Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Leaping Tall Buildings (Psalm 18:29)

Who by God’s help was able to jump over a wall? David (Psalm 18:29)

Psalm 18 is a lengthy psalm that can be classified as an individual royal psalm of thanksgiving (Psalm 18:1-50).

Richard J. Clifford (b. 1934) introduces:

Psalm 18 shifts the topic from the subject of the three preceding psalms, the Temple, to the king (though the king is often associated with the Temple.) It is the third longest poem in the Psalters (after Psalms 119 and 78). A nearly identical version is found in II Samuel 22 [II Samuel 22:1-51]. (Clifford, Psalms 1-72 (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries), 104)
The psalm’s superscription attributes its composition to King David. Geoffrey W. Grogan (1925-2011) notes:
Most scholars now see this psalm as very old, and the possibility that all or much of it is by David is quite widely (but not universally) accepted, even by some denying most other psalms to him. It is sometimes used as a yardstick for measuring whether others headed לדוד, lědāwid, are by him. (Grogan, Psalms (Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary), 64-65)
William L. Holladay (b. 1926) adds:
Strikingly, this psalm [Psalm 18:1-50] is duplicated in II Samuel 22 [II Samuel 22:1-51], and there it is specifically attributed to David (II Samuel 22:1). The context given for the Psalm in II Samuel 22 might itself be unhistorical, but that this psalm, which appears to offer archaic language, is preserved in two different parts of the Old Testament suggests that the attribution to David should be taken seriously; most scholars at least date it to the tenth century B.C.E. (Holladay, The Psalms Through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses, 24)
Derek Kidner (1913-2008) defends Davidic authorship:
Although some have assumed from the final verse [Psalm 18:50] that the king in question was not David but one of his descendants, the verse does not require this, and the zest and vividness of the writing point to first-hand experiences such as David pre-eminently had. An incidental pointer to him is the allusion to fighting on foot (Psalm 18:29, 33), since later kings soon took up chariots (cf. I Kings 22:34; II Kings 9:21), which were introduced on a large scale by Solomon. (Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), 90)
The psalm’s superscription states that the psalm documents “the day that the Lord delivered him [David] from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” This heading is highly irregular.

Samuel Terrien (1911-2002) informs:

The editor of the Davidic Psalter not only attributed Psalm 18 in its totality to David but also assigned it to a concrete situation without parallel elsewhere in the completed Psalter. Instead of a specific episode in the life of the young monarch, as was the case in most of the other David superscriptions (Psalms 3, 7, 34, 51-52, 54, 56-57, 59-60, 63; cf. 142), this notice covers all the king’s victories during Saul’s pursuits (II Samuel 5:5-25, 15:1-21:22). The psalm is called “canticle” or “chant” (cf. Deuteronomy 31:30), and the poet insists on the exceptional quality of the singer, whom he names “the servant of the Lord” (cf. Psalm 36:1, 144:10; cf. also “Moses, man of God”; Deuteronomy 33:1). (Terrien, The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary, Volume 1: Psalms 1-72 (Eerdmans Critical Commentary), 196)
Given this context, the psalm is sung as a sigh of relief after the singer has emerged victorious following a long struggle. It functions much the same way as the 1997 ubiquitous Chumbawamba hit “Tubthumping” whose hook is preceded by, “We’ll be singing when we’re winning!”

In recounting the Lord’s assistance, the psalm transitions from defense (Psalm 18:16-19) to attack when David exclaims:

For by You I can run upon a troop;
And by my God I can leap over a wall. (Psalm 18:29 NASB)
James Limburg (b. 1935) contextualizes:
Psalm 18:25-30 consists of praise accompanied by instruction. The king speaks of what the Lord has done for his people (Psalm 18:27). Then, with striking imagery and exaggeration, the king tells what the Lord means for his own life: “Lord, you light my lamp, you give me the strength to take on an entire army, with you I can leap over a wall!” (Psalm 18:28-29 paraphrased). (Limburg, Psalms (Westminster Bible Companion), 56)
Peter C. Craigie (1938-1985) supplements:
The psalmist turns to a personal reflection (Psalm 18:28-29), in which he recalls the crisis from which he had sought deliverance, and the deliverance which came. He had almost been trapped by Death and Sheol (Psalm 18:4-5), which are symbolized by darkness, but in that darkness, God had given him light (Psalm 18:28) and had warded off the ultimate darkness of defeat in death. He had been threatened by enemies (Psalm 18:3), but had been enabled by God to attack a greater force (“a troop”) and “scale a wall” (namely the walls of enemy forts or cities, Psalm 18:29). (Craigie, Psalms 1-50 (Word Biblical Commentary), 175)
Some have seen the verse as out of place. Donald K. Berry (b. 1953) acknowledges:
Douglas K. Stuart [b. 1943] recommends that the entire verse be omitted for metrical and semantic reasons. The verse is tenuously connected to the statements which precede and follow it, but omission is somewhat drastic. (Berry, The Psalms and their Readers: Interpretive Strategies for Psalm 18 (Library Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies), 42)
David asserts that, with God’s help, he can “leap” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, RSV), “scale” (NIV, NLT) or “vault” (Robert Alter [b. 1935], MSG) a wall (Psalm 18:29).

