The Treasury of David
"A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his Son." You will remember the sad story of David's flight from his own palace, when in the dead of the night, he forded the brook Kedron, and went with a few faithful followers to hide himself for awhile from the fury of his rebellious son. Remember that David in this was a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. He, too, fled; he, too, passed over the brook Kedron when his own people were in rebellion against him, and with a feeble band of followers he went to the garden of Gethsemane. He, too, drank of the brook by the way, and therefore does he lift up the head. By very many expositors this is entitled THE MORNING HYMN. May we ever wake with holy confidence in our hearts, and a song upon our lips!
With regard to the authority of the TITLES, it befits us to speak with diffidence, considering the very opposite opinions which have been offered upon this subject by scholars of equal excellence. In the present day, it is too much the custom to slight or omit them altogether, as though added, nobody knows when or by whom, and as, in many instances, inconsistent with the subject matter of the Psalm itself. Augustine and various other early writers of the Christian church, regard them as a part of the inspired text; and the Jews still continue to make them a part of their chant, and their Rabbis to comment upon them.
It is certainly unknown who invented or placed them where they are; but it is unquestionable that they have been so placed from time immemorial; they occur in the Septuagint, which contains also in a few instances titles to Psalms that are without any in the Hebrew; and they have been copied after the Septuagint by Jerome. So far as the present writer has been able to penetrate the obscurity that occasionally hangs over them, they are a direct and most valuable key to the general history or subject of the Psalms to which they are prefixed; and, excepting where they have been evidently misunderstood or misinterpreted, he has never met with a single instance in which the drift of the title and its respective Psalm do not exactly coincide.
Many of them were, doubtless, composed by Ezra at the time of editing his own collection, at which period some critics suppose the whole to have been written; but the rest appear rather to be contemporary, or nearly so, with the respective Psalms themselves, and to have been written about the period of their production. John Mason, 1854.
Here we have the first use of the word 'Psalm'. In Hebrew, Mizmor, which has the signification of pruning, or cutting off superfluous twigs, and is applied to songs made of short sentences, where many superfluous words are put away. Henry Ainsworth.
DIVISION.This Psalm may be divided into four parts of two verses each. Indeed, many of the Psalms cannot be well understood unless we attentively regard the parts into which they should be divided. They are not continuous descriptions of one scene—but a set of pictures of many kindred subjects. As in our modern sermons, we divide our discourse into different heads—so is it in these Psalms. There is always unity—but it is the unity of a bundle of arrows, and not of a single solitary shaft. Let us now look at the Psalm before us.
In these verses, you have David:
making a complaint to God concerning his enemies (1-2),
he then declares his confidence in the Lord (3-4),
sings of his safety in sleep (5-6),
and strengthens himself for future conflict (7-8).
Verse 1.Here we have,
The saint telling his griefs to his God:
(1) His right to do so.
(2) The proper manner of telling them.
(3) The fair results of such holy communications with the Lord.
When may we expect increased troubles? Why are they sent? What is our wisdom in reference to them?
The poor broken-hearted father complains of the multitude of his enemies: and if you turn to 2 Sam. 15:12, you will find it written that "the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom, " while the troops of David constantly diminished!
Lord, how are they increased that trouble me!Here is a note of exclamation to express the wonder of woe which amazed and perplexed the fugitive father. 'Alas! I see no limit to my misery, for my troubles are enlarged! There was enough at first to sink me very low; but lo! my enemies multiply. When Absalom, my darling, is in rebellion against me, it is enough to break my heart; but lo! Ahithophel has forsaken me, my faithful counselors have turned their backs on me; lo! my generals and soldiers have deserted me!'
Lord, how are they increased that trouble me!Troubles always come in flocks. Sorrow has a numerous family.
Many are those who rise up against me.Their armies are far superior to mine! Their numbers are too great for my reckoning! Let us here recall to our memory the innumerable multitude which beset our Divine Redeemer. The legions of our sins, the armies of fiends, the crowd of bodily pains, the host of spiritual sorrows, and all the allies of death and hell—set themselves in battle against the Son of Man. O how precious to know and believe that he has routed their hosts, and trodden them down in his anger! They who would have troubled us—he has removed into captivity, and those who would have risen up against us—he has laid low. The dragon lost his sting when he dashed it into the soul of Jesus.
Upon this note an old writer remarks, "Let us learn from this, that in times of sore trouble, men will not use fine words in prayer—but will offer a prayer which is pruned of all luxuriance of wordy speeches."
