31 “As for God, his way is perfect:
The Lord’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.
32 For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
33 It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
34 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.
35 He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
36 You make your saving help my shield;
your help has made me great.
37 You provide a broad path for my feet,
so that my ankles do not give way.
38 “I pursued my enemies and crushed them;
I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
39 I crushed them completely, and they could not rise;
they fell beneath my feet.
40 You armed me with strength for battle;
you humbled my adversaries before me.
41 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
and I destroyed my foes.
42 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—
to the Lord, but he did not answer.
43 I beat them as fine as the dust of the earth;
I pounded and trampled them like mud in the streets.
44 “You have delivered me from the attacks of the peoples;
you have preserved me as the head of nations.
People I did not know now serve me,
45 foreigners cower before me;
as soon as they hear of me, they obey me.
46 They all lose heart;
they come trembling z from their strongholds.
If sections 1 and 2 focus on God’s rescue of David, this section focuses on God’s empowerment of David. There are echoes of God as refuge and shield, but much of the section focuses on David’s own actions. David is advancing, walking, scaling a wall, running like a deer, standing on the heights. All this in mind, I would argue that this section of the Psalm refers to David’s early reign, which climaxed with his creation of a small empire. Here, the focus is not on being saved from an impossible situation. Instead, the focus is on being equipped and empowered to fulfill a role. At this point in his reign, David feels that God has not only rescued him but has also enabled him to be a great king. Even as David speaks of his own actions, however, he finishes by speaking of how God is the ultimate cause for his continuing kingship and dominance on the global stage.
47 “The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be my God, the Rock, my Savior!
48 He is the God who avenges me,
who puts the nations under me,
49 who sets me free from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from a violent man you rescued me.
50 Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.
51 “He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forever.”
The Psalm ends with praise to God because of what he has done for David. Here we see themes from both his kingship and his deliverance from Saul. In light of all these blessings, David gives an appropriate response: praise.
Notes for Teaching
Though one might argue for different points of divisions between sections, I think that the breakdown of the Psalm above will be helpful for teaching. That breakdown includes the following themes:
- Sections 1 and 2 (vv 1-20): God’s rescue from the storms of life
- Section 3 (vv 21-28): Obedience and grace
- Section 4 (vv 29-46): God’s empowerment for the task at hand
- Section 5 (vv 47-51): Praise and thanksgiving
With these divisions in mind, I’d break down the Psalm accordingly in class and have discussions about each theme. Take more time for themes that are especially appropriate to your class.
A Possible Teaching Plan
- What are the highlights of David’s life for you?
- Have you learned anything new during this study of his life?
- What are the key lessons you have learned from David?
Explain: Explain that just as we have been reflecting on David’s life, we’re going to see David reflecting on the same, sometimes in good and sometimes in problematic ways.
Read: 2 Sam 22:1-7
- What do we learn about David in these verses?
- When did he write this Psalm?
- What adjectives would you use to describe his life experience?
- What time in his life do you think David is describing?
Read: 2 Sam 22:8-20
- How would you describe God in this passage?
- Did David really see God in this way?
- What is the point of this description of God?
- Does God still move like this today? How?
Obedience and Grace
Read: 2 Sam 22:21-28
- What do you think about David’s words in this section?
- How could David say this about himself?
- What does putting this Psalm at the end of David’s life do to its meaning?
- How do obedience and grace go together in the life of the believer?
Enabled for the Task at Hand
Read: 2 Sam 22:22-46
- In the first section, David’s focus was on God’s rescue. What is his focus here?
- What part of his life is David describing?
- How does David see God in his successes?
- Does God still enable people for specific roles today? How?
- What should we do when we feel like we are not adequate for a role in our lives?
Thanksgiving and Praise
Read: 2 Sam 22:71-51
- How would you describe this part of the Psalm?
- Why do you think David ends on this note of praise?
- Do you think that American Christians are good at the practices of thanksgiving and praise? Why or why not?
- What are practical ways that we can thank and praise God?
Walter Brueggemann’s 1 and 2 Samuel in the Interpretation commentary series
John Goldingay’s 1 and 2 Samuel for Everyone
Explore the Bible curriculum
 Goldingay, J. (2011). 1 and 2 Samuel for Everyone: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (p. 172). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.