Theme: The Importance of Personal Pronouns
In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to trust God for his help and blessing.
Scripture: Psalm 144:1-15
Martin Luther used to say that true religion is to be found in personal pronouns. He meant that it is only when we are able to speak of God as “our” God and call Jesus “my” Savior that Christianity becomes more than mere ideas and is truly real for us.
A biblical example of this right use of pronouns is Thomas, who fell at Christ’s feet exclaiming, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), his doubts about Jesus’ resurrection overcome by the presence of the Lord. No single work of ancient literature is more genuinely Christian than The Confessions of Saint Augustine, which from its very first line to its ending is addressed to God personally. Augustine begins, “Great are thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and thy wisdom infinite,” a statement drawn from Psalms 145:3 and 147:5. And it is only a very few lines into his work when one reads these well-known words, some of the best known of all literature: “Thou hast formed us for thyself, and our hearts are restless, till they rest in thee.”1 That is true religion indeed.
In Psalm 144 David is extremely personal as he confesses God to be “my Rock,” “my loving God,” “my fortress,” “my stronghold,” “my deliverer” and “my shield” (vv. 1, 2). These verses set an exalted tone for the psalm by announcing who David had found God to be. Then, from this high beginning, the psalm turns into a prayer in which David: 1) acknowledges human frailty, especially his own; 2) asks God for help in his trouble; 3) offers a “new song” of praise to God; and then 4) repeats his prayer for deliverance while looking forward to a day when the people of his kingdom will live in genuine peace and security, and will be prospered. The psalm ends: “Blessed are the people of whom this is true; blessed are the people whose God is the
LORD” (v. 15). These last lines commend David’s God to the people. They say, in effect, happy are those who can make the same confession I do, who can say as I have been doing, “My Lord and my God.”
Psalm 144 is a lot like Psalm 18, and any careful comparison, matching phrase for phrase, will suggest at once that they have been written by the same individual,2 though they are noticeably different in their tone.
In Psalm 18 David is explaining how he had been in desperate trouble at one time but how God had delivered him from it. The “cords of death” had entangled him (v. 4). The “cords of the grave” had coiled around him (v. 5). He was in great “distress” (v. 6). But then, he says, the Lord “reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters” (v. 16); “I pursued my enemies and overtook them” (v. 37); “I crushed them so that they could not rise” (v. 38). In Psalm 144 David’s enemies are a present threat. “Deliver me and rescue me from the hands of foreigners whose mouths are full of lies,” he prays (v. 11). But the tone is nevertheless settled, calm and trusting. For David knows that the Lord, who is his Rock, his fortress, his stronghold, his deliverer and his shield, will give victory and the blessing of a safe and prospering kingdom: “no breaching of the walls, no going into captivity, no cry of distress in our streets” (v. 14).
Psalm 18 is identified as an early psalm of David, “which he sang to the LORD … when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul” (title line). It is a victory song, a celebration. In Psalm 144 victory is needed. It is still to come. But the psalm breathes a mature assurance that comes from a lifetime of experiencing God’s unlimited power and great grace.
1Saint Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), vol. 1, p. 45.
2It is common among commentators to explain these similarities as a later writer borrowing from the earlier Davidic psalm or psalms. Even the normally conservative Alexander Maclaren regards the first half of the psalm (vv. 1-11) as merely “a rechauffe of known psalms” to which the second half (vv. 12-15), “an appended fragment,” has been attached in an “embarrassing fashion” (Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 3, Psalms 90-150 [New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1894], pp. 419, 420). But the phrases that reappear in Psalm 144 are not mere borrowing; the psalm is an original composition. And a similarity of lines can be an argument for Davidic authorship, as well as against it. As far as the second half is concerned, in my judgment it is not at all an embarrassing appendage but a natural development of the earlier material. Charles Spurgeon was exercising sound literary judgment when he wrote, “To us the whole psalm appears to be perfect as it stands, and to exhibit such unity throughout that it would be a literary vandalism, as well as a spiritual crime, to rend away one part from the other…. Its language is of David, if ever language can belong to any man” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3b, Psalms 120-150 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1968], p. 354).
What is meant by saying that true religion is found in personal pronouns?
How is David’s psalm personal?
What are four parts to David’s prayer?
Compare Psalms 18 and 144.
Prayer: Thank God for his continual deliverance and provision for you.
For Further Study: The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is still offering James Boice’s three-volume set of his sermons on all 150 psalms. Order yours today and receive 25% off the regular price.