Discover more from Biblical Theology
Drawn Out of Many Waters
Echoes of Moses and Joshua in Psalm 18
According to Deuteronomy 17:18–20, the king of Israel “shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.”
The king of Israel was to be a Torah-man, a Scripture-shaped ruler. Given the integral role that Scripture was to play in the king’s heart, we would not be surprised to find the prayers of such a king being influenced by the Torah.
Psalm 18 is a perfect test case for this idea, because it is long and thus gives us much material in which to notice echoes.
The superscription of Psalm 18 calls David “the servant of the LORD.” The term “servant” is used for various people in the Old Testament, but the particular phrase “servant of the LORD” is applied to only two names besides David’s, and both characters are earlier than he. Moses is called the “servant of the LORD,” as is Joshua.
Moses is called the “servant of the LORD” in Deuteronomy (34:5), in Joshua (1:1, 13, 15; 8:31, 33; 11:12; 12:6; 13:8; 14:7; 18:7; 22:2, 4, 5), in 2 Kings (18:12), and in 2 Chronicles (1:3; 24:6).
Joshua is called a “servant of the LORD” at the end of the book that bears his name (Josh. 24:29).
If we keep the stories of Moses and Joshua in mind as we read Psalm 18, we can notice several things in David’s prayer.
First, when David described the rescuing power of the Lord arriving to save him, he uses language reminiscent of God’s presence at Sinai. David says the “mountains trembled and quaked” (Ps. 18:7), that “smoke” and “fire” came from the Lord (18:8), and that “darkness” and “thick clouds” covered the Lord (18:11).
In Exodus 19, we read about the presence of the Lord manifested on Mount Sinai. There is a thick cloud, smoke, fire, and a trembling mountain (Exod. 19:16–18).
Second, when David wrote of the effect of the theophany, he said, “Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils” (Ps. 18:15).
In Exodus 14, we read about the parting of the Red Sea, when God caused a mighty wind to divide the waters so that dry ground appeared in the midst of the sea (Exod. 14:21–22).
Third, when David testified about his deliverance, he said of the Lord, “He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters” (Ps. 18:16).
In Exodus 2, baby Moses was placed in a basket among the reeds of the Nile River (Exod. 2:3). When Pharaoh’s daughter beheld the child, he was taken from the water. She named him Moses because, as she said, “I drew him out of the water” (Exod. 2:10).
Fourth, when David was rescued, he said that God “brought me out into a broad place” (Ps. 18:19).
After the death of Moses, Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land after they crossed the Jordan River. This broad place of promise was their inheritance after their redemption from Egyptian captivity. So, too, was David rescued and then taken (figuratively) to a broad place of freedom when his enemies fell.
Fifth, when David recalled God’s empowerment, he said, “For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall” (Ps. 18:29).
Triumphing over enemies reminds us of the conquest that took place under Joshua’s leadership. Engaging troops and taking on fortresses are part of the narratives in the book of Joshua.
Sixth, when David reflected on where his strength for victory came from, he gave praise to God: “He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze” (Ps. 18:34); “I pursued my enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed” (18:37); “You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed” (18:40).
The echoes of conquest continue, then, as David depicts his victories by Yahweh’s strength and covenant faithfulness.
There are no doubt more than six examples we could identify in Psalm 18 that recall the days of Moses and Joshua, but these six are sufficient to show how a psalmist—in this case, David—was aware of, shaped by, and echoed earlier Scripture.
As we become deeper readers of the Old Testament, such allusions and echoes will become more apparent to us. And in so doing, psalms like Psalm 18 will become richer as we read them.