God--Our Mighty Fortress (Psalm 18)
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. (Psalm 18:2)
Tonight's Psalm is a hymn of praise because of God's gracious deliverance. David had gone through so much in his lifetime. Saul had tried repeatedly to kill him. His son Absalom had tried to take over the kingdom. His subjects had abandoned him for his usurper son. But in all these troubles, David still knew he had one place where he could go for refuge. The LORD his Rock. His mighty Fortress where his soul felt safe.
Everything had collapsed around him many times. Everything in his life often seemed out of control. No matter what David could say, "The LORD is my Rock" (v2). God is the firm foundation that can bring about the greatest of strength. A foundation for faith that no enemy can shake. Nothing and no one can get to you when you take refuge in the Stronghold of your salvation.
Not saying that nothing bad will happen to you. Recent weeks and months have shown that to be false. Death. Cancer. Many other problems that might not be well-known. All these things happened to people who are in the Stronghold of God's salvation. But you find that you have nothing to fear with God as your Rock. David could be hunted as an enemy of the state. Ousted from his palace while his arrogant son took over the kingdom. He could face the death of a child conceived out of wedlock. All of these because God was his Fortress who provides Strength to struggle through the hardships of life.
David's God continues to give His Strength to those who take refuge in Him. Nothing in life can separate you from God's love and Strength (Romans 8:35-39). He is your Fortress that stands high upon the Rock. Secure amidst the raging storms of life. Your problems are not yours alone. Your heavenly Father knows them better than you. He knows how to fix them. But you must take refuge in God and let go of them. Let God take care of them.
In that refuge, you find God "worthy to be praised" (v3). "From His Temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears" (v6). In the midst of our deepest, darkest troubles, God hears your prayer and answers it. God is worthy of praise because He listens to His children when they cry out. He answers even when "the cords of death encompassed me ... the cords of Sheol entangled me" (vv4-5). Daily we live with our sin. Death seems ever closer. Our foot slips just a little bit more into the grave every day. In sickness it feels more like being dragged into the grave. But God answers His children in the midst of their troubles.
This answer often comes as He sends judgment before He appears. Judgment is often the beginning of the answer to our prayers. "Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation" (Genesis 6:9). He was the one person God found to still believe in Him. The only person taking refuge in the Fortress of salvation. Noah was the only one that "found favor in the eyes of the LORD" (Genesis 6:8). Righteous Noah prayed for his family and friends. Prayed that they might turn from their sin. But they refused. He prayed that God would turn their hearts to remember His graciousness. But they refused.
Their hearts were hardened as Noah preached for a century while he built the Ark that the Flood was coming (Genesis 5:32; 7:11). God saw their contempt for Noah's message of salvation. God finally answers Noah's prayer by saying, "Go into the Ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation" (Genesis 7:1). The judgment of the Flood was the beginning of God's answer to Noah's prayers. After God closed the door of the Ark, then man's heart changed (Genesis 7:16). The waters began to rise and the people--Noah's family and friends--were clamoring like the foolish virgins in the parable (Matthew 25:1-13). Pounding on the door, "Let us in! Let us in!" Sadly, Noah had to say, "It's too late. The door is closed. I cannot open it. I cannot save you."
So also Jesus sent judgment before He came as the babe in Bethlehem. Noah's descendants through his son Shem would include Abraham (Genesis 11:10-32). A man who would walk with God and given the promises:
- "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing" (Genesis 12:2).
- "To your offspring I will give this land" (Genesis 12:7).
- "Look toward Heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. ... So shall your offspring be" (Genesis 15:5).
These promises were fulfilled in the Twelve Tribes of Israel. A people who went into Egypt as only seventy (Exodus 1:5) but leaves with 603,500 warriors--not counting the women, children, the elderly or the priests (Numbers 1). A great multitude had come out and were ready to receive the promises given to Abraham. A great nation whom God had chosen to be His treasured possession among the nations (Deuteronomy 7:6). A great nation who would repeatedly rebel. A nation who would be divided (1 Kings 12) and then be taken into exile (2 Kings 17; 25) as a result of their rebellion. A nation reduced to a remnant (Isaiah 10:20-22).
