Treasury of David
TITLE. A Psalm of David. Here is all we know concerning this Psalm, but internal evidence seems to fix the date of its composition in those troublous times when Saul hunted David over hill and dale, and when those who fawned upon the cruel king, slandered the innocent object of his wrath, or it may be referred to the unquiet days of frequent insurrections in David's old age. The whole Psalm is the appeal to Heaven of a bold heart and a clear conscience, irritated beyond measure by oppression and malice. Beyond a doubt David's Lord may be seen here by the spiritual eye.
DIVISIONS. The most natural mode of dividing this Psalm is to note its triple character. Its complaint, prayer, and promise of praise are repeated with remarkable parallelism three times, even as our Lord in the Garden prayed three times using the same words.
The first portion occupies verses 1 to 10,
the second from 11-18, and
the last from 19 to the close;
each section ending with a note of grateful song.
Verse 1. "Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me." Plead against those who plead against me; strive with my strivers; contend with my contenders. If they urge their suit in the law-court, Lord, meet them there, and beat them at their own weapons. Every saint of God shall have this privilege: the accuser of the brethren shall be met by the Advocate of the saints.
"Fight against those who fight against me." If my adversaries try force as well as fraud, be a match for them; oppose your strength to their strength. Jesus does this for all his beloved—for them he is both intercessor and champion. Whatever aid they need, they shall receive from him, and in whatever manner they are assaulted, they shall be effectually defended. Let us not fail to leave our case in the Lord's hand. Vain is the help of man, but ever effectual is the interposition of Heaven. What is here asked for as a blessing, may be regarded as a promise, to all the saints; in judgment they shall have a divine advocate, in warfare a divine protection.
Verse 2. "Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for my help." In vivid metaphor the Lord is pictured as coming forth armed for battle, and interposing himself between his servant and his enemies. The greater and lesser protections of providence may be here intended by the two defensive weapons, and by the Lord's standing up is meant his active and zealous preservation of his servant in the perilous hour. This poetic imagery shows how the Psalmist realized the existence and power of God; and thought of him as a real and actual personage, truly working for his afflicted.
Verse 3. "Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against those who persecute me." Before the enemy comes to close quarters the Lord can push them off as with a long spear. To stave off trouble is no poor act of loving-kindness. As when some valiant warrior with his lance blocks up a defile, and keeps back a host until his weaker brethren have made good their escape—so does the Lord often hold the believer's foes at bay until the godly man has taken breath, or clean fled from his foes. He often gives the foes of Zion some other work to do, and so gives rest to his church. What a glorious idea is this of Jehovah blocking the way of persecutors, holding them at the spear's end, and giving time for the hunted saint to elude their pursuit!
"Say unto my soul, I am your salvation." Besides holding off the enemy the Lord can also calm the mind of his servant by express assurance from his own mouth, that he is, and shall be, safe under the Almighty wing. An inward persuasion of security in God is of all things the most precious in the furnace of persecution. One word from the Lord quiets all our fears.
Verse 4. "Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul." There is nothing malicious here, the slandered man simply craves for justice, and the petition is natural and justifiable. Guided by God's good spirit the Psalmist foretells the everlasting confusion of all the haters of the righteous. Shameful disappointment shall be the portion of the enemies of the gospel; nor would the most tender-hearted Christian have it otherwise. Viewing sinners as men, we love them and seek their good; but regarding them as enemies of God, we cannot think of them with anything but detestation, and a loyal desire for the confusion of their devices. No loyal subject can wish well to rebels. Squeamish sentimentality may object to the strong language here used, but in their hearts all godly men wish confusion to mischief-makers.
Verse 5. "Let them be as chaff before the wind." They were swift enough to attack, let them be as swift to flee. Let their own fears and the alarms of their consciences unman them so that the least breeze of trouble shall carry them hither and thither. Ungodly men are worthless in character, and light in their behavior, being destitute of solidity and fixedness. It is but just that those who make themselves chaff should be treated as such. When this imprecation is fulfilled in graceless men, they will find it an awful thing to be forever without rest, without peace of mind, or stay of soul, hurried from fear to fear, and from misery to misery.
"And let the angel of the Lord chase them." Fallen angels shall haunt them, good angels shall afflict them. To be pursued by avenging spirits will be the lot of those who delight in persecution.
Observe the whole scene as the Psalmist sketches it: the furious foe is first held at bay, then turned back, then driven to headlong flight, and chased by fiery messengers from whom there is no escape—while his pathway becomes dark and dangerous, and his destruction overwhelming.
Verse 6. "Let their way be dark and slippery." What terrors are gathered here! No light, no foothold—and a fierce avenger at their heels! What a doom is appointed for the enemies of God! They may rage and rave today, but how altered will be their plight before long!
