I love Psalm 18 – until I get about a third of the way through, anyway.
David is desperate in this poem. He describes feeling as though he’s entangled, coiled in seaweed, sinking to the deepest part of the ocean. Hope is gone.
He’s a dead man sinking.
He drifts ever lower, but manages to cry out to God. Then comes the good part. Just as his feet touch the sea floor, just as a last, tiny bubble burps from his collapsing lungs, the Heavenly Cavalry crashes through the clouds. Smoke fumes from God’s nostrils, blazing coals rocket from his mouth. Hailstones. Bolts of lightning. Trumpet blast. “Charge!” God shoves the sea aside, grabs David by the collar and draws him up.
Love it. Then comes verse twenty and I come to a screeching halt.
I Have Not Done Evil
“The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness,” David declares. “The Lord has rewarded me … according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight” (Psalm 18:20-24).
Wait a minute. How could David call himself blameless when he was an avowed adulterer, murder and disobedient servant?
Apparently he believed in the sacrificial process God had instituted long ago. God’s notion of justice required restitution for sin—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. In His mercy, however, He established a process whereby the eyes and teeth and lives of sacrificial animals would substitute for those of humans.
A Lamb for a Man
Ultimately, no animal’s life could ever be as valuable as a man’s, which is why the Old Testament always hinted at a more appropriate and permanent sacrifice to come. The suddenly-appearing ram that saved Isaac’s life just as Abraham raised his knife foreshadowed a soon-to-come Lamb whose slaughter would pay the price for countless guilty human beings. He would act as the ultimate Life for a life.
In David’s day, a penitent didn’t simply slay his or her sacrifice. He first hauled the sacrifice before the priest, laid his hands on its head and confessed his sins out loud. No vague apology would do—sin was to have a name. It was humiliating and humbling, but only then would the knife be drawn, the lamb’s blood flow and the man go free.
How costly – but how sure – a salvation God has provided in Jesus. How dearly does Jesus love us that He would consider it joy to climb that Tree for our sake.
As we lay our hands on this willing Lamb and confess our sins by name, let’s picture those sins going to the grave with the Sacrifice. With our fingers still laced through the thick wool of His head, though, we rise again with Him, leaving death behind and flying free.
That’s when we sing with David, “The Lord has dealt with me according to the cleanness of my hands”—hands that were washed by the Lamb Himself.
My! How great a great salvation.