As King David began to conquer all the enemies before him, as the giants from Gath toppled before David and his warriors like felled cedars, he recognized where his strength and protection are found. Perhaps the man with the most stunning military successes in all of history–the man who runs against a troop and leaps over walls–he sees reality rightly, that it is all from God, and God alone. So of course he does what warrior-poet-kings do after battle, and writes a song.
The entirety of 2 Samuel 22 is this kingly song, and it is marvelous. But whenever I read it, I stumble over this section, from verses 21-25:
The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me,
and from his statutes I did not turn aside.
I was blameless before him,
and I kept myself from guilt.
And the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to my cleanness in his sight.
Question 1: How does this apply to David, historically?
How could David possibly say this? How the man who committed rape and murder say that he has been rewarded according to the cleanliness of his hands? He surely cannot be saying that he has kept the Law perfectly in his power. But let’s take another song of David’s and apply a bit more context to his thought. In Psalm 51, David mourns the unclean state of his hands and heart, and pleads with the Lord to give him a new heart, so that he can perfectly obey. David looked back to God’s self-revelation as a God merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity, sin, and transgression. He saw this, and he believe it and acted in light of it; faith. So I believe when David writes this portion of the song in 2 Samuel 22, he seems to be writing it out of the recognition that even his very obedience is located outside of himself.
Question 2: How does this apply to Christ?
The only person in history to be able to literally, fully claim these words for himself is Jesus Christ. He perfectly obeyed the law, and according to the cleanliness of his hands he was rewarded. Death itself could not hold him, for over him it had no claim! Certainly, then, when we read 2 Samuel 22 we can praise God for Jesus Christ and his life of perfect obedience.
Question 3: How does this apply to me?
Christ’s life of perfect obedience is ours, for we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God. Christ has welcomed us into himself in a mysterious union; we are in Christ. If this is true, then we can claim every one of these propositions of David’s, which apply more fully to Christ, 100% for ourselves. And because Christ’s perfect obedience is complete, and lies in the past, I can be completely sure of it. I don’t have to say “I’m doing alright so far with the law, but you never know what tomorrow holds!” I can say “regardless of what may come tomorrow, because the Father has given me to the Son, I am in Christ and will be rewarded according to his cleanliness.”
I guess I can’t screw this up!