The Book of Psalms - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
That is the first note in the music, not of this Psalm only, but of the whole collection. The Hebrew word is an interjection, and might fittingly be rendered, "How happy!" It is derived from a primitive word meaning literally, "to be straight," which is used in the widest sense. Its real thought is that of prosperity, resulting from straightness. Thus the very word suggests a moral value, and relates happiness thereto. Its most common use is that suggested by our word, "happy." This opening word indicates at once what man supremely desires for himself, and what God desires for him. The variety of the tones of the music in this collection of songs is one of its great wonders. The strains are major and minor. Here are glad and exultant paeans of praise; and here are also sad and despondent dirges. Throughout, the particular note results from this desire for happiness or blessedness. When it is possessed, the songs are jubilant. When it is absent, they are despondent. The moral value suggested in the word itself is emphasized in this first song. The central light thereof is found in a phrase: "The Law of Jehovah." The man delighting in that law, meditating on it, conforming to its requirements, is the man who is prosperous - he is the happy man. The positive teaching is strengthened by the negative - "The wicked are not so." In their counsel, their way, their seat, there is no permanence, and therefore no true prosperity, and so no real blessedness. The purpose of the Law of Jehovah is ever that of ensuring the prosperity, the happiness of man. It is framed in infinite wisdom, and inspired by perfect love. To rebel against it, therefore, is the uttermost folly, and the most definite wickedness. To obey it, is the true wisdom, and the one and only goodness Misery is the offspring of wickedness; happiness is the offspring of goodness. The Law of Jehovah discovers to man the way of goodness, and so teaches him the way of happiness.
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh.
This is an arresting statement. Thrice only in the Bible is laughter predicated of God; - here, and in two other Psalms, viz. 37:13 and 59:8. In each case it is the laughter of derision, of contempt; and in each case it is the expression of contempt for those who in foolish pride of heart oppose themselves to Him, and to the purposes of His love for men. He laughs at the kings and rulers who oppose themselves to the King Whom He has appointed to bring blessedness to the sons of men. He laughs at the wicked who plotteth against the just. He laughs at bloodthirsty men. This derisive laughter of God is the comfort of all those who love righteousness. It is the laughter of the might of holiness; it is the laughter of the strength of love. God does not exult over the sufferings of sinning men. He does hold in derision all the proud boastings and violence of such as seek to prevent His will for the blessing of humanity, through the establishment of righteousness. There is no note in the music of this glorious song of the coronation of the Son of God more full of comfort than this which tells of the contempt of God for those who covenant together to revolt against His government. His laughter is reinforced by the speaking of His wrath, and the vexing of His displeasure. Yet this Hebrew singer knew the deepest things of his God, for the last of the song is an appeal to kings and judges to yield themselves to the ordained authority, and so to find the blessedness of those who put their trust in the anointed Son.
Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek-bone.
There is no reason to question the accuracy of the heading of this Psalm, which attributes it to David, in the time when he fled from Absalom. It was certainly composed under circumstances of trial and of deliverance. The words in verse five warrant us in thinking of it as written in the morning; as verse eight of the next suggests that it was written in the evening. Accepting that view, we see the movement of thought. The fugitive king awoke to a sense of the adversaries (verses 1, 2). He also awoke to a sense of his God (verses 3, 4). He awoke to a consciousness of the restfulness of his sleep, and so to a complete courage (verses 5, 6) Then what? A great personal cry, in view of a relative deliverance. That is the meaning of this verse. Notice the request - "Save me"; and the affirmation - "Thou hast smitten all mine enemies." It would seem as though in the clear light of the morning - it, is wonderful how often we see clearly in the sunrise - and in the consciousness of how God had delivered him from his outward enemies, there came to David a sense of his own unworthiness and, therefore, this prayer escaped him as a cry out of the depths of his soul. It is even possible that he recognized that the very rebellion of his son Absalom was due to his own failure. How often we have to cry similarly to God. He delivers us from circumstances of trouble, and the very fact of such deliverance brings home to us the sense of personal unworthiness. We can always add to the prayer the next words of the psalmist, "Salvation belongeth unto Jehovah."
Thou, Lord, alone makest me dwell in safety.
This was a song at eventide, a meditation at the close of a day which had been by no means free from trouble. It has been very generally associated with the previous Psalm as having been written during the period of Absalom's rebellion. This suggestion is entirely speculative, and certainly not proven. The value of it remains, whatever the local circumstances which gave rise to it. It is the song of a soul, keenly conscious of the difficulties of life, and of hostile forces; but completely confident in God. The meditation closes with words expressing the singer's determination to lie down and sleep; and giving the reason for this determination. This reason is declared in these last words of the Psalm. We are in danger of missing something of their beauty by treating the word "alone" as though it meant only, and relating it to Jehovah, as though it meant that only Jehovah could do this. While that is true, it is not what the singer meant. The thought of the word alone is "in loneliness," or as Rotherham renders it "in seclusion"; and the word refers to the one who is going to sleep. This is a glorious conception of sleep. Jehovah gathers the trusting soul into a place of safety by taking it away from all the things which trouble or harass. The difficulties and dangers, the mocking foes and opposing forces, are all excluded by Jehovah; and the tried and tired child of His love is pavilioned in His peace. The soul trusting completely in God, may ever lie down under the wing of the night singing:-
- Upon God's Will I lay me down
As child upon its mother's breast;
No silken couch, nor softest bed,
Could ever give me such deep rest.
O Lord, in the morning shalt Thou hear my voice; in the morning will I order ... unto Thee, and will keep watch.
I have omitted the words "my prayer" from this verse, as being unnecessary, and indeed as interfering with the true sequence of ideas. The Psalm is a song for the beginning of a day beset with danger. The singer was going forth to face foes who were treacherous and relentless. These words tell of the method of his preparation for such a day. There is a three-fold activity. First, Jehovah shall hear his voice. That is the activity of worship, in which praise and prayer mingle. This is seen in the rest of the Psalm. Following upon that activity, is that of "ordering." The meaning of the word is "to arrange." Ordering the days is making plans for the day. This is very important, but secondary. Too often we plan, and then pray. The true sequence is that of the Psalmist. Having worshipped, and arranged, the next and persistent activity is that of watching. The old rendering - "and will look up" - entirely misses the mark. The thought is not that of watching for Divine guidance or action. It is rather that of watching one's own action and way, that these may be kept in harmony with the initial act of worship, and the planning resulting from that act. That this was the meaning of the singer, is evident from words immediately following (verses 4-6). We face no day which is not filled with danger. Here is the true method of the morning - Worship - Arrange; and here is the method of the day - Watch. Days so begun and so continued may be days of rejoicing and triumph, whatever the dangers, and however many the foes.
The Lord hath heard ... the Lord hath heard ... the Lord will receive.
This is the first of the seven Psalms which are described as Penitential. (The others are 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143.) Various suggestions have been made as to the occasion of the writing of this one. None is conclusive. That it was a cry of profound penitence is patent. The first seven verses contain the cry of a soul in anguish. There was great physical suffering; but the deeper pain was that of the sense that God was absent from his consciousness, and that his sufferings were rebukes and chastenings from God. The dread of death was upon the singer, and was accentuated by the fact that in his then condition of mind there was no light in the region that lay beyond. The sudden change at verse eight is dramatic. His human enemies, who had been taking advantage of his physical sufferings to wrong him, are bidden to depart, and their downfall is predicted. The secret of this change is revealed in the words we have emphasized. We have no clue in the Psalm as to how the conviction came, but it came. It was the conviction that Jehovah heard, and that his prayer was received. Perhaps the most arresting fact in this Psalm is that there was no confession of sin. It was simply a wail of agony, and a cry for release. But it was a cry to God ; and in the very admission that his sufferings were chastisements, there was at least a tacit acknowledgment of guilt. This reveals all the more radiantly the readiness of God to pardon. When His vexing in sore displeasure has driven the soul back to Him, His answer of love and of healing is immediate.
Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness.
This petition must be interpreted in the light of the whole Psalm. The inscription helps us. We have no information in the history of David concerning the incident referred to. From the fact that this man Cush is named as "the Benjamite," we may infer that he was a partisan of the house of Saul, and an enemy of David. From the Psalm we learn the nature of the charges which he made against David. They were: that he had appropriated spoils which rightly belonged to the king; that he had returned evil for good; and that he had taken toll for some generosity. The charges were false, and that is what these particular words meant. The appeal to God to defend him, and to secure justice for him, was based upon his innocence, and reinforced by the fact that in the presence of these calamities he had a perfectly clear conscience. It is a great thing to be able to stand before the judgment bar of God with a conscience void of offence. It is indeed true that: "Thrice armed is he that hath his quarrel just." Such reflections bring comfort so long as we have nothing to fear, and therefore they constitute an appeal to the soul to be ever on the alert, that nothing in our dealings with our fellow-men be permitted, which under any circumstances may rob us of that sense of integrity. This is more than ever so in the matter of our relationships with those who are our enemies, not so much on the ground of personal hostility, but because they are opposed to the cause we serve, the Kingdom which we represent. Happy and secure are we if we give the enemy no cause to blaspheme.
... Man ... Thou art mindful of him ... The son of man ... Thou visitest him.
I have resolutely taken the affirmations out of the interrogations of this verse, because they reveal the facts which created the wonder of the singer. The method of the song is that of contrast. First, the contrast between the glory of Jehovah, set upon the heavens, and the prattle, or possibly the singing, of little children. Second, the contrast between the stately splendour of the moon and the stars, and man - Enosh - frail man - and the son of man Ben-Adam - of apparently earthly origin. The contrasts are graphic. The fact of difference creates no wonder. That is caused by the attitude of God toward the apparently small and trivial. God builds His stronghold against His foes in the prattle or singing of children. He visits, that is, specially cares for, the son of Adam; He is mindful of frail man. This is the cause of the wonder. But what a revelation it is of the true glory and dignity of man. Because of this, man is in dominion over all the creation, and by reason of this, God is able to find a stronghold against His adversaries in the language of childhood: We have still to say with the writer of the letter to the Hebrews : "We see not yet all things subjected to him." We do see the greatness of man as we see the interest of God in him; but we have never yet seen man realize his greatness. But, with the same writer, we may say that we have seen Jesus. In Him we have had the full revelation of the greatness of man. But we have seen more than that. We have seen Him "crowned with glory and honour, that by the grace of God He should taste death for every man." That vision creates our confidence that man will at last realize the Divine purpose.
Let the nations know themselves to be but men.
This whole Psalm is a mingling of praise and prayer. The singer celebrates the righteousness of God's government of the nations, and prays for its continuance. This closing petition is a great one. The word for men emphasizes the fact of the inherent weakness and frailty of human nature. The previous Psalm was occupied with the dignity and greatness of man, but that dignity was seen to consist in his capacity for relationship with God. Apart from the realization of that relationship, man is weak and frail indeed. Power belongeth unto God. The nations are always in danger of imagining that it is resident in themselves. To do that is to forget God, and as the singer has declared: "The wicked shall be turned back unto Sheol, even all the nations that forget God." All human history, the most modern as well as the most ancient, witnesses to the truth of this declaration. What prayer, then, can we pray which is of more vital importance than that the nations may know themselves to be but men? Such knowledge must drive them to dependence upon God, and such dependence is the secret of national strength, and of national prosperity and permanence. When men discover that they are but men, it is always the result of the revelation of God, and that always means the discovery of God's thought of man, of His purpose for him, and of His care for him. In right relationship with these facts, nations march invincibly to the realization of all their highest possibilities. These are the lessons which God, in His government of the world, is ever seeking to teach man. In proportion as they are learned, humanity's problems will be solved, its wounds healed, and its prosperity secured.
Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord?
How often the men of faith have asked that question! Let us at once say that the supposition is inaccurate. God never stands far off. This fact was rediscovered to the singer in the course of his song. Its final movements celebrate the knowledge and the persistent government of God in righteousness. The question arises when for the moment the eyes are fixed upon circumstances. It was so in this case. As the singer contemplated the conditions in the midst of which he was living, he saw everywhere might triumphing over right, he watched the cruelty of evil men against the poor and the needy. It did seem as though God had withdrawn Himself, was standing afar off. We have all lived in hours when, if we saw nothing but the conditions, we were constrained to the same question. The value of a Psalm like this is that it records that mood of the soul, only to lead us on to witness this man's recovery of faith and confidence. It was impossible that God did not know and see; and that conviction became the guarantee of the soul's confidence that He not only saw, but would act. Hence the assurance that there must come full and final victory over all the forces of unrighteousness, with the ending of all oppression, and cruelty, and wrong. Under the rule of God, the day must come when, "That man who is of the earth may be terrible no more." These were the concluding words of the song, and they constitute a fitting answer to its opening enquiry.
If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
That is the final appeal of the man who lives by sight to the man who lives by faith. It has the ring of reasonableness, but it is utterly wrong. The idea is not open to question. If the foundations be destroyed, the righteous are helpless. But the question which the supposition makes imperative is: Are the foundations destroyed? The Psalm is the song of a man who was apparently in grave danger. His friends saw the danger, and urged him to flee. His enemies were all around him, and they were not giving him a fair chance. Their methods were those of subtlety and treachery. To these men of sight, the foundations were destroyed. The whole song is a protest against that misconception. The singer had another vision. To him the surrounding circumstances were not foundations. He saw God, enthroned, watching, acting. To him this was the one foundation. This foundation could not be destroyed. Therefore there was no need for flight. How constantly that which boasts itself as reason, is most unreasonable. True reason takes all quantities into account before it makes its calculations. To reckon with circumstances and to leave God out of count, is to omit the principal factor in any and every situation. What unutterable folly to confuse scaffolding with foundations! And yet that is exactly what men do when they imagine that because circumstances do not seem to be propitious, therefore flight is necessary. To see God is to know that the plastic dance of circumstance is as surely under His control as is the clay. That is the secret of courage.
The words of Jehovah are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, purified seven times.
The Psalm is burdened with the singer's sense of the darkness of the circumstances in the midst of which he found himself. On every hand he was conscious of dishonesty, deceit, and the power of evil. The song opens and closes on this note. But its heart consists of an affirmation of faith in God. This faith fastens upon what God has said; and upon the fact that the words of God are pure words. That is to say, that God is a God of Truth. The affirmation is intended to put the words of God into complete contrast to those of the men who "speak falsehood," who speak "with flattering lip and a double heart." The figure employed is of the strongest. Silver purified seven times has in it no trace of alloy. So are the words of God. This is ever the sure resting-place of those who know God. Over and over again, hours have come which have seemed to be characterized by the ceasing of godly men, by the failure of the faithful from among the children of men. In all such hours the soul may rest assured as to the issue ; for the Word of God has clearly declared the will and purpose of God to be that of the triumph of good over evil, of truth over falsehood, of righteousness over every form of wickedness. The Word of the Lord is the Word of Eternal Truth; it abideth for ever. In it there is nothing of dissimulation, duplicity, deceit. It is never void. It must accomplish that which He pleases. Here, then, is our place of quietness and confidence, whatever the appearances of the hour may be. The Word of Jehovah is not to be tested by them; but they are to be tried by the Word of Jehovah.
I will sing unto the Lord because He hath dealt bountifully with me.
This is the final note in this Psalm. What a contrast it is to the opening note: "How long, O Jehovah ? Wilt Thou forget me for ever?" The song is a most glorious one, in its revelation of the progress of a soul from overwhelming despair to highest exultation. Examine that progress. In the Hebrew arrangement there are three strophes, and these reveal the stages of experience. In the first (verses 1 and 2), the sorrow of the singer is evident; God is apparently idle and indifferent; no help is found within; the enemy is triumphant. In the second (verses 3 and 4), the singer is in prayer, and the prayer is characterized by complete honesty and daring urgency. In the third (verses 5 and 6), sorrow is submerged in singing, prayer gives place to praise. What a wonderful revelation of God all this affords! The only explanation of this complete change of tone in the song is the fact of God, in Whose presence the man poured out his heart. Let us observe what the song thus reveals of God. First, His tender and understanding patience is seen, as He listens to the complaining of His servant. Then His power is manifested, as He attends to the prayer of the troubled one, and evidently answers it in a spiritual revelation - for this must be the explanation of the sudden ascent of the singer to the mountains of praise. Thus finally He is revealed as glorified in. the confidence in Himself; which in honesty complains, in earnestness prays, and at last in a great assurance praises. Let the whole Psalm teach us that the place to discuss our sorrows is in the presence of the King; and that there we may be honest. He will transmute the dirge into a paean.
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.
In this declaration, which is cause, and which is effect? Does atheism result from folly, or folly from atheism? It would be perfectly correct to say that each is cause and each is effect. The words describe a vicious circle. Folly denies God, and the denial leads back to folly. When we remember, however, that the Hebrew word here rendered "fool" has a moral note and refers to wickedness rather than weakness of intellect, we are constrained to the view that the meaning of the singer was that immorality is the outcome of atheism. When, for whatever reason or by whatever method, a man says in his heart that there is no God, he becomes a fool, that is a vile person. This is ever so. All wickedness is the result of the denial of God. The denial of God which produces wickedness is the denial of the heart. Honest intellectual agnosticism does not necessarily produce immorality: dishonest emotional atheism always does. The heart is the realm of desire. When a man desires to be rid of God, of His government and interference, and out of that desire formulates a denial of God, the process is in itself immoral, and the issues are bound to be immoral. There is no realm of personality which needs more vigilant guarding than that of desire. Its power over the intellect and the will is amazing. It is capable of completely clouding the intelligence, and capturing the volition. It is possible for a man to yield himself so completely to desire, as to be able to persuade himself that he really does believe what he wants to believe, and thus to set his will free for all evil choices. Thus again the vicious circle is revealed, of an atheism springing out of immoral desires, and proceeding to immoral activity.
He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
The Psalm opens with an inquiry addressed to Jehovah, as to who are worthy to be His guests, and to dwell in the place consecrated by His presence. It closes with this enlarged and emphatic statement that, given the fulfilment of conditions, a man may be not only a guest of Jehovah, but in such continued fellowship as to be in continued prosperity. Rotherham very literally and very beautifully renders this line. "He that doeth these things shall not be shaken to the ages." The conditions are carefully set out between the opening inquiry and the closing affirmation. The first is that of personal character in harmony with the character of God, righteousness in work, and truth in word. The second covers the ground of relative life. The man who is the guest of God must maintain right relationships with his neighbour. These are important considerations. While, through Christ, our right of access to God, God and of maintained fellowship with Him, is created by grace, and founded upon justification by faith, apart from any works of ours, it must ever be remembered that justification is unto righteousness, and grace is the inspiration of truth. Any thought of justification which approaches the idea that it means excuse of sin, or hiding of uncleanness, is utterly unwarranted and wholly pernicious. Through justification God has put righteousness at our disposal. We must not continue in sin, that grace may abound. Grace is entirely holy. It demands holiness. Our comfort is that it does more: it makes holy. That creates our responsibility. To continue in sin is to frustrate the very purpose of God in grace. To do that is to be excluded from His tent, to be shut out from the holy mountain.
I have no good beyond Thee.
This is the first Psalm headed "Michtam." There are five others (56-60). The meaning is obscure. Thirtle says: "The term, Michtam, seems best explained by a personal or private prayer or meditation." This one is attributed to David, but nothing can be said decisively as to the time of its writing. As a whole it is a song of exultant confidence. In its opening petition the consciousness of danger is revealed, but this is the occasion for a glad confession of assurance in the deliverance of God. Whoever wrote it, and under whatever circumstances, its final value is that it is distinctly Messianic. Peter (Acts 2:25-31) and Paul (Acts 13:34-37) not only quote it in reference to our Lord, but argue its Messianic intention. The words we have emphasized reveal the deep secret of this holy confidence. The singer declared that he knew no well-being apart from God-Jehovah, as his sovereign Lord. Only of our Lord Jesus Christ, as an expression of unvarying experience, was this ever true. The will of God was His delight, His meat, His one and only passion: and that as surely in His death as in His life. Therefore, to quote Peter: "It was not possible that He should be holden of it" (that is, death). The measure in which, through His infinite grace, we are enabled to say in very truth, "We have no good beyond Thee," is the measure in which - whatever the perils opposing us, or the apparent calamities overtaking us - we may also be confident in the deliverance of God. In life, and all its experiences, through death itself, we shall be delivered and brought to His presence, in which is fullness of joy, and to His right hand, where are pleasures for evermore.
As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.
These words have been constantly employed as referring to an experience beyond the present life, to the awakening beyond death. There is certainly nothing wrong in such an application of them, but it is equally certain that the Psalmist had no such thought in his mind when he wrote them. The whole song is a contrast between two ways of living in this world: that, on the one hand, of those who are godless: and that, on the other hand, of those who fear God and seek His ways. In these closing words the singer gave expression to the deepest things in his life. His supreme desire was to behold the face of Jehovah in righteousness, and to be conformed to the Divine likeness. Is not that still the supreme passion of all believing souls? And this the more so, seeing that God has lifted His face upon us in the Person of His Son. Our only satisfaction is that of being conformed to the image of His Son. It is granted that such satisfaction will only be complete in that glorious morning when He "shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of His glory"; but we greatly miss the mark when we persistently postpone experiences which may be ours in a measure even today. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," not tomorrow and in heaven only, but now, and all along the dusty and difficult highways of this world.
With the merciful Thou wilt shew Thyself merciful.
This is the first of four statements, all of which reveal the same principle, viz. that the attitude of God towards men is created by their attitude towards Him. The man who, responding to the Divine compassion, is himself compassionate, finds God ever compassionate toward him. The man who is perfect - that is, completely devoted - will find God faithful to him. The man who purifies himself will discover the purity of God. The man who is perverse - that is, the man who crosses the purposes of God - will find God at cross-purposes with him. Let it be well noted that neither of these men escapes from God. That is an eventuality which the Bible never concedes as being possible. Every man lives and moves and has his being in God. In the hand of God, every man's breath is - even that of Belshazzar, foul with drink and obscenity. That which is possible to man is, that he can and does create his experience of God. The perfect man finds God faithful to His covenant: the perverse man finds Him froward. It is at least suggestive that this particular statement of principle occurs in the Psalm which celebrates God's deliverance of David out of the hand of Saul. The story of these two men forms a remarkable illustrative commentary on the declarations. In all the deepest things of his life David had been merciful, perfect, and pure. Saul from the beginning had been perverse. David had been delivered in the mercy and perfection and purity of God. Saul had been rejected and cast out by the frowardness of God. In God's dealings with men, the balance of justice is perfectly maintained, both in His mercy and in His wrath.
