Psalm 18: Rewards of justice

‘Rewards of the just life’ (20)

This song is a long one, 50 verses celebrating David’s deliverance from the clutches of Saul and other nasties, accompanied by the atmospherics of clouds, thunder, fire and water. David’s message is that reliance on truth and justice will lead to freedom and security. He is confident in the result that ‘God makes me sure-footed’ (33), a foretaste of ‘the truth shall set you free’ (John 8:32).


The long psalm invited a degree of selectivity by early composers, most of whom chose a verse or two, usually in Latin, for a delectable motet. Psalm 18 must have been a little daunting as there are not many songs to choose from in the classical files, nor responsorial settings in modern psalters.

If you can field five good voices, go for a piece by mid-Renaissance Spanish composer Cristóbal di Morales (1500-1553) that draws, rather darkly, on verse 4; ‘The pains of hell came about me: the snares of death overtook me’. Gulp. The selection avoids the promised rewards and victorious ‘battle cry’ of verse 15, so you would sing it for the music rather than the message.