Treasury of David
TITLE. To the chief Musician, Maschil, for the sons of Korah. Dedicated to the Master of Music, this Psalm is worthy of his office; he who can sing best can have nothing better to sing. It is called, Maschil, or an instructive ode; and full as it is of deep experimental expressions, it is eminently calculated to instruct those pilgrims whose road to Heaven is of the same trying kind as David's was. It is always edifying to listen to the experience of a thoroughly gracious and much afflicted saint.
That choice band of singers, the sons of Korah, are bidden to make this delightful Psalm one of their peculiars. They had been spared when their father and all his company, and all the children of his associates were swallowed up alive in their sin. Numbers 26:11. They were the spared ones of sovereign grace.
Preserved, we know not why, by the distinguishing favor of God, it may be surmised that after their remarkable election to mercy, they became so filled with gratitude that they addicted themselves to sacred music in order that their spared lives might be consecrated to the glory of God.
At any rate, we who have been rescued as they were from going down into the pit, out of the mere good pleasure of Jehovah, can heartily join in this Psalm, and indeed in all the songs which show forth the praises of our God and the pantings of our hearts after him.
Although David is not mentioned as the author, this Psalm must be the offspring of his pen; it is so Davidic, it smells of the son of Jesse, it bears the marks of his style and experience in every letter.
SUBJECT. It is the cry of a man far removed from the outward ordinances and worship of God, sighing for the long loved house of his God. At the same time it is the voice of a spiritual believer, under depressions, longing for the renewal of the divine presence, struggling with doubts and fears, but yet holding his ground by faith in the living God. Most of the Lord's family have sailed on the sea which is here so graphically described. It is probable that David's flight from Absalom may have been the occasion for composing this Maschil.
DIVISION. The structure of the song directs us to
consider it in two parts which end with the same refrain; Verses 1-5 and
then Verses 6-11.
Verse 1. As the deer pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after the, O God. As after a long drought the poor fainting deer longs for the streams, or rather as the hunted deer instinctively seeks after the river to lave its smoking flanks and to escape the dogs—even so my weary, persecuted soul pants after the Lord my God.
Debarred from public worship, David was heartsick. Ease he did not seek, honor he did not covet, but the enjoyment of communion with God was an urgent need of his soul; he viewed it not merely as the sweetest of all luxuries, but as an absolute necessity, like water to a panting stag. Like the parched traveler in the wilderness, whose skin bottle is empty, and who finds the wells dry, he must drink or die—he must have his God or faint. His soul, his very self, his deepest life, was insatiable for a sense of the divine presence. As the deer brays, so his soul prays. Give him his God and he is as content as the poor deer which at length slakes its thirst and is perfectly happy; but deny him his Lord, and his heart heaves, his bosom palpitates, his whole frame is convulsed, like one who gasps for breath, or pants with long running.
Dear reader, do you know what this is, by personally having felt the same? It is a sweet bitterness. The next best thing to living in the light of the Lord's love, is to be unhappy until we have it, and to pant hourly after it. Hourly, did I say? thirst is a perpetual appetite, and not to be forgotten, and even thus continual is the heart's longing after God. When it is as natural for us to long for God as for an animal to thirst, it is well with our souls, however painful our feelings.
We may learn from this verse that the eagerness of our desires may be pleaded with God, and the more so, because there are special promises for the importunate and fervent.
Verse 2. My soul. All my nature, my inmost self.
Thirsts. Which is more than hungering; hunger you can palliate, but thirst is awful, insatiable, clamorous, deadly. O to have the most intense craving after the highest good! this is an unquestionable mark of grace.
For God. Not merely for the temple and the ordinances, but for fellowship with God himself. None but spiritual men can sympathize with this thirst.
For the living God. Because he lives, and gives to men the living water; therefore we, with greater eagerness, desire him. A dead God is a mere mockery—we loathe such a monstrous deity. But the ever living God, the perennial fountain of life and light and love, is our soul's desire. What are gold, honor, pleasure—but dead idols? May we never pant for these.
When shall I come and appear before God? He who loves the Lord loves also the assemblies wherein his name is adored. Vain are all pretenses to religion where the outward means of grace have no attraction. David was never so much at home as in the house of the Lord. He was not content with private worship; he did not forsake the place where saints assemble, as the manner of some is. See how pathetically he questions as to the prospect of his again uniting in the joyous gathering! How he repeats and reiterates his desire! After his God, his Elohim (his God to be worshiped, who had entered into covenant with him), he pined even as the drooping flowers for the dew, or the moaning turtle-dove for her mate.
