Treasury of David
TITLE. A Psalm of David. From the title we learn nothing but the authorship. This is interesting and leads us to observe the wondrous operations of the Spirit upon the mind of Israel's sweet singer, enabling him to touch the mournful string in Psalm twenty-two, to pour forth gentle notes of peace in Psalm twenty-three, and here to utter majestic and triumphant strains. We can do or sing all things when the Lord strengthens us.
This sacred hymn was probably written to be sung when the ark of the covenant was taken up from the house of Obed-edom, to remain within curtains upon the hill of Zion. The words are not unsuitable for the sacred dance of joy in which David led the way upon that joyful occasion. The eye of the psalmist looked, however, beyond the typical upgoing of the ark to the sublime ascension of the King of glory. We will call it The Song of the Ascension.
Division. The Psalm makes a pair with the fifteenth Psalm. It consists of three parts.
The first glorifies the true God, and sings of his universal dominion.
The second describes the true Israel, who are able to commune with him.
The third pictures the ascent of the true Redeemer, who has opened Heaven's gates for the entrance of his elect.
Verse 1. How very different is this from the ignorant Jewish notion of God which prevailed in our Savior's day? The Jews said, "The holy land is God's, and the seed of Abraham are his only people;" but their great Monarch had long before instructed them—
"The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." The whole round world is claimed for Jehovah, "and they that dwell therein" are declared to be his subjects. When we consider the bigotry of the Jewish people at the time of Christ, and how angry they were with our Lord for saying that many widows were in Israel, but unto none of them was the prophet sent, save only to the widow of Sarepta, and that there were many lepers in Israel, but none of them was healed except Naaman the Syrian—when we recollect, too, how angry they were at the mention of Paul's being sent to the Gentiles, we are amazed that they should have remained in such blindness, and yet have sung this psalm, which shows so clearly that God is not the God of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles also.
What a rebuke is this to those wiseacres who speak of the negro and other despised races as though they were not cared for by the God of Heaven! If a man be but a man the Lord claims him, and who dares to brand him as a mere piece of merchandise! The meanest of men is a dweller in the world, and therefore belongs to Jehovah. Jesus Christ had made an end of the exclusiveness of nationalities. There is neither barbarian, Scythian, bond not free; but we all are one in Christ Jesus.
Man lives upon "the earth," and parcels out its soil among his mimic kings and autocrats; but the earth is not man's. He is but a leaseholder upon the most precarious tenure, liable to instantaneous ejectment. The great Landowner and true Proprietor holds his court above the clouds, and laughs at the title-deeds of worms of the dust.
The "fullness" of the earth may mean its harvests, its wealth, its life, or its worship; in all these senses the Most High God is Possessor of all. The earth is full of God; he made it full and he keeps it full, notwithstanding all the demands which living creatures make upon its stores.
The sea is full, despite all the clouds which rise from it.
The air is full, notwithstanding all the lives which breathe it.
The soil is full, though millions of plants derive their nourishment from it.
Under man's tutored hand the world is coming to a greater fullness than ever, but it is all the Lord's; the field and the fruit, the earth and all earth's wonders are Jehovah's. We look also for a sublimer fullness when the true ideal of a world for God shall have been reached in millennial glories, and then most clearly the earth will be the Lord's and the fullness thereof. These words are now upon London's Royal Exchange, they shall one day be written in letters of light across the sky.
The term "world" indicates the habitable regions, wherein Jehovah is especially to be acknowledged as Sovereign. He who rules the fish of the sea and the bird of the air should not be disobeyed by man, his noblest creature. Jehovah is the Universal King, all nations are beneath his sway: true Autocrat of all the nations, emperors and czars are but his slaves.
Men are not their own, nor may they call their lips, their hearts, or their substance their own; they are Jehovah's rightful servants. This claim especially applies to us who are born from Heaven. We do not belong to the world or to Satan, but by creation and redemption we are the peculiar portion of the Lord.
Paul uses this verse twice, to show that no food is unclean, and that nothing is really the property of false gods. All things are God's; no ban is on the face of nature, nothing is common or unclean. The world is all God's world, and the food which is sold in the shambles is sanctified by being my Father's, and I need not scruple to eat thereof.
Verse 2. In the second verse we have the reason why the world belongs to God, namely, because he has created it, which is a title beyond all dispute.
"For he has founded it upon the seas." It is God who lifts up the earth from out of the sea, so that the dry land, which otherwise might in a moment be submerged, as in the days of Noah, is kept from the floods. The hungry jaws of ocean would devour the dry land if a constant fiat of Omnipotence did not protect it.
"He has established it upon the floods." The world is Jehovah's, because from generation to generation he preserves and upholds it, having settled its foundations. Providence and Creation are the two legal seals upon the title-deeds of the great Owner of all things. He who built the house and bears up its foundations, has surely a first claim upon it.
Let it be noted, however, upon what insecure foundations all terrestrial things are founded. Founded on the seas! Established on the floods! Blessed be God the Christian has another world to look forward to, and rests his hopes upon a more stable foundation than this poor world affords.