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
The last verse of this Psalm is dedicatory. It may have applied, and probably did to the song itself, but also without any doubt to the whole life of the singer, in view of the facts celebrated in the song. This final description of God is in harmony with the facts celebrated in the Psalm. The first movement had to do with the glory of God, as revealed in the order of nature. The second was concerned with the grace of Jehovah as expressed in His revelation of Himself in His Law. In the first, God is seen as Ei - the mighty One. In the second, He is seen as Jehovah - the One becoming to man what he needs for recovery and renewal. In the first, His essential Deity is recognized. He is the Rock. In the second, His attitude and activity in Love is discovered - He is the Redeemer. The singer realized the merging of these two facts in the One Whom he worshipped. The mighty One Whose glories are seen in the day and in the night is the One full of grace. Therefore the glories of His power comfort the soul. The God of grace, full of compassion, is this very Mighty One. Therefore the trusting soul is full of courage. If our Rock were not our Redeemer, we should be without hope. If our Redeemer were not our Rock, still might we be afraid. It is good that we never forget the mutual interpretation of these two revelations of God. We live amid the things which talk to us day and night of the might of God. Let us ever remember that this is the God Who towards us is full of gentleness and most tender compassion. We live in the unveiling of that compassion in redemption. Let us never forget that this redemption has in it all the strength, the ability of the Mighty One. He is our Rock, and our Redeemer.
They are bowed down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright.
This is the language of faith, not after the battle, but before it. The whole Psalm consists of a prayer for the king as he goes out to meet his enemies in conflict. In the first five verses the voice of the people is heard, praying for their king. In one verse (6), the voice of the king is heard, affirming his confidence that the prayers of his people will be heard. Then again the voice of the people is a song surveying the field, and exulting in the coming victory (verses 7 and 8). Once again the song becomes a prayer (verse 9). The secret of this confidence is discovered in the contrast presented in the preceding verse. On the one hand are seen those who depend upon chariots, upon horses - that is, upon material strength. On the other are seen those who find inspiration in the Name of Jehovah their God - that is, who depend upon spiritual forces. To such a conflict there can be but one issue. Already the men of faith see that issue, and celebrate it thus: "They are bowed down and fallen: But we are risen and stand upright." Faith is rational confidence. That is to say, that when the true balance and proportion of things is apprehended, the reasonableness of the conviction is self-evident, that God in goodness and purity and beneficence must triumph over material forces ranged on the side of evil, impurity, malevolence. But faith is rational in another sense. It is not only so in its intellectual apprehension, but also in its volitional surrender. Faith has only one anxiety and that is to be found ranged on the side of God. When that is so, it can know no fear.
Be thou exalted, O Lord, in Thy strength; so will we sing and praise Thy power.
By common consent this Psalm is the companion to the preceding one. It is its sequel. There, the people prayed for the king as he was about to go forth to battle, and affirmed their faith in the coming victory. Here, they celebrate the victory won, and offer their praises to Jehovah. In this closing stanza, two things are set in relation to each other, those namely of the exultation of Jehovah in His strength, and of the songs of His people. The strength of man is ever found in the joy of Jehovah, that is, in the ways of life which are pleasing to Him. It follows that the songs of men which come out of pure joy are ever created by the victories of the strength of God. Test the songs of men by this standard. Songs have been written in celebration of unworthy and even of positively evil things. They all fail in the ultimate quality of pure joy and perfect poetry, however finished their art may appear to be. The songs which celebrate the victories of the pure, peaceable, pitiful strength of God, are the true poetry, even when their art is crude, for they give expression to the real and final joy of life. The strength of God is ever active towards the realization of all the best and most beautiful in life. It is for ever opposed to the things which blast, and produce ugliness. Therefore it creates the true joy of life, which must ever be the inspiration of poetry, the source of true songs:-
- "Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry;
We're marching through Immanuel's ground,
To fairer worlds on high."
I will declare Thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee.
It has become utterly impossible for the Christian believer to read this Psalm in any other connection than that of Messianic values. For such, there can be no question that, whatever may have been the personal experiences calling it forth, the singer was singing better than he knew. While giving utterance to actual experiences, he was voicing deep and profound matters, the fullness of which came in the experiences of the Saviour of the world. This is demonstrated by the fact that in the supreme hour of His passion, our Lord actually quoted the opening cry of this great song of anguish. If, then, we have here, in the interpretation of the Holy Spirit, some insight into the things of that full and redeeming sorrow of the Son of God, let us carefully note whereunto that sorrow moved. With the words we have quoted, the song merged into the strains of triumph, and these run on to the end. Thus we discover the real value of that very sorrow. Through it, and only through it, could the Name of God be declared, and His praise be made known. Through those sorrows alone, could righteousness be established, and man be brought to the realization of all the loving purpose of God for him. As this song came out of human experience, so it may be appropriated by men. We recognize, as we have said, that its full value is only found in the experience of the Lord of life and glory. Yet in fellowship with Him, we may take our comfort from its revelation, that travail ever leads to triumph. The measure in which it is given to us to have fellowship in His suffering, is the measure in which we may rest assured of fellowship in His victory.
The Lord is my Shepherd.
That is not only the first statement of this song, it is its inclusive statement. Everything that follows interprets the glory and sufficiency of the fact thus declared. When this is said, all is said. Whatever may be added, is only to help us to understand the fullness of this great truth. An adequate interpretation of this affirmation demands a recognition of the fact that in all Eastern thought, and very definitely in Biblical literature, a king is a shepherd. This is the supreme song in the Psalter concerning the Kingship of God in its application to the individual soul. Other songs set forth the wonders of His Kingship of the nation, and over all peoples. There are only two persons in this Psalm, Jehovah and the singer - save where enemies are referred to. The personal note is immediately struck - "Jehovah is MY Shepherd!" This eternal King, ruling over all the universe, is also the direct, personal, immediate King of every individual soul. When this is recognized, the glory of the song is discovered. It is a revelation of the nature and method of the Divine government of the individual life. Pondered in this way, the Psalm becomes a beautiful interpretation of that wonderful phrase of Paul - "The good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Under His sway there is no lack. Our peaceful days He creates. If we wander, we are not abandoned. In the darkest hours He is still with us. He upholds us and delivers us in conflict. He entertains us on the pilgrimage, and receives us into His house for ever. All the uttermost of value in this song has been interpreted to us through Him Who said of Himself, "I am the good Shepherd."
The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.
That is the fundamental note in the music of this song. Everything which follows must be interpreted by its message. If this Psalm was written - as it most probably was - for the occasion when the ark of God was taken into the city of the great king, and placed in the tent which David had prepared for it, the singer saw in that ceremony the symbol of greater things. These first words affirm the sovereignty of Jehovah over the whole earth. Everything is His by creative right. Then, some moral deflection, some necessity for the exercise of executive power, is recognized by the questions as to who shall ascend into the hill of Jehovah. The answer to the question constituted a revelation of the fact that the government of the earth must be established on a moral foundation. The One Who is described, is set forth wholly in the matter of character. Let this be carefully considered. The passage of the description from the use of the singular pronoun to that of the plural, merely sets forth the fact that the generation to be associated with the One must conform to that character. The song immediately returns to the contemplation of the One, Who is now designated the King of Glory. His glory is that of those moral excellencies already described. In these He is "strong and mighty in battle." By this strength He passes to the place of power: in this might He overthrows all His foes: and gains, or regains, His true and rightful place of rule over the earth, and the fullness thereof. The holiness of the King is at once the secret of His strength in government, and the principle of His might in redemption.
Yea, none .that wait on Thee shall be ashamed.
This is not a petition, as the King James' version rendered it, but an affirmation of confidence. It is the first of a series running through the song, and for that reason I have emphasized it. The whole song is the prayer of a soul burdened with a sense of need, and pouring out the tale of that need before God. Its atmosphere, however, is that of complete confidence and of assured faith. This affirmation, and those like it which follow, reveal this fact. The movement of the Psalm is that of alternation between petitions and expressions of complete certainty about God. Thus it becomes a pattern prayer for the children of God in all circumstances of need, whether that need is created by the opposition of foes, of by personal wrong-doing. In such case the soul may come to God, and in His presence speak of the burden which rests upon it. It may do so, however, with every assurance, on the basis of the faith which, after all, is the deepest thing in its experience. This exercise of the affirmation of faith is of the greatest value. How often, under stress of difficult circumstances, we are liable to superficial thoughts about God, and about ourselves, which tend to produce despair. In such hours it is good resolutely and persistently to turn in upon one's own deepest convictions about God, and positively to avow them. Such exercise will open the door of release from the gloom which ever comes from the contemplation of circumstances and from introspection; and lead us out into the light and hope which are always to be found in the presence of God, and remembrance of the truth about Him.
Thy lovingkindness is before mine eyes.
This Psalm has a note all its own. It is a prayer for justice, on the part of a soul happily conscious of its integrity and uprightness. It is impossible to fix the circumstances under which it was written. Evidently they were characterized by general deflection from the ways of God. The singer was living among evil-doers, and the judgments of God in punishment were abroad. In these circumstances the soul of the righteous appealed to the justice of God for deliverance from being involved in these calamities. The words we have emphasized are those in which we discover the ground of the appeal. He knew and pleaded the lovingkindness of Jehovah. The closing stanza shows that the answer came to him in his faith: "My foot standeth in an even place; in the congregations will I bless Jehovah." The experience is not an uncommon one in the life of faith. There are hours in which the wrong of evil men seems to threaten the safety of those who are endeavouring to walk before God, and who are doing so in the measure of their understanding of His will. In such hours, we may with confidence make our appeal to God for vindication and deliverance, and we may do so with complete assurance, in the light of His lovingkindness. To retain our attitude of loyalty to God under circumstances of difficulty created by the evil ways of godless men, is to enable us to claim His vindication and protection, on the ground of His unalterable lovingkindness. Prayer on these grounds will ever guard the heart against panic.
Lead me in a plain path.
This Psalm is the song of a soul in danger. In its first movement that danger is recognized, but the singer is confident in God. He celebrates in language of great beauty the certainty of his triumph. It is not prayer, but praise. Then there is a sudden change. The confidence is not abandoned, but the consciousness of the danger becomes more acute, and the supposition arises that the face of God might be hidden. Under stress created by this thought, prayer takes the place of praise, and the singer pours out his petitions. Among them this one occurs, that he may be led in a plain path. The simplest meaning of the word rendered plain, is level, or even. The words immediately following, "because of mine enemies," help us to catch the real thought of the petition. The word enemies is rendered by Thirtle "watchful foes," and that exactly conveys the idea. It is that of enemies lying in ambush, waiting to catch him unawares, to attack him treacherously. The plain path for which he asks is one, travelling along which there shall be no pitfalls or lurking places for these foes. This is a prayer we may all pray. It is not a request for an easy path, a smooth highway. That would be a selfish and unworthy prayer. It is rather a prayer that the way may be such that we may discover with clearness, and in which we may not be surprised by those who are set upon our destruction. The song ends with the singer's counsel to his own soul, and it is 'characterized by the highest wisdom. To wait for Jehovah is ever to find the plain path, however rough that path may be.
Here, these words, "My Rock," are directly synonymous with the title Jehovah, and they constitute a proper name. The figurative idea has emerged before in these songs (see 18:2 and 31). In this case the figure is positively employed as a designation for God. This, then, may be an excellent place at which to pause and consider the suggestiveness of the title. It is the one figure which in the realm of Nature suggests abiding strength and immutability. The story of the rocks, as we are able to read it, is the story of the complete victory of principle over passion. At last the fixed is reached, the unchangeable, and so the ultimate in strength. It is a remarkable fact that in all the Old Testament literature, "rock" is reserved as a figure of Deity. It is used for false gods as well as for God, but never for man. The only apparent exception is that in Isaiah, when the prophet declared that a man shall be as a shadow of a rock in a weary land. But when the Messianic value of that passage is recognized, this is proved to be no exception, but rather a prediction incidentally of the deepest fact concerning the Person of the Messiah. All this should be in mind when we consider the words of our Lord, in which He declared that He would build His Church on Rock. To return to the Psalm. Observe how this conception of the character of God as the immutable One, gave this singer perfect confidence in the midst of grave perils, and inspired his prayer for his people.
In His temple everything saith, Glory.
This is in very deed a glorious Psalm It is an interpretation of a storm in application to life. We must carefully note its structure. Verses 3-9 describe the storm. The first two verses constitute a call to the Elim, the sons of the mighty - whether angels or men - to render praise to God. The last two verses give the reason for this call to praise. Jehovah has been seen sitting as King above the storm, and so revealing the fact of His Kingship over all the storms and upheavals of life. If verses 3-9 be read with the eye upon the map of Palestine, it will be seen that the storm gathered over the Great Sea, and burst upon the land in the north, striking Lebanon in its fury. Then it swept southward, shaking the wilderness of Kadesh. From beginning to end the noise of the storm is the Voice of the Lord, and the activity thereof the putting forth of His might. These particular words end the picture of the storm, and declare the conception of the tempest obtaining in the temple. There, "everything saith, Glory!" That song of the temple produces the triumph-song of those who dwell upon the earth where the tempests sweep. Their fury is not uncontrolled: "Jehovah sat as King at the Flood," and "Jehovah sitteth as King for ever." In this confidence we know that He will give us strength - that is, to endure the storm; and that He will bless us with peace - that is, following the storm, and as the outcome of it. How much this Psalm has to say to us about the tempest-tossed years through which we have lived! Let us "ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto His Name." Let us "worship Jehovah in holy array."
I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved.
This is a common blunder made even by men of faith in hours when circumstances are those of ease and comfort. All is as we desire it to be. We have found a place of pleasant situation in which to live, and work of delight which to perform. And, indeed, all this under direct Divine guidance. Herein is a peril. We are tempted to confide in circumstances rather than in God. Then comes the rough awakening. In the case of the singer it came through sickness which led him to the very gates of death. It may come to us thus, or in many ways. The pleasant place has to be left. The work in which we delighted is taken from us. All our plans based upon our prosperity, are shattered. Is there then anything that is not moved? Yes - read the next verse: "Thou Jehovah, of Thy favour hadst made my mountain to stand strong." The mountain is the stronghold of the dwelling-place of God. That. is never moved. In that we may dwell securely, when all our temporary dwelling-places are taken from us. In abiding fellowship with God, kept in His will, and keeping there, we shall be delivered, not from disturbance and upheaval, but through these very things, from more disastrous perils - the real perils of those deflections from loyalty, which destroy the soul. Confessedly the lesson is not an easy one to learn, but it is of vital importance. There is only one sure resting place, and perfect security for the soul of man, and that is found in the heart of God. To dwell there is to cease to trust in circumstances and to be delivered from depending upon them in any way.
For Thy Name's sake, lead me and guide me.
Rotherham has suggestively said: "This Psalm might very well be described as a mosaic of misery and mercy." It opens with an affirmation of confidence, and closes with praise and exhortation to the love of Jehovah. In its process, we find ourselves in the presence of varied and multiplied afflictions. Throughout, the sufferer is confident in God, and pours out his soul before Him in appeal for succour and deliverance. In these words we have the statement of the soul's argument with God, the revelation of the ground upon which the appeal is made. The activity of God is sought for the sake of His Name. It is a plea that God will be true to the revelation which He has made of Himself, in the Name by which He has made Himself known. Every name of God was suggestive, and spoke of His greatness in might and majesty and mercy. For the honour of that revelation the singer sought the help of this God. The words strike the very deepest notes in the secret of true life. It is that of desire for the honour of the Name, and that is desire for the glory of God. The appeal is constantly discovered in the Bible. It was for the honour of the Name of God that Moses was concerned in the memorable hour in which he prayed for mercy upon a people who had grievously sinned. Our Lord, in His intercessory prayer, spoke of the manifestation of the Name of His Father as the great work which He had accomplished in the case of the men whom He had gathered about Him. We are ever warranted in urging this plea in our praying; but in doing so we must remember that the revelation of God by His Name, and that superlatively when the Name is JESUS, is such as to make claims upon us. Those being recognized and yielded to, this plea is always the one which prevails.
I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.
This is the second of the seven Psalms which are usually called Penitential. (The others are 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143.) It is one of the greatest songs in the Psalter. In it, human experience is vividly revealed. Sin, sorrow, and ignorance are all expressed; and their inter-relationship is recognized. It is a Psalm of penitence, but it is also the song of a ransomed soul rejoicing in the wonders of the grace of God. Sin is dealt with; sorrow is comforted; ignorance is instructed. The fundamental matter is that of sin, and the power of the song is created by the contrast it makes between the soul hiding sin, refusing to acknowledge it, and that same soul confessing it. While there was continuance of silence on the part of the sinner, the hand of God was heavy upon him, and his life was withered. When the confession was made, that sinner found the heart of God, and life was healed, and songs took the place of sighing. These words which are emphasized reveal the Divine heart in the most wonderful way. In them God is set forth radiantly as "a God ready to pardon." Note carefully that when this man said he would confess, God forgave. So ready is He to pardon, that He does not wait for the actual and formulated expression. The yielding of the will, the decision of the soul, this is what He seeks. Directly He finds it, His forgiveness is granted, and the soul is restored to the consciousness of communion. This is finally illustrated in the teaching of Jesus. The father's kisses were upon his returning boy, before any word of confession was uttered. It was upon the bosom of his father that he gave expression to the confession already made in his will. Such is our God.
For the word of the Lord is right; and all His work is done in faithfulness.
This Psalm is patently a sequel to the preceding one. It is a response to the call to praise with which that closes. It starts exactly upon the same note, and continues to the end upon the same strain. In these words the reason for praise is inclusively declared, and everything which follows is in illustration of the truth so declared. The reason, then, for praise is that of the perfection of God in word and in work. His word is right: and His work is ever in faithfulness - that is, it is consonant with His word. That idea persists throughout the song. The illustrations cover a wide area. First, there is reference to the principles of His government (verse 5). Then to the might and majesty revealed in creation (verses 6-9). Then to His active overruling in national affairs (verses 10, 11). Then to His special government of His own people (verses 12-22). In all this we find the true secret of our confidence, and so of our joy. The word and the work of God are ever one. His word never returns to Him empty - it accomplishes that which He pleases; it prospers in the thing whereto He sends it. How significant it is that amid the sacred mysteries connected with the Incarnation, the Angel said to Mary concerning the birth of Jesus and of John: "No word from God shall be void of power!" God has given us His word. Let us never forget that His work will be according to that word. To rest in that assurance is to be perpetually inspired to praise.
I will bless the Lord at all times.
It is impossible to escape from the feeling of surprise when this Psalm is studied, if first the title has been read. The title is as follows: "A Psalm of David; when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed." The record of that event is found in 1 Sam. 21. There does seem to be incongruity between David feigning madness to save his life, and this exalted outpouring of praise to God as the Great Deliverer. As a result of this apparent incongruity, most modern commentators dismiss the title as spurious. But is that action warranted? Is it not rather a perfect revelation of the state of soul into which a man would be brought, when he found himself delivered, not only from the foes he feared, but also from his fears (see verse 4), and so from the necessity for the supremely unworthy expedient to which he had resorted in the case referred to? After David left the court of Achish, he went to Adullam. For a time he was there alone, at least until his brethren and his father's house went down to him. It is easy to understand how, in the quietness and solemnity of that cave of refuge, he recovered, and that with new power, his sense of the Divine care and wisdom and might and sufficiency. So he sang, and his song commenced: "I will bless Jehovah at all times." In itself it was a resolve to remember and rejoice in his God continually. Such remembrance and such rejoicing must ever make impossible the necessity for the resort to the methods of unworthiness. So the song is not only a glorious expression of praise, which is available to us. It is that, but it is also a corrective, reminding us ever that our gladness in our God should save us from the expedients which are unworthy of Him, and so of those who are His.
Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.
This Psalm in its entirety is an appeal for help in the midst of circumstances of cruel and unjust persecution. The sense of wrong is most keen from beginning to end. Those who were causing his sufferings had not only no cause to do so, their action was that of base ingratitude. The Psalmist's sense of wrong found expression in the prayer to God to visit the evil-doers with summary and complete vengeance. These particular words, found early in the song, constitute a clear revelation of the state of mind of the singer. So trying were the circumstances, so poignant the pain, that he was at least in danger of losing his assurance in God. Hence the plea that God would give him the inward sense of certainty: "Say unto my soul - I am thy salvation." It was a request for a renewing or strengthening of the inner communion with God, which is ever the secret of strength in days of turmoil and of sorrow. How constantly we are driven to cry out thus to God! It is the reasonable cry of faith, and it is safe to say that is always answered. When, the pressure of circumstances is such as to create the sense of weakness to such an extent that we feel in danger of collapse, then we need some reinforcement within, stronger than the pressure from without. This is ever to be found in communion. The human side of communion is that of this very prayer for the speech of God, direct, immediate, and reassuring. The Divine side is that of the answer. Whenever in extremity the child of God thus cries out to the Father, that answer is given. Sometimes the very voice is heard, sometimes a light suddenly shines, sometimes a great silence which is of the essence of strength enwraps the soul. Whatever the method, it is God, reassuring, comforting; and in the strength of it, the soul stands pp bravely against all the outside pressure, and at last is more than conqueror.
O continue Thy lovingkindness unto them that knew Thee.
Thus opens the prayer with which the Psalm closes, and it is the natural and restful conclusion to the contrast preceding it. That is a contrast between the man who lives without the fear of God, and the God in Whom the righteous man is trusting. The description of the evil man is graphic. He has by some means persuaded himself that God does not interfere with men. Consequently he has no fear of God, enthrones himself at the centre of his own being, and goes in the way of wickedness in thought and in action. The contrast is not between that man and the man who fears God, but rather, as we have said, between that manner of life and the conception of God which inspires the contrary way of life. God is set forth in His lovingkindness, in His righteousness, in His faithfulness, in all His goodness to men. The prayer is for the continued manifestation of that lovingkindness to those who know this God. Thus the contrast becomes personal. On the one hand are the men who have no fear of God. On the other are those who know Him. The difference is radical, and all the life is affected. To lose the fear of God is to go in every way of wickedness, and ultimately to inevitable destruction (see last verse). To know God is to worship Him, and in His ways to find refuge, satisfaction, life, and light. In the ultimate words of Jesus: "This is life eternal, that they should know Thee 'the only true God, and Him Whom Thou didst send, Jesus Christ."
This sharp and definite command is a fitting introduction to the whole Psalm. The problem with which it deals is that of the apparent prosperity of the wicked. It is an ancient and also a modern cause of much disquietness. The ways and works of wickedness do seem to be prosperous, and those who are pursuing the ways of rectitude are often perturbed by this fact. In this Psalm the singer calls upon all such to think again, and to set all the appearances of the hour in the light of the truth about God, and in the light of Time. God is governing, and that in the interest of those who are walking in the ways of righteousness. Those who trust in Him, delight in Him, commit their way to Him, and rest in Him, are always vindicated and delivered. The test is found in Time. All the apparent prosperity of the wicked is transient; it passes and perishes, as do the wicked themselves. The reward of those who know and obey Jehovah is sure and permanent. Retribution and recompense are under the Divine control. There can be no escape from the one, in the case of the wicked; and no failure of the other, in that of the good. Therefore, there is no need to fret - to worry - to be incensed and perturbed when the way of wickedness seems to be the way of prosperity. Presently the singer repeats the charge, and adds the significant statement that such fretting tends to evildoing (verse 8). There is nothing more pernicious than the sense of irritation caused by narrow outlooks upon life. The prevention and the cure of such irritation is ever that of a true knowledge of God, and the consequent cairn and confident appeal to Time. In its march, God and righteousness and the trusting soul are always vindicated.