It were well if all our resortings to public worship were viewed as appearances before God, it would then be a sure mark of grace to delight in them. Alas, how many appear before the minister, or their fellow men—and think that enough!
"To see the face of God" is a nearer translation of the Hebrew; but the two ideas may be combined—he would see his God and be seen of him: this is worth thirsting after!
Verse 3. My tears have been my meat day and night. Salt-meats, but healthful to the soul. When a man comes to tears, constant tears, plenteous tears, tears that fill his cup, he is in earnest indeed.
As the big tears stand in the stag's eyes in her distress, so did the salt drops glitter in the eyes of David. His appetite was gone, his tears not only seasoned his meat—but became his only meat, he had no mind for other diet.
Perhaps it was well for him that the heart could open the safety valves; there is a dry grief far more terrible than showery sorrows. His tears, since they were shed because God was blasphemed, were honorable dew-drops of holy water, such as Jehovah puts into his bottle.
While they continually say unto me, Where is your God? Cruel taunts come naturally from coward minds. Surely they might have left the mourner alone; he could weep no more than he did—it was great malice to pump more tears from a heart which already overflowed.
Note how incessant was their jeer, and how artfully they framed it! It cut the godly man to the bone to have the faithfulness of his God impugned. They had better have thrust needles into his eyes, than have darted insinuations against his God.
Shimei may here be alluded to who after this fashion mocked David as he fled from Absalom. He roundly asserted that David was a bloody man, and that God was punishing him for supplanting Saul and his house.
The wicked know that our worst misfortune would be to lose God's favor, hence their diabolical malice leads them to declare that such is the case. Glory be to God, they lie in their throats, for our God is in the heavens, yes, and in the furnace too, supporting his people.
Verse 4. When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me. When he harped upon his woes his heart melted into water and was poured out upon itself. God hidden, and foes raging, a pair of evils enough to bring down the stoutest heart! Yet why let reflections so gloomy engross us, since the result is of no value: merely to turn the soul on itself, to empty it from itself into itself is useless, how much better to pour out the heart before the Lord!
For I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God. Painful reflections were awakened by the memory of past joys; he had mingled in the pious throng, their numbers had helped to give him exhilaration and to awaken holy delight, their company had been a charm to him as with them he ascended the hill of Zion. Gently proceeding with holy ease, in lovely procession, with frequent strains of song, he and the people of Jehovah had marched in reverent ranks up to the shrine of sacrifice, the dear abode of peace and holiness.
Far away from such goodly company the holy man pictures the sacred scene and dwells upon the details of the pious march. With the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holiday. The festive noise is in his ears, and the solemn dance before his eyes. Perhaps he alludes to the removal of the ark and to the glorious gatherings of the tribes on that grand national holy day and holiday.
How changed his present place!
For Zion, a wilderness;
for the priests in white linen, soldiers in garments of war;
for the song, the sneer of blasphemy;
for the festivity, lamentation;
for joy in the Lord, a mournful dirge over his absence.
When in a foreign land, amid the idolatries of Popery, we have felt just the same home sickness for the house of the Lord which is here described. David appears to have had a peculiarly tender remembrance of the singing of the pilgrims, and assuredly it is the most delightful part of worship and that which comes nearest to the adoration of Heaven.
What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation, by the theatrical prettiness of a quartet, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it.
Verse 5. Why are you cast down, O my soul? As though he were two men, the psalmist talks to himself. His faith reasons with his fears, his hope argues with his sorrows. These present troubles, are they to last forever? The rejoicings of my foes, are they more than empty talk? My absence from the solemn feasts, is that a perpetual exile? Why this deep depression, this faithless fainting, this chicken-hearted melancholy? As Trapp says, "David chides David out of the dumps"—and herein he is an example for all desponding ones.
To search out the cause of our sorrow is often the best surgery for grief. Self-ignorance is not bliss; in this case it is misery. The mist of ignorance magnifies the causes of our alarm; a clearer view will make monsters dwindle into trifles.
Why are you disquieted within me? Why is my quiet gone? If I cannot keep a public Sabbath—yet why do I deny my soul her indoor Sabbath? Why am I agitated like a troubled sea, and why do my thoughts make a noise like a tumultuous multitude? The causes are not enough to justify such utter yielding to despondency. Up, my heart! What ails you? Play the man, and your castings down shall turn to up liftings, and your disquietudes to calm.
Hope in God. If every evil be let loose from Pandora's box—yet is there hope at the bottom. This is the grace that swims, though the waves roar and are troubled. God is unchangeable, and therefore his grace is the ground for unshaken hope. If everything is dark—yet the day will come, and meanwhile hope carries stars in her eyes. Her lamps are not dependent on oil from without, her light is fed by secret visitations of God, which sustain the spirit.
