2 Samuel 22:1-4, 26-34 (ESV) 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… With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you deal purely, and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down. For you are my lamp, O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness. For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.”
The Old Testament reading for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (2 Samuel 22:26-34) is a Psalm of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord from King David, after the Lord has given him deliverance from his enemies. It is a variant of Psalm 18, also ascribed to King David.
Looked at from a historical perspective, this Psalm seems like pure fiction, since David says, “The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight” (2 Samuel 22:25). What a howler! Just ten chapters earlier, we had seen the sorry story of David and Bathsheba, when his unclean, lustful heart led him first to commit adultery and then to the unrighteous murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. This event led not to reward for David but for a curse on his household. In addition, David comes across as a weak, pathetic father and ruler on numerous subsequent occasions.
However, the Old Testament is more than just a historical text, while remaining no less than that. God’s Word is about theology, about who God is and how He deals with His people. After the Lord had sent the prophet Nathan to confront David over his sin, David confessed, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Then Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Samuel 12:13). In other words, David’s righteousness is not of works but from the Lord’s forgiveness.
Psalm 51 is the appointed Psalm for Trinity 9, the prayer for forgiveness David prayed after his plunge into sin. Psalm 32 is another penitential Psalm of David, which St. Paul quotes in Romans 4:5-8 in order to teach the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works of the Law: “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’”
This is the righteousness and cleanness David—and all believers—possess: not a righteousness and cleanness of works, but one received by grace through faith, for the sake of Jesus Christ.
In his commentary on Psalm 51, Dr. Luther says, “The proper subject of theology is man guilty of sin and condemned, and God the Justifier and Savior of man the sinner. Whatever is asked or discussed in theology outside this subject, is error and poison” (Luther’s Works 12: 311). While historical study involves the evaluation of people’s works, theological study involves the acknowledgment that all men are sinners but that God has sent Christ to justify and save us through His blood and righteousness.
Indeed, 2 Samuel 22 (and Psalm 18) aren’t primarily about King David but about the Son of David, Jesus Christ: “For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever” (2 Samuel 22:50–51). The word translated “anointed” here is mashiyach, the Hebrew word from which we get “Messiah” in English. This Psalm—like all the Scriptures—is only completely fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah (aka Christ, from the Greek christos, the equivalent of mashiyach).
Prayer: God of majesty, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven, we give You thanks for David who, through the Psalter, gave Your people hymns to sing with joy in our worship on earth so that we may glimpse Your beauty. Bring us to the fulfillment of that hope of perfection that will be ours as we stand before Your unveiled glory; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.