Treasury of David
TITLE. A Psalm of David, to bring remembrance. David felt as if he had been forgotten of his God, and, therefore, he recounted his sorrows and cried mightily for help under them. The same title is given to Psalm 70, where in like manner the psalmist pours out his complaint before the Lord. It would be foolish to make a guess as to the point in David's history when this was written; it may be a commemoration of his own sickness and endurance of cruelty; it may, on the other hand, have been composed by him for the use of sick and slandered saints, without special reference to himself.
The Psalm opens with a prayer, Verse 1;
continues in a long complaint, Verses 2-8;
pauses to dart an eye to Heaven, Verse 9;
proceeds with a second tale of sorrow, Verses 10-14;
interjects another word of hopeful address to God, Verse 15;
a third time pours out a flood of griefs, Verses 16-20;
then closes as it opened, with renewed petitioning,
Verse 1. O Lord, do not rebuke me in your wrath. Rebuked I must be, for I am an erring child and you are a caring Father—but throw not too much anger into the tones of your voice; deal gently although I have sinned grievously. The anger of others I can bear, but not yours. As your love is most sweet to my heart, so your displeasure is most cutting to my conscience.
Neither chasten me in your hot displeasure. Chasten me if you will, it is a Father's prerogative, and to endure it obediently is a child's duty; but, O turn not the rod into a sword, smite not so as to kill. True, my sins might well inflame you, but let your mercy and longsuffering quench the glowing coals of your wrath. O let me not be treated as an enemy or dealt with as a rebel. Bring to remembrance your covenant, your fatherhood, and my feebleness—and spare your servant.
Verse 2. For your arrows stick fast in me. By this he means both bodily and spiritual griefs, but we may suppose, especially the latter, for these are most piercing and stick the fastest. God's law applied by the Spirit to the conviction of the soul of sin, wounds deeply and rankles long; it is an arrow not lightly to be brushed out by careless mirthfulness, or to be extracted by the flattering hand of self-righteousness.
The Lord knows how to shoot so that his bolts not only strike, but stick. He can make convictions sink into the innermost spirit like arrows driven in up to the head. It seems strange that the Lord should shoot at his own beloved ones, but in truth he shoots at their sins rather than them. Those who feel his sin-killing shafts in this life, shall not be slain with his hot thunderbolts in the next world.
And your hand presses me sorely. The Lord had come to close dealings with him, and pressed him down with the weight of his hand, so that he had no rest or strength left.
By these two expressions we are taught that conviction of sin is a piercing and a pressing thing, sharp and sore, smarting and crushing. Those who know by experience "the terrors of the Lord," will be best able to vouch for the accuracy of such descriptions; they are true to the life.
Verse 3. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your anger. Mental depression weighs upon the bodily frame; it is enough to create and foster every disease, and is in itself the most painful of all diseases. Soul sickness weighs upon the entire frame; it weakens the body, and then bodily weakness reacts upon the mind. One drop of divine anger sets the whole of our blood boiling with misery.
Neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin. Deeper still the malady penetrates, until the bones, the more solid parts of the system, are affected. No soundness and no rest are two sad deficiencies; yet these are both consciously gone from every awakened conscience until Jesus gives relief. God's anger is a fire that dries up the very marrow; it searches the secret parts of the heart. A man who has pain in his bones tosses to and fro in search of rest, but he finds none; he becomes worn out with agony, and in so many cases a sense of sin creates in the conscience a horrible unrest which cannot be exceeded in anguish except by Hell itself.
Verse 4. For my iniquities are gone over my head. Like waves of the deep sea; like black mire in which a man utterly sinks. Above my hopes, my strength, my life itself, my sin rises in its terror.
Unawakened sinners think their sins to be mere shallows, but when conscience is aroused they find out the depth of iniquity.
As an heavy burden they are too heavy for me. It is well when sin is an intolerable load, and when the remembrance of our sins burdens us beyond endurance. This verse is the genuine cry of one who feels himself undone by his transgressions and as yet sees not the great sacrifice of Jesus.
Verse 5. My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my foolishness. Apply this to the body, and it pictures a sad condition of disease; but read it of the soul, and the picture is drawn to the life. Conscience lays on stripe after stripe until the swelling becomes a wound and festers, and the corruption within grows loathsome.