For I shall yet praise him. Yet will my sighs give place to songs—my mournful ditties shall be exchanged for triumphal paeans. A loss of the present sense of God's love is not a loss of that love itself; the jewel is there, though it gleams not on our bosom; hope knows her title good when she cannot read it clear; she expects the promised blessing though present providence stands before her with empty hands.
For I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. Salvations come from the propitious face of God, and he will yet lift up his countenance upon us. Note well that the main hope and chief desire of David rest in the smile of God. His face is what he seeks and hopes to see, and this will recover his low spirits, this will put to scorn his laughing enemies, this will restore to him all the joys of those holy and happy days around which memory lingers.
This is grand cheer. This verse, like the singing of Paul and Silas, looses chains and shakes prison walls. He who can use such heroic language in his gloomy hours, will surely conquer. In the garden of hope grow the laurels for future victories, the roses of coming joy, the lilies of approaching peace.
Verse 6. O my God, my soul is cast down within me. Here the song begins again upon the bass note. So sweet an ending deserves that for the sake of a second hopeful close the Psalm should even begin again. Perhaps the psalmist's dejection continued, and the spasm of despondency returned. Well, then, he will down with his harp again, and try again its power upon himself, as in his younger days, he saw its influence upon Saul when the evil spirit came upon him.
With God the song begins a second time more nearly than at first. The singer was also a little more tranquil. Outward expression of desire was gone; there was no visible panting; the sorrow was not all restrained within doors. Within or upon himself he was cast down; and, truly, it may well be so, while our thoughts look more within than upward.
If self were to furnish comfort, we should have but poor provender. There is no solid foundation for comfort in such fickle frames as our heart is subject to.
It is well to tell the Lord how we feel, and the more plain the confession, the better. David talks like a sick child to its mother, and we should learn to imitate him.
Therefore will I remember you. It is well to fly to our God. Here is terra firma. Blessed down-casting which drives us to so sure a rock of refuge as you, O Lord!
From the hill Mizar. He recalls his seasons of choice communion by the river and among the hills, and especially that dearest hour upon the little hill, where love spoke her sweetest language and revealed her nearest fellowship. It is great wisdom to store up in memory our choice occasions of converse with Heaven. We may need them another day, when the Lord is slow in bringing back his banished ones, and our soul is aching with fear.
"His love in times past" has been a precious cordial to many a fainting one. Like soft breath it has fanned the smoking flax into a flame, and bound up the bruised reed. Oh, never to be forgotten valley of Achor, you are a door of hope! Fair days, now gone, you have left a light behind you which cheers our present gloom. Or does David mean that even where he was, he would bethink him of his God; does he declare that, forgetful of time and place, he would count Jordan as sacred as Siloa, Hermon as holy as Zion, and even Mizar, that insignificant rising ground as glorious as the mountains which are round about Jerusalem! Oh! it is a heavenly heart which can sing,
"To me remains nor place nor time;
my country is in every clime;
I can be calm and free from care
On any shore, since God is there."
"Could I be cast where you are not,
That were indeed a dreadful lot,
But regions none remote I call,
Secure of finding God in all."
Verse 7. Deep calls unto deep at the noise of your waterfalls. Your severe dealings with me seem to excite all creation to attack me. Heaven, and earth, and Hell, call to each other, stirring each other up in dreadful conspiracy against my peace. As in a waterfall, the deeps above and below clasp hands, so it seemed to David that Heaven and earth united to create a tempest around him. His woes were incessant and overwhelming. Billow followed billow, one sea echoed the roaring of another; bodily pain aroused mental fear; Satanic suggestions chimed in with mistrustful forebodings; outward tribulation thundered in awful harmony with inward anguish. His soul seemed drowned as in a universal deluge of trouble, over whose waves the providence of the Lord moved as a watery pillar, in dreadful majesty inspiring the utmost terror. As for the afflicted one he was like a lonely bark around which the fury of a storm is bursting, or a mariner floating on a mast, almost every moment submerged.
All your waves and your billows are gone over me. David thought that every trouble in the world had met in him, but he exaggerated, for all the breaking waves of Jehovah have passed over none but the Lord Jesus. There are griefs to which he makes his children strangers, for his love's sake. Sorrow naturally states its case forcibly; the mercy is that the Lord after all has not dealt with us according to our fears. Yet what a plight to be in! Atlantic billows sweeping in ceaseless succession over one's head, and all the ocean in uproar around the weary swimmer; most of the heirs of Heaven can realize the description, for they have experienced the like.
