To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, the servant of the LORD, who addressed the words of this song to the LORD on the day when the LORD rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said: I love you, O LORD, my strength. 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 18.1-2.
As the first verse of this morning’s reading records, Psalm 18 is a song which David composed and spoke to the Lord in the early years of his reign as king of Israel. It also appears in that context in 2 Samuel 22. And what strikes me about the psalm as I read it through again this morning is the number of times in the psalm that David calls the Lord his “rock”. What kind of rock? The kind that “the wise man builds his house upon” — flat, solid, foundational rock? No, not at all. The Hebrew word is sela’ and it is not the word you would use for a flat rock or even the kind of rock on which you could sit. It is the word for a crag or a cliff. And that being so, I see how closely linked it is, in David’s mind, with the next word, “fortress”. That word in Hebrew is matsud and it means a “fastness” or “stronghold”. And, yes, I know — “stronghold” is itself another description that David uses of God at the end of this morning’s verses, but there the Hebrew word is misgab which is a “high place” or “refuge” or “secure height”. All the words are related.
So when David calls the Lord his “rock” I begin to get the picture. Here is the plain and there are my enemies in pursuit of me. Ahead are the steep mountains arising out of the plain — precipitous crags full of crevices and caves. A stronghold. A high, natural fortress which, once I reach it, will afford me all the protection and safety I need. And when I get that picture, I see that David is not just using a handy metaphor; he is speaking from his bitter, actual experience of being on the run from Saul. “And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness,” we are told, “in the hill country of the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand” (1 Samuel 23.14). Later, we are told: “Now David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the Arabah to the south of Jeshimon. And Saul and his men went to seek him. And David was told, so he went down to the rock and lived in the wilderness of Maon … Therefore that place was called the Rock of Escape” (1 Samuel 23.24-25, 28).
Now, as he writes Psalm 18, with all those days of physical danger behind him, David can see that what was once true of those craggy, high, natural fortresses in the mountains of Judah has always been true of God. Even when his David’s body was hidden behind some craggy outcrop as Saul’s soldiers scoured the hills in search of him, his heart, his soul, his very life were securely set in the Lord who had called him and who loved him. The Lord has always been David’s Rock of Escape — the Rock of his Salvation.
The hymn-writer Augustus Toplady caught the thought of David’s mind perfectly when he wrote: “Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee”. And it is a prayer I find myself echoing as I set out into this new day; for only in the Rock am I safe. Only in the Rock am I completely secure. Only in the Rock can I truly heed the command to “Fear not!”