What a horrible creature man appears to be in his own consciousness when his depravity and vileness are fully opened up by the law of God, applied by the Holy Spirit! It is true there are diseases which are correctly described in this verse, when in the worst stage; but we prefer to receive the expressions as instructively figurative, since the words "because of my foolishness" point rather at a moral than a physical malady.
Some of us know what it is to be a stench in our own nostrils, so as to loathe ourselves. Even the most filthy diseases cannot be so foul as sin. No ulcers, cancers, or putrefying sores, can match the unutterable vileness and pollution of iniquity. Our own perceptions have made us feel this. We write what we do know, and testify what we have seen; and even now we shudder to think that so much evil should lie festering deep within our nature.
Verse 6. I am troubled. I am wearied with distress, writhing with pain, in sore travail on account of sin revealed within me.
I am bowed down greatly. I am brought very low, grievously weakened and frightfully depressed. Nothing so pulls a man down from all loftiness, as a sense of sin and of divine wrath concerning it.
I go mourning all the day long. The mourner's soul sorrow knew no intermission. Even when he went about such business as he was able to attend, he went forth like a mourner who goes to the tomb, and his words and manners were like the lamentations of those who follow the corpse.
The whole verse may be the more clearly understood if we picture the Oriental mourner, covered with sackcloth and ashes, bowed as in a heap, siting amid squalor and dirt, performing contortions and writhings expressive of his grief. Such is the awakened sinner, not in outward guise, but in very truth.
Verse 7. For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease—a hot, dry, parching disorder, probably accompanied by loathsome ulcers. Spiritually, the fire burns within when the evil of the heart is laid bare. Note the emphatic words, the evil is loathsome, it is in the loins, its seat is deep and vital—the man is filled with it. Those who have passed through the time of conviction understand all this.
And there is no soundness in my flesh. This he had said before, and thus the Holy Spirit brings humiliating truth again and again to our memories, tears away every ground of glorying, and makes us know that in us, that is, in our flesh, there dwells no good thing.
Verse 8. I am feeble. The original is "benumbed," or frozen, such strange incongruities and contradictions meet in a distracted mind and a sick body—it appears to itself to be alternately parched with heat, and pinched with cold.
Like souls in the Popish fabled Purgatory, tossed from burning furnaces into thick ice—so tormented hearts rush from one extreme to the other, with equal torture in each. A heat of fear, a chill of horror, a flaming desire, a horrible insensibility—by these successive miseries a convinced sinner is brought to death's door.
And utterly crushed. Crushed as in a mill—or pounded as in a mortar. The body of the sick man appears to be all out of joint and smashed into a palpitating pulp, and the soul of the desponding is in an equally wretched case. As a victim crushed under the car of Juggernaut, such is a soul over whose conscience the wheels of divine wrath have forced their awful way.
I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart. Deep and hoarse is the voice of sorrow, and often inarticulate and terrible. The heart learns groanings which cannot be uttered, and the voice fails to tone and tune itself to human speech.
When our prayers appear to be rather animal than spiritual, they are none the less prevalent with the pitiful Father of mercy. He hears the murmur of the heart and the roaring of the soul because of sin, and in due time he comes to relieve his afflicted.
The more closely the preceding portrait of an awakened soul is studied in the light of experience, the more will its striking accuracy appear. It cannot be a description of merely outward disorder, graphic as it might then be; it has a depth and pathos in it which only the soul's mysterious and awful agony can fully match.
Verse 9. Lord, all my desire is before you. If unuttered—yet perceived. Blessed be God, he reads the longings of our hearts; nothing can be hidden from him; what we cannot tell to him he perfectly understands.
The psalmist is conscious that he has not exaggerated, and therefore appeals to Heaven for a confirmation of his words. The good Physician understands the symptoms of our disease and sees the hidden evil which they reveal, hence our case is safe in his hands.
And my groaning is not hid from you.
"He knows the meaning of our tears,
The language of our groans."
Sorrow and anguish hide themselves from the observation of man, but God spies them out. None more lonely than the broken-hearted sinner—yet has he the Lord for his companion.
Verse 10. My heart pants. Here begins another tale of woe. He was so dreadfully pained by the unkindness of friends, that his heart was in a state of perpetual palpitation. Sharp and quick were the beatings of his heart; he was like a hunted roe, filled with distressing alarms, and ready to fly out of itself with fear.
The soul seeks sympathy in sorrow, and if it finds none, its sorrowful heart throbs are incessant.