"And let the angel of the Lord pursue them." He will follow them hot-foot, as we say, never turning aside, but like a trusty pursuivant serving the writ of vengeance upon them, and arresting them in the name of unflinching justice. Woe, woe, woe, unto those who touch the people of God—their destruction is both swift and sure.
Verse 7. In this verse the Psalmist brings forward the basis of his charge against the servants of the devil. "For without cause"—without my having injured, assailed, or provoked them; out of their own spontaneous malice "they have hid for me their net in a pit," even as men hunt for their game with cunning and deception. Innocent people have often been ruined by traps set for them, into which they have fallen as guilelessly as beasts which stumble into concealed pits, and are taken as in a net.
It is no little thing to be able to feel that the enmity which assails us is undeserved—uncaused by any willful offence on our part. Twice does David assert in one verse that his adversaries plotted against him "without cause."
Net-making and pit-digging require time and labor, and both of these the wicked will expend cheerfully if they may but overthrow the people of God. Fair warfare belongs to honorable men, but the assailants of God's church prefer mean, ungenerous schemes, and so prove their nature and their origin. We must all of us be on our guard, for traps and pitfalls are still the favorite weapons of the powers of evil.
Verse 8. "Let destruction come upon him by surprise." This tremendous imprecation is frequently fulfilled. God's judgments are often sudden and signal. Death enter the persecutor's house without pausing to knock at the door. The thunderbolt of judgment leaps from its hiding-place, and in one crash the wicked are broken forever!
"And let his net that he has hid catch himself—into that very destruction let him fall." There is a law of retaliation with God which often works most wonderfully. Men set traps, and catch their own fingers. They throw up stones, and they fall upon their own heads. How often Satan outwits himself, and burns his fingers with his own coals! This will doubtless be one of the aggravations of Hell, that men will torment themselves with what were once the fond devices of their rebellious minds. They curse, and are cursed; they kick the pricks, and tear themselves; they pour forth floods of fire, and it burns them within and without!
Verse 9. "And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord." Thus rescued, David ascribes all the honor to the Judge of the right; to his own valorous arm he offers no sacrifice of boasting. He turns away from his adversaries to his God, and finds a deep unbroken joy in Jehovah, and in that joy his spirit revels.
"And rejoice in his salvation." We do not triumph in the destruction of others, but in the salvation given to us of God. Prayer heard, should always suggest praise. It were well if we were more demonstrative in our holy rejoicings. We rob God by suppressing grateful emotions.
Verse 10. As if the tongue were not enough to bless God with, David makes every limb vocal, "All my bones shall say, Lord, who is like unto you?" His whole anatomy he would make resonant with gratitude. Those bones which were to have been broken by my enemies, shall now praise God; every one of them shall bring its tribute, ascribing unrivaled excellence to Jehovah the Savior of his people. Even if worn to skin and bone—yet my very skeleton shall magnify the Lord, "who deliver the poor from him that is too strong for him, yes, the poor and the needy from him that spoils him."
God is the champion, the true deliverer of all oppressed ones. Where there is so much condescension, justice, kindness, power, and compassion—the loftiest songs should be rendered. Come, dear reader, have you not been delivered from sin, Satan, and death, and will not you bless the Redeemer? You were poor and weak—but in due time Christ sought you, and set you free. O magnify the Lord today, and speak well of his name.
Verse 11. "False witnesses rose up." This is the old device of the ungodly, and we must not wonder if it be used against us as against our Master. To please Saul, there were always men to be found mean enough to impeach David.
"They laid to my charge things that I knew not." He had not even a thought of sedition; he was loyal even to excess; yet they accused him of conspiring against the Lord's anointed. He was not only innocent, but ignorant of the fault alleged. It is well when our hands are so clean that no trace of dirt is upon them.
Verse 12. "They rewarded me evil for good." This is devilish; but men have learned the lesson well from the old Destroyer, and practice it most perfectly.
"To the spoiling of my soul." They robbed him of comfort, and even would have taken his life had it not been for special rescues from the hand of God. The wicked would strip the righteous naked to their very soul—they know no pity. There are only such limits to human malice as God himself may see fit to place.
Verse 13. "But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth." David had been a man of sympathy; he had mourned when Saul was in ill health, putting on the garments of sorrow for him as though he were a near and dear friend. His heart went into mourning for his sick master.
"I humbled my soul with fasting." He prayed for his enemy, and made the sick man's case his own, pleading and confessing as if his own personal sin had brought on the evil. This showed a noble spirit in David, and greatly aggravated the baseness of those who now so cruelly persecuted him.
"And my prayer returned into my own bosom." Prayer is never lost: if it does not bless those for whom intercession is made, it shall bless the intercessors. Clouds do not always descend in showers upon the same spot from which the vapors ascended, but they come down somewhere. Just so, do supplications in some place or other yield their showers of mercy. If our dove finds no rest for the sole of her foot among our enemies, it shall fly into our bosoms and bring an olive branch of peace in its mouth. How sharp is the contrast all through this Psalm between the righteous and his enemies! We must be earnest to keep the line of demarcation broad and clear.
