He is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and He in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me.
In this one verse, two phrases are brought together which seem curiously joined. Yet their juxtaposition grants us greater clarity into what each of them mean. They also help us see that our Lord—to whom both phrases refer—is altogether different from what we may assume.
The verse begins with David praising His Lord for being his “steadfast love” (hesed). It’s a word used some 150 times in the Old Testament, 100 of which are in the Psalms alone. It connotes His fidelity, solidity, and compassion. The verse ends with David praising his Lord for being the One who “subdues peoples” under him. Now, we know David to have had fierce animals, King Saul, and many opposing nations vanquished before him with the Lord’s help. What makes the last phrase intriguing, though, is the tiny footnote in the ESV translation: in many manuscripts of this text, the phrase reads: “who subdues my peoples under me.”
At first glance, that seems perplexing. How can the God whose love is steadfast be the same God who subdues David’s people under him? How can a loving God, in effect, beat down (another nuance of subdue) David’s people under him?
David’s history surely chronicles that very phenomenon. He was anointed king of Israel following the death of Saul, but not before a rival faction of Israelites sought to enthrone Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth (2 Kings 2-4). A “long war” (2 Kings 3:1) ensued, with David displaying both great courage and great respect for those who opposed him—a respect that translated even to mourning the death of Abner, who had orchestrated Ish-bosheth’s ascendancy.
Years earlier, the Lord had set David apart to be the king over all Israel. Despite the opposition of Saul, antagonistic nations, or even his own people, the Lord saw fit to subdue them all to fulfill His promise to make David the king through whom He would bring blessing to the world (2 Sam 7:14). This was His steadfast love and His powerful subduing in concerted action. Therefore, from a purely historical standpoint, the Lord indeed steadfastly loves and methodically subdues what (or who) opposes His plan—even those who are to be part of that plan.
Just as there were segments of Israel who refused to trust in the kingship of David, and thus had to be subdued by the Lord, so there are parts of us—our interests, our affections, our practices—that remain unconvinced that the Lord steadfastly loves or that He is the one in whom we can rightly take refuge.
What are those parts of you that remain unconvinced? Sunday, we mentioned that by our patient praying—by “praying until we pray”—we find a more steadfast sense that the Lord is worthy to be praised, that our peace is in Him, that humility before Him is the only proper posture, and that it is perfectly legitimate to petition Him with astounding requests that further His righteousness. Do any of those truths seem more like assertions than axioms? In what segments of your life is there subconscious, but lively debate about the sufficiency of God and His right to have every part of you?
If you’ve needed a little guidance about what to speak of in prayer, perhaps your answers to those questions form your agenda. And perhaps they illuminate this core truth: Because of His steadfast love, He subdues what opposes us; but by our trust in that steadfast love He shall subdue the opposition in us. The only sufficient object of our trust in His steadfast love falls to the One in whom two other concepts were juxtaposed—The Lord Jesus satisfied God’s requirement to be just toward sin, yet also satisfied His interest in justifying a people by designating those who were still sinners as righteous in His sight (Romans 3:26, 5:8). The more deeply you trust in that union of two seemingly irreconcilable truths, the more readily you will praise Him, find your peace in Him, be humble before Him, and utter your requests to Him.
Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Gen 32:26). About what must you now wrestle with God?