I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies. Psalm 18:1-3
As we begin this season of Advent, our thoughts rightly turn to the arrival of Jesus on the scene of human history. It may seem odd, then, that today’s passage comes from a Psalm that is a retrospective on the life of King David, whom God “delivered” from the grip of his enemies and from the hand of Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 23:14).
Then again, perhaps it does not seem odd enough. Perhaps we have become so accustomed to “hearing Christ on every page of the Bible” that we reduce the Bible’s rich and multifaceted witness in the Old Testament to a set of terms that we pluck out to fill up our New Testament-heavy lectionaries, sermons, and readings. If we turn to Psalm 18 and think only of Jesus as the one who “delivers” from sin, we shortchange the Old Testament’s powerful use of the term “deliverer”1 to speak of Yahweh’s concrete actions in the life of the people of Israel.2
It is worth reflecting, then, on the audacious move that Christians make in seeing in God’s deliverance of David something of what it means that Jesus’ birth sets in motion the deliverance of the world from the clutches of Sin and Death. Zechariah’s song in the opening chapter of Luke’s Gospel provides the template: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”3 Indeed, the New Testament is clear that in Jesus we glimpse the very God who delivered Israel.4 Entering this season of Advent, let us return again and again to the stories of God’s deliverance of Israel and to the Psalms that recount them. Let us inhabit these ancient songs, allowing their words to become our words as we respond to the enemies we encounter and as we reflect on the coming of the Deliverer. As the great fourth-century bishop Athanasius put it: “When you have been saved from your enemies and delivered from your pursuers, sing Psalm 18.”