Psalm 18: A Fire & Brimstone God?

Last year our college ministry spent the summer in the Psalms, and our staff directional team took turns writing devotionals for each Psalm that we covered. While I am on vacation this summer, I thought I’d share some of the devotionals I wrote. This first one is on Psalm 18,  which you can read here.

“I love You, O Lord, my strength.” 

The Lord is my rock and 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, And I am saved from my enemies.

Psalm 18 opens with a beautiful summary of David’s relationship to God, then moves in for a closer look at enemies and danger he faced. The picture the Psalm paints is of surging waters, a hunter’s trap. David found himself in danger that felt like being in a dry streambed during a thunderstorm, finding a wall of water raging toward you. Or like trying to choose your steps wisely while walking through a field of traps laid by hunters.

Do you relate to David? Have you ever found yourself in a physical or emotional situation that felt like a mine field, like danger is rushing toward you and there is no escape?

David’s response to this danger was to call upon the Lord.

In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help;

He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears.

 When you cry out to the Lord, how do you picture Him responding?

To be honest, I sometimes picture God like a switch board operator, and I’m one of 8 million calls on hold. Or I see my prayer as a little wispy thing floating up to the invisible, hoping that it will be heard.

How would you expect God to respond to the danger in which David was in?

David describes God’s response to his cry for help using a poetic picture in verses 7 – 15: Then the earth shook and quaked; And the foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up out of His nostrils, and fire from His mouth devoured; Coals were kindled by it…

The picture David paints is of an immediate response. And to be honest, it is a more violent response than I’d expect. Earthquake. Smoke and fire. Riding on darkness. Thunder, hailstones and coals of fire.

David – a military man, a commander and warrior before he even became king – presents a military picture of God’s response. This is literally a fire and brimstone picture of God.

Is this a comforting image for you? How does it feel to read this description of an angry God, coming on clouds of smoke and fire to lay bare the foundations of the earth?

I asked my Facebook friends what comes to people’s mind when they hear “fire and brimstone” and the responses were all negative. Judgment. Wrath. Shame. Fear. A God who is out to GET you.

I don’t like this view of God. Shame and fear have no place in a conversation about a God who went into death itself to rescue us from shame, fear, and the wrath of hell.

God is not out to get us.

So what do we do with the fire and brimstone picture of God in Psalm 18?

Look again at David’s situation. Imagine what it felt like to face such tremendous danger. What would it feel like to be so oppressed, hunted, surrounded…and then to see this God blazing toward you? To rescue you.

David isn’t painting a picture of a God who is out to get him.

His picture is of God coming TO him. God coming to rescue him.

Suddenly, the fire and thunder and immediacy of God’s response is a comfort. A reason for thanks and praise and celebration. Our God is a rescuer, and this psalm is a beautiful picture of His response to the injustice and evil that oppress.

Think about the danger and oppression – physical and spiritual – that you most dread. Picture your deepest shames, your greatest fears, the enemies of your soul surrounding you and closing in. Then read Psalm 18: 7-15 again:

Then the earth shook and quaked; And the foundations of the mountains were trembling And were shaken, because He was angry.

Smoke went up out of His nostrils, And fire from His mouth devoured; Coals were kindled by it.

He bowed the heavens also, and came down With thick darkness under His feet.

He rode upon a cherub and flew; And He sped upon the wings of the wind.

He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.

From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, Hailstones and coals of fire.

The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered His voice, Hailstones and coals of fire.

He sent out His arrows, and scattered them, and lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them.

Then the channels of water appeared, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at Your rebuke, O Lord, At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.

When you call out to God, is this how you picture Him responding to you, for you?

Can you see Him as a God who blazes to your rescue?

Do we believe that THIS is God’s heart toward those who are outcasts, endangered by the power structures in our empires? This is God’s heart for the oppressed. This is His promise:

He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.

He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.

They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my stay.

He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.

If you’re interested in reading any of the other Psalms devotionals from last summer (I was very impressed with my coworkers’ writing skills, I really enjoyed every one of these!), you can look around over here.

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