They who trust in worldly things build upon the sea; but we have laid our hopes, by God's grace, upon the Rock of Ages; we are resting upon the promise of an immutable God, we are depending upon the constancy of a faithful Redeemer.
Oh! you worldlings, who have built your castles of confidence, your palaces of wealth, and your bowers of pleasure upon the seas, and established them upon the floods—how soon will your baseless fabrics melt, like foam upon the waters! Sand is treacherous enough, but what shall be said of the yet more unstable sea?
Verses 3-6. Here we have the true Israel described. The men who shall stand as courtiers in the palace of the living God are not distinguished by race, but by character; they are not Jews only, nor Gentiles only, nor any one branch of mankind peculiarly, but a people purified and made fit to dwell in the holy hill of the Lord.
Verse 3. "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?" It is uphill work for the creature to reach the Creator. Where is the mighty climber who can scale the towering heights?
Nor is it height alone—it is glory too. Whose eye shall see the King in his beauty and dwell in his palace? In Heaven he reigns most gloriously, who shall be permitted to enter into his royal presence?
God has made all, but he will not save all; there is a chosen company who shall have the singular honor of dwelling with him in his high abode. These choice spirits desire to commune with God, and their wish shall be granted them.
The solemn inquiry of the text is repeated in another form. Who shall be able to "stand" or continue there? He casts away the wicked, who then can abide in his house? Who is he who can gaze upon the Holy One, and can abide in the blaze of his glory?
Certainly none may venture to commune with God upon the footing of the law, but grace can make us fit to behold the vision of the divine presence.
The question before us is one which all should ask for themselves, and none should be at ease until they have received an answer of peace. With careful self-examination let us inquire, "Lord, is it I."
Verse 4. "He who has clean hands." Outward, practical holiness is a very precious mark of grace. To wash in water with Pilate is nothing, but to wash in innocency is all-important. It is to be feared that many professors have perverted the doctrine of justification by faith in such a way as to treat good works with contempt; if so, they will receive everlasting contempt at the last great day.
It is vain to prate of inward experience unless the daily life is free from impurity, dishonesty, violence, and oppression.
Those who draw near to God must have "clean hands." What monarch would have servants with filthy hands to wait at his table? Those who were ceremonially unclean could not enter into the Lord's house which was made with hands, much less shall the morally defiled be allowed to enjoy spiritual fellowship with a holy God.
If our hands are now unclean, let us wash them in Jesus' precious blood, and so let us pray unto God, lifting up pure hands.
But "clean hands" would not suffice, unless they were connected with "a pure heart." True religion is heart-work. We may wash the outside of the cup and the platter as long as we please; but if the inward parts be filthy, we are filthy altogether in the sight of God, for our hearts are more truly ourselves than our hands are. We may lose our hands and yet live, but we could not lose our heart and still live. The very life of our being lies in the inner nature, and hence the imperative need of purity within.
There must be a work of grace in the core of the heart as well as in the palm of the hand, or our religion is a delusion. May God grant that our hearts may be cleansed by the sanctifying Spirit, so that we may love holiness and abhor all sin. The pure in heart shall see God, all others are but blind bats. Stone-blindness in the eyes arises from the stone in the heart. Dirt in the heart, throws dust in the eyes.
The soul must be delivered from delighting in the groveling toys of earth. The man who is born for Heaven "has not lifted up his soul unto vanity." All men have their joys, by which their souls are lifted up; the worldling lifts up his soul in carnal delights, which are mere empty vanities. But the saint loves more substantial things; like Jehoshaphat, he is lifted up in the ways of the Lord. He who is content with the husks will be reckoned with the swine. If we suck our consolation from the breasts of the world, we prove ourselves to be its home-born children. Does the world satisfy you? Then you have your reward and your portion in this life; make much of it, for you shall know no other joy.
"Nor sworn deceitfully." The saints are men of honor still. The Christian man's word is his only oath; but that is as good as twenty oaths of other men. False speaking will shut any man out of Heaven, for a liar shall not enter into God's house, whatever may be his professions or doings. God will have nothing to do with liars, except to cast them into the lake of fire. Every liar is a child of the devil, and will be sent home to his father. A false declaration, a fraudulent statement, a cooked account, a slander, a lie—all these may suit the assembly of the ungodly, but are detested among true saints. How could they have fellowship with the God of truth, if they did not hate every false way?
Verse 5. It must not be supposed that the people who are thus described by their inward and outward holiness are saved by the merits of their works; but their works are the evidences by which they are known. The present verse shows that in the saints grace reigns and grace alone. Such men wear the holy livery of the Great King because he has of his own free love clothed them therewith. The true saint wears the wedding garment, but he owns that the Lord of the feast provided it for him, without money and without price.
