A Terrifying Storm
(7) Then the earth shook and trembled. The foundations of the mountains also quaked and were convulsed because he was angry. (8) Smoke rose from his nostrils, and consuming fire from his mouth. Glowing coals flamed forth from him. (9) He parted the heavens and came down with dark clouds under his feet. (10) He rode upon a cherub and flew. He sped on the wings of the wind. (11) He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him thick clouds, dark with water. (12) From the brightness of his presence, hailstones and lightning rent the thick clouds. (13) Yahweh also thundered in the heavens. The Most High uttered his voice (and sent) hailstones and lightning. (14) He loosed his arrows and scattered them. He launched bolts of lightning and routed them. (15) Then the channels of the sea were exposed, and the foundations of the earth were uncovered at your rebuke, Yahweh, at the blast of breath from your nostrils.
In this nine verse segment, David, in an extended metaphor, portrays God’s wrath against his enemies as a powerful and destructive thunderstorm. Tornadic winds, fierce lightning strikes from swirling clouds, large hailstones, and torrential downpours all combine to shake the earth and terrify those in the storm’s path.
Three repetitions emphasize the ferocity of the storm and God’s wrath: “foundations” of the mountains, of the earth (vss. 7 & 15), which are shaken or uncovered, “hailstones” twice and “lightning” three times (vss. 12-14), and “nostrils” which metaphorically portray God’s indignation (vss. 8 & 15). God in his wrath wreaks havoc on the earth and pours out his judgment on those who dare to rebel against his righteous rule.
I. God in wrath descends to earth to deal with ungodliness. (7-10)
II. God’s wrath, like a storm, destroys everything in its path. (11-15)
As a raging storm ravages the earth, so Yahweh’s wrath will be unleashed on the ungodly.
The author of Hebrews warned, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). Later in Hebrews, we encounter another strong warning: “For our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). Often we emphasize the forgiving grace of God while neglecting the balancing truth that he is holy, hates sin, and will sternly deal with those who provoke his wrath by their rebellion against his sovereign rule.
The powerful storm described in Psalm 18 was no ordinary summer squall but a violent tornado destroying everything in its path. While this kind of weather occurs rarely, it is truly an awe-inspiring event when it does. Those threatened by such a tempest can only flee and find shelter or else face destruction. God’s indignation is not easily provoked, but when aroused, it is utterly terrifying.
Will a Christian, saved by grace, ever experience the wrath of God? The warnings in Hebrews are written to remind believers of the dangers of defection. Hebrews 12 speaks at length about the severe discipline we experience when we disregard the warnings of a loving God who desires our loyalty and devotion. When a believer displays contempt for God’s grace with words like, “I'll go ahead and sin, knowing that God is committed to forgiving me for Christ’s sake,” he places himself in the path of an oncoming tornado, a place of great danger.
God wants his children to grow in godliness. He is grieved whenever we assume a cavalier attitude toward his forgiveness and grace. In moments when we are tempted to stray, we need to remember that it is truly a dreadful thing to fall into the chastening hands of a holy God and to experience his discipline. The fear of what may happen to us if we distance ourselves from the one who saved us from our sins should serve as a powerful deterrent, keeping us from wandering away.
Robert Robinson, in the last stanza of his hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, voiced a prayer all of us do well to offer frequently to our heavenly Father: “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be; / Let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee. / Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; / Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”