O Lord ... O my God ... O Lord.
Psalms 38:21, 22
This is the third of the Penitential Psalms (the others are 6, 32, 51, 102, 130, 143). I have stressed these words in the concluding portions because they reveal the deepest value of this song. It is the cry of a soul in bodily agony and mental anguish, which he recognizes as the result of his own transgression, and therefore does not rebel against. It is, however, the cry of such a soul to God, and its movement shows his knowledge of God, and how in his dire need he is casting himself upon that God in all the fullness of the knowledge which he possesses. The first movement speaks of his personal sufferings both bodily and mental; and is addressed to Jehovah (see verse 1). The second movement describes the attitude of friends and foes; and this is addressed to the Sovereign Lord (Adonai, see verse 9). The last movement is that of the prayer for deliverance, and is addressed to both Jehovah and Adonai as God-Elohim (see verse 15). In this final appeal the three names are found again. Here is a wonderful unveiling of the refuge and hope of the penitent soul. It may expect succour in personal suffering from God, for He is Jehovah, the One full of grace. He may expect justice in regard to men, for God is the Sovereign Lord. He may look for complete deliverance, for Jehovah, the Sovereign Lord, is the Mighty One. If Jehovah forsaketh not; if the Mighty One remains nigh at hand; if the Sovereign Lord makes haste to help - then is there salvation for the penitent soul. And all this is what has been made for ever certain to sinning men in Christ Jesus the Lord.
Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; let me know how frail I am.
This was not a prayer inspired by a desire to know when life would end; it was not a request to be told the date of death. It was a prayer for an accurate apprehension of the fact that life quantitatively - that is, as to the number of its days - is as nothing. This is clearly seen in the sentences of meditation which follow (verses 5, 6). Then, however, a new note was introduced into the song: "And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in Thee." Here is a revelation of the quality of life, as opposed to mere quantity. The attitude described is the one of ultimate strength and realization. It is that of hope in God. That is life, in which desire and expectation are centred in God. Such life is of an entirely different quality from that in which desire and expectation are centred in self, in circumstances, or in men. Such life is characterized by the approximation of effort, and so of character, to the things of God: holiness and righteousness; justice and truth; compassion and grace. If a man live in this qualitative consciousness, quantitative considerations as to life are conditioned thereby. They are entirely unimportant as a measure of life. The time element is cancelled very largely. But they are of great importance as preparatory to the stages which are yet to come. Every day lived in hope centred in God is rich and full. Every such day is contributing something to all the days yet to come.
He hath put a new song in my mouth.
This is what God is always doing for those who can say with the singer of this song: "I waited patiently for Jehovah." In this case the reason of the song in all probability was that of the deliverance of David from all the long experience of outlawry and suffering; and the fact that he had been brought to his coronation. The whole song reveals at once the sense of the cruel things through which he had passed, and the fact of the Divine thought of him and care for him. Through these experiences, moreover, he had learned the true secrets of life, and of kingship. He had suffered at the hands of Saul, who had failed in life and kingship. That David had understood that failure, is revealed in a comparison of the word of Samuel to Saul (1 Sam. 15:22), and verses 6, 7, 8 in this Psalm. The quotation of these words as finding their fulfilment in God's anointed King-Priest (see Heb. 10:5. 6), emphasizes the fact that David had learned the secret of true authority. Thus the inspiration of the new song was gained in the experiences of suffering. It is always so. The suffering servant of God always becomes the singing one. For, as the secret of song is ever that of waiting for God, doing the will of God, in and through suffering, the result is always deliverance, and the issue a song. We need to guard against the tendency to despair and murmuring in days of trial and darkness.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, From everlasting and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen.
The English reader has gained much in the study of the Psalms from the fact that the Revisers have restored the Hebrew divisions of the selection into five Books. There is no doubt that the editing, by whomsoever done, was carefully done, and that in each of the five books there is a dominant idea. In each case this idea is revealed in the Doxology with which the Book ends. The editor - possibly and even probably Hezekiah - may have written this Doxology himself. The verse we have taken is the Doxology with which the first Book ends. Kirkpatrick is certainly right when he says: "This oxology is, of course, no part of the Psalm, but stands here to mark the close of Book 1." The prevailing Name of God found in this collection is Jehovah. The songs have set forth in varied ways all that this Name meant to the men of faith. Thus the Doxology utters the praise of Jehovah, Who is the God of Israel. It recognizes the all-encompassing sweep of the Divine government and grace in the words: "From everlasting to everlasting." It declares the assent of man to this fact, in the concluding double: "Amen, and Amen." The word everlasting in the Hebrew means the vanishing point. The idea is that the God of Israel is Jehovah from the past which is beyond human knowledge, to the future which is equally so. Rotherham's rendering is very fine: "Blessed be Jehovah, God of Israel. From antiquity unto antiquity. Amen, and Amen." To us the great truth is made more clear in the words of Jesus: "I am the Alpha and the Omega." In that sense of the eternity of our God, and of the eternity of the things concerning Him unveiled in His Son, is the secret of our songs.
My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.
This whole Psalm is the song of a soul in trouble; but in the midst of the trouble the singer is speaking to himself in strains of determined hope. In these particular words we have at once a revelation of the uttermost experience of sorrow, and a revelation of the inspiration of hope. Sorrow is always a sense of lack. The sorrow of bereavement is the sense of the loss of the loved one. The sorrow of sickness is the lack of health. The ultimate sorrow is the sense of the lack of God. This was the supreme sorrow of this singer. All his personal suffering was accentuated by his inability to find his way into conscious fellowship with God. The thirst for God is the most terrible thirst. Nothing can assuage it. Thus the cry of anguish is the expression of hope. That is the one and only hope in the hour of this suffering. To find a way back to God, to come and appear before Him is the only cure for the intolerable thirst. Let it, then, be clearly recognized that the chief value of this song is its revelation of God Himself. Even though this troubled soul had lost his sense at the moment of fellowship, he knew God, and, in the midst of the anguish, believed that God would appear for his deliverance. Apart from this knowledge there would have been desire, but no hope. It was his knowledge of God which touched desire with expectation, and so created hope.
Let them bring me ... Then will I go.
Psalms 43:3, 4
That Psalms 42 and 43 are intimately related, is conceded, and is perfectly patent. Indeed, there are those who treat them as one song. A comparison of verses 5 and xx in the first, with verse 5 in the second, reveals the thrice-repeated refrain in which the singer challenges his soul as to its sorrow, and affirms his confidence in God. Yet there is a distinction. The first reveals a need and a confidence. The second reveals the supply, and shows the way to its appropriation. The way to the realization of hope is, first, that of the leading of light and truth shining forth by the action of God; and second, that of the going of the soul in such light and truth. The going of the soul in light and truth is described as a going first to the altar, and ultimately to God its exceeding joy. The way to God is ever the way of the altar. The way to the altar is opened by the sending out of light and truth from God. The spiritual illumination of this singer of the olden times fills us with wonder. For us, all has its interpretation in the One Who of Himself said: "I came forth from God," "I am the Light," "I am the Truth." This cry of humanity in its sorrow, voiced by the Hebrew Psalmist, God answered when He sent out Light and Truth in His Son. He erected for us the altar by which we find God, and so find exceeding joy.
All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten Thee.
These words introduce us to the very core of this song. It is a prayer for Divine deliverance from disaster and suffering, which are not caused by the sins of those who are involved therein. The hosts of the people of God had been defeated in battle, and had become the objects of scorn and contempt of their enemies, notwithstanding the fact that they had been loyal to God. Opinions vary as to the historic event to which reference is made, and we need take no time discussing that matter. The arresting fact is, that here is a song revealing an experience of defeat and humiliation, and consequently of suffering, for which no cause is to be found in the conduct of the sufferers. Other songs there are in which we discover the recognition of the reason of suffering to be that of the sins of the people. They are penitential, and contain confession. In this, the claim to have been true is central. It is, therefore, a song inspired by experiences which have been known to the people of God in all ages. Paul quoted from this very Psalm when he was thinking of the forces which assault the soul, and declaring that none of them is able to separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35). Thus we are reminded of the fact that those who are the people of God are called upon to endure suffering for which there is no explanation at the time, and certainly none in their own disloyalty. Such sufferings are part of the high and holy privilege of fellowship with God.
Things ... touching the king.
The beauty of this Psalm is universally recognized. It is always treated as celebrating a royal wedding. The title refers to it as "A Song of Loves"; Rotherham gives "A royal marriage," as descriptive title: and Kirkpatrick calls it "A nuptial ode." All these descriptions are justified by the context. Nevertheless, its supreme note is given in the words we have emphasized. The first verse consists of the writer's introduction to his song, and in these particular words he gives us the subject on which he wrote. He was speaking of "Things ... touching the king"; and there is more in the Psalm than the wedding. Here again opinions differ as to the particular king to whom reference was made. From the earliest times it has been considered as definitely Messianic; and that by Jewish, as well as Christian expositors. In that way we may study it most profitably. What, then, are the things touching the king which it celebrates? We will endeavour to tabulate them: (1) His beauty and grace of character (verse 2). (2) His equipment and purpose in conflict (verses 3, 4) (3) His power in conflict (verse 5) (4) His victory, and consequent enthronement and glory (verses 6-8). (5) His consort, her devotion, her beauty, her companions (verses 9-15). (6) His seed-royal, reigning in the earth (verse 16). (7) His complete triumph (verse 17). Perhaps nowhere in Old Testament writings do we find a nearer approach to the disclosure of the secret of the Church than in this Psalm. It remained, however, a secret (see Eph. 3:4, 5; Col. 1:26, 27). For us, in the light of the complete unveiling of God's plans and purposes through Christ, this song is full of beauty and value.
God is our refuge.
This is the first of three Psalms which are intimately related to each other. They all refer to the Divine relation to the Holy City, and set forth the consequent security of its citizens. The three phases celebrated may thus be stated: Psa. 46, God as a Refuge; Psa. 47, God as Ruler; Psa. 48, God as Resource. As to the first, its wonderful power is revealed in the constancy of its use by the people of God. In our own days of strain and calamity, perhaps no other song has been more constantly employed than this. Its note is that of complete and daring courage, resulting from the assurance of what God is in Himself, and the consequent sense of the security of those for whom He cares. It opens with figurative language, as it describes convulsions of the most terrible known in Nature, those of the earthquake and tempest, and declares that these cannot produce fear in the hearts of those who know God. Suddenly it introduces the picture of the City of God, gladdened by the river proceeding from the dwelling-place of God. Then outside, the nations are pictured in tumultuous upheaval. Over all God is reigning, commanding the tumult to cease, and declaring His determination to be exalted. The whole song is the result of the vision of God. That is the vision which gives the heart steadiness and strength at all times. To lose that vision is only, sooner or later, to have nothing left to look upon but storm and tempest, wreck and ruin, the anger and the brutality of the massed forces of iniquity. To retain it, is still to see these things; but it is to see them all under His government, and to discover that they also are compelled to serve His purpose.
God is the King of all the earth.
That tremendous truth is the burden of this song. Whereas, in the previous Psalm, the central thought was that of God as a refuge for His own people; here, the Word of God recorded in the tenth verse of Psalm 46 is seen as triumphant, and the outlook is wider. The whole earth is in view. The song opens with a call to all the nations to recognize God as King. His own people are still in view as those through whom His power is to be demonstrated, but He is seen as reigning over all the nations. The princes of the nations are referred to as "the shields of the earth," and they are declared to belong unto God. All this is a subject for our most careful thought. There are times when we are at least in danger of interpreting the reign of God as wholly in the future. There is a sense in which that view is warranted. We have been taught to pray for the coming of the Kingdom. But there is a sense in which God is now King of all the earth. He reigns in absolute sovereignty and power. Neither nation nor individual escapes from that sovereignty, or from the compelling pressure of that power. But this fact does not satisfy the heart of God, and it ought not to satisfy us. He desires to reign by the consent of the governed. He would establish His authority upon the understanding of the peoples. Observe the appeal of the words: "Sing ye praises with understanding."
This God is our God for ever and ever.
In Psa. 46 the singer rejoiced in God as a Refuge, and celebrated His presence in the City as the sure guarantee of her security. In this he dwells upon the beauty and security of that City, which is thus protected by the abiding presence of God. After exulting over a deliverance wrought in the hour of dire peril, the song proceeds to dwell upon the exceeding wealth of the resources which a people so delivered have in such a God. In a pregnant sentence this is stated: "Thy right hand is full of righteousness." This is the secret of the sufficiency of His people, whatever calamities threaten them, or whatever leagues of kings and armies are formed against them. The right hand of God is the emblem of His power. That right hand is full of righteousness. That is to say, that God is a God able to secure to those whom He governs all things that are right and good. There can be no breakdown in His ability, and there can be nothing unworthy in His rule. Therefore those who trust in Him find complete resource in Him. At last, at the close, not of this Psalm only, but of all the three, the note of complete joy and satisfaction, of rest and of realization, finds expression in these words: "This God is our God for ever and ever." That is perfect praise, for it passes far beyond the realms of theory, as it tells of experience.
For the redemption of their soul is costly, and must be let alone for ever.
These words constitute a parenthesis. The singer breaks in on a statement with this exclamatory declaration. It reveals the working of his mind. The interrupted statement is contained in verses 7 and 9. If these be read in connection, it will be seen that the statement is that no wealth is sufficient to secure exemption from death. The parenthesis emphasizes this in a yet profounder statement as it recognizes that life itself needs redemption quite apart from the question of materials or bodily death. This is why no man can prevent himself, or his brother, from physical dissolution. The life is already forfeited, and its redemption is costly, so costly that there is no hope of any being able to pay the price - it "faileth for ever." All this leads on in the song to the great affirmation of faith: "But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol; for He will receive me." In spiritual apprehension this is a most wonderful Psalm. It is quite possible that this old Hebrew singer sang better than he knew; but it is certain that gleams of the final light were breaking through on him. Moreover, it is evident that he was conscious of the greatness of the thing he sang, in that he commenced by calling all people, of all classes, to listen.
God even God hath spoken.
This Psalm is highly dramatic. The first six verses constitute a prologue descriptive of the coming of God to judge His people. Of that prologue this is the introductory sentence, and it is the key to the Psalm. The main movement is that of the record of two speeches of God. The first (verses 7-15) is in condemnation of formalism. The second (verses 16-21) is in condemnation of hypocrisy. All ends with an epilogue (verses 22, 23), emphasizing the teaching of the Psalm. The first sentence has certainly lost something of its force by translation. We are helped if we transliterate rather than translate. Then the sentence reads: "El, Elohim, Jehovah hath spoken." Thus three names are employed. El stands for the might of God simply and absolutely. Elohim, the plural form, intensifies that idea; and in use always connotes the wisdom of God as well as His might. Jehovah is the title by which He is ever revealed in His grace. This, then, is the God Who speaks, and the things said have ultimate authority, and irresistible appeal, when this is remembered. This is the meaning of the words in the epilogue: "Now consider this, ye that forget God." Let us then lay to heart the things that God says in this Psalm. He condemns the formalities of religion, when men neglect to offer the sacrifices of praise, and cease to pray. He condemns the hypocrisy of those who repeat the words of His law, and violate its teaching in their dealing with their fellow-men. Formalism is a sin against God. Hypocrisy is its outcome, a sin against man, and so still against God.
Have mercy upon me, O God.
This, is the fourth of the Penitential Psalms. (The others are 6, 32, 38, 102, 130, 143.) Of the seven it is central, and it is the greatest in spiritual power. The heading gives us the occasion of its writing, and thus we are enabled the more accurately to follow the working of the mind of the sinner. The whole song is a clear revelation of his consciousness that sin can only be dealt with by God. No plan is urged. From beginning to end the song is prayer, petition following petition. It is the cry of a soul who can have no hope except in the mercy of God. In it, too, the truth about sin is revealed. The three words are used: transgression, iniquity, and sin. The first recognizes sin as definite rebellion against God, and so involving guilt. The second reckons that sin is perversion, and so involving pollution. The third realizes that sin is failure and so involving ruin. The standard by which sin is known is that of the soul's relation to God, and therefore in the last analysis this penitent uttered a tremendous truth when he said: "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned." Yet again the consciousness of the sinning soul as to its own need is clearly manifested. The penitent asks that sin may be blotted out; that he may be washed, cleansed, made pure, purged with hyssop. The need is for infinitely more than forgiveness, as we are able to extend it to our fellow-men. It is for complete deliverance from the pollution of sin. This great song, pulsating with the agony of a sin-stricken soul, helps us to understand the stupendous wonder of the everlasting mercy of our God. Calvary is God's answer; and it is enough.
Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? The mercy of God endureth continually.
In that opening question, and the immediately following assertion, we have the key to the whole of this song. The first part of it describes the mighty man and his action (verses 2-5); while the second part describes the security of the man whose trust is in God (verses 6-9). On the one hand a man is seen who by reason of his wealth and material power is vaunting his ability to encompass his own malicious purposes against a good man. Miles Coverdale rendered this phrase, "O mighty man," as "Thou tyrant," and thus gave an accurate interpretation of the kind of man this Edomite, Doeg, really was. The singer sees the folly and futility of his boasting, because he has clear vision of one great fact, that, namely, of the enduring mercy of God. This is the one and all-sufficient answer to all fear which may be caused by such evil men, when they seem entrenched in certain material strength. Over against that strength of wickedness the mercy of God is eternally operative. The rest of the song shows how much more there is than pity in the mercy of God. It is fierce and forceful: "God will likewise destroy thee for ever; He will take thee up and pluck thee out of thy tent, and root thee out of the land of the living." That is the activity of mercy. Mark the contrast in the case of the man trusting in the Lord. He says of himself: "I am like a green olive tree in the House of God."
There were they in great fear, where, no fear was.
We have found this song already in Book 1 (Psa. 14). Its repetition here is of great interest in the light it throws upon the editing of the collection. A comparison of the two will show how in this case Elohim has been substituted for Jehovah in harmony with the general usage in this second Book; The main theme of the songs is identical. Some slight alterations show how a great song may be adapted to meet the need of some special application of its truth. The words we have emphasized give us an illustration of this. In Psa. 14, the words are: "There were they in great fear." Here the addition of the words, "where no fear was," is explained at once if we see in this form of the song an application to the departure of Sennacherib's army (Isa. 37:7) and its ultimate annihilation (Isa. 37:26). There indeed were men filled with fear, where there was no natural cause for fear. The words are very suggestive. The fear of God is often thrust upon men suddenly and terrifically, when they have no apparent cause for fear. Such fear is nemesis, and is destructive. There is only one way in which man can be delivered from this fear. It is that of beginning with the fear of Jehovah, and ordering all conduct in the guidance thereof. The fear of God is either an impelling motive, leading in the ways of life; or it becomes a compelling terror, issuing in destruction. To fear God, is to be rightly related to the Ultimate fact of the universe. To say in the heart, "There is no God," is to neglect that fact, and sooner or later to discover it in a destructive fear.
The Lord is of them that uphold my soul.
The title of this Psalm relates it to the days when David was being persecuted by Saul, and the Ziphites basely betrayed him by discovering his hiding place to his enemy. It is a real song of faith in that it first appeals for the help of God; and then confidently affirms that such help will be forthcoming. The words which we have chosen for emphasis are arresting. Expositors seem anxious to modify them. One says, for instance, that this does not mean that God was "as one upholder among many, but Chief Mover and Upholder of them all"; and another suggests that we render: "The Lord is the Upholder of my soul." Now both these things are true, but there is no need to try and escape the plain meaning of the statement, which is accurately conveyed by this translation, and perhaps even more force-fully rendered by Rotherham thus: "My Sovereign Lord is among the upholders of my soul." The title used of God was Adonai, with the distinct meaning thus expressed by Rotherham - "my Sovereign Lord." The statement recognizes the help of human friends, but accounts for it by the presence among them of God, Who as Sovereign Lord guides and commands them. A reference to the story itself (1 Sam. 23) tells how Jonathan went to David "in the wood and strengthened his hand in God," even before the treachery of the Ziphites. Here, perhaps, is the secret of this song of faith. Through Jonathan, David was strengthened in God. In his song he recognized the overruling of God in the action of his friend. It was a true recognition. God acts through our friends.
Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee.
These are wonderful words, and their constant use by the people of God shows how great their value, and how profound a philosophy of life they contain. This becomes the more remarkable a word when the burden of the singer is borne in mind. Kirkpatrick has truthfully said "Despair, sorrow, indignation, faith find expression by turns in this pathetic record of persecution embittered by the treachery of an intimate friend." A mere selection of some of the words used to describe the consciousness of the singer will help us to discover the weight of the burden - terrors, fearfulness, trembling, horror - these are not soft words. Or again, gather out some of the words describing the conditions giving rise to these things - violence, strife, iniquity, mischief, wickedness, oppression, guile - these are terrible words. Then at the heart of the song occurs one of the most pathetic passages in literature, as descriptive of the most poignant agony. The inspirer and instigator of the trouble was a man, the singer's equal, his companion, his familiar friend. This was the burden. With the weight of it upon him, he yet uttered these great words, and who shall doubt that they were expressive of his experience? To cast the burden upon Jehovah is not to be rid of it, but it is to find One Who carries, sustains the burden-bearer, and so the burden also, in a fellowship of love and might. It always seems to me that a wonderful commentary on this word of the Old Testament is found in Paul's description of his experiences (2 Cor. 4:7-9 and 16-18). The experience of suffering was not taken away from the servant of God, but he was sustained, and so made strong enough to resist its pressure, and through it to make his service more perfect. This is how God ever sustains us in the bearing of burdens.
What time I am afraid ... I will not be afraid.
The title of this Psalm describes it as having been written by David when the Philistines took him in Gath. It is a revelation of his experiences under these circumstances. He was keenly conscious of the malignant hatred of his foes. They were subjecting him to every form of indignity and cruelty. They were seeking every method to bring about his discomfiture. Indeed, they were set upon securing his destruction. He was equally conscious of God. His wanderings were known to Him. His tears were written in His book. He was naturally fearful for his safety in the midst of such enemies; yet his faith refused to be overcome. The song is a record of the fight between fear and faith, and ultimately of the victory of faith. The two things find expression in these two brief sentences. The fear was there, for he said: "What time I am afraid." Faith was also there, for he was able to say: "I will not be afraid." The second word was the result of the action of faith in the midst of fear. It was an act of the will, based upon the activity of reason. The "I will trust" in the hour of fear led on to the "I will not be afraid." This is a song full of comfort in its recognition of the possibility of fear, and of the way of complete triumph over it. The heart of man is frail at its strongest, and there are hours in which the forces against us inevitably suggest that sense of weakness, and thus create fear. In such hours let us exercise our reasoning powers to the full, for that is the true activity of faith.
My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing, yea, I will sing praises.