This is a deep experience unknown to babes in grace, but common enough to such as do business on great waters of affliction. To such it is some comfort to remember that the waves and billows are the Lord's. "Your waves and your billows," says David, they are all sent, and directed by him, and achieve his designs, and the child of God knowing this, is the more resigned.
Verse 8. Yet the Lord will command his loving-kindness in the daytime. Come what may there shall be "a certain secret something" to sweeten all. Loving-kindness is a noble life-belt in a rough sea. The day may darken into a strange and untimely midnight, but the love of God ordained of old to be the portion of the elect, shall be by sovereign decree meted out to them. No day shall ever dawn on an heir of grace and find him altogether forsaken of his Lord. The Lord reigns, and as a sovereign he will with authority command mercy to be reserved for his chosen.
And in the night. Both divisions of the day shall be illuminated with special love, and no stress of trial shall prevent it. Our God is God of the nights as well as the days; none shall find his Israel unprotected, be the hour what it may.
His song shall be with me. Songs of praise for blessings received shall cheer the gloom of night. No music sweeter than this. The belief that we shall yet glorify the Lord for mercy given in extremity is a delightful stay to the soul. Affliction may put out our candle, but if it cannot silence our song we will soon light the candle again.
And my prayer unto the God of my life. Prayer is yoked with praise. He who is the living God, is the God of our life. From him we derive it, with him in prayer and praise we spend it, to him we devote it, in him we shall prefect it. To be assured that our sighs and songs shall both have free access to our glorious Lord is to have reason for hope in the most deplorable condition.
Verse 9. I will say unto God my rock, Why have you forgotten me? Faith is allowed to inquire of her God the causes of his displeasure, and she is even permitted to expostulate with him and put him in mind of his promises, and ask why apparently they are not fulfilled.
If the Lord be indeed our refuge—when we find no refuge, it is time to be raising the question, "Why is this?" Yet we must not let go our hold, the Lord must be my rock still. We must keep to him as our sole confidence, and never forego our interest in him.
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? He who condescends to be pleaded with by Abraham, his friend, allows us to put to him the question that we may search out the causes of his severity towards us. Surely he can have no pleasure in seeing the faces of his servants stained and squalid with their tears. He can find no content in the harshness with which their foes assail them. He can never take pleasure in the tyranny with which Satan vexes them.
Why then does he leave them to be mocked by his enemies and theirs? How can the strong God, who is as firm and abiding as a rock, be also as hard and unmoved as a rock towards those who trust in him? Such inquiries humbly pressed, often afford relief to the soul. To know the reason for sorrow is in part to know how to escape it, or at least to endure it. Lack of attentive consideration often makes adversity appear to be more mysterious and hopeless than it really is.
It is a pitiable thing for any man to have a limb amputated, but when we know that the operation was needful to save life, we are glad to hear that it has been successfully performed. Even thus as trial unfolds, the design of the Lord sending it becomes far more easy to bear.
Verse 10. As with a sword in my bones, my enemies reproach me. Cruel mockeries cut deeper than the flesh, they reach the soul as though a spear were introduced between the ribs to prick the heart. If reproaches kill not—yet they are killing, the pain caused is excruciating. The tongue cuts to the bone, and its wounds are hard to cure.
While they say daily unto me, Where is your God? This is the most unkind cut of all, reflecting as it does both upon the Lord's faithfulness and his servant's character. Such was the malice of David's foes, that having thought of the cruel question, they said it, said it daily, repeated it to him, and that for a length, of time. Surely the continual yapping of these curs at his heel was enough to madden him, and perhaps would have done so had he not resorted to prayer and made the persecutions of his enemies, a plea with his Lord.
Verse 11. Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you disquieted within me? In the rehearsal of his sorrow, he finds after all no sufficient ground for being disquieted. Looked in the face, his fears were not so overwhelming as they seemed when shrouded in obscurity.
Hope in God. Let the anchor still keep its hold. God is faithful, God is love—therefore there is room and reason for hope.
Who is the health of my countenance, and my God. This is the same hopeful expression as that contained in verse five, but the addition of and my God shows that the writer was growing in confidence, and was able defiantly to reply to the question, "Where is your God?" Here, even here, he is ready to deliver me. I am not ashamed to own him amid your sneers and taunts, for he will rescue me out of your hands!
Thus faith closes the struggle, a victor in fact by anticipation, and in heart by firm reliance. The saddest countenance shall yet be made to shine, if there be a taking of God at his word and an expectation of his salvation.