My strength fails me. What with disease and distraction, he was weakened and ready to expire. A sense of sin, and a clear perception that none can help us in our distress, are enough to bring a man to death's door, especially if there be none to speak a gentle word, and point the broken spirit to the beloved Physician.
As for the light of my eyes, it also is gone from me. Sweet light departed from his bodily eye, and consolation vanished from his soul. Those who were the very light of his eyes forsook him. Hope, the last lamp of night, was ready to go out.
What a plight was the poor convict in! Yet here, we have some of us been; and here we would have perished had not infinite mercy interposed. Now, as we remember the loving-kindness of the Lord, we see how good it was for us to find our own strength fail us, since it drove us to the strong for strength; and how right it was that our light should all be quenched, that the Lord's light should be all in all to us.
Verse 11. My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my wounds. Whatever affection they might pretend to, they kept out of his company, lest as a sinking vessel often draws down boats with it, they might be made to suffer through his calamities.
It is very hard when those who should be the first to come to the rescue, are the first to desert us. In times of deep soul trouble, even the most affectionate friends cannot enter into the sufferer's case; let them be as anxious as they may, the sores of a tender conscience they cannot bind up. Oh, the loneliness of a soul passing under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit!
And my kinsmen stand afar off. As the women and others of our Lord's acquaintances from afar gazed on his cross, so a soul wounded for sin sees all mankind as distant spectators, and in the whole crowd finds none to aid. Often relatives hinder seekers after Jesus, oftener still they look on with unconcern, seldom enough do they endeavor to lead the penitent to Jesus.
Verse 12. Those who seek after my life lay snares for me. Alas! for us when in addition to inward griefs, we are beset by outward temptations. David's foes endeavored basely to ensnare him. If fair means would not overthrow him, foul means should be tried. This snaring business is a vile one, the devil's own poachers alone condescend to it.
But prayer to God will deliver us, for the craft of the entire college of tempters can be met and overcome by those who are led of the Spirit.
They that seek my hurt speak mischievous things. Lies and slanders poured from them like water from the town pump. Their tongue was forever going, and their heart forever inventing lies.
And imagine deceit all the day long. They were never done, their forge was going from morning to night. When they could not act they talked, and when they could not talk they imagined, and schemed, and plotted. Restless is the activity of malice. Bad men never have enough of evil. They compass sea and land to injure a saint; no labor is too severe, no cost too great—if they may utterly destroy the innocent.
Our comfort is, that our glorious Head knows the pertinacious malignity of our foes, and will in due season put an end to it, as he even now sets bounds about it.
Verse 13. But I, as a deaf man, heard not. Well and bravely was this done. A sacred indifference to the slanders of malevolence is true courage and wise policy. It is well to be as if we could not hear or see. Perhaps the psalmist means that this deafness on his part was unavoidable because he had no power to answer the taunts of the cruel, but felt much of the truth of their ungenerous accusations.
And I was as a mute man who opens not his mouth. David was bravely silent. Herein was eminently typical of our Lord Jesus, whose marvelous silence before Pilate was far more eloquent than words. To abstain from self-defense is often most difficult, and frequently most wise.
Verse 14. Thus I was as a man that hears not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs. He repeats the fact of his silence that we may note it, admire it, and imitate it. We have an advocate, and need not therefore plead our own cause. The Lord will rebuke our foes, for vengeance belongs to him; we may therefore wait patiently and find it our strength to sit still.
Verse 15. For in You, O LORD, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God. David committed himself to him that judges righteously, and so in patience was able to possess his soul.
Hope in God's intervention, and belief in the power of prayer, are two most blessed stays to the soul in time of adversity. Turning right away from the creature to the sovereign Lord of all, and to him as our own covenant God—we shall find the richest solace in waiting upon him. Reputation like a fair pearl may be cast into the mire, but in due time when the Lord makes up his jewels, the godly character shall shine with unclouded splendor. Rest then, O slandered one, and let not your soul be tossed to and fro with anxiety.
Verse 16. For I said, hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over me. The godly man was not insensible, he dreaded the sharp stings of taunting malice. He feared lest either by his conduct or his condition, he should give occasion to the wicked to triumph. This fear his earnest desires used as an argument in prayer as well as an incentive to prayer.
When my foot slips, they magnify themselves against me. The least flaw in a saint is sure to be noticed; long before it comes to a fall the enemy begins to rail. The merest trip of the foot sets all the dogs of Hell barking! How careful ought we to be, and how importunate in prayer for upholding grace! We do not wish, like blind Samson, to make sport for our enemies; let us then beware of the treacherous Delilah of sin, by whose means our eyes may soon be put out.