Fixity of heart is the secret of songs. The idea of this word, fixed, is that of being erect; that is, of being stable. It is well to remember that the thought is not that of someone clinging in desperation to someone else who is stronger. There are times when that is exactly what we do. Here, however, the conception is that of a soul strong and courageously facing all the calamities of life because related to the ultimate things of life. The whole Psalm falls distinctly into two parts. In the first, the soul is seen as to its hiding-place in the day of calamity. In the second, the exulting song resulting from its position is heard. Observe the two environments of the singer as they are revealed in the first part of the song. The first is described in the first verse: "My soul taketh refuge in Thee; yea, in the shadow of Thy wings will I take refuge." The second is described in verse four: "My soul is among lions; I lie among them that are set on fire." Under the shadow of the wings of God the heart is fixed, erect, stable, notwithstanding the fiery fierceness of the foes who are exerting all their strength to bring about the destruction of the soul. In such fixity is the inspiration of glad and exulting praise. Here the deepest thing in the life of fellowship with God is manifested.
Verily, there is a God that judgeth in the earth.
The theme of this Psalm is that of judgment, not as punishment merely, but in the broadest and truest sense of true government. Its first movement is that of an invective condemnation of those who are governing wrongly, whose methods are those of wickedness and violence, and who are deaf to the appeal for justice. The second movement is a passionate appeal to God, the final Judge, to sweep away these false judges, so that they may no more misgovern men. The last movement is a confident affirmation that this is the very thing which God will do, and a statement of the result, that by such action men will be brought to know that there is a God that judgeth the earth. The sorrows of humanity multiply under false systems of government, whether they are autocratic or democratic. There is only one hope for man, namely, that they are brought to the hour when they shall say: "Verily, there is a God that judgeth in the earth." How slow men are to discover this fact and to yield themselves to it! And how persistently God moves towards the compelling of that conviction! How have we seen Him breaking the teeth of the oppressor, and weakening all the strength of the evil governors! Nevertheless, man sees slowly, and even yet is in dire peril of setting up other false methods of government. Every method is false which fails to reckon with God. Our confidence is in Him, and in the assurance that He will never abandon man to his folly, but will bring him at last to right relationship with Himself.
O my strength, I will wait upon Thee: for God is my high Tower.
This is the refrain with which the first part of the Psalm closes. The second part closes with the same refrain, with slight variations. It runs thus: Unto Thee, 0 my Strength, will I sing praises: For God is my high Tower, the God of my mercy. In each case the thought of God in the mind of the singer is that of His strength, and of the fact that He is a high tower or place of refuge and retreat to the soul in trouble and danger. In the first refrain, the singer declares his determination, in view of these facts, to give heed to God. In the second, in view of the same facts, he offers the sacrifice of praise, because this God of strength is the God of mercy. Our reading of the whole Psalm reveals the mercy of God which caused the praise of this soul. It was that of His destruction of workers of iniquity, bloodthirsty men. The circumstances of the singer, as suggested by the title, are revealed in 1 Sam. 19. It was a day when Saul was determined to destroy David. His intentions and his methods were of the basest. The men who were his agents were utterly unscrupulous. Their evil character is carefully described in this song. While such men are at large and unrestrained, there can be no security for godly men. The character of God demands that such should be severely judged, and indeed destroyed. In such retributive government the mercy of God is seen.
Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth.
This is the central light of a great song, revealing the singer's understanding of the true function of the nation. When Amalek fought against Israel in Rephidim, victory came to the people of God as Moses, supported by Aaron and Hur, prayed on the mount and Joshua went forth to battle. After the victory Moses built an altar, and called the name of it "Jehovah Nissi," that is, Jehovah our Banner. That was indeed the Banner of Israel. The nation existed to display the glory of Jehovah before the nations. When, in her appointed warfare against the forces of evil, she was victorious, that Banner was honoured. When she was defeated, it was disgraced. This song was written in a day when the hosts of Jehovah had been defeated. The conception of the meaning of the national life of Israel, revealed in these words, accounts for the anguish of the singer as he contemplated the discomfiture and defeat of the people of God. There was no self-centred pride in the song. The sorrow of the singer was caused by the disgrace to the Banner, by the dishonour done to the name of Jehovah. This conception accounts also for the change in the Psalm to the note of confidence as to the ultimate victory. This sense of responsibility for the truth about God, for the honour of the Holy Name, is the surest guarantee of victory. When the people of God are overcome by the enemies of God, the ultimate tragedy is not that they are disgraced, but that all they stand for is dishonoured. It is because we so often forget this, that we know defeat, and so wrong God. The Church of God is the pillar and ground of the Truth. When she fails, the Truth suffers.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
This is the song of one who was away from the City and Temple of God. It is conjectured that David wrote it when he was an exile for a time, as the result of the rebellion of Absalom. From that distance, which seemed to him to be the end of the earth, he called upon God when his heart was overwhelmed, and this was the very heart of his prayer. Once more we have the employment of Rock, as symbolic of God, the reference here being to its strength and to its height, as constituting a place of refuge and security. The illuminative phase of this petition is that it puts God as a Rock into contrast with self. These were the words of a man who was supremely conscious of his own insufficiency. From the perils and the sorrows in the midst of which he was living, he found neither help nor hiding place in his own wisdom or strength. Indeed, it may be that he was realizing that bitterest of all experiences, that he had been his own worst enemy, and that the foes he had chiefly to fear were resident within his own personality. Thus his prayer was for elevation above self in God. It was a great cry; and it is one we constantly need to pray. It is only when we find refuge in the Rock that is higher than ourselves, that we are safe from the enemies without or the foes within. There is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Our sufficiency is ever of God.
My soul waiteth only upon God.
The emphatic word is only. Note its repetition: "He only is my Rock" (verse 2); "for God only" (verse 5); "He only is my Rock" (verse 6). Whatever the occasion of its writing, its editorial placing after the one recording the prayer, "Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I," is very significant. That was a cry resulting from a consciousness of the insufficiency of self, and a confidence in the sufficiency of God as the Rock of refuge. In this the burden is, that the soul finds what it needs in none other than God, and it seems to follow the figure of the Rock in interpretation of the sufficiency which is found in Him. Glance through the Psalm, and the values of God as Rock will be seen radiantly set forth. "My Rock ... my salvation ... my high tower" (verse 2); these same words are repeated (verse 6); "The Rock ... my strength ... my refuge" (verse 7). In view of this, the singer calls upon his soul to be silent only for God, and at last declares the double truth he has learned concerning God. The words, "God hath spoken once, twice have I heard this," might fittingly be rendered, "God hath spoken one thing; two things have I heard." These two things are immediately stated: "That power belongeth unto God; also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth lovingkindness." These are the two things concerning God which had been revealed to his waiting soul, those, namely, of His power and His loving-kindness. Because of these the trusting soul is safe, both with regard to opposing foes and to weakness and failure personally. The power of God is more than the strength of the adversaries; the mercy of God is equal to dealing with all the need of the failing soul. Because God only is our Rock, let us ever be silent only for God.
My soul followeth hard after Thee; Thy right hand upholdeth me.
Once more we have a song of the wilderness. The title declares that, and we feel the atmosphere of loneliness and of abounding peril as we read. In these words we have a very striking description of the experience of the man of faith in such an hour. There is first the volitional activity, and then the deep sense of security. The activity of the will is expressed in the words: "My soul followeth hard after Thee." The word "hard" here means close. The thought might be expressed thus: "My soul cleaveth close to Thee." There is the sense of strain, of difficulty; but it is a declaration of resolute action. It is not easy to realize the nearness or presence of God, but there must be no giving up, no relaxing. This is the hour in which to bring all the powers of the being to bear on the one activity of keeping close to God. Then immediately we have a revelation of the sense of the soul in such resolute action. It is that God is near; His right hand is upholding. Indeed, it is by the upholding of that right hand that the soul is enabled to cleave close to God. This is a very valuable word, as it helps us to realize the inter-action between the soul's courage and confidence. If the determined maintenance of the attitude of relationship should be relaxed, the sense of that right hand would be weakened. It is equally true that if that right hand did not uphold, there could be no strength for cleaving. The one thing which is certain is that the right hand of God will never fail us. Let us see to it that our cleaving never weakens.
Preserve my life from fear of the enemy.
The thought of that petition had remarkable illustration in the experiences of our men and boys during the Great War. It is a most arresting and suggestive fact that over and over again, in talking with them of their experiences, they have told us that the one thing they supremely feared was that they should be filled with fear. Generalizations may be somewhat dangerous, but it is almost certain that the fear of fear has delivered these boys almost invariably from fear. And yet is this strange? Surely the fear of cowardice is the very inspiration of courage. This singer was certainly afraid lest he should be afraid. And there were causes enough for fear. These first six verses reveal that most clearly. Every sentence reveals the relentless fury and remorseless subtlety and cruelty of the foes by whom he was surrounded. Conscious of all this he had one fear, and that was that he should be afraid of them. The cure of such fear was that of communion with God, and consideration of Him. To remember God, is to see One Who is mightier than all the foes, and moreover, One Who is active against those foes on behalf of His own. This is a prayer we need ever to pray. To fear the foe, is inevitably to be beaten by that foe. To fear to be afraid, is ever to be driven to seek the help of the God Who fighteth on behalf of the trusting soul; and in such seeking is the secret of courage, and the assurance of victory.
Praise waiteth for Thee, O God, in Zion.
The song was evidently composed to be sung in connection with some gathering of the people in the Temple, and its special notes suggest that the occasion was that of thanksgiving for the co-operation of God with man in the production of the harvest. In any case, it was a song for a festival of praise. These introductory words have caused some difficulty to expositors. Briggs rendered the sentence "To Thee is recited a song of praise;" and Rotherham adopted this rendering. Kirkpatrick renders it: "Praise becometh Thee," and says that "though prayer may be silent, praise calls for vocal expression." I suggest that here translation is better than either of these attempted interpretations. The word translated "waiteth" comes from a root meaning to be dumb. The idea quite simply is exactly what Kirkpatrick declares to be impossible, viz. that praise is silent before God. This does not mean that there is no praise, but on the contrary that praise is so complete that at first it can find no utterance. Presently it becomes gloriously vocal, but even then fails to express the fullness which compelled the silence. I emphasize this because I am growingly convinced of the tremendous value of silence in the activity of public worship, whether in praise or prayer. In the assemblies of the saints, the sound of a human voice must in some degree tend to deflect attention from God. There must be speech, in prayer, in praise, in prophesying; but its ultimate value is that of preparation for those great silences where the soul is alone with God. The word of Habakkuk is of profound significance: "Let all the earth hush before Him." It was out of his own silence that at last there came the great song of praise.
I will pay Thee my vows.
This is another song of praise, in two movements. The first is national (1-12), and celebrates a Divine deliverance from trouble, while recognizing that the trouble itself was a part of the Divine method, a chastisement through which the nation was brought into a wealthy place. The second is personal (13-20), and perhaps in it the king, who in the earlier part had spoken of and for his people, spoke of and for himself. The singer had been heard; God had attended to the voice of the prayers he had uttered in the day of his distress. In that day of distress he had made vows to the Lord, and now in the day of prosperity he remembers them and comes into the House of his God with burnt-offerings to fulfil his vows. There is an important principle in these words. The soul of man in hours of distress constantly makes promises to God as to what it will do if He will deliver out of that distress. Such vows are entirely voluntary, and they are not necessary. They do not affect the action of God in the least. Prayer does that, but not vows. But when the voluntary vow is made, it becomes an obligation from which the one making it must not attempt to escape. This was explicitly enacted in the Law. The provision will be found in Leviticus 27. There it is clearly laid down that vows in respect of persons, beasts, houses, fields, are entirely optional; but when made, are compulsory. The life of fellowship with God into which we are admitted through Christ, makes vows more than ever unnecessary. They, however, are not forbidden. Only let never forget that when made, they must be fulfilled. The reason is not in God, but in us. To fail to keep faith with God is to suffer deterioration of character.
Thy saving health.
This phrase constitutes a poetic interpretation of the thought of the one word of which it is a translation. The Hebrew word is one, and signifies quite literally, salvation. It is salvation in the sense of deliverance, aid, and so nationally of victory. The conception in its national significance is very beautifully expressed in the phrase, "saving health," of the Authorized Version. The Psalm is a very brief one, but it breathes the very spirit of a clear understanding of the real meaning of the Hebrew nation, according to Divine purpose. Its opening prayer is that God will bless and cause His face to shine upon His own people, in order that His "salvation may be known among all nations." Its closing affirmation is that God will bless His own people, and that as a result, "all the ends of the earth shall fear Him." This is the true interpretation of privilege. The people of God exist for the sake of all the nations. They constitute the illustration of His saving health. Their prosperity is due to His aid, His deliverance, His salvation. The nations, seeing that prosperity, are taught the advantage of His rule. That rule, discovered and obeyed, always produces national health, in all the spacious values of that great word. Health is wholeness, completeness, full realization of possibility, as it is freedom from all diseases, materially, mentally, morally. God alone is able to rule men so as to insure this state of health. His people, then, are called upon to reveal this fact to men, by the health in which they live. What disaster, if by disobedience to the will of God they reveal to men anything less than health! Thus the name of God is blasphemed among the heathen. The privilege is great; the responsibility is grave; the resources in God are sufficient.
He hath scattered the peoples that delight in war.
The historic relations of this Psalm are obscure, and definite. They are obscure as to the actual time of the composition, and as to the particular events in history which are celebrated. They are definite as to the use which has been made of it by men of faith in the process of the centuries. Kirkpatrick finely says of it: "To the Crusaders, setting out for the recovery of the Holy Land; to Savonarola and his monks, as they marched to the 'Trial of Fire' in the Piazza at Florence; to the Huguenots, who called it 'The song of battles'; to Cromwell, at Dunbar, as the sun rose on the mists of the morning and he charged Leslie's army - it has supplied words for the expression of their heartfelt convictions." To all of this we may add that, during the years of the Great War, perhaps no Psalm, with the single exception of the forty-sixth, was more constantly used. It is pre-eminently the Psalm which celebrates the march of God with His people, against their foes and His, to assured and complete victory. The words we have stressed describe that victory in one application, and in a very remarkable way. The whole song is of war: one is conscious all through of the clash of conflict. Yet it is not a song in glorification of war. God is manifested as the God of battles, but His victory is that He scatters the people that delight in war. He does not delight in it: His purpose is to end it. Here is the true test of the relation of men of faith to war. If the heart delight in war, God will make war the instrument for the discomfiture and defeat of that unholy passion. If the heart hate war, then He will give victory in war to those who thus fight. Whether that end has been reached, it is not for us to say. Certainly the principle had remarkable illustration in 1914-1919.
Let not them that wait on Thee be ashamed through me, O Lord God of Hosts. Let not those that seek Thee be brought to dishonour through me, O God of Israel.
Here is a Psalm pulsating with pain. The singer cries to God for deliverance from the cruel and evil foes who are persecuting him. He also calls for revenge, in maledictions which to some Christian people seem terrible. In these particular words we discover the deepest note in his suffering, and the reason of his maledictions. His concern was not personal, but relative. He feared lest other believing and loyal souls should be deflected from faith, and dishonoured because of what they saw of his sufferings. Thus his chief concern was for the honour of his God. Let these maledictions be carefully considered in the light of this fact, and it will be seen that their inspiration was that of a consuming passion for the vindication of the righteousness of God, as victorious over all those who rebelled against His government and so insulted His holiness. Nothing in the New Testament revelation proves that this passion was wrong. When it is said that Christ prayed that His murderers might be forgiven, let it be borne in mind that the terms of His wonderful prayer were most explicit. He said: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." That was a prayer inspired by His freedom from all personal vindictiveness. Neither in that prayer, nor in any of His teachings, can we find a word of tolerance for those who do evil, knowing that it is evil. Moreover, as these particular words of the Psalmist are considered, let those immediately preceding them be remembered. In them he referred to his own sin, proving that he realized the relation between his sufferings and that sin. His prayer for deliverance from suffering was, in its deepest value, a prayer for deliverance from sin. His desire for purity was the inspiration of his cry for help and the reason of his appeal for the destruction of evil men.
These words reveal the mental mood of the singer of this Psalm. They have been supplied by the translators as an introduction, and these must be omitted. They occur, however, immediately; and are repeated in our last verse, and there reinforced by the words, "Make no tarrying." The circumstances were those of suffering, and of that made more poignant by the gloating gladness of enemies, as revealed in their exclamations, "Aha, Aha." The troubled soul knew that help was only to be found in God. His difficulty was that God did not seem to be acting with sufficient speed. He was at least leisurely, when the need seemed pressing; He was not hastening, in spite of the urgency. So it appeared to this troubled heart, and so it has constantly appeared to those who have suffered. One of the supreme glories of the Psalter is that it gives us a song like this, expressing a common human experience, even though it reveals a mistaken conception of God. God never needs to be called upon to hasten. He is never tarrying uselessly or carelessly. Indeed, we may say that often: "Through the thick darkness He is hastening," that is, through the very darkness which makes us imagine He is inactive, or unduly delaying His help. Nevertheless, He understands our cry. We may use any terms in our prayers, if they are directed to Him, knowing that He will understand, and in His understanding, interpret our faulty terms by His own perfect knowledge, and give us His best answers to our deepest need.
When I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not, until I have declared Thy strength unto the next generation.
This is pre-eminently the song of an old man, and moreover he was still in circumstances of trouble when he wrote it. It is a plea at first for deliverance, and in the course of it the same appeal is made to God to "Make haste." Its dominant note, however, is that of the triumph of faith. He looks back over life, and recognizes the care of God from his birth and through all the vicissitudes of life. That recognition is the inspiration of the prayer for help; and the secret of the note of confidence with which the song closes. The particular words which we have emphasized reveal the true desire of old age. It is that of being allowed to minister to youth. The man who, through long years, has proved God, has a message for those who are facing life. They see but half - as Browning says. It is a glorious half, but it needs the illumination of the whole, lest it should fail. Moreover, there is nothing more calculated to keep the heart of age young, than to stand by the young, sympathizing with their ambitions, heartening their endeavours, and stiffening their courage, by recounting the stories of the strength of God, the experiences of His might. When one is old and grey-headed, there is inevitably a tendency to seek release and rest. Let that last phase of selfishness be guarded against, by the cultivation of comradeship with the young; and then the higher desire will be created, that, namely, of this singer, for continued fellowship with God, in order that service may be rendered to them. There is nothing more pitiful, or else more beautiful than old age. It is pitiful when its pessimism cools the ardours of youth. It is beautiful when its witness stimulated the visions and inspires the heroisms of the young.
Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, Who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be His glorious Name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with His glory; Amen, and Amen.
Psalms 72:18, 19
These two verses stand in separation from the Psalm, and constitute the Doxology with which the second book closes. The dominant name of God in this collection has been Elohim, the name which in itself represents the absolute might of God, and, in its use, associates the activity of that might with His absolute wisdom. It is noticeable that in this Doxology that name is introduced by the great title, Jehovah, thus showing that while the songs set forth principally the wonders, of God, they were sung by men who knew something of His grace as that was ever suggested by the title, Jehovah. To that God, this Doxology attributes the doing of wondrous things, and to Him alone; and it resolves itself into an act of worship, expressing the desire that the whole earth should be filled with His glory. Whereas, as we have said, the Doxology must be taken as standing alone, it is fitting that the last song in the collection, the one immediately preceding, sets forth the glory of the government of the world, by this God of wonders, through His own anointed King. Whereas these songs have all been inspired by a consciousness of the might and wisdom of God, they have repeatedly revealed the circumstances of tyranny and oppression under which the people of God have often lived. The last song celebrates the day when under the true Theocratic King, all such as are oppressed, shall be set free, as every form of tyranny is broken.
Until I went into the sanctuary of God, and considered their latter end.
That is palpably an incomplete quotation, but the method draws attention to the central value of the song. Its first movement is a confession on the part of the singer of how the prosperity of the wicked created a temptation to doubt the goodness of God in government, and consequently, to question the utility of goodness in men. Its second movement sets forth the perfection of the Divine government, re-affirms the faith of the singer, confesses the folly of his suggested breakdown in faith, and declares his determination still to make the Lord Jehovah his refuge. The change in his outlook was created by his going into the sanctuary of God. There, retired from the confusion of circumstances, he was given a corrected view of everything. The one note which these words reveal is; that from the Temple of God, long views of life are obtained. Looking at circumstances only, man necessarily has limited views, he sees only the near. In the Temple, man gains God's view, it is the complete outlook. From thence, he sees the latter end of those who, today, are seen as prosperous in wickedness. Their latter end is not one 'of prosperity, but one of adversity. To be far from God is ultimately to perish: to depart from Him is to be destroyed. For us, necessarily, all this is made superlative through Christ. In Him we have access to the Holiest of All, the inner sanctuary of the holiness and mystery of the ways of God. To enter therein is to be delivered from the folly of interpreting any day by its hours, or any age by itself. There, all is seen in the light of the consummations, and these must harmonize with the character of God.
Yet God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.
"Yet" is sometimes a vital word. It is so here, introducing us to a new realm of facts. In the early part of the song, we have a graphic description of the utter-most desolation. The conditions were actual. All that the singer had said constitutes a statement of facts which were patent. But there was more to be said, and the Psalmist introduced the more by this significant word "Yet.". The great declaration is, that in spite of all appearances, God is King, and God is at work in order to salvation. The patent facts were indeed terrible. The Holy Country had been devastated by relentless foes; the Sacred Temple had been desecrated by fire; the City of the King had been reduced to ruins; many of the people had been slain; the Nation had become the scorn of her enemies; all the signs of Divine relationship were obliterated. Things could hardly be worse to the eyes of sight. Then came the declaration of what the eyes of faith beheld. In spite of all these apparent contradictions, God was seen as King, working for salvation. This is ever the victory of faith, and it is the victory of the highest reason. In considering any situation, it is unreasonable to leave out any fact, and it is sheer madness to forget the greatest fact of all. The man of faith is never blind to the desolation. He sees clearly all the terrible facts. But he sees more. He sees God. Therefore, his last word is never desolation: it is rather salvation. The remainder of the Psalm reveals two arguments for the faith of the singer. The one is that of the witness of history to the fact of God's mighty workings; the other is that of the testimony of Nature. To these we may ever add the final argument, that of the revelation of God in Christ.
When I shall find the set time, I will judge uprightly. The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved. I have set up the pillars of it.
Psalms 75:2; 3
This is a Psalm of high exaltation, celebrating some victory of God over a proud enemy. The editor of the collection has beautifully placed it next to the one in which the central note was that of the affirmation that in spite of all appearances God is King and at work for salvation. This Psalm celebrates some event wherein that faith was vindicated. Its form is dramatic, and in these two verses the singer gives expression to the truths which had been illustrated by the victory, and he does so in the speech of God Himself. The first statement, "When I shall find the set time, I will judge uprightly," reveals the time and method of the Divine activity. His time is "the set time." That is, He acts, never too soon and never too late. It is a great word. To believe it is to be patient. His method is one of uprightness. In this statement the pronoun "I" is emphatic. Whatever others may do or think, God's judgment is ever upright. The second declaration, "The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved, I have set up the pillars of it," brings into relationship the same two sets of facts to which we referred in the last note. First, the fact of the upheaval and break-up of all earthly order: and second, the fact of the maintenance of the fundamental things of earthly order by the act of God. There may be apparent and indeed very real dissolution of all human organization and order; but the true pillars of the earth are God-established; and cannot be broken down. This conviction is the citadel of the soul.
Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee; the residue of wrath shalt Thou gird upon Thee.
The theme of this Psalm is the same as that of the previous one. It celebrates a victory which God had won on behalf of His people. The singer's chief joy in this victory was caused by the fact that therein God had been made known, and the greatness of His Name proclaimed. This is made clear in the opening stanzas, and it runs through the whole song as the mastertone of the music. In these particular words we have a poetical statement of a great principle. It is a wonderful revelation of God's overruling of evil. The phrase, "The wrath of man," here stands for all that is evil. It refers to the fierce passion of revolt, expressing itself in definite rebellion. Its appalling power has been seen in all the dire conflicts, inspired by evil desire, and unrighteous lust. This singer of the olden time had seen the wrath of man working havoc in human affairs, as we also have seen it. But he had watched closely, and he had seen God, surrounding all its activity by His Own presence and holding it within His Own grasp, and so compelling it at last to work out His Own purpose, and thus to work towards His praise. Then he had seen God, when the limit was reached, restrain this wrath, in the pictorial language of the singer, girding it upon Himself, and so preventing its further action under the will of man. The declaration of this Hebrew singer, from what he saw in his own day, may be applied to all human history. Thus God has ever compelled the wrath of man to praise Him; and this will He do, until He finally gird it upon Himself, a trophy of His victory, a sure sign at once of His power and His love.
And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.
This verse cuts this Psalm clean in two, and changes its note from the minor to the major. Its first part, "And I said this is my infirmity," summarized all that the singer had said of his own suffering. This suffering had been so intense that he had come to feel that God had forsaken him. The agonized questions of verses 7, 8 and 9 show this. Then suddenly the whole note changes, and the change is brought about by the apprehension of truth revealed in the second part of this verse. It should be observed that the words in italics, "But I will remember," are not in the text; they were supplied by the translators in a desire to make sense. In my judgment it is better to omit them. If we do so, there remains what is virtually an exclamation: "The years of the right hand of the Most High!" That was the truth, the, apprehension of which turned the song from a dirge to a psalm of praise. It did not come to the singer as the result of his own volition, but as a sudden illumination. He saw the years, all of them, those of his suffering also, as in the right hand of God. Then he began to make mention, to meditate, to muse, on the deeds, the work, the doings of God. To do that, was to find answers to his questions. The Lord had not cast off; He had not ceased to be favourable; His mercy was not gone; His promise could not fail; He had not forgotten to be gracious; He had not shut up His tender mercies. If the use of the phrase, "The right hand of God" in these Hebrew Scriptures, be considered, the reason of the change in the song will be discovered. If our years are years of His right hand, then all is well, even our sufferings.
That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.
This Psalm may be described as a poem of history. From verse 9, the singer reviews the history of the people of God, dwelling upon their persistent disloyalties, and the unfailing goodness of God to them both in chastisement and deliverance. All this is a poetical illustration of the principle laid down in the first eight verses. In that first movement, the singer declares that it is the will of God that the story of His dealings with the nation should be taught systematically to the children of each succeeding generation. In these words the reason of this is set forth, as they reveal the effects which such teaching, adequately given, is bound to produce. Under its influence they will set their hope in God, will remember His works, and will keep His commandments. Observe the idea carefully. The immediate is stated last. It is that of obedience to the law of God. In order to that obedience, two inspiring activities are referred to: First, Hope, which has to do with the future; and second, Memory, which has to do with the past. By such teaching of history as sets it in relation to God, hope for the days to come will be centred in Him, and memory will be instructed by His works. This is a wonderful revelation of our duty concerning the young. It is also a key to the true writing of history. History, written as it should be, will always show that all true prosperity comes from God, and that man has no hope save that which is centred in Him. History should ever be the record of the works of God. That is to emphasize the important factor. History thus written, and thus taught, will so affect hope and memory in youth, as to constrain it to obedience to the God revealed; and this is the way of life for man and nation.
Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God?
The circumstances calling forth this song are practically identical with those which produced the seventy-fourth. Enemies had invaded the land, the Temple was desecrated, the city was in ruins, the people were slain, and the nation was the scorn of its foes. In considering that Psalm, we noted the viewpoint of faith. In spite of all the desolation, God was seen as King, working salvation. That declaration of faith is absent from this Psalm, but it is implicated in this word of appeal. The singer sees God reigning and working salvation, but the nations cannot see this. Their only proof of God is that of the prosperity of His people. In the hour of their adversity the nations will say, Where is their God? Here once more, as so perpetually in these holy writings, we see that the supreme anxiety of true souls is for the honour of the Divine Name. The cry of this Psalm is for deliverance from the enemies who are oppressing them and causing them suffering, but its deepest reason is that God should be honoured and vindicated. This is the true note. It is not easy to rise to its level. Selfishness strangely persists in our desiring and our praying. The measure in which it is consumed in a burning passion for the glory of God, is the measure both of our own strength of soul and our ability to co-operate with God in His work.
Turn us again, O God, and cause Thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.
It is impossible for any student of the New Testament to read this Psalm without consciousness of its spiritual relation to the allegory of the Vine in the Paschal discourse of our Lord. It is not within the province of a note such as this is, to deal with that subject. Suffice it to say that here we have a song written by some singer amid the twilight, which shows how acutely some of these great souls of the past understood the thought and purpose of God in the national life of the Hebrew people; how keenly they realized the failure of that people to understand, or to realize that purpose; and how clearly they saw the only way of realization. All that is a subject for careful study. The words we emphasize are those of the refrain. With but slight variation they occur three times in the Psalm: here, and again in verse 7, and in verse 19. First, there must be their turning back, their restoration to God; and that must be by the act of God. Then there must be the lighting up of the face of God. That is, there must be given to them the clear showing of His reconciled favour. Thus, and thus only, can the failing people be saved. This is true of God's ancient people. It is equally true of the Church, in so far as she has failed to fulfil her calling. Both for Israel and the Church this prayer has been answered in Christ. In Him we may be restored to God. In Him, the face of God is shining upon us in grace.
So I let them go after the stubbornness of their heart.
This Psalm constituted an introduction to a joyful feast, most probably the Feast of Tabernacles. It opens on the note of joy, and merges into messages of warning. Those later messages interpret the heart of God, as He is revealed as pleading with His people, and sighing over them with longing for their loyalty, for their own sakes. In referring to their disloyalties, to the fact that they had not hearkened to. His voice, this word was spoken: "So I let them go after the stubbornness of their heart." It reveals a constant method of God with His disloyal and disobedient children. When they will not go His way, He lets them go their way. But this does not mean that He abandons them. It is rather that He permits them to learn by the bitter results of their own folly what He would have had them know by communion with Himself. How constantly the people of God have gone after the stubbornness of their own hearts only to find sorrow and anguish; and yet how constantly through that experience they have learned the perfection of the Divine way! This is so, because He is the God of all grace. Nevertheless, His choice for us is that we should hearken to Him, and so be saved, not merely through the bitterness of failure, but from it.
Arise, O God, judge the earth: for Thou shalt inherit all the nations.
Such is the prayer with which this song closes. To gather its force we need the whole Psalm. It is a brief but mighty poem concerning justice, the righteous administration of human affairs. Observe its structure. First a brief but luminous description of the ideal (verse 1). Then a protest against the maladministration of the judges with a sentence pronounced upon them (verses 2-7). Finally this prayer. In reading the first verse, we may be helped if we retain the Hebrew words so far as we may, thus: "Elohim, standeth in the congregation of El; He judgeth among the elohim." Here we have the word elohim twice, but with differing values. The first is that of the intensive use of the plural, and the word is the name of God. The second is the simple use of the plural, and the word is used of those constituting the assembly of El - that is, of God. It is a singularly radiant picture, this of the final court of appeal. Central to it is God Himself, the One Who judges. Gathered around Him is an assembly of judges who are called elohim, because they are His delegates; they administer His will; they are His executive agents. That is a perfect setting forth of the true way of justice for the world. Read the protest against the judges, who have failed, and thereby know how God judges, and how we may test all human authority. To do so, is to join the singer in this final prayer. When we do so, let us remember that the prayer is already heard, and is being answered; for "He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man Whom He hath ordained" (Acts 17:31).
O God, keep not Thou silence. ... For lo, Thine enemies make a tumult.
There is a touch of human nature about this petition which arrests us. The song was written by a man who was very conscious of the isolation of the people of God. He saw them surrounded on every side by implacable foes. Moreover, these foes were united by a common hatred of the people of God, which was a hatred of God Himself. This singer heard the tumult, that is, the uproar of these antagonistic multitudes. He therefore called upon God to answer their noise with His voice. Was he right in this prayer? Yes, I think he was. At least it is so, that there are times when God utters His voice in answer to the raging of the nations; times when He no longer holds His peace, but roars from Zion. There is, however, a difference. The noises of God are never those of tumult, of uproar, of ineffective shoutings. As this singer knew, they are the noises of the fire and the flame, of the tempest and the storm; the noises of effective forces, which destroy and purify, which break down and cleanse. When the silences of God are broken by His noises, men learn that the God of Grace is the Most High over all the earth. We also have heard the tumult of the enemies of God and His people, and we have prayed that God would break His silence. We also have heard the roaring out of Zion, the noises of God asserting Himself in human affairs.
I had rather be a doorkeeper in the House of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
But of course! We sometimes read this as though there were something heroic about the choice, some touch of sacrifice in the decision. There is nothing of the kind. The singer was a man of profound common-sense. He was choosing the highest, the best. The tents of wickedness have nothing to offer to the man who has a place of any kind in the House of God, certainly nothing to the man who was privileged to have such definite relationship of responsibility as that of a door-keeper in that House. Let us not forget that this was the song of a Levite. Mark the inscription, "A Psalm of the sons of Korah." The Levites were those who had no possession in the land, because they had special possessions in the service of Jehovah. The writer of this Psalm had peculiar familiarity with the Temple. He had watched it with loving eyes, and seen the birds finding rest and refuge there. He had known the blessedness of dwelling within its precincts. He had also known the bitterness of absence from it. He had experienced the longing for it, the almost fainting for its courts. Restored to it after a long journey through difficult paths, he broke out into this great song in celebration of the glory of that House. In the period of his absence, he had probably been a dweller in the tents of wickedness. There he had found poverty, restlessness, pain. Now, restored to his high and holy service of keeping the door, rendering his service as of the Kohathites in regard to the veils, he affirmed his wealth, his rest, his joy, as he said: "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the House of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness." The true wealth and rest and joy of life are found in the service of God.
Thou hast turned Thyself from the fierceness of Thine anger. Turn us, O God of our salvation.
Psalms 85:3, 4
Rotherham has given a suggestive descriptive title to this Psalm; he says: "Praise, prayer, and prophecy lead up to the reconciliation of earth and heaven." In these words, praise merges into prayer. The note of praise ends with the declaration that God has turned from His anger. The note of prayer begins with the petition that God will turn us, in order that His indignation may cease. This is very suggestive. So far as the will and work of God are concerned, He in grace has turned from His anger, because He has forgiven iniquity and covered sin. But in order to the full appropriation of this activity of Grace, there must be turning on our part, and this first petition in the prayer grows out of the praise inspired by His grace. The truth is further illuminated in the prophetic section of the song. When the Psalmist listens to what God Jehovah has to say, he declares that "He will speak peace unto His people and to His saints; but let them not turn again to folly." In grace God has turned from His anger. That we may appropriate His grace, we must be turned to Him: and then must not turn again to folly. This is the way into peace, into the dwelling of glory in the land, into the harmony of mercy and truth, of righteousness and peace, into the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Unite my heart to fear Thy Name.
This Psalm is peculiar in that it is made up almost entirely of quotations from other Psalms. It is singularly individualistic. There are at least thirty occurrences of the personal pronoun in the first person singular. It is a very interesting exercise to read the Psalm rapidly, putting special emphasis upon these pronouns. To do that will reveal the fact that the song alternates between series of petitions and affirmations about God. Let us set this out - First series of petitions, verses 1-4; first affirmation, verse 5; second series of petitions, verses 6, 7; second affirmation, verses 8-10; third series of petitions, verses 11-14; third affirmation, verse 15; final series of petitions, verses 16, 17. The occurrences of the personal pronouns in the first person are all in the petitions. Thus the process of the song is revealed. It is that of a soul in prayer seeking to be brought into personal relation with the great truths about God which have general application. The complete quest of the singer is revealed in the great sentence at the heart of the song: "Unite my heart to fear Thy Name." Here was one who had intellectual apprehension of the truth about God, but who knew that something more was necessary, namely, that the whole personality should be unified in devotion. The method of this song is one which we do well to employ in those hours in which, all other persons being excluded, we wait upon God for the cultivation and culture of our personal life. We may be sincerely orthodox in all our beliefs about God, and yet fail completely to appropriate the resources of His grace and strength. This is only done as the heart is united to fear His Name, and so the whole personality is brought under His sway.
They that sing as well as they that dance shall say: All my fountains are in Thee.
In the whole Psalter there is no song more perfect than this in its celebration of the ultimate establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. The City of God is seen as the metropolis of that kingdom. It is the City of the King and so the City of Law, the City of the Foundation; that is, of Righteousness. It is the City in whose citizenship at last shall be enrolled even those who have been the enemies of the people and purpose Of God; that is the City of Peace. Therefore it is the City which inspires all song and dancing, the expressions of happiness; that is the City of Joy. These are the things of the Kingdom of God - Righteousness, Peace, Joy. We have emphasized the climactic word, but let us remember that the fountains of joy spring in the holy mountains, wherein is the foundation of life. In our hymns and in our thinking we have spiritualized this song and made it apply to Jerusalem above, the Mother of us all, and there is a sense in which we are warranted in so doing; but let us not forget that the first application of the Psalm is definitely earthly, and the City it celebrates is a city of men, which yet will be the tabernacle of God, and there is no room for doubt that this City will be the actual Jerusalem of the Holy Land. Wherever men may place the home of the Council of a League of Nations, God has placed it there. There the dream of men will be realized, and that under the rule of our Lord Jesus Christ, God's anointed King.
But unto Thee, O Lord, have I cried; and in the morning shall my prayer come before Thee.
That is the secret of the attitude of soul revealed in this song. It is a very remarkable Psalm, and its chief value for us is its tone, its temper. Kirkpatrick says it is "the saddest Psalm in the whole Psalter"; and Rotherham, that it is the "gloomiest and the most touching." Certainly the circumstances of the singer as described are those of the most acute and appalling suffering; and these he sets forth with the vividness only possible to poignant experience. Yet from beginning to end there is no trace of bitterness, no desire for revenge on enemies, no angry reflections on the goodness of God. Rather, the references to God reveal a remarkable sense of His grace and goodness. He is addressed as the God of "salvation"; references are made to His "lovingkindness," His "faithfulness," His "wonders," His "righteousness." While the singer cannot understand the Divine method, and asks his troubled questions, "Why castest Thou off my soul?" "Why hidest Thou Thy face from me?" he nevertheless remains sure of God, and of His grace and justice. The secret of it is that with determination he keeps himself in touch with God, crying to Him, and going out to meet Him at the break of each new day. We thank God there is one such song as this, with its revelation of what results in the character when a soul, in the midst of the most appalling suffering, still maintains the activity of practised relationship with God. We also have met such souls, and their witness to the power of the Divine grace is more potent than any theoretical expositions.
Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen, and Amen.
This is the Doxology with which the third Book of Psalms ends. In this Book the dominant names of God have been Elohim and Jehovah, the latter predominating. They have all set Him forth as the Mighty-Helper. This final note of praise emphasizes the fact of His grace as helping the needy. In this last Psalm the whole idea of the Book emerges in one great statement: "I have laid help upon one that is mighty" (verse 19); and the whole movement of the song makes the Doxology the more significant. The key-notes of the Psalm are the "faithfulness" and "kindness" of God. Round these all its movements gather, of praise, of prayer, and of lamentation. The first part celebrates the glory of the covenant which God made with His King. The second mourns the failure to realize the benefits of that covenant in the midst of which the singer lived. In this latter movement there is urgency in the prayer that the reproach may be removed, but there is no questioning of the faithfulness of God, nor of His kindness. Thus the soul who has come to a knowledge of God as the Mighty-Helper will worship Him in a perpetual Doxology on the darkest day, remembering His covenant, and being assured that whatever may be the experiences of the moment, in the long issue He will be vindicated. Thus the men of faith render Him ceaseless worship.
Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.
This great song, so familiar to us all, is a protest against the dominion of death. As it proceeds it becomes dolorous in its contemplation of the transitoriness of human life. But those who find in it only the dolorous note have surely missed its true thought. The protest against the dominion of death is well founded, in that it begins with this great affirmation concerning the relation of man to God. Addressing Him, not as Elohim the Mighty One, nor as Jehovah, the Helper, but as Adonai, the Sovereign Lord, the singer declares that He has been the dwelling-place, the habitation, the home of man in all generations. He then proceeded to celebrate the timelessness of God. From everlasting to everlasting He is God. A thousand years in His sight are but as yesterday. When the soul has that consciousness of God, and of Him as the home of man, it may contemplate the brevity and trouble of human years with complacency. It will do so in expectation of the morning when His mercy will satisfy, when the work of the hands, even in the troubled years, will be established, as the beauty of the Lord rests upon the workers. When all the lodging-places which man builds for himself are destroyed by the sweeping of the storms; when in themselves the years of life are few and evil - if the soul dwell in God, it has a home of strength, of beauty, of satisfaction. Therein dwelling, it triumphs over all the things which otherwise would bring despair; and moves on, in conscious power, to face the ages.
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
This Psalm has neither title nor inscription. There have not been wanting those who have held that it also was written by Moses, as was the previous one. Whereas this is mere supposition, it is impossible to escape the sense of relationship between them. It is most likely that some later singer wrote it as a personal testimony to the truth of the former song. That, was human and generic; its personal pronouns were plural. This, is personal and individual; its personal pronouns are singular. It celebrates the security and satisfaction of the soul homed in God. Moses spoke of God as the dwelling-place, the habitation, the home of man. This singer seems to accept that great idea, and then to speak of the most central chamber of the dwelling-place, referring to it as the Secret Place, and describing its complete security by employing the figure of the mother-bird as he refers to "The Shadow of the Almighty." Moreover, it should be remembered that the true interpretation of this song must be sought in spiritual rather than material experience. Children of God are not always immune from physical plague and pestilence; but they are ever guarded from destructive spiritual forces as they dwell in the secret place of the Most High. As we read this wonderful song of the olden time, we remember how through Christ we are admitted to the closest fellowship with God. In Him, our Redeemer and Lord, we may dwell indeed in the secret place of the Most High.
It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.
So opens a Psalm which has for its heading the words: "A Psalm, a Song for the Sabbath Day." This one is followed by five others without heading, and it is more than probable that this description applies to the six. Then follows a Psalm headed simply, "A Psalm," and then again one with no heading. It would be wrong to make any dogmatic assertion on the subject, but I suggest that these eight Psalms constitute an octave of perfect praise suitable to the Sabbath Day. In that way I like to read them. Their one theme is that of the Kingship of Jehovah. This first one celebrates the fact that Jehovah is set on high for evermore, and rejoices in the righteousness of His government of the world. I have stressed those opening words, constituting, as they do, an introduction to the Sabbath Song, whether the one Psalm or the eight. The statement seems an obvious one; no one will be inclined to contradict it. Yet how little we know of this highest function of worship, that of offering the pure sacrifices of praise. Go carefully and thoroughly through the ordinary services of our churches, whether the form be liturgical or what we designate free, or extempore, and note how small a part of them is devoted to the giving of thanks. We speak of our hymn-singing as a service of praise, when the great majority of our hymns merge into prayers or devout meditations. Even the Lord's Supper is often not what it should always be, namely, the Eucharist; that is, simply the Giving of Thanks. I believe that "it is a good thing to give thanks unto Jehovah," and that in its neglect we suffer serious loss.
The Lord reigneth.
In this brief but glorious song the one truth celebrated in the previous one, is uttered in the finest poetic language. Here is cause for praise, and here is praise which is worthy. Interpretation is almost an impertinence. Let it be done reverently. Observe, then, the facts resulting from the fact, the reign of such a One. The first two facts are those of His majesty and His strength. Therefore the world is safe; whatever disturbances there may be on it, it cannot be moved. Again, His rule is not based upon the changing conditions of a passing hour. His throne and Himself are of all ages, coming up from everlasting, that is out of that which lies concealed from the view of man. Disturbances, did we say? Yea verily, floods have lifted up their voices, and waves; but their liftings up have never reached higher than His throne, or submerged Him, for above them Jehovah is still on high, and He is mighty. His reign, as its way is revealed in His testimonies - that is, His law, His word to men, is sure. Finally, all His reign is in order to Holiness, that true health of life which is the condition for prosperity. Is all this so? Does Jehovah reign? Then let us offer the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. He is worthy to receive; and in our giving, there is also the receiving of the benefits of His reign which enrich and glorify our lives.
The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.
This Psalm also is one of praise, but its note is entirely different to the previous two. In Psa. 93 the singer is looking above and beyond the conditions of the hour, and offers praise because Jehovah reigneth. In this he is looking at these conditions and they are such as to seem to contradict the declaration that Jehovah reigneth. The people are oppressed by tyrants who declare that God is not concerned with the affairs of man. He does not see, nor consider. The singer knows the falseness of these declarations, and his song is the argument for his conviction that God does hear, and see, and correct. He summarizes all in this statement, that "Jehovah knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity." In this song we see how the very things which assault faith, and threaten to produce despair, may be made the opportunity for praise, in the place and act of worship. In the long history of the travail and conflict of faith, how constantly have faithful souls been strengthened to bear and endure, by this very exercise of praise ! In catacombs, in dungeons, in places of the uttermost desolation - when it has seemed to sense that the way of God was blocked, that His rule was overcome, that all evil things had gained the victory - these songs have arisen, proclaiming Him King, mocking all the vain and foolish thoughts of man, and declaring His ultimate victory. Thus God has been to such souls a high tower, their rock of refuge, and they have found the strength and courage which have enabled them to endure, in this activity of worship by faith.
0 come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.
In this song, praise merges into admonition. The theme is the same: "Jehovah is a great God; and a great King above all gods." His greatness is illustrated in two ways. First, its manifestation is seen in the natural order; the earth and the sea are witnesses. It is manifested also in His creation of the nation, and the relation He bears to it. In these particular words a necessary attitude of the soul in the worship of such a God is declared. It is that of the utmost humility. In His presence, man must bow down before Him, man must kneel in the attitude of complete submission and obeisance. This is a truth of which we need to remind ourselves. We have the right to come before God with great gladness, but never without a sense of His majesty, and what is due to it. When the sense of that greatness is lost, and the worshipper fails to bow down, to kneel, to take the place of the uttermost lowliness before God, something is lacking in worship, which is of its very essence. God crowns us with life and with authority, and therein we may, too, rejoice; but in His presence those very crowns are to be cast before Him. Among really excellent people one sometimes hears flippant and irreverent references to God, and observes a lack of reverent demeanour. This is wrong, and tends to rob worship of its value to the soul, as it dishonours the awful majesty of the Eternal. Before God we must ever bow down and kneel in lowly reverence.
