Bible Commentary: Psalm 144

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Psalm 144

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Psalm 144 is the last in the sequence here of five psalms of David seeking rescue from foes, in this case referring to treacherous foreign enemies in a time of war or the threat of war. It contains a number of similarities with David's great victory song found in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18. As the victory song evidently came late in David's life, after all his foes were subdued, and Psalm 144 was written while David still needed deliverance from foreign enemies, it would appear that the victory song borrowed elements from Psalm 144 rather than the other way around. In fact, there is more in the specific wording of both songs to confirm this, as we will see.

Psalm 144 opens with David praising God as his "Rock" (verse 1a), the word here also meaning "strength," which could mean a stronghold or fortress. The same word appears at the beginning of Psalm 18 as "strength" (verse 1), but it is paired in the next verse with another word meaning "rock" (verse 2; compare 2 Samuel 22:2). Note also the references to God as "fortress" and "high tower" (Psalm 144:2; compare Psalm 18:2; 2 Samuel 22:2-3).

In Psalm 144:2 David refers to God as He "who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle" (Psalm 144:1b). Compare the victory song: "He teaches my hands to make war" (Psalm 18:34; 2 Samuel 22:35). Thus David credits God for making him a successful warrior-king. The Nelson Study Bible suggests: "It is also possible that this psalm was used in the training of the army (as was Psalm 149). Warfare in ancient Israel was tied closely to the worship of God. Deliverance from the enemy was not just a task for tough soldiers, it was a matter of active piety" (introductory note on Psalm 144). As God's earthly kingdom at that time, Israel and its human ruler battled foreign enemies at God's command. Christians today, who wait for God's future Kingdom, do not have this responsibility and therefore do not participate in physical warfare (compare John 18:36). Of course, God does teach us to fight spiritual battles against our spiritual enemies.

Verse 3 of Psalm 144, asking what is man (the Hebrew here connoting mortal man) that God should care for him, is nearly the same as Psalm 8:4. Actually, David evidently took this wording, as found in both psalms, from Job 7:17-18. In fact, the previous clause of that passage, "For my days are but a breath" (verse 16), is echoed in the next words of Psalm 144: "Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow" (verse 4). "The Hebrew word translated 'breath' [here and in Job 7:16] is habel, the name of one of Adam's sons (Abel), and the word translated 'vanity' thirty-eight times in Ecclesiastes. (See also Psalm 39:4-6, Psalm 39:22; Psalm 62:9; Psalm 78:33, Psalm 94:11.) The 'shadow' image is found in Psalm 102:11, Psalm 109:23, Job 8:9 and Psalm 14:2, and Ecclesiastes 6:12 and Ecclesiastes 8:13" (Wiersbe, Be Exultant, note on Psalm 144:1-4).

This presentation of the frailty of human existence sets up David's plea for God's powerful intervention. The imagery of the bowing down of the heavens, the flashing forth of lightning bolts as arrows and the rescue from great waters representative of foreign adversaries (verses 5-7) is all found in the victory song as well (compare Psalm 18:9, Psalm 18:14, Psalm 18:16-17; 2 Samuel 22:10, 2 Samuel 22:15, 2 Samuel 22:17-18). However, Psalm 144 asks for these things to happen, while the victory song shows them as already accomplished. Thus, the victory song is essentially praise and thanks for God answering the plea of Psalm 144—further demonstrating the order in which these psalms were composed.

Verse 8 and the recapitulation of the plea for deliverance in verse 11 seem to imply that the foreign enemies are violating some treaty or other agreement they had made with Israel .

David, anticipating deliverance and victory, says he will sing a new song to God (verse 9; compare Psalm 33:2-3; Psalm 40:3). This could refer to singing an old song with renewed joy and zeal. Yet in this case it may well refer to the composition of a completely new song—the best fit seeming to be the victory song of Psalm 18 and 2 Samuel 22. In the context of this new song is the reference to God as "the One who gives salvation to kings, who delivers David His servant from the deadly sword" (Psalm 144:10). Considering that the names of the psalmists are rarely included in the lyrics of the psalms, compare the victory song: "Great deliverance He gives to His king, and shows mercy to His anointed, to David and his descendants forevermore" (Psalm 18:50; compare 2 Samuel 22:51).

Praying for God's deliverance in faith, David can foresee strong, healthy children, prosperity, peace and contentment for God's nation (Psalm 144:12-15). Such happiness, as verse 15 makes clear, is the reward of the people of God—both in this age and, in an ultimate sense, in the age to come.

It would be beneficial to read Psalm 18 or 2 Samuel 22 following Psalm 144 to see the intervention of God in answering David's prayer.