The Hebrew word for wall is shûr. Stephen D. Renn researches:

Shûr is a noun found in four places, designating a literal wall in each case (cf. Genesis 49:22; Psalm 18:29; II Samuel 22:30; Job 24:11). (Renn, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew And Greek Texts, 1025)
Colin J. Humphreys (b. 1941) infers:
The Hebrew word translated “wall” here is shur, and clearly it means a high wall that the psalmist can climb with the help of God, not a low wall he can easily step over. (Humphreys, The Miracles of Exodus: A Scientist’s Discovery of the Extraordinary Natural Causes of the Biblical Stories, 210)
Because of this presumption, The Message paraphrases the word as “highest fences” (Psalm 18:29 MSG).

Eugene H. Peterson (b. 1932) titled his “Reflections on the Life of David”, Leap over a Wall because he felt that Psalm 18:29 typified the king’s entire life. Peterson characterizes:

The image of David vaulting the wall catches and holds my attention. David running, coming to a stone wall, and without hesitation leaping the wall and continuing on his way—running toward Goliath, returning from Saul, pursuing God, meeting Jonathan, rounding up stray sheep, whatever, but running. And leaping. Certainly not strolling or loitering...David’s is a most exuberant story. Earthy spirituality characterizes his life and accounts for the exuberance. (Peterson, Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians, 11)
The setting of this particular leaping is a battlefield. Craig C. Broyles (b. 1953) situates:
In this section we have the first clear reference to the psalm’s military context: With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. In contrast to the theophany, which refers only to Yahweh in the third person...this song is dominated by first and second persons (he is used, however, in Psalm 19:30-34). While the theophany gives focus to divine intervention, and a dramatic one at that, this section gives attention to Yahweh’s equipping...and training...of his agent of victory. (Broyles, Psalms (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series), 106)
Konrad Schaefer (b 1951) compiles:
God instructs and equips the psalmist for military triumph: a belt of strength, safe passages, fleetness of foot (“like the feet of a deer”), a stronghold out of reach, amazing strength (to “bend a bow of bronze”), and training for battle (Psalm 18:31-35). Military vocabulary and images are preferred as the situation unfolds (Psalm 18:36-42). In an attack and allied victory, the psalmist pulverizes the enemy (Psalm 18:42). (Schaefer, Psalms (Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative And Poetry), 43)
William P. Brown (b. 1958) concurs:
In Psalm 18, the king can “run over a wall” (Psalm 18:29); he is girded with “strength”; his way is “perfect” (Psalm 18:32); and his “stride” is “lengthened” (Psalm 18:36). Such qualities, among others, establish the king’s prowess in combat (see also Psalm 18:33-34). (Brown, The Psalms (Interpreting Biblical Texts))
Allen P. Ross (b. 1943) analyzes:
Psalm 18:29 says, “By you I can run against a troop,” (a synecdoche, referring to all kinds of conflict in warfare). The second half of the verse may also refer to some aspect of war, although the idea is not readily clear: “I can leap over a wall” (perhaps escaping; see I Samuel 23:2). (Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1: 1-41 (Kregel Exegetical Library), 454)
Many interpreters see the wall being leaped as reflecting David’s ability to penetrate enemy defenses.

The image depicted is that of a divinely inspired warrior. As such the Contemporary English Version paraphrases: “You help me defeat armies and capture cities” (Psalm 18:29 CEV). A more modern exemplar of Psalm 18:29 is Sergeant Alvin C. York (1887-1964), a Christian who merited the Medal of Honor during World War I for his individual exploits during an assault on October 8, 1918.

Given the indeterminate superscription, the psalm may not refer to any particular battle. Michael Wilcock (b. 1932) speculates:

The effects of grace, God’s undeserved goodness to such people, are to bring light into their life and (what is more) to keep it burning, and to provide the very resources which they lack in coping with both people (a troop) and with things (a wall). David is no doubt thinking of some of the achievements which climaxed with his accession to the throne, for instance his defeat of the Amalekite raiders in I Samuel 30:1-20 and his capture of the Jebusite city of Jerusalem in II Samuel 5:6-16. (Wilcock, The Message of Psalms, Volume 1 (The Bible Speaks Today), 66)
Whoever the opponent, David is elated. Willem A. VanGemeren (b. 1943) restates:
In his newfound deliverance, the psalmist expresses a spirit of confident joy. There is no barrier that the Lord cannot overcome, whether it be a “troop” or the wall of an enemy city (Psalm 18:29). The presence of the Lord gives confidence of victory (cf. Joshua 23:10). (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Psalms: Revised Edition (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 209)
Significantly, the psalmist’s confidence does not emanate from within himself but from without in the form of his God (Psalm 18:29; Romans 8:31). John Eaton (b. 1927) elucidates:
In Psalm 18:28-29 the king pictures the effect of his deliverance, and one can easily interpret his hopes as based on the meaning of a foregoing sacrament; God has in symbol ‘saved’ him and confirmed his choice of him, and so the king looks forward to having the divine help in the struggles that lie ahead. In times of darkness God will light his ‘candle’ (the picture will be of a lamp made of a wick set in a saucer of oil). It is a picture of one who has to go through much darkness, but whose little light is sufficient because it is lit by the Lord. Through God this warrior will not fear to run at a whole troop of foes, and a mighty city wall will be no obstacle to him. (Eaton, The Psalms: A Historical and Spiritual Commentary with an Introduction and New Translation (Continuum Biblical Studies), 106)
The king has assurance that God will equip him with whatever skills he may need, even superhuman abilities such as Superman’s capacity to “leap tall buildings in a single bound”.