He cometh to judge the earth.
In these words another great song of praise rises to its climax. This is the reason for the exultant joy which thrills through every line of it. Let this be pondered. There are ways in which it is right to think of the coming of God in judgment with awe and trembling; but we have been prone to associate the terrors of the Divine judgment in some of its methods so closely with the fact of that judgment, as to be at least in danger of forgetting other of its methods, and its intention. In this song we are reminded of the glory and greatness, of the honour and majesty, of the strength and beauty of God, and of the fact that such a God judges in equity. The result of the judging of the earth by this God will be that the heavens rejoice, and the earth is glad. God governs the earth with righteousness, and the people with His truth. This must inevitably mean that He proceeds against all unrighteousness and unrighteous men with wrath; and that all that is false, and all liars, He smites with destruction. But the fierceness of His wrath, the weight of His stroke, are inspired by His love of man, and His determination to establish that order of life in which strength and beauty shall abound, and all weakness and ugliness be for ever banished. In our worship we must ever praise Him for His mercy, and principally because in its exercise there is no violation of justice; and we must praise Him for all the terrors of His anger, for they are inspired by His love.
Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgement are the foundation of His throne.
Again the keynote of the praise is struck in the opening declaration of this song: "Jehovah reigneth." Than this fact, there is none other to bring real joy to men. But in the assurance that this is so, there is rest and hope, and therefore song. In the course of this series of songs for worship, perhaps there are no words more full of comfort than those which I have emphasized. This is so because they recognize the mystery of which we are so often conscious, and at the same time declare the truths which enable us to endure. Clouds and darkness are round about Him. His way is constantly hidden from us. The mystery of His thought, and of His method, is often beyond our apprehension. The darkness of which we are conscious is often due to excess of light; and the clouds are often the beneficent instrument which guard that light so that it does not harm us. Yet we are perplexed and fearful, until we remember that "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne." However deep the darkness, however thick and threatening the clouds, which hide from us, for the moment, the method and the meaning of God, we know that in His government there can be no departure from righteousness, no deflection of justice. This is the secret of our confidence, and should be the inspiration of perpetual songs, of ceaseless worship.
His right hand, and His holy arm, hath wrought salvation for Him. The Lord hath made known His salvation.
Psalms 98:1, 2
Still the theme is the same, that of the reign of Jehovah. This song opens and closes in almost the same words as in Psa. 96. Here the central matter for which praise is offered is the salvation which results from the reign of this God. It moves in three measures: first, the salvation of God's people Israel, and that in righteousness; second, the consequent discovery of His Kingship by all the earth; and third, the gladness of Nature as it expresses the greatness of God. In these words at the beginning of the song two great truths concerning human salvation emerge. The first statement is that salvation is God's work; His right hand, and His holy arm, hath wrought "salvation for Him." The idea is that salvation was in His purpose; He desired it; He willed it. That being so, it was imperative that He should provide. Whatever needed to be done, He must do. The singer rejoiced that Jehovah had provided what He desired. Here the heart of truth concerning salvation, in all the Gospel fullness of the term, is revealed. God desired the salvation of men. Men could not provide salvation. Then He wrought in a mystery of love and holiness and power; and so salvation is made possible. The second statement is that He has made known His salvation. He has revealed it to men, and in its victories He makes it known more and more perfectly. Thus this Hebrew singer celebrated a truth the full value of which he hardly recognized. Here we have in the first statement, a declaration concerning those profound activities within the Deity, out of which human salvation is possible; and in the second, a declaration which covers the ground of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. In Philippians 2:5-11, we find the New Testament light on this passage.
Holy is He ... Holy is He, ... the Lord our God is holy ...
Psalms 99:3, 5, 9
This song completes the suggested octave which commenced with Psa. 92. It is the final note in the Sabbath praise of Jehovah as the exalted and reigning King. The words we quote constitute the thrice-repeated refrain, and the light of them flashes forth upon all the considerations of these songs of worship. Jehovah is enthroned in Zion over all the peoples, and He is holy. His activities in the government which He exercises are those of righteousness, because of His character, for He is holy. Through all the history of His people He has been faithful, both in forgiveness and in vengeance, and that because He is holy. Therein is the reason for worship. Herein also is the reason for trembling. This song in its entirety helps us to realize the meaning of Holiness as it was revealed to the people of God. While the word itself signifies simply separateness, and was used with reference to other gods by other peoples, it acquired a new significance in this Divine revelation. To others the idea was that of aloofness, of distance, and had no necessary moral value. To these people it came to have that value only. God was revealed as separated from everything unjust, untrue, evil, in His character, and therefore in all His dealings with men, whether in the giving of law, or in the activities of the government. This the supreme reason for confidence in Him, and so the supreme inspiration of worship. Thus fittingly, then, do we reach the climax of the Song of the Sabbath, the ultimate in its sacrifices of praise.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
This is the wonderful song which, in metrical version, composed by William Kethe in days of Marian persecution, is known as the Old Hundredth. It is jubilant with confidence for the whole earth, as it contemplates the glory of that earth, when all its people are submitted to the reign of Jehovah. What a pity, by the way, that so many of our hymn-books render the phrase, "Him serve with mirth," as "Him serve with fear," and thus rob the song of one of its chief notes! The relation of this song to the eight preceding ones is unmistakable, and whenever it was composed, its placing here by the guided editor was surely intentional. The eight Psalms have been those of the City of God, of the Sanctuary within that City, of the people who are its citizens, and worshippers. Their worship is concluded, and now their witness begins. It is as though the gates of the City, the courts of the Sanctuary, were suddenly thrown open, and all lands are called to serve Jehovah, to know that He is God, to enter into relationship with Him. Observe that I have italicized the words which mark the movement of this world-wide appeal, serve, know, enter. The relation between these things is very suggestive. Worship is for God. Witness is for men. The strength of witness is created in worship. It is those who know communion in the Sanctuary who are able to call men to God prevailingly. It is equally true that the ultimate value of worship is witness. To praise God for all the wonders of His reign, and to fail to proclaim those wonders to such as dwell in darkness, is almost to blaspheme. The songs of the Sabbath sung with face lifted toward the throne, and catching the light therefrom, must be sung on all the other days in the highways and byways of human life, with faces irradiated, and so shining upon men.
The song is attributed to David, and there is no valid reason for questioning that suggestion as to authorship. It is evidently the song of a Ruler, a Prince, a King. In its first movement (verses 1-4), it records the ruler's decisions concerning himself; in its second (verses 5-8), it declares his decisions concerning the administration of his Kingdom. It is a Psalm of Volition. That is why we have emphasized its first two words. They run through all its stanzas. Trace them. Here is no appeal to others. All the way the singer is exercising his will. His decisions prove that he is doing so under the inspiration of true intellectual apprehension, and pure emotional impulse. The important thing is that he is responding. This is always the matter of principal importance. Moreover, the nature of his decisions, and the order of them, are instructive. This king is evidently seeking to act in every way in harmony with the character and purpose of the One and only King. He begins with himself. He will bring his own character and conduct into conformity with the way and will of Jehovah to Whom he offers his praise. Then he will govern according to the same standards. The persons and things which are unlike God he will not tolerate within his realm. Those persons and things which are in accordance with the will of God, he will cultivate and preserve. This is the true way of authority.
But Thou, O Lord, shalt abide for ever.
These are the words which to me blaze out from this Psalm as revealing its true value. It is one of the seven which we designate Penitential Psalms. (The others are 6, 32, 38, 51, 13o, and 143.) The title is peculiar. It is the song of one pouring out his complaint, but doing so before Jehovah. Now glance at its structure. It falls into three strophes: (a) verses 1-11; (b) verses 12-22; (c) verses 23-28. I draw attention to this carefully in order to make clear a distinction and a difference. The first and the last are pulsating with personal consciousness. Mark well the reiteration of the pronoun in the first person singular, "I," "my," "me." They speak of trouble, of suffering, of sorrow. They are full of the sense of limitation, "my days," "my days." Now I look at the central portion. All that is missing. There is not a single personal reference. It opens with these words which affirm the eternity of God, and proceeds to speak of Zion, the nations, the kings of the earth, the peoples. But now look again at the first and the last strophes. In the first the singer is overwhelmed with his own sorrowful experiences. In the second he has discovered a secret, and is confident of a result. What is the secret? It emerges in the first sentence: "He weakened my strength in the way." What is the conclusion? It is stated at the close: "The children of thy servants shall continue; and their seed shall be established before Thee." This, then, is the light which banishes darkness - the sense of the eternity of God. Then all life is seen as being under His control, and therefore conditioned in the wisdom and intention which include far more than the passing moment, taking into account all the ages. Once more we remember the words of our Lord - "This is life eternal, that they should know Thee, the only true God."
Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within Me, bless His holy Name.
This great Psalm of perfect praise is one of the most familiar in the Psalter. It is a glad outpouring of gratitude to Jehovah; for His ways with men; for what He is in Himself; for His great mercy; for His faithfulness therein; for the order and perfection of His government. For our present help we stress these introductory words, revealing as they do the responsibility of the soul in the matter of rendering praise to such a God. The singer addresses himself. He realizes that he has power over himself, that he is able to give or to withhold that which is due to God. He realizes also the complexity of personality. In order to perfect praise, all its powers need to be arrested, summoned to action, united in order to completeness. Whether intentionally or no, is there not here a recognition of the spiritual nature as supreme, and all mental powers as possessions thereof. The method harmonizes with that of Paul in Rom. 12:1, where he called upon believers to present their bodies, to seek the renewing of their mind, and thus to render reasonable (or, more accurately, spiritual) service. The one value of these opening words is that they show us that worship is not involuntary, automatic. It calls for the co-ordination of all our powers, if it is to be perfect. This truth should arrest us whenever we enter the place of worship. The sanctuary is not a lounge, a place of relaxation. We should enter it with all the powers of personality arrested, arranged, dedicated. Then we may render a service of praise that is worthy and acceptable.
Let the Lord rejoice in His works.
This is perhaps the highest and most daring note in all this wonderful song of praise. So impressed with the glory and wonder and beauty of creation was the singer, that he positively called upon God to rejoice in what He had wrought. There is nothing irreverent in this. It is rather an expression of the soul's profound understanding of what God actually feels in view of His own mighty and marvellous works. This song may be read anywhere, and on its poetic pinions of interpretation it will carry us out from the littleness of trivial things, and the pollutions resulting from human sin, to the vastness of Nature, and its essential purity. Perhaps the best conditions under which to read it are found away from human habitations, either among the mountains from which the valleys, with the rivers, can be seen; or out on the splendid solitudes of the sea. Such surroundings interpret the Psalm, and the Psalm interprets them. All these things of beauty and order are seen as proceeding from God; and He is seen, moreover, as present among them, and revealed in all the majesty of His wisdom, glory, and power. This singer saw and understood, and was so overwhelmed with the joy of creation, that in exultant ecstasy he called upon Jehovah to rejoice. And may we not say that the joy of soul which prompted the prayer was also the answer to the cry? The joy of the singer was the joy of God. Through every soul who finds God in His works and rejoices therein, God, in a mystery of communion, is indeed rejoicing; and that means that our joy in creation is fellowship with God in His joy.
He hath remembered His covenant for ever.
This song has close connection with the next, with which the fourth Book closes. In this, the theme is that of God's faithfullness; in the next, it is that of Israel's infidelity. The burden of this song is expressed in these words. This is the fact which inspired the praise. Whatever the story of His people may be, God has never forgotten His covenant; and with God, to remember is to act. The song is an illustration of this fact by selections from the history of the people, which prove it. The covenant was made with Abraham, ratified by oath to Isaac, and confirmed to Jacob, and so to Israel. He remembered it, and preserved them while they wandered among the nations, possessing no land, in the earlier days of their history. He remembered it in the days of famine, and prepared for their security through Joseph. He remembered it when they came to be oppressed in Egypt, and sent Moses to deliver them. He remembered it when they found themselves free, but in a wilderness, and guided them by cloud and fire, supplying all their wants. He remembered it amid the discipline of the years of wilderness wandering, and at last brought them out therefrom, and into the land promised. A review of history, personal or national, always becomes a revelation of the persistent faithfulness of God to His covenants with man.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. And let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the Lord.
This is the Doxology with which Book 4 closes. The central theme of this collection has been that of Jehovah as the King of His people. The dominant title has been Jehovah. The worship, in all the songs, has been submissive, that of souls yielded to this authority of grace and power. Observe how in this Doxology, for the first time, adoration is followed by admonition. At the close of the second Book - the burden of which was the wonder-working God - the desire was expressed in the Doxology that the whole earth might be filled with His glory. Here the appeal is to the people. "Let all the people say, Amen!" Throughout this collection, the failure of the people to respond has been recognized. It forms the subject of the last song. Listen to some of its phrases, or sentences of confession: "Our fathers ... remembered not"; "they soon forgat"; "they forgat God their Saviour." These stand in sharp contrast to the statement which was the theme of the previous Psalm: "He hath remembered His covenant for ever." Thus, at the close of the Book, there finds its way into the Doxology this haunting memory of failure, producing the appeal to the people to respond, to say Amen. There is no need to argue that a merely intellectual Amen - that is, the consent of the reason to truth about the kingship of God - is of no value. The Amen for which He seeks is that of the agreement of the will, and of the acquiescence of conduct. Adoration, to be acceptable to God, must have in it the element of response to the glory which calls it forth. Approbation is futile, admiration is impertinent, unless they produce obedience.
Whoso is wise shall give heed to these things, and they shall consider the mercies of the Lord.
Thus a song of rare beauty and great power ends with words intended to arrest attention anew to what has been said. Such a statement compels us to read again, and to do so giving heed, considering. What, then, are the things to which we are to give heed? The question is answered immediately; we are to consider the lovingkindnesses of Jehovah. That is the theme of the song. So it was announced at the beginning, as the reason for thanksgiving was declared in the words, "For He is good; for His lovingkindness endureth for ever." The main body of the song consists of varied and vivid illustrations of the activity of this goodness, the continuity of this mercy. Let us simply group them. Wanderers in the wilderness cry to God, and are led to a city of habitation. Prisoners, in deep affliction, cry to God, and are delivered from bondage, and brought to liberty. Sinners, afflicted for their sins, cry to God, and are saved and healed and delivered from destruction. Storm-tossed mariners cry to God, and He calms the raging waters, and brings them to the haven of their desire. The wilderness, rendered desolate by sin, He renews, and makes habitable for men. The inhabitants, suffering oppression, trouble, and sorrow, He governs, so that men, mighty in evil, are abased, and those who are needy are exalted. It is a great song of the mercy of God. Let its message be heeded, then shall we cry unto God in our distresses, and finding deliverance through His goodness, we shall give Him thanks and praise Him.
Through God we shall do valiantly.
This is not a new song, save in its arrangement. It is composed of two quotations. The first (verses 1-5) is from Psa. 57:7-11. The second (verses 5-13) is from Psa. 60:5-12. The relation of the quotations shows the different conditions leading to their combination in one song. The first part (verses 1-5) is a song of praise. In the earlier Psalm, this section follows a prayer for help on the part of one in personal peril. The second part is a prayer for national deliverance in an hour of Edomite hostility. In the earlier Psalm this section followed a description of disaster already experienced. Thus our song consists of a praise and a prayer quoted from other songs, but now employed in the circumstances we have described. These final words of the Psalm express the confidence of faith. Observe the line of thought which they consummate. There was first the inquiry: "Who will bring me into the fenced city?" Then the declaration; "Vain is the help of man." Then this affirmation: "Through God we shall do valiantly." What, then, is the meaning of this word? That God will overcome Edom? By no means. Rather that the people who are of fixed heart in God will themselves do the valiant deed, but that they will do it through Him. This is ever the way of victory. The soldiers of faith cannot of themselves take the fenced cities. But they can take them, when they are in such relationship with God, that He can act through them.
The mouth of the wicked and the mouth of deceit have they opened against me.
Among all the Psalms which have been described as imprecatory, this is the one which has caused the greatest difficulty, for it is, without exception, the most terrible. Such cursing as that found in the paragraph beginning with verse 6, and continuing to verse 19, is found in no other Psalm. In the awfulness of its on-rush, it includes not alone the one principally cursed, but all his kith and kin. It must be admitted that the spirit revealed in this paragraph is not only not Christian, it is entirely alien to the spirit revealed in the Hebrew religion itself. Moreover, the Psalm is attributed to David, and there is no reason to question the suggested authorship. If this be so, then this spirit of cruel and relentless vindictiveness, is utterly unlike David as revealed in his history, or in other of his writings. I entirely agree with those expositors who treat this passage as the singer's quotation of the language of his enemies against him. The words I have emphasized, occurring at the opening of the Psalm, give the reason of this man's appeal to God. In this paragraph we have the words coming out of the mouth of the wicked, proceeding from the mouth of deceit. Rotherham takes this view, and among other reasons for doing so, draws attention to the "Sudden and sustained change from the plural of verses 1-5 (They) to the singular of verses 6-19 (he, his, him)." If this be granted, the spirit of the singer is really revealed in the first part (verses 1-5), and the last part (verses 20-31). It is the spirit of humble committal of his case to Jehovah.
The Lord saith unto my Lord.
The full Messianic intention of this Psalm is completely settled by our Lord's use of it, and by the New Testament references to it. Moreover, by His use of it, the Lord inferentially claimed Messiah-ship, and so its fulfilment in Himself. In these six opening words we have the key to the Psalm. Everything which follows constitutes a disclosure made by Jehovah to another whom the singer speaks of as "my Lord." Observe carefully the three persons appearing here. First, Jehovah, the speaker; secondly, the recorder of the speech, King David (according to the title and the words of Jesus), who emerges in the pronoun "My"; finally One of Whom the singer speaks as "My Sovereign Lord," the One to whom Jehovah speaks. I like to connnect this Psalm with the second. There we have Jehovah is decree concerning His Anointed Who is spoken of as His Son. Here we have the disclosure made to His Anointed One, concerning His Mission. Here He is not called the Son of God, but David's reference to Him as "My Sovereign Lord," involved it, as the question of Jesus proves, when He said: "Whose Son is He?" In this song David had reached the highest point of his outlook. Let us content ourselves by noting simply the disclosure of Jehovah to the Sovereign Lord. First, that there would be a time of waiting for the subjugation of His foes, and that during that time He would occupy the place of supreme authority, sitting at the right hand of Jehovah. Secondly, that in due season, Jehovah would establish Him in Zion, and that, on that day of His power, His people would offer themselves willingly, an army, like the dew born in the morning out of the womb of the night. Thirdly, that in His reign He should be a priest like Melchizedek. Then finally, slightly changing the method, while still following a sequence the Psalm no longer speaks of Jehovah will do, but of what this Sovereign Lord at His right hand will do. He will completely overcome all His foes. All this is Messianic in the fullest sense.
Praise ye the Lord.
This opening exclamation, the translation of Hallelujah, is by no means new in this song, nor is it peculiar to it, for a number of others begin in this selfsame way. Nevertheless, this is in a very definite sense the key to the Psalm. This one, and the next, form an intended couplet. This sets forth the excellence of Jehovah, while the next describes the blessedness of the man who trusts in Him. The praise of Jehovah is simple, but inclusive. He is great, in His works, that is, in His deeds - the things already accomplished; in His work, that is, that which He is now doing, there is honour and majesty. His righteousness and faithfulness, His graciousness and compassion, His truth and justice, and His promise of redemption for the people, are all celebrated. The Psalm closes with words which prepare for the next, as they declare that the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom, and that such as act according to that fear have good understanding. The ethical element in worship is here again revealed. The only praise of God which is acceptable to Him, is that in which approbation of all His glory is so sincere and deep as to inspire the soul with desire and determination to walk in the light, to be conformed to the likeness, to reproduce so far as that is possible the glory admired. When the light of the life harmonizes with the language of the lips, then God is worthily praised.
Praise ye the Lord. Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord.
As we have said, this Psalm is very clearly the sequel to the previous one, That closes with the declaration that "The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom;" this opens with the affirmation, "Blessed is the man that feareth Jehovah." It is occupied with a description of that man. We may cover the ground by saying that this man is - (a) a God-fearing man. That is fundamental. It affects all his outlooks, his relationships, his actions. He is (b) a home-making man. His seed is mighty, his generation blessed; his house is the place of wealth and riches, which are not material terms. He is (c) a helping man. He is light to others who sit in darkness. He is gracious and full of compassion. He is (d) a strong man. He knows nothing of panic in hours of evil tidings. Finally, he is (e) a hated man by the wicked. That is the supreme proof of his goodness. Thus the song depicts this man. Let it now be read again in close connection with the preceding one, and it will be seen that the supreme fact about this man is that he has indeed become like the God Whom he fears and obeys. The very things celebrated in the praise of Jehovah are those which constitute the excellencies of this man who fears Him. Righteousness, fidelity, graciousness, compassion: these are the fundamental things in the glories of the God Whom this man fears. They are reproduced in him. Therefore the approbation of such a man becomes necessarily a song of praise to God, and so opens with the same exclamation, "Hallelujah." It is a great thing so to live, that life is ever saying "Hallelujah."
He maketh the barren woman to keep house, ... a joyful mother of children.
This is the first of six Psalms (113-118) constituting the Hallel, or the Great Hallel. This song was sung at Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. It is impossible for me to read it without remembering that it was almost certainly the song which Jesus sang with His disciples in the upper room ere He passed out to Gethsemane and Calvary. The first two (113 and 114) were sung before the meal; and the last four (115-118) at the close. This first song is one in praise of Jehovah for the condescending grace which characterizes Him. Here, as so constantly, poetry, in its daring, utters a truth which prose would fear to speak. The singer, says that the Seat of God is so high that in order to behold the things in heaven and on the earth He has to humble Himself; that is to stoop. Then the purpose of that stooping is revealed; it is that He may raise the poor, and lift the needy. The final note is this we have emphasized, in which God acts so as to crown womanhood with motherhood. Rotherham says: "Only to think it possible that a King wrote this Psalm while waiting in patience for the birth of his first-born, is to catch a glimpse of Sacred Romance." That is true; but when we think of it as sung by the First-born under the Shadow of the Cross, we find ourselves in the full glory of that Romance. In Him the God Who dwells in the heights, above the heavens, had stooped through Motherhood, He being "God-only-born" (John 1:18), in order that He might lift the needy. As He approached the ultimate depths in this stooping, He sang the song which offers praise to God for this condescending grace, which through motherhood reached men, that they might be reborn and thus raised to sit amid the royalties.
Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.