"He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation." So that the saints need salvation; they receive righteousness, and "the blessing" is a blessing from God their Savior. They do not ascend the hill of the Lord as givers but as receivers, and they do not wear their own merits, but a righteousness which they have received. Holy living ensures a blessing as its reward from the thrice Holy God, but it is itself a blessing of the New Covenant and a delightful fruit of the Spirit. God first gives us good works, and then rewards us for them. Grace is not obscured by God's demand for holiness, but is highly exalted as we see it decking the saint with jewels, and clothing him in fair white linen—all this sumptuous array being a free gift of mercy.
Verse 6. "This is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O Jacob." These are the regeneration, these are in the line of grace; these are the legitimate seed. Yet they are only seekers; hence learn that true seekers are very dear in God's esteem, and are entered upon his register. Even seeking has a sanctifying influence; what a consecrating power must lie in finding and enjoying the Lord's face and favor!
To desire communion with God is a purifying thing. Oh to hunger and thirst more and more after a clear vision of the face of God; this will lead us to purge ourselves from all filthiness, and to walk with heavenly circumspection. He who longs to see his friend when he passes takes care to clear the mist from the window, lest by any means his friend should go by unobserved.
Really awakened souls seek the Lord above everything, and as this is not the usual desire of mankind, they constitute a generation by themselves; a people despised of men, but beloved of God.
The expression "O Jacob" is a very difficult one, unless it be indeed true that the God of Jacob here condescends to be called Jacob, and takes upon himself the name of his chosen people.
The preceding verses correct the inordinate boastings of those Jews who vaunted themselves as the favorites of Heaven. They are told that their God is the God of all the earth, and that he is holy, and will admit none but holy ones into his presence. Let the mere professor as he reads these verses listen to the voice which says, "without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
"Selah." Lift up the harp and voice, for a nobler song is coming—a song of our Well-beloved.
Verse 7. "Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in." These last verses reveal to us the great representative man, who answered to the full character laid down, and therefore by his own right ascended the holy hill of Zion. Our Lord Jesus Christ could ascend into the hill of the Lord because his hands were clean and his heart was pure. If we by faith in him are conformed to his image we shall enter too. We have here a picture of our Lord's glorious ascent. We see him rising from amidst the little group upon Olivet, and as the cloud receives him, angels reverently escort him to the gates of Heaven.
The ancient gates of the eternal temple are personified and addressed in song by the attending cohorts of rejoicing spirits.
"Lo his triumphal chariot waits,
And angels chant the solemn lay.
Lift up your heads, you heavenly gates;
You everlasting doors, give way."
They are called upon "to lift up their heads," as though with all their glory they were not great enough for the All-glorious King. Let all things do their utmost to honor so great a Prince. Let the highest Heaven put on unusual loftiness in honor of "the King of Glory." He who, fresh from the cross and the tomb, now rides through the gates of the New Jerusalem is higher than the heavens; great and everlasting as they are, those gates of pearl are all unworthy of him before whom the heavens are not pure, and who charges his angels with folly.
Verse 8. The watchers at the gate hearing the song look over the battlements and ask, "Who is this King of glory?" A question full of meaning and worthy of the meditations of eternity. Who is he in his person, his nature, his character, his office and his work? What is his pedigree? What his rank and what his race?
The answer given in a mighty wave of music is, "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle." We know the might of Jesus by the battles which he has fought, and the victories which he has won over sin, and death, and Hell, and we clap our hands as we see him leading captivity captive in the majesty of his strength. Oh for a heart to sing his praises! Mighty hero, be crowned for ever King of kings and Lord of lords.
Verse 9. "Lift up your heads, O gates; even lift them up, O everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in." The words are repeated with a pleasing variation. There are times of deep earnest feeling when repetitions are not vain but full of force. Doors were often taken from their hinges when Easterns would show welcome to a guest, and some doors were drawn up and down, and may possibly have protruded from the top; thus literally lifting up their heads.
The picture is highly poetic, and shows how wide Heaven's gate is set by the ascension of our Lord. Blessed be God, the gates have never been shut since. The opened gates of Heaven invite the weakest believer to enter.
Dear reader, it is possible that you are saying, "I shall never enter into the Heaven of God, for I have neither clean hands nor a pure heart." Look then to Christ, who has already climbed the holy hill. He has entered as the forerunner of those who trust him. Follow in his footsteps, and repose upon his merit. He rides triumphantly into Heaven, and you shall ride there too if you trust him.
"But how can I get the character described?" say you. The Spirit of God will give you that. He will create in you a new heart and a right spirit. Faith in Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit, and has all virtues wrapped up in it. Faith stands by the fountain filled with blood, and as she washes therein, clean hands and a pure heart, a holy soul and a truthful tongue are given to her.
Verse 10. Who is he, this King of glory? The LORD Almighty-- he is the King of glory. Selah. The closing note is inexpressibly grand. Jehovah Almighty, Lord of men and angels, Lord of the universe, Lord of the worlds, is the King of glory. All true glory is concentrated upon the true God, for all other glory is but a passing pageant, the painted pomp of an hour. The ascended Savior is here declared to be the Head and Crown of the universe, the King of Glory! Our Immanuel is hymned in sublimest strains. Jesus of Nazareth is Jehovah Almighty.