When Jesus is born in Bethlehem, this remnant had been decimated again by its own rebellion. Jesus was born while Herod the Great, an Idumean by birth, was ruling in Jerusalem. He ruled under the endorsement of the Roman Emperor. The Jewish nation was still enslaved, along with the rest of the world, to its enemies. Judgment had been brought upon the earth. And it was done to speed Jesus' coming into the world. Remember the opening words of St. Luke's Christmas story: "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered" (2:1). The world was being counted so that they could be taxed. To be reminded that they had been and were still under God's judgment. But even under judgment, there were some who still took refuge in their Mighty Fortress.
Jesus is sending, and will continue to send, judgment before He comes again as Judge. In a judged world, the Fortress came and dwelt among us (John 1:14). He stood judged by this world and found lacking in their eyes. He did not live up to their expectations. But no one expected the greatest of His judgments. His resurrection from the dead. This Jesus is Lord of life and death. He has the power to make the dead live again. He is given the authority to pass judgment on this world.
The book of Revelation reveals this judgment that began at His Ascension into Heaven and continues until He returns in His full glory. In these last days, Heaven and earth will reel and rock, tremble and quake because of His divine anger over sin (v7). The great and glorious Day of the LORD is coming. "A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements" (Zephaniah 1:15-16).
God's righteous judgment is the order of the day. Judgment that brings horror for His enemies. Comfort for His children. Everything depends upon your righteousness before God. David says, "The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He rewarded me" (v20). Your righteousness determines the reward God gives you.
Those who seek after their own righteousness will be condemned. "Beware the leaven of the Pharisees," Jesus tells us (Luke 12:1). Even those who look righteous may be condemned. The Ninth Commandment reminds us, "We should fear, love and trust in God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor's inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it" (SC I 18). This was the leaven of the Pharisees. With their haughty eyes, they looked down on everyone else as not being as righteous and as holy as they were. But Jesus will come and bring haughty eyes down (v27). He will straighten the crooked, though they will see it as torture (v26). Nothing will be greater torture than to be cast into the lake of fire with the devil and his angels for all eternity (Revelation 20:10, 15). The Mighty Fortress fights against their evil and wins.
But those who take refuge in the LORD their Rock find themselves inside the Mighty Fortress. They are protected and delivered. Those who righteousness is the LORD will be saved (Jeremiah 33:16). The humble are saved (v27). Those who look to the Light of the World (Matthew 5:14) are enlightened by the Gospel (SC II 6), which is "the power of God for salvation" (Romans 1:16). Jesus' righteousness is given through faith, as the prophet Habakkuk says, "The righteous shall live by faith" (2:4; Romans 1:17). The humble understand their place before God. They are within the Fortress taking refuge from the storms of life. They are seeking sanctuary from their sin. And they are given that refuge and sanctuary as God calls them His children and delivers them from all their enemies forever.
By His death and resurrection, Jesus has destroyed your enemies. Every one of your enemies has been destroyed by the Son of God (1 Corinthians 15:25-27). Born in a Bethlehem stable (Luke 2:7). Nailed to a wooden cross (Luke 23:33). Buried in a borrowed tomb (Luke 23:50-53). Risen from the dead (Luke 24:5-6). Conquering death, there is no other enemy that can stand against Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:26). Not even the very gates of Hell (Matthew 16:18). "One little word can fell him" (LSB #656.3). No charge can be brought against you. With Jesus' righteousness, you are blameless before God. He has kept you from guilt by taking it upon Himself (v23, 25; Genesis 6:9). You stand before God like Noah, fleeing the judgment of the Flood in the Ark of the Mighty Fortress who is our God. And this is His gift to you forever.
David ends the Psalm: "Great salvation He brings to His king, and shows steadfast love to His anointed, to David and his offspring forever" (v50). This great salvation did not end with David. It continues on to his offspring forever. Not only the royal line that was kept in Judah because of the promises (2 Chronicles 21:7). The offspring singular--Jesus, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ--who gives these blessings to you. Blessings that were promised to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob and to David as an everlasting covenant. Great salvation is yours! "Behold, your King is coming, righteous and having salvation" (Zechariah 9:9). Wait for the King who comes to bring you into His eternal kingdom. Amen.
Lord Jesus, both David's Son and David's Lord, thanks be to You, because You undertook the battle against our enemies, and ransomed us from the power of them that hated us. As You now sit at the right hand of the Father, a Lord over all things, be our Rock and our Defense, our Buckler and Captain of our salvation, that in Your name we may defy and despise the very gates of hell, triumphing over them forever and ever. Amen.