Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Matthew 7:15-23; Acts 9:1-19; Psalm 18:20-29; Genesis 39-40
Psalm 18 is also found in 2 Samuel 22 with only small differences. There we are told that David composed it after he was delivered from his enemies, and Saul in particular. We know from 1 Samuel that Saul treated David badly, and had no good reason to do so. David continued to respect Saul even as he became more envious, hostile and violent towards David. Saul hunted David like an escaped criminal, even while Israel’s enemies also attacked David. Yet David remained faithful to Saul, and refused to kill him when he had the opportunity and the encouragement of others to avenge himself (1 Samuel 24; 26).
Psalm 18 begins by recalling this background. In the midst of such violence and danger, David looks to God for strength and protection (Psalm 18:1-2). God heard him and delivered him. In today’s passage, he reflects on why that was the case (Psalm 18:20-29). These verses have been the source of much controversy stating that David was delivered because of his own goodness. He says that he kept himself from sinning, and God rewarded him because he was a righteous man (Psalm 18:23-24). Is David here self-righteously claiming to have attained moral perfection? Does this teach that God lavishes good people with good things and protects them from bad things?
The historical context of the Psalm shows that this is not the case. David says he was blameless, yet he also suffered serious injustice at the hands of Saul. Yet all of Saul’s accusations were untrue, based on Saul’s personal insecurity and violent jealousy towards David. In spite of what David was accused of, he was blameless. When he had two opportunities to kill Saul, he kept himself from sinning. He did not turn away from God’s morals and his decree that Saul was God’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:6). In this, even Saul recognised that David was righteous, and prayed that God would reward him well (vv. 17-19).
We see from David’s life that his good deeds did not lead immediately to a comfortable and peaceful life. Some of the most challenging times in David’s life followed these events with Saul. Yet towards Saul, David was blameless and faithful. He was eventually delivered from his persecution, and he praises God for that. This deliverance did not happen immediately, and did not last forever. Neither did David’s righteousness. David sinned in other situations, and suffers the consequences. Yet in the matter of Saul, David showed himself to be a man after God’s heart.
Charles Spurgeon wrote that Psalm 18 is the song of a good conscience. When people do good, and yet are reviled for doing evil, they should still defend themselves. Those of good moral character should stand up for their integrity if they are being slandered. They can be confident that God will reward them, though this may not be in the near future. That is why we must trust that God’s ways and timing are perfect (Psalm 18:30). Joseph likewise was a man of integrity, and suffered for it. God remained with in prison, and showed him kindness and favour (Genesis 39:21). Yet in the long run, he reaped the benefits of living morally.
Scripture is replete with balancing ideas which must be kept in tension. Jesus says that we can recognise people’s goodness by their fruit; yet sometimes good deeds are done by those who are not good (Matthew 7:15-23). Good deeds are important, but not as important as one’s relationship with God (Matthew 7:23). David did not ultimately stand on his deeds, but his love of God (Psalm 18:1). Joseph flourished because the Lord was with him (Genesis 39:23). That is the source of a good conscience.