Verse 17. For I am ready to halt. Like one who limps, or a person with tottering footsteps, in danger of falling. How well this befits us all. "Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall." How small a thing will lame a Christian, how insignificant a stumbling block may cause him to fall!
This passage refers to a weakness caused by pain and sorrow. The sufferer was ready to give up in despair; he was so depressed in spirit that he stumbled at a straw.
Some of us painfully know what it is to be like dry tinder for the sparks of sorrow; ready to halt, ready to mourn, and sigh and cry upon any occasion, and for any cause.
And my sorrow is continually before me. He did not need to look out of window to find sorrow—he felt it within, and groaned under a body of sin which was an increasing plague to him. Deep conviction continues to irritate the conscience; it will not endure a patched up peace; but cries war to the knife until the enmity is slain.
Until the Holy Spirit applies the precious blood of Jesus, a truly awakened sinner is covered with raw wounds which cannot be healed nor bound up, nor mollified with ointment.
Verse 18. For I will declare my iniquity. The slander of his enemies he repudiates, but the accusations of his conscience he admits. Open confession is good for the soul. When sorrow leads to hearty and penitent acknowledgment of sin it is blessed sorrow, a thing to thank God for most devoutly.
I will be sorry for my sin. My confession will be salted with briny tears. It is well not so much to bewail our sorrows, as to denounce the sins which lie at the root of them. To be sorry for sin is no atonement for it, but it is the right spirit in which to flee to Jesus, who is the reconciliation and the Savior. A man is near to the end of his trouble, when he comes to an end with his sins.
Verse 19. But my enemies are lively, and they are strong. However weak and dying the righteous man may be, the evils which oppose him are sure to be lively enough. Neither the world, the flesh, nor the devil, are ever afflicted with debility or inertness; this trinity if evils labor with mighty unremitting energy to overthrow us.
If the devil were sick, or our lusts feeble, or Madame Bubble infirm—we might slacken prayer; but with such lively and vigorous enemies we must not cease to cry mightily unto our God.
And they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied. Here is another misery—that as we are no match for our enemies in strength, so also they outnumber us as a hundred to one. Wrong as the cause of evil is, it is a popular one. More and more the kingdom of darkness grows. Oh, misery of miseries, that we see the professed friends of Jesus forsaking him, and the enemies of his cross and his cause mustering in increasing bands!
Verse 20. They also that render evil for good are my adversaries. Such would a wise man wish his enemies to be. Why should we seek to be beloved of such graceless souls? It is a fine plea against our enemies when we can without injustice declare them to be like the devil, whose nature it is to render evil for good.
Because I follow that which is good. If men hate us for this reason, we may rejoice to bear it. Wrath is the unconscious homage which vice renders to virtue. This verse is not inconsistent with the writer's previous confession; we may feel equally guilty before God, and yet be entirely innocent of any wrong to our fellow men. It is one thing to acknowledge the truth, quite another thing to submit to be belied. The Lord may smite me justly, and yet I may be able to say to my fellow man, "Why do you smite me?"
Verse 21. Forsake me not, O Lord. Now is the time I need you most. When sickness, slander, and sin, all beset a saint—he requires the especial aid of Heaven, and he shall have it too. He is afraid of nothing while God is with him, and God is with him evermore.
Be not far from me. Withhold not the blessing of your near and dear love. Reveal yourself to me. Stand at my side. Let me feel that though friendless besides, I have a most gracious and all sufficient friend in you.
Verse 22. Make haste to help me. Delay would prove destruction. The poor pleader was far gone and ready to expire, only speedy help would serve his turn. See how sorrow quickens the importunity of prayer! Here is one of the sweet results of affliction, it gives new life to our pleading, and drives us with eagerness to our God.
O Lord my salvation. Not my Savior only, but my salvation. He who has the Lord on his side has salvation in present possession. Faith foresees the blessed outcome of all her pleas, and in this verse begins to ascribe to God the glory of the expected mercy. We shall not be left of the Lord. His grace will support us most opportunely, and in Heaven we shall see that we had not one trial too many, or one pang too severe. A sense of sin, shall melt into the joy of salvation. Grief shall lead on to gratitude, and gratitude to joy unspeakable and full of glory.