“You have given me the shield of your salvation,
and your right hand supported me,
and your __________ made me great.”
–Psalm 18:35 (EST)
What word would you put in that blank?
The word chosen most often by translators* may surprise you. It certainly surprised me.
“Your GENTLENESS made me great.”
In addition to being surprised, I was puzzled. How can God’s attribute of gentleness make a person great?
A good place to begin our search for understanding is the background of this psalm. It was written by King David, perhaps during his later years. He may have been pondering the incredible progression of his life from lowly shepherd boy to exalted king.
Surely, young David never even daydreamed of becoming the most powerful man in Israel, as he sat on the hillsides of Bethlehem, watching over his father’s sheep.
Neither could he have known at least fifteen years would pass between his anointing as king (a ceremony indicating a setting apart) and his actual coronation.
And contrary to human logic, those intervening years would not be spent as a student in preparation, but as a fugitive and outlaw, running for his life. Seems like such a waste of time, doesn’t it? As David hid from King Saul in the Cave of Adullam, did he wonder, Lord God, what ARE you doing?
In hindsight we can see that God was gently teaching and preparing David his way, with practical, hands-on lessons such as:
- The Lord hears the prayers of the afflicted and encourages them (Psalm 10:17).
- The Lord’s unfailing love can be trusted (Psalm 13:5).
- The Lord gives wise counsel (Psalm 16:7).
- The Lord is like a rock. His people can take refuge in him (Psalm 18:2).
- There is no need to fear evil, because the Lord is always present with his own (Psalm 23:4).
One definition of gentle is “considerate or kindly.” God certainly demonstrated gentleness of this nature by endowing David with certain character traits–traits that would serve him well as monarch over Israel:
- Courage—most obvious, perhaps, when teenaged David took on nine-foot-plus Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
- Perseverance—when he spent those years waiting for God’s plan to be fulfilled, all the while fleeing from Saul’s vengeful rage (1 Samuel 19-2 Samuel 1)
- Cleverness—on display when David pretended madness in order to avoid death at the hands of the Philistines (21:10-15)
- Restraint—when he twice resisted the opportunity to kill Saul before the king killed him (chapters 24 and 26)
- Respectability—During his years as a fugitive, six hundred men gathered in support of David and fought with him (27:3-4).
Another definition of gentle is “tender hearted.” No doubt it was with a tender heart that God:
- Bestowed upon David the gifts of poetry and music (1 Samuel 16:18)
- Demonstrated his wonderful love (Psalm 31:21)
- Forgave David (32:1-2)
- Remained faithful to him (57:3)
- Protected David in the shadow of his wings (61:4)
But here’s even better news about God’s gentleness: It wasn’t reserved just for David or other Bible heroes. God displays his gentle nature to all of his children, every day.
In hindsight, we, too, can often see God’s gentle teaching and preparation for what he has called us to do. (If you’re in the middle of that process, rest assured those tough life-lessons you’re enduring now will not be for nothing!)
Second, with kind and gentle consideration, God has bestowed upon each of us specific character traits that qualify us to accomplish his plans. (And that plan isn’t complete until we hear the angels sing!)
Third, God has surely demonstrated his gentle, tender-hearted love for us, beginning with the death of his Son on a cross and ending with…
…well, there is no end to his faithfulness, grace, mercy, attentive care, peace, joy, and more. How glorious is that?
And though it’s very doubtful you or I will ever be great monarchs like David, we can aspire to greatness in God’s eternal kingdom.
How? By serving him wherever we are with the specific gifts and traits he has given us.
Jesus spoke that truth very clearly:
(“The greatest among you will be your servant.” –Matthew 23:11)
* * * * * * * * * *
I praise you, God, for your gentleness that tenderly prepares us for our purpose, kindly endows us with attributes for that calling, and graciously showers us with the benefits of your character, all throughout life.
Help me, I pray, to be compliant under your tender hand, ready and willing to follow your gentle lead, and generous to bestow upon others the graces of your character which I have enjoyed. Amen.
* www.biblehub.com provides easy access to twenty translations of the Bible. Fifteen out of twenty include the word “gentleness” at the end of Psalm 18:35, or a synonym: humility, lowliness, or meekness.