Continuing my series of responses to the psalms we come to Psalm 18. This is one of those anguished and dramatic psalms which come as a great cry from the depths for help and give us a glimpse of the God who comes down into those depths to rescue us. William Blake was drawn to this psalm and in his painting ‘David Delivered out of Many Waters’ picks up on those lines:
He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and it was dark under his feet.
He rode upon the cherubins, and did fly: he came flying upon the wings of the wind.
At the heart of this painting is the intense gaze between Christ as he descends with the angels his arms outspread in power and compassion, and David who gazes up from the waters, his arms stretched out and bound as though in crucifixion. Blake’s vision here perfectly expresses a Christian reading of the psalms. Of course they were written ‘BC’ but the God whom they address is the God who came down in Christ to rescue us, and the psalms themselves are rustling with the rumour of his coming, indeed many of them are quite literally Messianic. And of course the Christian who prays them now is praying them ‘AD’ and is bound to sing and pray them in the Light of Christ, and consciously address to Christ the psalms which Christ himself had continually on his lips.
In my own response to this psalm I drew not only on Blake’s vision, and the psalm itself, but also on my own personal experience of what it is like to be overwhelmed, to cry for help, and to be rescued by the intervention of a loving God.
As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right.
I will behold you, and be satisfied.
My strength my rock my buckler and my shield!
You came to rescue me, I saw you ride
The wind’s swift wings, I saw the waters yield
To you, as you reached down to lift me out
Out of the whelming panic, where I reeled
And flailed in fear of death. You heard my shout
My anguished cry for help, and carried me
And held me safe and put my fears to rout.
And now you give me back my liberty
You strengthen my weak hands and set my feet
To dancing lightly as a deer, as free
As any in the forest, and as fleet.
Soon you will call and draw me in your love
To that still place where earth and heaven meet.