I have come to think of Psalm 18 as David’s Magnificat. Like Mary’s Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55), Psalm 18 praises God’s wonderful deeds. But in both “Magnificats”, the singer glorifies how God has made the singer great. They are splendid examples of true humility.
St. Therese of Lisieux gives a memorable image of true humility in her masterpiece, The Story of a Soul. She is about to tell the story of her life. She is going to tell how God has stooped low to make her great. Lest the reader take that as prideful, she reflects that if a flower were able to speak, it wouldn’t pretend that it had no beauty or fragrance. It would say, “I am beautiful. I am fragrant. But it is God who has made me thus.” Humility isn’t “Oh, shucks, I ain’t got nothing.” It’s “I am fearfully, wonderfully made. And I thank the Lord that He has made me so.”
Psalm 18 begins with a veritable barrage of praise for the Lord:
1 I love thee, O Lord, my strength.
2 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.
David tumbles over himself in expressing who God is for him. The Lord is his strength, fortress, deliverer, God, rock, refuge, shield, horn, and stronghold. God is his everything. Words can’t capture the strength of his love.
Then he proclaims what God, because of who He is, has done for him. David wrote this psalm in thanksgiving for the Lord’s rescuing him from the hands of Saul and all of his other enemies (Ps 18:1). He uses the image of crying out to the Lord for help. The Lord rushes down from heaven. He is wrapped in storm clouds, breathing smoke and fire. He pours down hail, flashes out lightning, terrorizes David’s enemies, and stirs the sea to its depths. Then,
16He reached from on high, he took me,
he drew me out of many waters.
17 He delivered me from my strong enemy,
and from those who hated me;
for they were too mighty for me.
“I was low. You raised me high. I was nothing. You made me something.” The rest of the psalm elaborates on this theme.
David – the adulterer and murderer of his mistress’s husband – then goes on to say,
20 The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all his ordinances were before me,
and his statutes I did not put away from me.
23 I was blameless before him,
and I kept myself from guilt.
24 Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
David was lost in sin. But God cleansed him so completely that he can now boast of his righteousness. That’s how unshakably sure David is of God’s mercy and forgiveness. He knows that when God forgives, He forgives. Part of the bliss of Heaven will be an utter freedom from regret. If it were even possible, there, to say to the Lord, “Oh, Lord, I’m so sorry for…,” His astonished response could only be, “What are you talking about?”
More, David’s blameless life now is God’s gift. He keeps God’s laws because the Lord gives him the grace to do so.
The rest of Psalm 18 (31-50) hammers on all that God has done for David. First, David unapologetically proclaims his own prowess. He crushes troops and leaps walls. His feet are like deer’s feet so he can ascend the heights. His hands are trained for war. He can bend a bow of brass. He is strong for battle. His assailants sink under him. He destroyed his enemies and beat them like fine dust before the wind. He has become the head of nations. Foreigners cringe before him. He is The Man. He is the Warrior King. He out-Waynes John Wayne. He out-Diesels Vin Diesel.
But it is God who has made him great. God gave him the power to leap walls, crush troops, ascend the heights. God trained his hands for war and enabled him to bend a bow of iron. As David declares in Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory,for the sake of thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness!” David’s strength is the gift and reflection of God’s strength. His courage hints at God’s courage. He is awesome and breathtaking and the ideal King of Israel because God is all of those things, exponentially.
48 For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
Unlike David, though, Mary quickly shifts from what God has done for her. The rest of her hymn of praise celebrates what the Lord has done for all people, and especially for His chosen people, Israel. He doesn’t just raise Mary up. He always and everywhere brings down the powerful and raises up the weak.
50 And his mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
52 he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”
Both Magnificats revolve around the theme of God stooping low to raise people high. Both resoundingly give credit to the One to whom all credit is due. But, borrowing from John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, I see Psalm 18 as the masculine side of a coin of which Mary’s Magnificat is the feminine.
Per Eldredge, “every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” But in every woman’s heart, God has placed the desire “to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty” (Captivating, p. 10, John and Stasi Eldridge).
In Psalm 18, David’s Magnificat, David delights in fighting the battle and living the adventure. The focus switches from God to David and back. God radiates His warrior identity through David. David sings the praise of the God who has made him great. God has done great things through David. David has done great things through God.
In Mary’s Magnificat, the focus is complementary but different. Mary celebrates that she has been chosen to play an irreplaceable role in the greatest adventure in history. She is to be the mother of Jesus, coming to Earth to conquer the Evil One in mortal combat and deliver God’s people. The focus is briefly on her role, but then the searchlight beam swings to and remains on the Lord’s mighty works. He is the Adventurer, the Warrior, and she is blessed to play a part in the adventure. Her littleness celebrates His greatness. She magnifies the Lord.
That’s not to say that Mary is not a Warrior Queen. Her “yes” required stupendous courage and a lifetime of sacrifice. No one shared more closely in her Son’s final battle, His bitter Passion. And David was no stiff-upper-lipped emotionless killing machine. His psalms vibrate with emotion. He danced before the Ark of the Lord with abandon as it journeyed to its final resting place on Mount Zion. He wept over his bosom friend Jonathan and his difficult son Absalom.
Mary is a woman’s woman because her humility and courage are refracted through her grounded, holy femininity. David is a man’s man because his humility and courage are refracted through his grounded, holy masculinity. Her glory is a feminine glory, his masculine. There is no blurring or watering down in their complementarity. In an era of great and toxic confusion, we need their clear, glorious revelation of how good a man and a woman can be – of how good it is to be male and to be female. Each of their Magnificats, in its own way, bring this home.