Verse 14. "I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother." I waited on him assiduously, comforted him affectionately, and sympathized with him deeply. This may refer to those days when David played on the harp, and chased away the evil spirit from Saul.
"I bowed down heavily, as one that mourns for his mother." He bowed his head as mourners do. The strongest natural grief was such as he felt when they were in trouble. The mother usually wins the deepest love, and her loss is most keenly felt; such was David's grief.
How few professors in these days have such compassion; and yet under the gospel there should be far more tender love than under the law. Had we more hearty love to manhood, and care for its innumerable ills, we might be far more useful; certainly we should be infinitely more Christ-like. "He prays best, who loves best."
Verse 15. "But in my adversity they rejoiced." In my halting they were delighted. My lameness was sport to them. Danger was near, and they sang songs over my expected defeat. How glad are the wicked to see a godly man limp! "Now," say they, "he will meet with his downfall."
"And gathered themselves together," like vultures around a dying sheep. They found a common joy in my ruin, and a recreation in my sorrow, and therefore met together to keep the feast. They laid their heads together to devise, and their tongues to deceive.
"Yes, the attackers gathered themselves together against me." Those who deserved a horse-whipping, came together to plot, and held nefarious meetings. Like curs around a sick lion, the base wretches taunted and insulted one whose name had been their terror. The very cripples hobbled out to join the malicious crew. How unanimous are the powers of evil; how heartily do men serve the devil; and none decline his service because they are not endowed with great abilities!
"I knew it not." It was all done behind my back. What a fluster the world may be in—and the cause of it all may not even know that he has given offence.
"They did tear me, and ceased not." It is such dainty work to tear to pieces a godly man's character, that when slanderers have their hand in they are loath to leave off. A pack of dogs tearing their prey is nothing compared with a set of malicious gossips mauling the reputation of a worthy man. That lovers of the gospel are not at this time rent and torn as in the old days of Bloody Mary, is to be attributed to the providence of God, rather than to the gentleness of men.
Verse 16. "With hypocritical mockers in feasts, they gnashed upon me with their teeth." Like professional buffoons who grin around the banquet to make sport, so they made a business of jeering at the godly man; not, however, out of mirth, but from violent, insatiable hatred. Like men who will jeer for a bit of bread, these hireling miscreants persecuted David in order to get a bellyful for themselves from Saul's table. Having moreover an inward grudge against the son of Jesse because he was a better man than themselves.
Very forcibly might our Lord have used the words of these verses! Let us not forget to see the Despised and Rejected of men here painted to the life. Calvary and the ribald crew around the cross seem brought before our eyes.
Verse 17. "Lord, how long will you look on?" Why be a mere spectator? Why so neglectful of your servant? Are you indifferent? Care you not that we perish? We may thus reason with the Lord. He permits us this familiarity. There is a time for our salvation, but to our impatience it often seems to be very slow in coming; yet wisdom has ordained the hour, and nothing shall delay it.
"Rescue my soul from their destructions." From their many devices; their multiplied assaults, be pleased to set me free.
"My precious soul," my lovely, only, precious soul—do you rescue "from the lions." His enemies were fierce, cunning, and strong as young lions. God alone could deliver him from their jaws, to God he therefore addresses himself.
Verse 18. "I will give you thanks in the great congregation." Notable deliverances must be recorded, and their fame emblazoned. All the saints should be informed of the Lord's goodness. The theme is worthy of the largest assembly—the experience of a believer is a subject fit for an assembled universe to hear of. Most men publish their griefs, godly men should proclaim their mercies.
"I will praise you among many people." Among friends and foes will I glorify the God of my salvation. Praise—personal praise, public praise, perpetual praise—should be the daily revenue of the King of Heaven. Thus, for the second time, David's prayer ends in praise, as indeed all prayer should.
Verse 19. Let not those gloat over me who are my enemies without cause; let not those who hate me without reason maliciously wink the eye. David earnestly prays that as they have no cause for their enmity, they may have no cause for triumph either in his folly, sin, or overthrow. The winking of the eye was the low-bred sign of congratulation at the ruin of their victim, and it may also have been one of their scornful gestures as they gazed upon him whom they despised. To cause hatred is the mark of the wicked; to suffer it causelessly is the lot of the righteous. God is the natural Protector of all who are wronged, and he is the enemy of all oppressors.
Verse 20. "For they speak not peace." They love it not; how can they speak it? They are such troublers themselves that they cannot judge others to be peaceable. Out of the mouth, comes what is in the heart. Riotous men charge others with sedition.