Thus, after the song celebrating the condescension of Jehovah, in order to the lifting up of the needy, the theme is that of the Exodus, for ever associated with the Passover. It is noticeable that the Exodus is thought of in its completeness; not only escape from Egypt, but entrance to the land, for both Sea and Jordan are seen as passed. In the former song, God is praised as Jehovah, the condescending One full of Grace. Here the same Jehovah is seen as Ad6n, the Sovereign Lord, and as Eloah, the Mighty One. In order to the accomplishment of His delivering purpose, He is revealed as producing convulsions in Nature, making the sea to flee, Jordan to turn backward, and the mountains and hills to quake. This convulsive action is interpreted in these particular words, and specially in the word "tremble," when rightly apprehended. Our translations, Authorized and Revised, miss the point. Here again Rotherham, with his customary accuracy and daring, helps us, as he renders, "Be in birth-throes, O Earth." When Jehovah, acting as Sovereign Lord, and in His might thus convulsed Nature, it was that a nation might be born. Out of the strain and stress and agony, produced by such action on the part of God, new life emerges, a new order is introduced. In the Upper Room, in connection with the celebration of the Passover, our Lord used the same figure of speech in connection with the sorrows which would come to His disciples as the result of their association with Him (see John 16:20-22). Not without strain, convulsion, agony, can new life be born out of conditions of bondage and evil; but for the accomplishment of His high purpose, God will Himself enter into those experiences. He did so in Christ, and Christ sang the song that praised Him for so doing.
Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth's sake.
"And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives" (Matt. 26:30). That was after the Passover Feast, in connection with which our Lord had instituted the New Feast of Remembrance and Proclamation, thus grafting the new upon the old, for the ending of the old and the establishing of the new. There is no doubt that the hymn was this second part of the Hallel. This song was at once an offering of praise and a prayer. Its note is that of triumphant confidence in God, because of what He is, in comparison with all false gods, which are no gods; and so of certitude that He will be mindful of His people, and deliver them from their enemies. No soul - neither that of the composer of the song, nor that of anyone who employs it - ever entered so completely into all its deep spiritual significance, as did the soul of Jesus, as, before passing out to Olivet, to Gethsemane, to Calvary, He sang it with that little group of men. He associated them with Himself in the singing, because they were the first of that Sacramental Host, and representative of all the rest, who, first sharing in the freedom created by His suffering, should also share in that suffering. The glory of the Exodus is due to the Name of God and never to us, and that of the Name, which is supremely illustrated in the release and redemption provided, is revealed in the two words lovingkindness and truth. These are the two elements supremely revealed in Christ, as John said when he spoke of the Glory of the Father unveiled in the Son, as being "full of grace and truth."
I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the Name of the Lord. – Psa. 116:13
This song stands distinguished from the previous one by the persistent personal note which runs through it. It is a song of praise for deliverance from great and almost overwhelming griefs. Thus, in the series constituting the Hallel, it is the song of the delivered rather than that in any sense of the Deliverer. In other words, it can hardly be called Messianic, save as it expresses the praise of one emancipated by Messiah's work. Delivered from death, from tears, from weakness, the soul asks: "What shall I render unto Jehovah, for all His benefits toward me?" Here is the answer. The cup of salvation is the cup of blessing, which is given to the soul. Let the soul take it and drink it, but let him remember that the very partaking is in itself of the nature of a pledge of loyalty; it is the oath of allegiance in which he calls upon the Name of Jehovah. When the disciples joined in this song, their Lord had already taken a cup from the Passover Board, and given it to them to drink, declaring it to be "My blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins." If He joined them in that song, and it is most probable that He would do so, He sang as the One Who, by entering into all the experience of their desolation, Himself being sinless, was able to fill the cup with blessing for them. Within a very little while after this singing, He, in Gethsemane, spoke of a cup,, and, in complete surrender to His Father's will, consented to drink, it. That was the cup of sorrows, of bitterness, of cursing. Having emptied it, He filled it with joy, with sweetness, with blessing. When we take that cup let us never forget the cost at which He so filled it for us.
... His mercy is great toward us; and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever.
This is the shortest song in the whole collection, but there is none greater or grander in its expression of praise. Its note is universal, in that it appeals to all nations and all peoples to praise Jehovah. The reasons for the appeal, and consequently the inspiration of the praise of Jehovah, are set forth in this central statement. That which filled the heart .of the singer was the sense of the greatness of the lovingkindness of God, and the sense that in the exercise of lovingkindness by Him there is no violation of righteousness: "The truth of Jehovah endureth for ever." Here we have the same matter, emphasized in a previous song (Psa. 115), brought before us again, the two elements which are eternally associated in the redeeming activity of God, those, namely, of grace and truth. In all the Biblical revelation, we are never allowed to forget this wondrous fact. What strength and comfort for men and for nations are found therein! If God stood for truth, alone, there would be no hope for us. On the other hand, if the grace of God could act apart from truth, we should equally be without hope; for truth is the only health and strength of life, individually or socially. Once again we can imagine with what perfect joy our Lord sang this song, as He moved to the uttermost in His sorrows; for He did so in full and perfect apprehension of the union of lovingkindness and truth in God; and in fellowship with Him, in those deep and mysterious activities which secured to men His lovingkindness, while establishing them and all their ways in His truth. Truly we may offer to our God the sacrifice of praise for a holy redemption.
Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.
This is the last of the songs composing the Hallel, the last stage in the hymn which Jesus sang with His disciples before He moved out to Olivet. In it, as Kirkpatrick says, "the spirit of jubilant thanksgiving finds fullest utterance." It is a call to praise for one reason, and that is that "His lovingkindness endureth forever." It tells of deliverance from bondage, from peril, from calamity. It celebrates the entrance of the delivered to the Temple, the House of God. It may be, and it certainly is the Song of the Redeemed, and they recognize how mysteriously and yet how mightily God has wrought on their behalf. It is equally the Song of the One Who has accomplished this deliverance, the Stone rejected of the builders, Who becomes the Head of the Corner. In such a song, how significant that before the final note of praise these words should occur! We recognize that expositors agree as to the difficulty of dogmatic statement as to their true significance. Yet does it not seem fitting that here words should occur which reveal the fundamental need of sacrifice in order to redemption? The sacrificial lamb was at the heart of the Passover feast. The binding with cords to that end was necessary. The principal difficulty is created by the exact meaning of "even unto the horns of the altar." Without dogmatizing, may we suggest that here the idea prevalent elsewhere obtains; that of sanctuary or safety formed by taking hold upon the horns of the altar? Reverently at least apply the idea to the mind of Jesus as He sang. All that was coming was necessary. He was bound to suffer and to die; but He was in the one place of sanctuary, of safety. In His co-operation with God on the sacrificial pathway, He was assured of perfect victory. He was accomplishing the Exodus.
Blessed are they that are perfect in the way, who walk in the Law of the Lord.
This opening stanza of a most wonderful song strikes the key-note of its music, and gives us a summary of its spiritual teaching. Notice the broad outline of suggestion. The way of life is recognized, the way along which all men must walk. Men are seen walking along that way who are perfect - that is, upright. Such are declared to be blessed - that is, happy. The first line, then, declares that on the way of life, uprightness is the secret of happiness. The second line tells the secret of that integrity, and so of happiness also. The men who on the way of life are upright and happy, are men who walk in the Law of Jehovah. That is the motif of the music. It runs through the two and twenty strophes, and the one hundred and seventy-six stanzas, with constantly changing expression, but with unvarying persistence. Here the great word Torah is used, the word which to the Hebrew stood for the Law, being the word employed to describe the first division of the Bible, that which we call the Pentateuch. In other verses other words are employed, and the word Torah needs the others to complete the idea. Let them be considered, and it will be seen that the conception is that of the Will of God made known to men. Thus the Psalm is a glorious setting forth: (1) Of the glory and perfection of the Will of God; (2) of the integrity and safety in every regard, of the man who walks according to that Will; (3) of that Will, therefore, as the secret of true blessedness, the very well-spring of joy. Apparently unconsciously, that is without intention, the song reveals the fact that a man who obeys the will of God as revealed, comes to a personal fellowship with God. From beginning to end, the singer sang as one who had personal knowledge of God and direct dealing with Him.
In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and He answered me.
This is the first of a series of fifteen songs each having the Title, "A Song of Ascents." It is not possible to offer any final explanation of the meaning of this title. Some have attributed it to some form in the literary structure; .others suggest that they were the songs sung by the exiles returning from Babylon; others that they were the songs sung by pilgrims going up to the feasts; and yet others that they were sung upon the fifteen steps leading from the court of the women, to that of the men. In either case the repetition of the title unifies them in some way, and their perusal shows that their thoughts all circle round the City of God and the Temple as its true centre. This we may profitably bear in mind as we read. This first is patently the song of a soul at a distance from that City, and that Temple. In a foreign land, he was among those who were antagonistic to him, whose methods were those of deceit, and whose passion was for war. His dwelling was the place of distress; and from that place, he cried unto Jehovah, and was answered. Subsequent songs reveal the way and experience of deliverance. In this the principal revelation is that of the sorrows which created the cry: and that of the cry, and the assurance of deliverance. Dwelling in the cities of men, and realizing the hostilities of them, let the soul cry unto God; and in the cry the assurance will be given, the answer of God will surely come. Such distress is in itself a sure sign of better citizenship. Contentment in the place `where deceit is practised, and strife is loved, is base contentment. Men of faith must there find the distress which inspires the cry to God.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help cometh from the Lord, Which made heaven and earth.
Psalms 121:1, 2
Let the reader carefully note the change the Revisers have made in this first verse. In the King James' Version it read: "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." This was misleading, as it suggested that the thought of the singer was that his help was coming from the hills. The Psalm is the second of these Songs of Ascent, and is most closely related to the first. The singer is still absent from Zion and the Temple. In the previous song he had cried out of distress, and had heard the Divine answer. Now, from the distance, he lifted his eyes to the mountains, those upon which Zion was built. Doing so, he asked a question: "From whence shall my help come?" The answer was immediate. Not from those distant and longed-for mountains, but from Jehovah, Who made heaven and earth, and Who therefore, while in some senses dwelling in Zion, is not confined there. He is also near to the soul in the places distant from Zion, and the help the singer needed must come from Him. Observe how the rest of the Psalm interprets this. Though this man is in a place of distance from the City, Jehovah will not suffer his foot to be moved; Jehovah's vigilance never ceases; He does not slumber nor sleep; the goings-out and comings-in of this man are kept by Jehovah. The City of God, and the Temple, are to be desired and delighted in; the mountains upon which they rest are to be remembered. But not from them does help come to distressed souls; it comes from Jehovah, Who makes the City strong, the Temple glorious, the mountains beautiful; yet He is not confined to them, but is present in every place, and watching over His own, as surely in the foreign land and among foes, as in the City of His glory.
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go unto the House of the Lord.
This is the song of the singer, no longer distanced from the City, and Temple, but having arrived therein. It is the song of first impressions. These were concerned with the City as the place of the Temple. Observe that in this opening stanza, and also in the last, the reference is to the House of Jehovah. First there is the record of the gladness which came when the invitation, and so the opportunity, came to go to the House of Jehovah. Finally there is the expression of determination to seek the good of the City for the sake of this House. Approaching the House, the singer was impressed with the City; in its compactness, as the centre for the gathering of the tribes, and as the seat of the Government. He then prayed for, and spoke of, the peace and prosperity of the City. The song reveals the singer's understanding of the true facts of national life. That City was to him the centre of that life. The House of God was the centre of that City. That House was supreme in importance because it was the House of Jehovah. Jehovah, the God of Grace, is the One around Whom the people gather. The Temple is the means of grace, the Tent of meeting between man and God. The City is the embodiment of the ideals of God for His people, the realization on their part of the order of peace and prosperity which is His Will for them. Whenever the song was written, it was idealistic, for never yet in its history has the City of God realized this conception. But that is the glory of the life of faith. Spiritually it enters into the experience of the high purposes of God, even when actual conditions fall far short of those purposes. Moreover, it is by such high confidence that men move forward towards realization actually and materially of what they already apprehend spiritually.
Unto Thee do I lift up mine eyes, 0 Thou that sittest in the heavens.
When at a distance from the City and Temple, the Singer had declared: "My help cometh from Jehovah, Who made heaven and earth" (Psa. 121. a). Now, within the City and the Temple, the eyes are lifted to Him. The atmosphere of this song is that of those who were in circumstances very far from the ideal celebrated in the previous Psalm. Their experience was not that of peace and prosperity, but that of turmoil and adversity. Nevertheless, because of their spiritual apprehension of the ideal, they were able thus to lift up their eyes to God, and wait His deliverance. The nature of that waiting is beautifully set forth in the figure employed, that of servants and handmaidens. These look to the hands of their master and mistress, and that statement has a three-fold suggestiveness. The first is that of dependence. The hands of master and mistress provide all that is needed for the sustenance of their servants. The second is that of submission. The hands of master and mistress direct the service of servants. The third is that of discipline. The hands of master and mistress correct the servants of the household. Here, then, is the true way of looking for help from Jehovah. It is that of dependence, obedience, and response to correction. When the eyes lifted to Him are those of such as fulfil these conditions, the help sought is ever found, the mercy of Jehovah is ever active towards them.
Our help is in the Name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.
In these closing words of this song, the truth affirmed in the previous one is expressed as proven; and the anticipation of the soul, when at a distance from the City and House of God, is confessed and realized (Psa. 121:2). The singer, looking back, contemplates a great deliverance from a grave peril, and declares his conviction that the deliverance was the work of Jehovah. Had He not helped, there would have been discomfiture and defeat. There had been no such experience. On the contrary, there had been complete escape from the snare. To those who know what it is truly to wait upon God with dependence, obedience, and response, there are constant occasions for the use of such a song as this. To look back over life's way is to realize how constantly we have been brought into circumstances which must have engulfed and destroyed us, had it not been that Jehovah was on our side. Seeing that He has been on our side, the story of life has been one continuous story of His deliverances and of our escapes from perilous positions. Indeed, these words tell all the truth about our deliverances and escapes. We have often involved ourselves in entanglements, through our own disobedience; but we have never been able to extricate ourselves from them. Escape has always come by His action. "Our help is in the Name of Jehovah," and in none other. Let us never fail to remember this; and to give unto Jehovah the glory due unto His Name, in our praises.
They that trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abideth for ever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people, from this time forth and for evermore.
Psalms 125:1, 2
These two verses must never be separated. They constitute a perfect poetic declaration of confidence, and an illustration of its reason. To understand the figure we must make ourselves familiar with the geography which was in the knowledge of the singer. First, Mount Zion is seen, the very stronghold of the City of the great King. Then the surrounding mountains come into view. Robinson has said: "All around Jerusalem are higher hills; on the east, the Mount of Olives; on the south, the Hill of Evil Counsel, so-called, rising directly from the Vale of Hinnom; on the west, the ground rises gently ... while on the north a bend of the ridge connected with the Mount of Olives bounds the prospect at the distance of more than a mile." Thus those mountains encircling the Mount constitute its fortifications and defence. That outlook gave this singer his figure. He saw the people of God - those who put their trust in Jehovah - as Mount Zion, immovable, abiding for ever, because he saw Jehovah as those distant mountains, constituting the fortifications and defence of this people. Let us never forget the first phrase: "They that trust in Jehovah." That is the abiding condition of safety. In days when these people failed in faith, the surrounding mountains failed to secure safety to Zion. It was overcome and trodden down. God is a defence only so long as we trust in Him. To fail to do so, and to turn aside from His law and His grace, is inevitably to know discomfiture and desolation.
Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the South.
This song would seem to be still that of those restored to the City and Temple. The words we have emphasized strike a sad note. The Psalm opens with memories of the wonderful way in which Jehovah had restored them from captivity and distance. The restoration had been so wonderful as to appear incredible; but it was so real that they had been filled with laughter and singing, and even the nations had seen how great things God had done for them. Then this note, admitting the imperfection of their condition. Doubtless it was the sense of imperfect appropriation on the part of the people of God, of the wonder of His restoration. So the song is a cry for more complete restoration. The figure made use of was a striking one: "As streams in the South." To the south of favoured Judaea stretched the dry and barren district, where in summertime all the streams ceased to flow. That, to the singer, was the condition of the people. But in the autumn, the rains fill up the stony channels, a very river of life. For a visitation similar to that, the prayer asked. The Psalm ends on the note of confidence; and let it be observed that the confidence is that the very experiences of sorrow though which the people are called to pass will prove the means by which the longed-for blessings will come. How often, after God has wrought great deliverances for His children, they fail to appropriate all the wealth of them, and need to pray for a yet fuller restoration to Himself! Of one thing we may rest assured, that it is good under such circumstances thus to pray. However arid the land, He can send the revivifying streams.
Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Except the Lord keep the city the watchman waketh but in vain.
To this Singer, house was home; and the City the place of such homes. One can discover his ideal through his song. It is that of a prosperous city, its enemies kept outside its gates; and that of the secret of its prosperity as being the house well-built, in the spiritual and moral sense, and the families dwelling within such houses as able to deal with its enemies in the gate. Whereas the picture has all the colouring of the East, and conditions which in their detail are not those of our clime or time are described, yet the principles of civic well-being are the same. That city is truly strong which is a city of well-built homes, well-built in every sense, spiritually, morally, and materially. All that has to do with the general conceptions which the song assumes. Its message is contained in these opening words. No house-building is successful which leaves God out of account. How have we seen men build them houses, with care and at great cost, only to see them crumble to pieces because God was forgotten! There is no safety for a city sate in the keeping of God. How often have men attempted to gain security for their cities by guarding them against enemies outside, and then the dwellers Within, children reared in houses in the building of which God was forgotten, have brought about their destruction! These would be splendid words to cut into granite over the entrance to all our homes, and to emblazon in gold in all the meeting places of those in civic authority. But better still let them be written in the heart of those who make homes, and guard and govern cities.
Blessed is everyone that feareth the Lord, that walketh in His ways.
The relation of this Psalm to the preceding one is patent, and is universally acknowledged. The difference is that the former one dealt largely in generalities concerning the home, while this has to do with the man who is a home builder. In these opening words the general principle is stated, and the secret revealed of successful home-making. The man equal to the task is described with reference to his inward life and his outward activity; with regard to the inspiration of his conduct, and its resulting expression. The deepest and central truth concerning him is that he fears Jehovah. The reality of that fear is seen in that he walks in the ways of Jehovah. Such a man is indeed blessed, that is, happy, in the true sense of that word. The song then proceeds to describe the conditions which result from such fear and from such obedience. Personally, he will be prosperous. His home shall be rich indeed in his wife and in his children. Moreover, he shall see the good of the city, and that in the sense of having contributed to its strength and beauty by the home he has created. Let every man who loves his city with the love that desires to make it in some measure the City of God, keep these words ever before him, in the place and hour in which he thinks and plans for the ordering of his life, the building up of his house, the betterment of his city. They will at once warn him, and inspire him. To fear Jehovah is to fear nothing else; to walk in His ways is to be delivered from all those ways which lead to the break-up of home, and the destruction of the City.
Let them be ashamed and turned backward, all they that hate Zion.
This is the song of the nation personified, and of the nation as centralized and symbolized in the City of Zion. This is its central cry. It is the cry of a true patriotism, as it seeks for the discomfiture of all those that hate Zion. These troublers of the nation) these haters of the City, have been ever in active opposition; but they have not prevailed, because Jehovah has been righteous and has guarded the City and the nation. The prayer is that this may continue, and be even more perfectly realized. Whereas expositors agree, and accurately, in treating this as a reference to the enemies of the city and the nation who have opposed from without; if we may interpret by the two previous Psalms, those within are also in view. Moreover, it is certain that in the case of Israel and Zion, the troublers within had been more destructive than those without. Indeed, no foe from outside ever triumphed over the people of God, or harmed His City, until their victory had been made possible by internal deflection from His fear, and disobedience to His laws. It is terribly possible to live in Zion, while yet hating it. Concerning those that do so, we may ever pray that they may be ashamed and turned backward. This is not malice toward them, but rather passionate love of the ways of God. That is a false toleration which condones evil, or fails to burn with anger against all men and methods which are out of harmony with the Divine ideal. At the heart of high and holy patriotism there must ever burn a divine anger with all that is opposed to the purpose and plan of God. To hate Zion is to hate God. To tolerate those who do so, is to be confederate with their wickedness.
There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared.
This is one of the seven Psalms which we call Penitential. (The others are 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 143.) That is its true note. Whereas in the previous Psalm Israel was personified, in this it is the voice of one individual. Nevertheless it is the song of an individual, speaking out of the consciousness of national sin, and assuming relationship therewith, and consequently accepting responsibility. While it is penitential in the truest sense of the word, it breathes the spirit of complete confidence in the lovingkindness of God, and ends with an appeal to the nation to hope in that lovingkindness, and in the assurance that He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities. In the words of this fourth stanza there is wonderful light. Perhaps the best comment I may make on it is that of telling a story. In the midst of the Welsh Revival, I heard a Welshman praying in English. Evidently he was thinking in his mother-tongue, and translating as he went. He started to quote these words, but stumbled at the second line, seeming unable to express the idea. After one or two attempts he thus rendered it: "O Lord, we thank Thee that, `There is forgiveness with Thee, enough to frighten us.'" To me it came as a flash of light and revelation. God's lovingkindness is so great and so wonderful, that the apprehension of it fills the soul with such a sense of His love that it is frightened. Frightened, that is, not at God, but at sin. This is the new quality of fear which lovingkindness provides. The heart of man in his sin fears that God will punish, and that is a wholesome fear. But the heart of man, realizing the lovingkindness of God, is filled with fear lest by sin he should wound God. Perfect love casts out the old slavish fear, but it begets a new fear which is holy, cleansing fear.
Like a weaned child with his mother, my soul is with me like a weaned child.
This short song is a very beautiful one, as setting forth a much-to-be-desired state of mind. We have no means of knowing whether it was written by the same person who wrote the previous one, but it most fittingly follows it, and in all probability was placed here quite intentionally by the editor of the collection. In that, the penitent soul found rest in the plenteous mercy of God. In this, we have a description of the mental experience of that rest. All the light of the song is remarkably focussed in this figure of a weaned child with its mother. The thought is not that of weakness or helplessness in any sense. Indeed, the weaned Child is gaining strength. The more simply we interpret the figure, the more accurately we apprehend the truth suggested. The weaned child with its mother is the child who has learned to be independent of that which seemed indispensable, and indeed was so at one time. It is now at rest with its mother, whereas at one time it only found rest in what it derived directly from its mother. This was the experience of this singer with regard to Jehovah. At one time he found satisfaction in the Divine gifts, and looked upon them as indispensable. Now he had stilled all those ambitions which arose out of his own interpretation of the Divine gifts. He was content with God, rested in His Motherhood. Perhaps he had learned what is surely implicated in the figure, that the process of weaning, that is the withdrawal of things which at one time were indispensable, was the process of advancement, of growth. This is certainly so, and it is good to realize it, and to rest in God.
Lord, remember for David all his affliction.