Thus you may plainly see how God has wrought in his church in old time, and therefore should not discourage yourselves for any sudden change; but with David, acknowledge your sins to God, declare unto him how many there be that vex you and rise up against you. Let the wicked idolaters brag that they will prevail against you and overcome you, and that God has given you over, and will be no more your God. Let them put their trust in Absalom, with his large golden locks; and in the wisdom of Ahithophel, the wise Counselor; yet say you, with David, You, O Lord, are my defender, and the lifter up of my head. Persuade yourselves, with David, that the Lord is your defender, who has compassed you round about, and is, as it were, a shield that covers you on every side. It is he only that may and will compass you about with glory and honor. It is he who will thrust down those proud hypocrites from their seat, and exalt the lowly and meek. It is he which will smite your "enemies on the cheek bone," and burst all their teeth in sunder. He will hang up Absalom by his own long hair; and Ahithophel through desperation, shall hang himself. The bands shall be broken, and you shall be delivered; for this belongs unto the Lord, to save his from their enemies, and to bless his people, that they may safely proceed in their pilgrimage to heaven without fear. Thomas Tymme's "Silver Watch Bell", 1634.
Absalom's faction, like a snowball, strangely gathered in its motion. David speaks of it as one amazed; and well he might, that a people he had so many ways obliged, should almost generally revolt from him, and rebel against him, and choose for their head such a silly, giddy young fellow as Absalom was. How slippery and deceitful are the many! And how little fidelity and constancy is to be found among men! David had had the hearts of his subjects as much as ever any king had, and yet how suddenly he had lost them! As people must not trust too much to princes (Psalm 146:3), so princes must not build too much upon their interest in the people. Christ, the Son of David, had many enemies, when a great multitude came to seize him, when the crowd cried, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" how were they then increased who troubled him! Even good people must not think it strange if the stream goes against them, and the powers that threaten them grow more and more formidable. Matthew Henry.
Verse 2.The lie against the saint and the libel upon his God.
David complains before his loving God of the worst weapon of his enemies' attacks, and the bitterest drop of his distresses. "Oh!" says David, many there be that say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Some of his distrustful friends said this sorrowfully—but his enemies exultingly boasted of it, and longed to see their words proved by his total destruction.
This was the most unkind cut of all, when they declared that his God had forsaken him. Yet David knew in his own conscience that he had given them some ground for this exclamation, for he had committed sin against God in the very light of day. Then they flung his crime with Bathsheba into his face, and they said, "Go up, you bloody man; God has forsaken you and left you!" Shimei cursed him, and swore at him to his very face, for he was bold because of his backers, since multitudes of the men of Belial thought of David in like fashion. Doubtless, David felt this infernal suggestion to be staggering to his faith.
If all the trials which come from heaven, all the temptations which ascend from hell, and all the crosses which arise from earth, could be mixed and pressed together—they would not make a trial so terrible as that which is contained in this verse. It is the most bitter of all afflictions to be led to fear that God will never rescue us! And yet remember our most blessed Savior had to endure this in the deepest degree when he cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He knew full well what is was to walk in darkness and to see no light. This was the curse of the curse. This was the wormwood mingled with the gall. To be deserted by his Father—was worse than to be the despised of men. Surely we should love him who suffered this bitterest of temptations and trials for our sake. It will be a delightful and instructive exercise for the loving heart to mark the Lord in his agonies as here portrayed, for there is here, and in very many other Psalms—far more of David's Lord than of David himself!
When the believer questions the power of God, or his interest in it, his joy gushes out as blood out of a broken vein. This verse is a sore stab indeed. William Gurnall.
A child of God startles at the very thought of despairing of help from God; you cannot vex him with anything so much as if you persuade him that, There is no help for him in God. David comes to God, and tells him what his enemies said of him, as Hezekiah spread Rabshakeh's blasphemous letter before the Lord; they say, "There is no help for me in you;" but, Lord, if it is so, I am undone. They say to my soul, "There is no salvation" (for so the word is) "for him in God;" but, Lord, do you say unto my soul, "I am your salvation" (Psalm 35:3), and that shall satisfy me, and in due time silence them. Matthew Henry.
Selah.This is a musical pause; the precise meaning of which is not known. Some think it simply a rest, a pause in the music; others say it means, "Lift up the strain—sing more loudly—pitch the tune upon a higher key—there is nobler matter to come, therefore retune your harps!" Harp strings soon get out of order and need to be adjusted to their proper tightness, and certainly our heart strings are evermore getting out of tune, Let "Selah" teach us to pray,
"O may my heart in tune be found
Like David's harp of solemn sound."
