Theme: An Important Principle
In this week’s lessons we see how the second part of Psalm 18 builds upon the first part, and how Paul uses it to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Psalm 18:25-50
In order to understand section four of this psalm (vv. 25-29), we need to back up to section three where David explained the reason for his deliverances by God. He said that the Lord dealt with him and rewarded him “according to [his] righteousness … according to the cleanness of [his] hands” (v. 20). It was because he had “kept the ways of the LORD” and had not “done evil by turning from his God” (v. 21).
When we looked at that explanation in the last study I asked how David could make those claims, particularly since these words were written toward the end of his life and thus following his great sin with Bathsheba. But I said that what he claims for himself in section three (vv. 20-24) must be understood in conjunction with the general principle now unfolded in section four (vv. 25-29). The principle is that, as Leupold puts it, “God very appropriately deals with every man as that man deals with him. God lets man, as it were, choose the pattern after which he will be dealt with…If a man keeps faith with God, he will find that God “keeps faith” with him (v. 25). If a man’s conduct is blameless—and it should be noted that this is a typically biblical mode of speaking also in the New Testament (Luke 1:6)—he will never find a thing that he can blame God for. The same holds true with regard to a “pure” man (v. 26) or, as we might say, a sincere man. God is bound to meet him with an approach that is in turn entirely pure.”2
The principle applies for the opposite characteristics too. Translators have had difficulty rendering the second half of verse 26 (“to the crooked you show yourself shrewd”), probably because David himself had difficulty writing it. It is easy enough to say that when a man exhibits a good characteristic toward God, God shows the same good characteristic to him. But if man shows a bad or evil characteristic, can God really show a bad characteristic back? Hardly! God cannot do evil. So David expressed the second half of the parallel by a somewhat ambiguous word, the root meaning of which is “twisted.” The verse actually says, “To the twisted (or crooked) you will show yourself twisted (or crooked).” But even that doesn’t sound quite right, which is why the New International Version translators used the word “shrewd” in place of the second “twisted.” The idea seems to be that if a person “insists in going devious ways in his dealings with God, God outwits him, as that man deserves.”3
I repeat that this is a general principle. It does not cover situations like that of Job, who was a righteous man (Job 1:8; 2:3), or the man born blind of whom Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). The principle simply means that unless other, special factors are involved, the righteous person will be blessed and protected by God while the ungodly will be judged.
This does not mean that the ungodly may not prosper for a time. Often they do. Dictators sometimes rule for decades. Still, justice frequently does come, as it recently has for Panama’s Manuel Noriega and Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu. A few years after the end of World War II, the great English historian Herbert Butterfield wrote a book entitled Christianity and History, in which he argued that the fall of Hitler followed this same observable pattern, namely, that the wicked do not prosper forever and that the good are rewarded.4 This is all David is saying here. It is his testimony—but a testimony that many should be able to repeat. When we go God’s way, God protects and prospers us. We are like the flourishing, productive tree of Psalm 1. The wicked are not like this. They are soon swept away.
What is the general principle of vv. 25-29?
Explain the second half of v. 26 (“…but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd”).
Why does God allow the wicked to prosper at all even if they are eventually defeated?
Key Point: When we go God’s way, God protects and prospers us. We are like the flourishing, productive tree of Psalm 1. The wicked are not like this. They are soon swept away.
2H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1969), p. 169.3Ibid., p. 169.4Herbert Butterfield, Christianity and History (New York: Charles Scribner, 1950).