To understand that opening cry we must attend to the whole Psalm. In it the House of God and the City of God are still in mind. Its first part has to do with the House; its second, with the City as the place of the Throne, the centre of established order. The first part has to do with what David sware to Jehovah; the second, with what Jehovah sware to David (compare verses 2 and 11). The whole has to do with this Covenant. David sware to build a House for Jehovah: Jehovah sware to establish the Throne of David in Zion. The relation is fundamental. Jehovah's promise to establish a dynasty in Zion was made to the man who undertook to provide a Tabernacle for God in the midst of the City. The song dramatically falls into two parts. First, a prayer, based upon the loyalty of David; second, an affirmation of confidence, based upon the faithfulness of Jehovah. Now we may turn back to that opening cry. What was the affliction of David which Jehovah was asked to remember for him? The reference was not to any personal sorrow that he endured; neither was it to chastisements which he endured. The affliction is immediately described, being introduced by the word "how." It was that of his concern for the House of Jehovah, his determined restlessness until Jehovah found His resting-place, his search in Ephrathah and the fields of the wood, until it was found. Here we have at once a revelation of the consuming zeal of David for the highest things in the national life, and an indication of the only kind of affliction of ours which can make any true claim on God. In other words, we have a right to ask God to fulfil His promises, when our concern for His glory becomes affliction in its activity.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.
In this singularly fine song, in briefest sentences, and by the use of two figures, the glory of the true social order is set forth. In that order brethren will dwell together in unity. Having drawn attention to the goodness and pleasantness of that order, the singer describes it by two similitudes. Observe the use of the word "like" twice over: "It is like" (verse 2); "Like" (verse 3). The first figure takes us at once to the House of God, the Temple, as it refers to the anointing of Aaron, the priest. The second figure takes us to the City of God, Zion, as it refers" to the dew which falls from Hermon upon the holy mountains, bringing life. In these figures, thus applied, the qualities which characterize, and indeed create, the good and pleasant social order are revealed. That anointing oil, poured upon Aaron, was the oil of consecration, and symbolized his separation from all evil; it was the oil of holiness. The dew was ever the agent of renewal, of refreshment, of fertilizing force: that out of which life was maintained in strength. These are the secrets of the true social order - holiness and fullness of life. The forces which destroy, prevent or postpone, are those of sin and lack of life. Here in each case is a sequel. Lack of life is due to sin. Life for evermore is due to holiness. Right relationship with the House of God issues in full realization of the benefits of the City of God. Brethren able to dwell together in unity are those who live the holy life of the Temple, and therefore the abounding life of the City of God.
Behold, bless ye the Lord ...
This is the last of the Songs of Ascents. It is a song of the night, and falls into two parts. In the first, the people of the City call to those who keep vigil in the Temple to bless Jehovah. In the second, those Temple ministers respond by pronouncing blessing upon the people, the blessing of Jehovah Himself. This little Psalm is principally valuable as a picture. In it we see the true activity of those set apart to the ministry of holy things. It is first that of representing the people who cannot themselves be present in the Temple Courts, by reason of the duties of the day, or as here, because it is night, and in rest they prepare for work in offering praise to God. It is, second, that of speaking for God to those people in pronouncing His blessing upon them. I have never been able to join with those who speak slightingly of a service in some parish church conducted by the clergy, when hardly any congregation is present; or of an exceedingly small company of believers assembled for praise and prayer in some of our village, or for that matter, city chapels. Those who are there are representatives of multitudes detained by duty. If in each case, there is on the part of those who minister in the sanctuary, a due sense of this representative character of their ministry, they are serving in the highest way to the glory of God, and the well-being of men.
They that make them shall be like unto them; yea, every one that trusteth in them.
This is a song of the Temple. It opens with a call to worship, and then becomes an act of worship. Its burden is that of praising Jehovah by contrasting Him with all false gods. He is set forth as manifested great in creation, in government, and in perpetual faithfulness to the covenants of His grace. Idols are described in their futility, their utter nothingness; they are devoid of breath. In connection with this contrast, this arresting and illuminative word occurs. The makers of idols become like that which they make; and so does everyone who trusts in them. It is for ever true that a man becomes like his god, approximates in character and conduct to that to which he yields his homage. The fundamental difference between true and false religion is that, in the former, worship and service are rendered to the One Who has created us, and Who is for ever greater than ourselves; while, in the latter, they are rendered to what we have created, and which is therefore less than ourselves. To worship God is to become like Him; that is, to rise to the highest. To worship our own creations, is to become like them; that is, to degenerate inevitably. The principle applies even though materially men make no idols of silver or gold. To put anything of our own creation, whether wealth, or fame, or power, in the place of God, is to begin a process of degradation, the end of which is destructive of everything of high possibility in life.
His mercy endureth for ever.
Another great Temple song, of which this phrase is the burden. It is introduced every time with a call to praise. All the rest of the song consists of illustrations of the truth which are reasons for praise. The opening stanzas refer to the One to Whom reference is made throughout, by the three great names by which He was known: Jehovah, the title of grace (verse 1); Elohim, the name of might (verse 2); and Adonai, the title of sovereignty (verse 3). The fact concerning this supreme One which called forth the song, was that of His continued lovingkindness. Were I a musician I would set this song to music for antiphonal singing by quartette and chorus. There are six-and-twenty stanzas which fall into eight groups; six of three verses each, and two of four. The first four groups should be sung, as to the introductory words, by the four soloists in turn; the second two groups by duet - the first, contralto and soprano; the second, tenor and bass; the last two groups by the four voices. Throughout the great refrain, "For His lovingkindness endureth for ever," should be sung by the full chorus. This is the suggestion of an amateur. Let the professionals correct and amend the proposal. Let the ordinary reader forgive the method of the note. It is caused by the writer's sense of the greatness and glory of the one theme of the lovingkindness of God, which persists unto the ages; and by his conviction that it needs the consecration of music to give it adequate interpretation. It is so vast, so true, so glorious a fact, that prose cannot utter it, and even poetry clamours for the lifting wings of harmonic sweetness and strength, to give it adequate expression.
How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
This song is reminiscent of sad days, days of exile from Zion, when the people of God sat sorrowful and oppressed by the waters of Babylon. This question must be interpreted by the preceding verse; from which we learn that in that place of exile their captors had asked them to sing, for their amusement, some of the songs of Zion. That was impossible. They hanged their harps upon the willows, and sat in silence. How could they sing Jehovah's song in a strange land? And yet, there was a song in the silence, not heard of the cruel oppressors, but heard of Jehovah Himself. It was the song of the heart, remembering Jerusalem, counting it the chief joy of life. Such a song necessarily was touched with flame, and cried for strict retributive justice against those nations which had caused the desolation of the City of God. These great songs of the heart, finding no utterance for the ears of men, but expressing some of the deepest things of faith and life, constitute the inspirations which cleanse the soul, and generate the forces which at last break the bonds of captivity, and restore the people of God to the City of their love. Let all tyrants know that if their victims are silent in their presence, singing no song, their memory of the ideals which seem lost constitutes within them the secret of a force mightier than all - the strength which attempts to crush them. And let the silent souls cherish that undersong of devotion to the City of God, the realization of His purposes. He, the God of their hope, hears that unuttered song, and will in his own time and way respond to it, and execute judgment upon the oppressors and set the captives free.
The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.
That is the language of the utmost confidence. The hope is that of the complete realization of personality, both as to its being, and its purpose. The hope is based, not upon the determination or effort of the singer, but upon Jehovah. It is so unequivocal, and withal so daring, that we ask as to its reason. How was it that this man was so sure about the matter? The Psalm is attributed to David. We are familiar at once with his excellencies, and his persistent defects. In the deepest of his being, the realm of desire, he was surely a man after God's own heart. But how gravely, yea even grossly, he failed. In spite of all this failure, in this song be declared thus his complete confidence that Jehovah would perfect that which concerned him. Again we ask what made him sure? The answer is found in the whole song. Therein are celebrated those facts in God which inspired this confidence. Let us briefly note them. He is a God of lovingkindness and of truth. He is a God of great glory. He is a God Who has respect unto the lowly. These things demand a response on the part of man. He must worship this God. He must call upon Him. God being what He is, when the soul of man, in its feebleness, and notwithstanding its oft-times failure, worships Him, and calls upon Him, there can be no question as to the issue. He will perfect that which concerneth that soul. Here is the only place where man can be sure about himself. But here he may be absolutely sure. However dark the day and way; yes, and however great the failure; let the heart be loyal; then, at last, even though it be through the discipline of tears and of suffering, God will perfect the life.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
In its essential burden, this is the greatest song in literature. What that burden is, is at once revealed if the opening declaration and the closing prayer be brought together: "0 Jehovah, Thou hast searched me and known me"; "Search me, 0 God, and know my heart." Here was a singer who had been brought to a 'consciousness of God's absolutely perfect and final knowledge of his life; and who found such satisfaction in the tremendous discovery, that after setting it forth in a song of rare beauty, he could only end by praying for the continuation of that searching of his life by God. I have emphasized these words because they are central as a revelation of the discovery which the revelation of God's knowledge of him had brought to this man. When he said, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it," he was not referring to the omniscience of God in the abstract, but rather to God's knowledge of himself. It is the supreme discovery, through which man escapes from himself to God. The ultimate word of Greek philosophy, "Man, know thyself," was really valuable because it brought man face to face with the impossible. This is what the Hebrew singer had discovered. He did not know himself, nor could he. But God knew him, with complete finality. To realize that, is to be driven to yield self up to the Divine investigation, in order to be set in the way everlasting. That is a great hour, when the soul realizes its ignorance of itself, in the light of the Divine knowledge. It is the hour when the way of life is found to be that of Divine leading.
I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, And the right of the needy.
This is a song of trouble; but in these words we find the note of confidence which made trouble the occasion of a song. The trouble was very real; and of that peculiar nature which it is always difficult to endure. The singer was being slandered by evil and violent men, who were prepared if occasion offered to add actual violence to their lying speech. Of all this he was keenly conscious, as all the early part of the song shows. But he set these facts in the light of the greater fact of the care of God, as the latter stanzas reveal. In these particular words the secret is declared, and the inspiration of song is revealed. If sorrow is a certainty, so also is the action of Jehovah. Here again we have an interpretation of the meaning of the words, "He giveth songs in the night." Sorrow and darkness come to all men, but only those who know God and are sure of Him, make suffering, and the night, occasions of triumphant psalmody. Men without God may write poetry in circumstances of desolation, but their poems are dirges, outpourings of pessimistic agony. Those who know Him reach the heights of poetic utterance; their songs are psalms, outpourings of optimistic assurance. Here, for instance, is one radical difference between two of our more modern poets, Swinburne and Browning.
Incline not my heart to any evil thing.
In this song the circumstances revealed are very much like those of the previous one. The singer is still surrounded by men who work iniquity, but his trouble is different. He has become afraid of himself. It would seem as though his enemies had changed their method. Instead of slander and violence, they are seeking to seduce him from his loyalty to truth and uprightness. The reference to "their dainties" would seem to suggest that they were endeavouring to show him the advantages which he would enjoy if he would throw in his lot with theirs. It was this sense of peril to his own soul which was the inspiration of the song. He realized the force of the temptation, and sought refuge in his God, realizing his own weakness. The peril revealed is a very subtle one. Direct hostility is never so great a menace to the soul, as the suggestion that by compromise with evil and evil men, ease may be found, or that advantage may accrue from complicity in deeds of wickedness. Men of faith fail far more often by so far lowering the standard as to have fellowship with evil men, than by the suffering which results from their slander and violent hostility. This song reminds us that our only safety in such hours of peril is to be found in seeking the Divine strength in the realm of desire, that we may not incline toward any evil thing. The heart garrisoned by Jehovah is impregnable; but there is no other power equal to its perfect keeping.
The righteous shall compass me about; For Thou shalt deal bountifully with me.
Still the circumstances of this song are similar to those of the previous two. Here the title says that this was a prayer when David was Iii the Cave. In all probability this introduces us to the period in the life of David when all this group of songs was composed. For this one at least, the fact is of importance as it takes us back to the story of those days when this man, conscious that he was anointed by God to kingship, was nevertheless a fugitive, and the object of the most bitter hatred and persecution, so much so that he had been compelled to take refuge in Adullam. The song was written in an hour of great dejection. He said: "My spirit was over-whelmed within me"; "Refuge hath failed me, no man careth for my soul; I am brought very low." But the song is one of triumph, for every reference to those experiences of dejection is set against other facts. If his spirit was overwhelmed, he said: "Thou knewest my path." If refuge had failed, and no man cared for his soul, he said: "Thou are my refuge." If he was brought very low, he said to God, "Deliver me." Therefore the song ends with this confident note. In spite of all the opposition of men he realized that his God would deal bountifully with him, therefore instead of his foes, he would find himself surrounded by the righteous. Perhaps when he wrote the song he already began to realize that the crowd of men in debt, in danger, and discontented, who were coming to him, would become the mighty men, who would, presently bring him into his kingdom. It is a great thing in darkest hours, to set over against the darkness, all the facts about God. To do so is to triumph even in sorrow.
Teach me to do Thy will.
This is the last of the seven Psalms described as Penitential. (The others are 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 130.) It is one of the group we have been reading which were composed by David in circumstances of trial. There are no evidences in it of any experience of alleviation. The singer was still dwelling "in dark places." There is a note here, however, which differentiates between this Psalm and those of the group already considered. Here it is evident that the sense of sin was with him, as he said: "Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight 'no man living is righteous." With that sense present he thought upon God, remembering, meditating, musing, until with great longing he stretched forth .his hands to God. Having done so, his song became a prayer, packed with petitions, brief, urgent poignant. Among all of them we have emphasized this one, because .it is the supreme prayer of the human soul. Those for deliverance from circumstances of suffering are only of real value as the reason of them is that the souls° delivered may be able to do the will of God. The petition suggests two things to which we do well to take heed. The first is, as we have already hinted, that the one and only way of life that is satisfactory is that of doing the will of God. This needs no argument, but it does need application. We ought perpetually to declare it to ourselves, never allowing life, in its desires, apprehensions, volitions, to get beyond the boundaries of that will. The second is that we need to be taught to do that will, which is much more than being taught to know it. For us this prayer finds answer in the fact that "The grace of God hath appeared ... teaching ..."
Happy is the people whose God is the Lord.
Psalms 144. 15
This is the song of a king. The title attributes it to David. Almost all expositors agree in treating it as a composite song, containing some quotations from other Psalms, and introducing new elements. This the singer himself seems to have indicated when, after quotations, he broke out in the words: "I will sing a new song." Be all that as it may, it is still the song of a king who understood the true secret of national prosperity, and this found expression in this closing exclamation. In the presence of the stern and awful necessity for war, it is Jehovah Who teaches the hands and the fingers. It is He Who giveth victory to kings. As the result of victory which comes from Him, kings and people are rescued from evil politicians - men whose mouths speak vanity; and from evildoers - men whose right hand is guided by falsehood. Such deliverance issues in a prosperity which is graphically and poetically described in these closing stanzas. Verily then, "happy is the people whose God is Jehovah." All Christian souls believe this to be true. How solemn, then, the obligation which rests upon them to use all their influence in the life of the nation to which they belong, to bring it under the rule of this God! The patriotism of the Christian is such love of country that it seeks at all times and under all circumstances to bring the policies and activities of that country into agreement with the will and way of God.
Thy Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom, and Thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.
In these words the exalted music of this wonderful hymn of praise reaches its fullest and richest expression. The whole Psalm is one of praise to God as Jehovah; that is, to the Mighty One, in the condescending grace of His dealings with men. In the opening sentences He is addressed as "My Elohim, 0 King," and afterwards always as Jehovah (nine times). As the song is read, the facts of human need are seen in the background - the need for compassion and mercy, the failings, and the stoopings, the prayers of those in darkness, and the persistence of wickedness; but its theme is that of God's ways with men, and these are set forth as the ways of "greatness," "honour," "righteousness," "compassion," "goodness" - to group some of the singer's great words. As we have said, this singer reached his highest note in these words, showing, as they do, his grasp upon the fact of the persistence of the Divine Sovereignty. Rotherham has rendered the couplet with more complete literalness thus: "Thy Kingdom is a Kingdom of all ages, and Thy dominion is over all succeeding generations." This is a truth of fundamental and final importance. Too often even the children of God forget it. The fact remains that God never has been, is not, nor ever will be, any other than King. Neither men nor nations can escape His government. They may change their experience of it. By yielding to it, they find it a blessing; by rebelling against it, they find it a blasting. In this truth we find our confidence for the world, and for the ages and the generations. In certainty that this is so, we can go forward with courage and with songs.
Praise ye the Lord ... O my soul.
The Psalter closes with five Psalms, each one beginning and ending with the phrase: "Praise ye the Lord," or "Hallelujah!" Dr. Ginsburg treated this as "the Public Reader's invitation to praise" at the commencement of each Psalm. The repetition at the close would then naturally constitute the refrain of the singers, their ultimate expression of worship, in view of all set forth in the song itself. This first of the five strikes the personal note. It is the song of a soul who has found everything in Jehovah, and who has learned the futility of trusting man, even though he have attained to high degree. All the reasons for praise are found in what Jehovah is in Himself, and this is revealed in His activities. These activities are celebrated in this song, beginning at the sixth verse. They may thus be tabulated: His activities are those of Creation, Government, Providence, Restoration, Punishment, Sovereignty, Continuity. The soul that has this view of God, and is conscious of the fact that he lives in the midst of an order over which such a God is ruling, and that he himself is thought of, cared for, governed, by this God, can surely do none other than offer praise to Him. Worship, as glad and exultant adoration, is the natural, and indeed inevitable, outcome of a true knowledge of God. However humbling the thought may be, and to whatever searching of heart it may drive us, it is certain that if, and when "Hosannas languish on our tongues, and our devotion dies," the reason is that we have lost our clear vision of God, our keen consciousness of what He is. To know Him is to praise Him, and that without ceasing.
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem.
Here is the central note of this song, and reveals its burden. It follows the previous song in a natural sequence; in that the note was personal, but it ended with the vision of the God of Zion reigning for ever. This song is characterized by the civic note. The singer is meditating upon the things resulting in the life of the City, when it is under the government of God. After the introductory sentences, the first reason for praise is given in the words: "Jehovah doth build up Jerusalem." Our minds go back to "The Songs of Ascents," in which the thoughts circled round the City of God and the Temple (Psa. 120-134). In one of them the words occur: "Except Jehovah build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except Jehovah keep the City, the watchman waketh but in vain." Now we have a song of praise for the City built up by Jehovah, and the results of that building up are set forth. It is a City of peace and of, prosperity, a social order, created by the redeeming and restoring activity of God, in which, not wickedness nor material strength, but meekness, fear of Jehovah, and all spiritual forces are triumphant. All this the song sets forth pictorially, with fine poetic illustrations. Moreover, the true function of such a City in the interest of the world is described. From such a City, "He sendeth out His commandment upon earth; His word runneth very swiftly." The more this song of praise concerning an ideal city is pondered, the more remarkable is it found to be in its spiritual apprehension. It is interesting to note that in this portrayal of the City Minded up by Jehovah, there is no reference to the House of God, the Temple, which was so constantly in mind in "The Songs of Ascents." Let this omission be compared with the last picture in the Bible of the City of God, and especially with the statement, "I saw no Temple therein" (Rev. 21:22).
Praise ye the Lord from the heavens ... from the earth.
Psalms 148. 1:7
In this song the outlook is yet wider. The appeal is universal, from the view-point of one who sings the praise of God on this earth. The heavens and the earth are included, and appealed to, to offer Him worship. The reason for praise in each case is clearly revealed. With regard to the heavens, the reason is that of the power and stability of the Divine Law: "He commanded, and they were created; He hath also established them for ever and ever; He bath made a decree which shall not pass away." This is the secret of the order and beauty of angels, and constellations, and the whole super-earthly realm; and in their being, they set forth the glory of the God from Whom they came. With regard to the earth, the reason is that of the order and beauty resulting from that nearness to Him which is realized in obedience to His law and submission to His authority. This is true of all Nature, and of men, whether kings or peoples, young or old. What a wonderful song this is! Look over it again, and note the fact that there is no reference in it, from first to last, to the mercy, or pity, or compassion of God. But that is because there is no reference to evil in any form. The Biblical revelation begins with the august, stupendous, inclusive statement: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In the Book of Job (38:7) we are told that when He did so, "The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." We can imagine that they might have done so in the words of this song, as they saw the glory and perfection of the Divine purpose in Creation. But this is a song written by a sinning man, in a sin-stricken world. Therefore it sets forth the glory of that redeeming grace, through which, at last, God will realize His own original intention.
Praise ye the Lord. ... In the assembly of the saints.
In considering this song, we are again •compelled to notice the relation to the preceding one. The closing thought of that was concerned with - "His saints ... the children of Israel ... a people near unto Him." This calls for praise in "the assembly of the saints." Thus the final note of the one merges into and becomes the theme of the music of the other. Here the praise called for, and indeed offered, is that of the people through whom the word is proclaimed, the order revealed, and the work finally accomplished, of good earthly government. The history of this song is one of great sadness, due to grave misinterpretation, and grievous misapplication. Delitzsch has said: "By means of this Psalm, Caspar Scioppius, in his Classicum belli sacri, ... Inflamed the Roman Catholic princes to the Thirty Years Religious War And, within the Protestant Church, Thomas Munzer, by means of this Psalm, stirred up the War of the Peasants." That, perhaps, is one of the most superlative illustrations of what may result, in interpretation, from confusing things which differ. There is no reference in this Psalm to the Church of God. As it specifically indicates, it has to do with "Israel," with "the children of Zion." They were, in the beginning of their national history, and they will be yet again, the instrument of the hand of God "to execute vengeance upon the nations; and punishments (i.e. corrections) upon the peoples." And this is indeed honour, as the singer finally declares. If in the former song, praise was offered for the realization of the Divine ideal, in this it is offered for the process of realization, through the chosen people, by means of vengeance upon evil. It were blasphemy to say that the end justifies the means, if by that the idea intended that by evil methods, good may be brought about. But of the Divine government of the world, we may say that the end necessitates the means, however much suffering may be involved. But the means are never evil. In them there is nothing of iniquity or injustice.
Praise ye the Lord.
In reading these Psalms, we have stressed, in each case, the Doxology at the close of the Books. (See 41:13; 72:18, 19; 89:52; 106:48) This fifth Book ends with the Doxology of this whole Psalm, of which we have emphasized the opening phrase. Whereas it is true that this Psalm of Doxology concludes this fifth Book, it is also true that it forms the fitting conclusion of the complete collection of the five Books. Kirkpatrick describes this Psalm as: "This full-toned call to universal praise, with every accompaniment of jubilant rejoicing," and that is exactly what it is. The place of praise is: "His sanctuary … the firmament of His power"; its reason, "His mighty acts ... His excellent greatness"; the instruments of expression are nine in number; the one qualification is breath, which here unquestionably is a figurative description of spirit, as that in which man has relationship with God. This final song is indeed, as Rotherham says, "the magnified appeal of Hebrew praise." In reading the first Psalm we stressed the first word "Blessed" as giving the first note in the music. Fittingly we close our readings by stressing this final, and all-inclusive, note, Hallelujah! Whatever of blessedness, of happiness, of prosperity, man knows, results from the activities of the government and grace of Jehovah. To this fact all the songs in this wonderful collection bear witness, whether the prevailing tone be major or minor, whether the song be a dirge of sadness, or a paean of gladness. So let us ever praise Jehovah; for His thoughts for us are thoughts of good and not of evil, and His methods with us, whether gentle or severe, are the methods which lead us to blessedness.