"They devise false accusations against those who are quiet in the land." David would gladly have been an orderly citizen, but they labored to make him a rebel. He could do nothing aright, all his dealings were misrepresented. This is an old trick of the enemy to brand godly men as sowers of sedition, though they have ever been a harmless race, like sheep among wolves. When mischief is meant, mischief is soon made.
Unscrupulous partisans could even charge Jesus with seeking to overturn Caesar, much more will they thus accuse his household. At this very hour, those who stand up for the crown rights of King Jesus are called enemies of the church, favorers of Popery, friends of Atheists, and it were hard to say what besides.
Verse 21. "Yes, they opened their mouth wide against me." As if they would swallow him. Uttering great lies which needed wide mouths. They set no bounds to their infamous charges, but poured out wholesale abuse, trusting that if all did not stick, some of it would.
"And said, Aha, aha, our eye has seen it." Glad to find out a fault or a misfortune, or to swear they had seen evil where there was none. Malice has but one eye; it is blind to all virtue in its enemy. Eyes can generally see, what hearts wish. A man with a mote in his eye sees a spot in the sun.
How like a man is to an donkey when he brays over another's misfortunes! How like to a devil when he laughs a hyaena-laugh over a godly man's slips!
Verse 22. "This you have seen, O Lord." Here is comfort. Our heavenly Father knows all our sorrow. Omniscience is the saint's candle which never goes out. A father will not long endure to see his child abused. Shall not God avenge his own elect?
"Keep not silence." Rebuke your enemies and mine, O Lord. A word will do it. Clear my character, comfort my heart.
"O Lord, be not far from me." Walk the furnace with me. Stand in the pillory at my side. The sweet presence of God is the divine cordial of the persecuted; his painful absence would be their deepest misery.
Verse 23. "Stir up yourself." Prove that you are no indifferent witness to all this infamy.
"Awake to my judgment." Take the scepter and summon the great assize; vindicate justice, avenge oppression. Do not tarry as men do who sleep.
"Even unto my cause, my God and my Lord." He claims a nearness to his God, he holds him with both hands; he leaves his case with the righteous Judge. He begs that the suit may be brought on, heard, tried, and verdict given. Well is it for a man when his conscience is so clear that he dares to make such an appeal.
Verse 24. Vindicate me in your righteousness, O LORD my God; do not let them gloat over me. The appeal is here repeated; the plaintiff feels that the joy of his accusers will be short-lived as soon as impartial justice rules. The oppressors' wrong, the proud man's revilement, the fool's grimace—all, all will cease when the righteous Lord sits down upon the judgment seat.
Verse 25. "Let them not say in their hearts, Ah, so would we have it! Let them not say, We have swallowed him up." Disappoint them of their prey when their mouths are ready to swallow it. Saints are too dear a morsel for the powers of evil; God will not give his sheep over to the wolfish jaws of the persecutors. Just when they are tuning their pipes to celebrate their victory, they shall be made to laugh on the other side of their mouths. They are all too sure, and too boastful; little do they dream of the end which will be put to their scheming. Their bird shall flee, and they themselves shall be in the trap.
The prayer of this text is a promise. Even before the lips of the wicked can frame a speech of exultation, they shall be disappointed; their heart-speech shall be forestalled, their wishes frustrated, their knavish tricks exposed.
Verse 26. May all who gloat over my distress be put to shame and confusion; may all who exalt themselves over me be clothed with shame and disgrace. Here is the eternal result of all the laborious and crafty devices of the Lord's enemies. God will make little of them, though they magnified themselves; he will shame them for shaming his people, bring them to confusion for making confusion, pull off their fine apparel and give them a beggarly suit of dishonor, and turn all their rejoicing into weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Truly, the saints can afford to wait.
Verse 27. "Let them shout for joy, and be glad, who favor my righteous cause." Even those who could not render him active aid, but in their hearts favored him, David would have the Lord reward most abundantly. Men of tender heart set great store by the good wishes and prayers of the Lord's people. Jesus also prizes those whose hearts are with his cause. The day is coming when shouts of victory shall be raised by all who are on Christ's side, for the battle will turn, and the foes of truth shall be routed.
"Yes, let them say continually, Let the Lord be magnified." He would have their gladness contributory to the divine glory; they are not to shout to David's praise, but for the honor of Jehovah. Such acclamations may fitly be continued throughout time and eternity.
"Who has pleasure in the prosperity of his servant." They recognized David as the Lord's servant, and saw with pleasure the Lord's favor to him. We can have no nobler title than "servant of God," and no greater reward than for our Master to delight in our prosperity. What true prosperity may be, we are not always best able to judge. We must leave that in Jesus' hand; he will not fail to rule all things for our highest good.
"For by his saints, it stands confessed.
That what he does, is always best."
Verse 28. My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long. Unceasing praise is here vowed to the just and gracious God. From morning until evening the grateful tongue would talk and sing, and glorify the Lord. O for such a resolve carried out by us all!