You have also given me the shield of Your salvation,
And Your right hand upholds me;
And Your gentleness makes me great (Psalm 18:35 NASB)
You have also given me the shield of Your salvation,
And Your help makes me great. (2 Samuel 22:36 NASB)
On my trek through 2 Samuel, I ran across chapter 22, which I was going to skip since it was also Psalm 18. But then it occurred to me that the minor differences might be illuminating. So, I wanted to pick out a few and share some insights. Keep in mind, we don’t really know which is truly the older edition, but the prevailing suspicion is that the book of Psalms preserves the final edition more fit for public worship. Regardless of which is more ‘fitting’, I do believe that the Psalm is the final, and 2 Samuel 22 is the ‘draft’. That being said, permit me to delve into one of the differences, verse 36 in 2 Samuel 22, and verse 35 in Psalm 18 (in the English, not in Hebrew numbering).
In these two verses, the first line is the same, word for word. Note that it’s not a ‘helmet of salvation’. In this context, the concept of shield probably makes more sense.
But the second line in Psalm 18 is missing in 2 Samuel. “Your right Hand supports me” is more connected (arbitrarily?) to the first line through a punctuation break in the Hebrew text (punctuation being added much later, influences, but does not control translation). If the Psalm is the final, why, for public consumption, add this line?
Is the Glorious Infinite Holy God ‘Humble’?
And the weirdness continues. The very next word, ‘help’ or ‘gentleness’ is the exact same word in both places. So, you may ask, “Why translate it differently in each place?” Good question. “I don’t know” I answer, “But I suspect that it’s because a different team of translators worked in Psalms than those working on 2 Samuel (or the same group at different times), and this word is difficult to understand here.
Verbal or Nominal?
If you use a Strong’ Concordance, you will find that both verses refer to different entries. The problem with that is that they are both nouns, but in 2 Samuel 22:36, Strong’s refers to a verb. As I said, the Hebrew text has the exact same word, and form in both places. The Greek is really not much help here as it is even more different between the two verses, and in 2 Samuel, even more difficult to make sense (Your obedience makes me increase).
The word in both places, regardless of whether it’s a verb or a noun, still refers to God’s ‘humility’. This is a very difficult concept to wrap my Western American Cultured mind around. Saying that God is ‘humble’ is, well, odd. I think of Him as He is described in the first part of the psalm, “hidden in darkness”, “throwing lightning and fiery hail”, you know, the scary thundering Warrior God! What’s this ‘Your humility makes me great’ stuff? How can it even be in the same poem?
A ‘Singing Redeemer’?
Okay, are you ready for some ‘weirdness’? Here’s a doozy for you. The Hebrew word at the root of these two can also mean ‘singing’. So, what if, (and nobody translates it this way) what is supposed to be here is, ‘Your song makes me great’? My Western American Cultured mind would sure be more at ease with that. There are a multitude of problems with such an understanding, I’m sure (partly because no one translates it that way). Actually, the type of song could specifically refer to a lament, which would not help here at all, but I don’t know that either.
What I’m left with, partly or mostly relying on wiser more experienced minds than mine, is that somehow the humility of my Master makes David great; and therefore causes greatness in me (and others). I can’t take the space here to delve into exactly how my Master is humble or what that would mean for Him. But let’s reduce the concept down to, “He doesn’t do all that He is capable of doing on His own behalf.” So, He doesn’t defend Himself to the extent that He could. Keep that concept in mind, while I try and ‘mine’ this context for an application…
What I Think It Means…
The following verses are David recounting that it was he who pursued and devoured his enemies. Perhaps here, in this verse, it is the ‘humility’ of God which permits David to do some of the work for his salvation. God gives him a shield, upholds him, and steps back to let David loose on the enemies. So, God doesn’t have to be out in front of the action? This is in contrast with the beginning description where God rides a cherub on the wings of the wind surrounded by dark clouds and rains down lightning and fiery hailstones to rescue David from the depths of the swirling sea of death.
I suppose that the progress of activity described here is that David calls out to God as he is besieged by enemies, God rescues him dramatically, and then supports him as he destroys his enemies. David recognizes that God didn’t need to let David do anything. God could have simply wiped out the enemies without David’s help or participation. So, for David, God’s willingness to step back in support of David allowed David to become great (or increase). David recognizes where this greatness comes from.
So, my take away from this is that my Master does dramatically rescue. But my Master also supports me as I work in His service. If the enemies are ‘spiritual foes in heavenly realms’ then He permits and enables me to fight them. What could possibly embarrass them more than THAT?
So, what do you see here? What is the ‘humility’ of God, and how does it make you ‘great’?