At least we may learn that wherever we see "Selah," we should look upon it as a note of observation. Let us read the passage which precedes and follows it with greater earnestness, for surely there is always something excellent where we are required to rest and pause and meditate, or when we are required to lift up our hearts in grateful song. "SELAH."
Selah.Much has been written on this word, and still its meaning does not appear to be wholly determined. The word occurs seventy-three times in the Psalms, and three times in the book of Habakkuk. It is never translated in our version—but in all these places the original word Selah is retained. It occurs only in poetry, and is supposed to have had some reference to the singing of the poetry, and to be probably a musical term. In general, also, it indicates a pause in the sense, as well as in the musical performance. Gesenius supposes that the most probable meaning of this musical term or note is silence or pause, and that its use was, in chanting the words of the Psalm, to direct the singer to be silent, to pause a little, while the instruments played an interlude or harmony. Perhaps this is all that can now be known of the meaning of the word, and this is enough to satisfy every reasonable enquiry. It is probable, if this was the use of the term, that it would commonly correspond with the sense of the passage, and be inserted where the sense made a pause suitable; and this will doubtless be found usually to be the fact. Albert Barnes, 1868.
Verse 3.The threefold blessing which God affords to his suffering ones— Defense, Honor, Joy. All these may be enjoyed by faith, even in our worst estate.
Here David avows his confidence in God. You, O Lord, are a shield for me. The word in the original signifies more than a shield; it means a buckler round about, a protection which shall surround a man entirely, a shield above, beneath, around, without and within. Oh! what a shield is God for his people! He wards off the fiery darts of Satan from beneath, and the storms of trials from above, while, at the same instant, he speaks peace to the tempest within the bosom.
You are my glory. David knew that though he was driven from his capital in contempt and scorn, he would yet return in triumph, and by faith he looks upon God as honoring and glorifying him. O for grace to see our future glory—amid present shame! Indeed, there is a present glory in our afflictions, if we could but discern it; for it is no small thing to have fellowship with Christ in his sufferings. David was honored when he made the ascent of Olivet, weeping, with his head covered; for he was in all this made like unto his Lord. May we learn, in this respect, to glory in tribulations also!
And the lifter up of my head—you shall yet exalt me. Though I hang my head in sorrow, I shall very soon lift it up in joy and thanksgiving. What a divine trio of mercies is contained in this verse! —defense for the defenseless, glory for the despised, and joy for the comfortless. Truly we may well say, "there is none like the God of Jeshurun."
Lifter up of my head.There is a lifting up of the head by elevating to office, as with Pharaoh's butler; this we trace to the divine appointment. There is a lifting up in honor after shame, in health after sickness, in gladness after sorrow, in restoration after a fall, in victory after a temporary defeat; in all these respects the Lord is the lifter up of our head.
Verse 4.I cried unto the Lord with my voice. Why does he say, "with my voice?" Surely, silent prayers are heard. Yes—but good men often find that, even in secret, they pray better aloud than they do when they utter no vocal sound. Perhaps, moreover, David would think thus, "My cruel enemies clamor against me; they lift up their voices, and, behold, I lift up mine, and my cry outsoars them all." They clamor—but the cry of my voice in great distress pierces the very skies, and is louder and stronger than all their tumult; for there is one in the sanctuary who harkens to me from the seventh heaven, and he has heard me out of his holy hill. Answers to prayers are sweet cordials for the soul. We need not fear a frowning world—while we rejoice in a prayer-hearing God.
He heard me.I have often heard persons say in prayer, "You are a prayer hearing and a prayer answering God, " but the expression contains a superfluity, since for God to hear is, according to Scripture, the same thing as to answer.
(1) In dangers we should pray.
(2) God will graciously hear.
(3) We should record his answers of grace.
(4) We may strengthen ourselves for the future—by remembering the deliverances of the past.
When prayer leads the van—in due time deliverance brings up the rear. Thomas Watson.
Here stands another Selah. Rest awhile, O tried believer, and think on these comforting truths.
Verse 5.David's faith enabled him to lie down; anxiety would certainly have kept him on tiptoe, watching for an enemy. Yes, he was able to sleep, to sleep in the midst of trouble, surrounded by foes. "So he gives his beloved sleep."
There is a sleep of presumption; God deliver us from it! There is a sleep of holy confidence; God help us so to close our eyes!
But David says he awaked also. Some sleep the sleep of death; but he, though exposed to many enemies, reclined his head on the bosom of his God, slept happily beneath the wing of Providence in sweet security, and then awoke in safety.
