With the kind You show Yourself kind,
With the blameless You show Yourself blameless;
With the pure You show Yourself pure,
And with the perverted You show Yourself astute.
And You save an afflicted people;
But Your eyes are on the haughty whom You abase
(2 Samuel 22:26-28 NASB)
Active listening, or ‘mirroring’ are communication techniques recommended for clearer conversation, discussions, and even negotiation. What about living this way? What if you live in such a way as to ‘mirror’ those around you? Well, according to God’s instructions to the people of Israel as they entered the Promised Land, that is a recipe for disaster. But can a ‘modified’ form of life-mirroring be learned from how God responds to us?
First, I want to examine this passage along side Psalm 18:25-27, and see if the differences are illuminating. Then I will examine the implications of what David is claiming on God’s behalf. To do that I want to follow the train of thought. But I think it would helpful to also bring out Paul’s own ‘mirroring’ description of God toward us (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
So, to begin with, a word change is made in the second clause of verse 18:25 from 2 Samuel 22:26. A literal translation of that clause would be, “With a virile man of completeness You behave complete.” The word ‘complete’ has the implication of ‘having all pieces and parts accounted for, nothing is missing’ which can also mean ‘perfect’ or ‘righteous’ or something like that by extension. Which is why we have such variety in modern translations for this word used in this verse.
But the change is in the word ‘man’ or ‘virile man’. The change is from ‘mighty man/one’ in 2 Samuel 22 to ‘virile man’ in Psalm 18. They are cognates (from the same root word), and are very close in meaning, but one is an adjective used as a noun (in 2 Samuel 22), and the other is a more direct noun. This change may not sound all that important, but what was done for the ‘public worship’ version is to make it more widely applicable. Now, instead of some great warrior, the meaning applies to any man in his good years. That could be any man, which means everyone needs to pay attention to this.
The second change is the last word from 2 Samuel 22:27 to Psalm 18:26. In 2 Samuel the final word is a verb meaning, ‘You appear a .’ In Psalm 18, the first two letters are switched around, and we have ‘You appear twisted’. Keeping in mind that translating poetry in any form is hard, these two choices are even more difficult. A case could be made for either rendering, and there is tremendous variety between translations, some matching Psalm 18 and some keeping the 2 Samuel 22 meaning. In general scholars prefer to read the Psalm 18 reading because the root of the one in 2 Samuel is really dubious. A good ‘guess’ can be found in an expanded Strong’s Concordance entry here where the meaning ranges from ‘paint’ or ‘smear’ to ‘fool’ or ‘tasteless’.
The third and final difference is in 2 Samuel 22:28 versus Psalm 18:27. There are actually two, but one is merely gramatical which modifies the poetic structure slightly, but the meaning is exactly the same. The other difference has to do with the word ‘eyes’ in the final phrase. In 2 Samuel, it’s ‘eyes lifting up’, and in Psalm 18, it’s ‘Your eyes on the ones raising up’. Either way, God brings them low. Whether He sees them before hand or not is almost irrelevant since it can be assumed. The point is they don’t get away.
Following David’s Train
The three verses together provide David’s assumption that it is in response to his faithfulness to God that God responds from His Temple. This would probably place this Psalm prior to David’s sin with Bathsheba. So, while there are important implications for how David acts in the future toward God, let’s first follow David’s progression here.
First claims that God ‘echoes’ the attitudes of His people: Kind toward the kind, blameless toward the blameless, pure toward the pure. But when it comes to the ‘twisted’, God shows Himself a different kind of ‘twisted’ or perhaps, ‘distasteful’. The point is that God echoes His people’s behavior until it deviates from His character to do so. In another sense, He recompenses people for their own behavior, so whatever they do comes back to or on them. This is where I see a connection to 2 Timothy 2:11-13, which I’ll explore in a second.
The plain meaning of David here is that God rewards good behavior by ‘mirroring’ it back to the person, or punishes evil behavior with like-kind behavior. In both 2 Samuel and Psalms, there is a deviation from the mirroring pattern as God deals with evil behavior. In 2 Samuel, God is ‘tasteless’ toward the evil twisted person. In Psalm 18, God is ‘twisted’ right back at them, yet differently. The sort of ‘twisting’ God does with the perversely twisted person is like wrestling. In a sense, He ties them up in knots like a wrestler.
How This Affected David’s Later Life
But we can take this view further and try to explain the problem David had after Bathsheba in his life with God. He seems to be less in tune with his Master after that, and expects much less from Him. So, he can claim that Shimei may have been directed by God to curse him, and not punish Joab as he should have for his murders, and so on. David seems to recognize a difference in his relationship with God after that. He seems more depressed, and more apt to think God is sending him the worst. That would make sense if David believed that God ‘mirrored’ His people’s behavior.
I think it’s more fair to say that David holds God’s favor and punishment in tension. He does acknowledge God’s grace, and God favors David and Bathsheba’s next son, Solomon, by calling him Jedediah. But David still seems to believe God is punishing him for his sin with Bathsheba. It could be that he is punishing himself since he no longer sees himself in the same light as this Psalm, and is filled with shame. If so, we could surmise it’s common, but also prideful. In any case, it’s a hard fall to take after such a long road of triumphs.
God’s Mirroring From Paul’s Perspective
Regarding 2 Timothy 2:11-13, the similarities are only in the mirroring aspect of God. There it has do with faithfulness as a follower of Jesus. The idea in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 is how God treats His people. The idea in 2 Timothy 2 is how we mirror the life-path of Jesus, and, in the end, how God rewards us for it. It ends with a statement limiting God’s mirroring of our fidelity since He ‘cannot deny Himself’.
So, now it’s been about 11 hours since I started this post, and I can’t remember what my point was. Since I typically make these things up as I go, the point I start with often changes by the time I finish, but now I’ve totally lost my train of thought. Since I’m after a ‘view through a knothole’, how about this: I can trust that God will deal with me in much the same manner as I live. But, when I blow it, I can always come back, improve, and once again gain back the favor I lost by being stupid. I find it comforting to know that stupidity doesn’t have to be a ‘terminal disease’. And I see a very strong incentive here to return to the pure, kind, and blameless patterns. I hope the incentive is strong enough to keep me there…
What’s your view through the knothole? Take your time. I don’t know if that helps, but it seems mirroring behavior is godly methodology. Who knew?