James H. Waltner (1931-2007) summarizes:

The loyal God lights my lamp (Psalm 18:28). In that God-given vitality, the king can crush a troop or scale the wall of a hostile city (Psalm 18:29). With God as enabler, he can do the unthinkable. The concluding assertion states the theme of the whole psalm: This God...is perfect (Psalm 18:30, tāmîm, “whole, integral”). God is totally reliable. (Waltner, Psalms (Believers Church Bible Commentary), 104)
After triumphing over numerous obstacles, David’s faith is soaring. The king’s assertion that he can leap over walls is a precursor to Paul’s famous declaration, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 NASB).

What is the highest you have ever leapt? Have you ever felt as though you could “leap over a wall” with God’s assistance? What historical figures have illustrated Psalm 18:29 by exceeding their natural limitations? Who receives the credit for your successes? At what point in your life were you most confident in God’s ability to empower you? Is your life characterized by the joy inherent in Psalm 18:29?

David’s intent in penning the eighteenth psalm is not simply to document an historical victory but to inspire future communities of believers. The king’s military might is a community concern as it affects the entire nation.

Robert Davidson (1927-2012) connects:

On the king’s relationship with God and on his God-given vitality depends the well-being of the whole nation. As a warrior, the king can, with God’s help, successfully lead his army into battle. He can storm ramparts...and, taking his enemies by surprise, leap over a defensive wall. (Davidson, The Vitality of Worship: A Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 68)
J. Clinton McCann, Jr. (b. 1951) interprets:
If Psalm 18 is viewed simply as a royal psalm of thanksgiving used by David or one of his descendants upon the occasion of military victory, then it must be viewed essentially as a literary artifact—an interesting museum piece, but not something for contemporary handling and use. Taking a clue from Erhard S. Gerstenberger [b. 1932], however, the interpreter may move in a different direction. Gerstenberger’s proposal that Psalm 18 was intended “to keep hope alive in hard-pressed Jewish communities” is all the more likely when we consider that, in some post-exilic circles, the promises attached to the Davidic monarchy were applied to the whole community...The circumstances and faith of the psalmist, as well as the intent of Psalm 18 to keep hope alive, are captured in Jesus’ parting words to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid...I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 14:27, 16:33 NRSV). (1 & 2 Maccabees, Introduction to Hebrew Poetry, Job, Psalms (New Interpreter’s Bible), 749)
Many have been encouraged by David’s experience. Herbert Lockyer, Sr. (1886-1934) documents:
This portion of Scripture was the constant source of inspiration of the Scottish Covenanters...Walter Scott [1771-1832] has embodied in his novels the influence of the Psalms in their lives. It was a Psalm that nerved Manse Headrigg to leap her horse over a wall, Psalm 18:29. (Lockyer, Psalms: A Devotional Commentary, 65)
It continues to provide hope for modern believers. Robert L. Alden (1937-1996) confesses:
Psalm 18:29b is one of this writer’s favorite testimony verses. It comes to mind whenever a human impossibility is faced. “By my God I can leap over a wall!” Joshua and the people of Israel did it literally at Jericho. David and his army did it at Jerusalem. Why can’t we? (Alden, Psalms, Volume 1: Songs of Devotion (Everyman’s Bible Commentary), 47-48)
William R. Taylor (1882-1951) generalizes:
Our possibilities, both of mind and body, are far greater than we realize. It is recorded of an athlete that when he was fifteen, he jumped over a five-barreled gate—a feat he never afterward equaled—because he was then chased by a bull. Fear drew out his latent power. If fear can be so great an incentive, how much more may love be? The stories of the martyrs and heroes provide the answers. (George A. Buttrick [1892-1980], Psalms, Proverbs (The Interpreter’s Bible), 99)
It is worth noting that God assists the believer as opposed to eliminating the obstacle. Even David, God’s anointed, does not claim that the wall is flattened, only that God has empowered him to move past it.

When have you been inspired by the triumphs of believers that have preceded you? What is the greatest thing you have accomplished “by” God? What walls do you need to leap over? When you pray, do you pray for your walls to be flattened or the ability to hurdle them? As God did not remove the wall before David, does this imply that there is value in our trials?

“It is not by my own strength but in my God that I shall leap over the wall which sins have built between humankind and the heavenly Jerusalem.” - Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Expositions of the Psalms 1-32 (Works of Saint Augustine, Vol. III, No. 15), p. 194