For the Lord sustained me.The sweet influence of the Pleiades of promise shone upon the sleeper, and he awoke conscious that the Lord had preserved him. An excellent divine has well remarked, "This quietude of a man's heart by faith in God, is a higher sort of work than the natural resolution of manly courage, for it is the gracious operation of God's Holy Spirit upholding a man above nature, and therefore the Lord must have all the glory of it."
Would you be secured in evil times? Get grace and fortify this garrison; a good conscience is a Christian's fort royal. David's enemies lay round about him; yet, says he, I laid me down and slept. A good conscience can sleep in the mouth of a cannon; grace is a Christian's coat of armor, which fears not the arrow or bullet. True grace may be shot at—but can never be shot through; grace puts the soul into Christ, and there it is safe, as the bee in the hive, as the dove in the ark. "There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." Thomas Watson.
The Lord sustained me.It would not be unprofitable to consider the sustaining power manifested in us while we lie asleep. In the flowing of the blood, heaving of the lung, etc., in the body, and the continuance of mental faculties while the image of death is upon us.
Verse 6.Here we see faith surrounded by enemies—and yet triumphant.
Buckling on his armor for the day's battle, our hero sings, I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Observe that he does not attempt to under estimate the number or wisdom of his enemies. He reckons them at tens of thousands, and he views them as cunning huntsmen chasing him with cruel skill. Yet he trembles not—but looking his enemy in the face, he is ready for the battle.
There may be no way of escape; they may hem me in as the deer is surrounded by a circle of hunters; they may surround me on every side—but in the name of God I will dash through them; or, if I remain in the midst of them—yet shall they not hurt me; I shall be free in my very prison.
But David is too wise to venture to the battle without prayer; he therefore betakes himself to his knees, and cries aloud to Jehovah.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.The psalmist will trust, despite appearances. He will not be afraid though ten thousands of people have set themselves against him round about. Let us here limit our thoughts to this one idea, "despite appearances." What could look worse to human sight than this array of ten thousands of people? Ruin seemed to stare him in the face; wherever he looked an enemy was to be seen. What was one against ten thousand? It often happens that God's people come into circumstances like this; they say, "All these things are against me!" They seem scarcely able to count their troubles; they cannot see a loophole through which to escape; things look very black indeed; it is great faith and trust which says under these circumstances, "I will not be afraid."
At such seasons as these, the reasonable men of the world, those who walk by sight and not by faith, will think it reasonable enough that the Christian should be afraid. Weak believers are now ready to make excuses for us, and we are only too ready to make them for ourselves; instead of rising above the weakness of the flesh, we take refuge under it, and use it as an excuse. But let us think prayerfully for a little while, and we shall see that it should not be thus with us. To trust only when appearances are favorable, is to sail only with the wind and tide, to believe only when we can see. Oh! let us follow the example of the psalmist, and seek that unreservedness of faith which will enable us to trust God, come what will, and to say as he said, "I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about". Philip Power, 1862.
I will not be afraid,etc. It makes no matter what our enemies be, though for number, legions; for power, principalities; for subtlety, serpents; for cruelty, dragons; for vantage of place, a prince of the air; for maliciousness, spiritual wickedness. Stronger is he who is in us—than those who are against us! Nothing is able to separate us from the love of God. In Christ Jesus our Lord, we shall be more than conquerors. William Cowper.
Verse 7.Our enemies are vanquished foes, toothless lions!
(1) Describe the Lord's past dealing with his enemies; "you have."
(2) Show that the Lord should be our constant resort, "O Lord," "O my God."
(3) Enlarge upon the fact that the Lord is to be stirred up: "Arise."
(4) Urge believers to use the Lord's past victories as an argument with which to prevail with him.
David's only hope is in his God—but that is so strong a confidence, that he feels the Lord has but to arise—and he is saved. It is enough for the Lord to stand up, and all is well. He compares his enemies to wild beasts, and he declares that God has broken their jaws, so that they could not injure him; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly. Or else he alludes to the peculiar temptations to which he was then exposed. They had spoken against him; God, therefore, has smitten them upon the cheek bone. They seemed as if they would devour him with their mouths; God has broken their teeth, and let them say what they will, their toothless jaws shall not be able to devour him. Rejoice, O believer, you have to do with a dragon whose head is broken, and with enemies whose teeth are dashed from their jaws!
