2 Samuel 22:1-51 – David’s Hymn


2 Samuel 22:1-51


In this magnificent hymn, which also appears as Psalm 18, David reflects upon his reign as king and God’s deliverance. David expresses thanks to God for many acts of deliverance by singing God’s praise.


David’s hymn is also found in essentially the same form in Psalm 18 where it is the third longest psalm in the Psalter. Many have seen two separate psalms here: an individual hymn of thanksgiving for deliverance (vv. 2-31) and a royal hymn of thanksgiving for victory (vv. 32-51). Others, naturally, disagree. As it appears in 2 Samuel 22, the psalm appears to have a reasonably unified concentric structure, framed by praise, with reference to God as “rock” and God’s deliverance forming an inclusio:

A Praise of the Lord (vv. 2-3)
B The Lord delivers (vv. 4-20)
C The Lord deals with me as I deserve (vv. 21-25)
C′ The Lord deals with others as they deserve (vv. 26-28)
B′ The Lord delivers (vv. 29-46)
A′ Praise of the Lord (vv. 47-51)

Three observations, related to the three aspects of this psalm, must suffice here:
1. The hymn begins and ends with praise of the Lord.
2. Verses 2-20 are a textbook example of the so-called hymn of thanksgiving, which moves from introductory praise through a description of the psalmist’s past experience (in a lament, this section would describe the psalmist’s present experience)–including the supplicant’s distress, prayer, and God’s deliverance–to a concluding vow or declaration of praise. In 2 Samuel 22:2-20:
• Introductory praise (vv. 2-4)
• Description of past experience (vv. 5-20)
a. Distress (vv. 5-6)
b. Prayer to the Lord (v. 7)
c. God’s deliverance (vv. 8-20)
By relating what God had done in response to the psalmist’s prayer arising out of his distress, this portion of the hymn “thanks” God by praising the Lord, and praises God by telling everyone what God has done. Verses 29-46 (B′) echo this deliverance and continue the psalmist’s “testimony” to God’s gracious activity in his life.
3. The center section of the hymn (vv. 21-28, C C’) has troubled theological readers for its supposed reveling in “works righteousness.” This is especially true for verses 21-25, which display their own concentric arrangement:

a The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
b For I have kept the ways of the LORD,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
c For all his ordinances were before me,
c′ and from his statutes I did not turn aside.
b′ I was blameless before him,
and I kept myself from guilt.
a′ Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight.

In fact, the very words that trumpet the psalmist’s righteousness and the idea that the deliverance is a reward for merit (the words in italics above) are precisely the words used to establish the concentric structure. Furthermore, can the David we have been reading about for the last 10 or 12 chapters really be the one making this audacious claim? Three responses:

  • First, in verses 2-20 and 29-46 we have ample testimony to God’s gracious activity on the psalmist’s behalf with no regard for the psalmist’s personal righteousness.
  • Second, such expressions of personal righteousness occur frequently in the psalms; Martin Luther’s study of such expressions contributed to the Reformation insight that human righteousness results from God’s gracious activity toward us. God does not act because we are righteous; we are righteous because God has acted. This is the essence of the covenantal relationship that began with God’s deliverance of the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt.
  • Finally, the point of this central section (vv. 21-28) is that God acts justly with the psalmist (who is in a covenantal relationship with God) as seen in vv. 21-25 (C), just as God acts justly with “others” (vv. 26-28, C’).