Arise, O Lord,Jehovah! This is a common scriptural mode of calling upon God to manifest his presence and his power, either in wrath or favor. By a natural anthropomorphism, it describes the intervals of such manifestations as periods of inaction or of slumber, out of which he is besought to rouse himself. Save me, even me, of whom they say there is no help for him in God. Save me, O my God, mine by covenant and mutual engagement, to whom I therefore have a right to look for deliverance and protection. This confidence is warranted, moreover, by experience. For you have, in former exigencies, smitten all my enemies, without exception on the cheek or jaw, an act at once violent and insulting. J. A. Alexander.
Verse 7. Upon the cheek bone.—The language seems to be taken from a comparison of his enemies with wild beasts. The cheek bone denotes the bone in which the teeth are placed, and to break that is to disarm the animal. Albert Barnes.
Verse 7.When God takes vengeance upon the ungodly, he will smite in such a manner as to make them feel his almightiness in every stroke. All his power shall be exercised in punishing—and none in pitying. O that every obstinate sinner would think of this, and consider his foolishness in thinking himself able to grapple with Omnipotence! Stephen Charnock.
Verse 8.Salvation belongs to the Lord. This verse contains the sum and substance of Calvinistic doctrine. Search Scripture through, and you must, if you read it with a candid mind, be persuaded that the doctrine of salvation by grace alone is the great doctrine of the word of God. This is a point concerning which we are daily fighting. Our opponents say, "Salvation belongs to the free will of man; if not to man's merit—yet at least to man's will." But we hold and teach that salvation from first to last, in every iota of it, belongs to the Most High God. It is God who chooses his people. He calls them by his grace; he quickens them by his Spirit, and keeps them by his power. It is not of man, neither by man; "not of him that wills, nor of him that runs—but of God who shows mercy." May we all learn this truth experimentally, for our proud flesh and blood will never permit us to learn it in any other way.
In the last sentence the peculiarity and speciality of salvation are plainly stated: Your blessing is upon your people. Neither upon Egypt, nor upon Tyre, nor upon Nineveh; your blessing is upon your chosen, your blood—bought, your everlastingly beloved people.
Selah:Lift up your hearts, and pause, and meditate upon this doctrine! "Your blessing is upon your people." Divine, discriminating, distinguishing, eternal, infinite, immutable love, is a subject for constant adoration. Pause, my soul, at this Selah, and consider your own interest in the salvation of God; and if by humble faith you are enabled to see Jesus as your by his own free gift of himself to you, if this greatest of all blessings be upon you, rise up and sing,
"Rise, my soul! adore and wonder!
Ask, 'O why such love to me?'
Grace has put me in the number
Of the Savior's family!
Hallelujah! Thanks, eternal thanks, to Thee!"
Salvation belongs to the Lord.There is a parallel passage in Jonah 2:9, "Salvation is of the Lord." The mariners might have written upon their ship, instead of Castor and Pollux, or the like device, Salvation is the Lord's; the Ninevites might have written upon their gates, Salvation is the Lord's! It is the argument of both the Testaments, the staff and support of heaven and earth. They would both sink, and all their joints be severed, if salvation was not of the Lord.
Your blessing is upon your people.The saints are blessed before they are crowned. This seems a paradox to flesh and blood. What, reproached and maligned—yet blessed! A man that looks upon the children of God with a carnal eye, and sees how they are afflicted, and like the ship in the gospel, which was covered with waves (Mt 8:24), would think they were far from blessedness. Paul brings a catalogue of his sufferings (2 Co 11:24-26), "Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck," etc. And those Christians of the first magnitude, of whom the world was not worthy, "Had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, they were sawn asunder, they were slain with the sword." Heb 11:36,37. What! and were all these during the time of their sufferings, blessed? A carnal man would think, if this be to be blessed—then God deliver him from it. But, however sense would give their vote, our Savior Christ pronounces the godly man blessed; though a mourner, though a martyr—yet blessed. Job on the ash-heap was blessed Job. The saints are blessed when they are cursed. Shimei did curse David (2 Sa 16:5), "He came forth and cursed him;" yet when he was cursed David—he was blessed David. The saints though they are bruised—yet they are blessed. Not only they shall be blessed—but they are so. Psalm 119:1. "Blessed are the undefiled." Psalm 3:8. "Your blessing is upon your people." Thomas Watson.
Salvation of God from first to last. They were blessed in Christ, through Christ, and shall be blessed with Christ. The blessing rests upon their persons, comforts, trials, labors, families, etc. It flows from grace, is enjoyed by faith, and is insured by oath, etc. James Smith's Portions, 1802-1862.