Treasury of David
TITLE. To the Chief Musician for the sons of Korah, Maschil. The title is similar to the forty-second, and although this is no proof that it is by the same author it makes it highly probable. No other writer should be sought for to father any of the Psalms when David will suffice, and therefore we are loathe to ascribe this sacred song to any but the great psalmist—yet as we hardly know any period of his life which it would fairly describe, we feel compelled to look elsewhere.
Some Israelitish patriot fallen on evil times, sings in mingled faith and sorrow, his country's ancient glory and her present griefs, her traditions of former favor and her experience of pressing ills. By Christians it can best be understood if put into the mouth of the church when persecution is peculiarly severe.
The last verses remind us of Milton's famous lines on the massacre of the Protestants among the mountains of Piedmont. The song before us is fitted for the voices of the saved by grace, the sons of Korah, and is to them and to all others full of teaching, hence the title Maschil.
DIVISION. From Verses 1-3, the Lord's mighty works for Israel are rehearsed.
In remembrance of them faith in the Lord is expressed Verses 4-8.
Then the notes of complaint are heard, Verses 9-16.
The fidelity of the people to their God is aroused, Verses 17-22.
The Lord is entreated to interpose, Verses 23-26.
Verse 1. We have heard with our ears, O God. Your mighty acts have been the subjects of common conversation. Not alone in books have we read your famous deeds, but in the ordinary talk of the people we have heard of them.
Among the godly Israelites the biography of their nation was preserved by oral tradition, with great diligence and accuracy. This mode of preserving and transmitting history has its disadvantages, but it certainly produces a more vivid impression on the mind than any other. To hear with the ears affects us more sensitively than to read with the eyes. We ought to note this, and seize every possible opportunity of telling abroad the gospel of our Lord Jesus viva voce, since this is the most telling mode of communication.
The expression, "heard with our ears," may denote the pleasure with which they listened, the intensity of their interest, the personality of their hearing, and the lively remembrance they had of the romantic and soul-stirring narrative.
Too many have ears but hear not; happy are they who, having ears, have learned to hear.
Our fathers have told us. They could not have had better informants. Schoolmasters are well enough, but godly fathers are, both by the order of nature and grace, the best instructors of their sons, nor can they delegate the sacred duty.
It is to be feared that many children of professors could plead very little before God of what their fathers have told them. When fathers are tongue-tied religiously with their offspring, need they wonder if their children's hearts remain sin-tied?
Just as in all free nations men delight to gather around the hearth, and tell the deeds of valor of their sires "in the brave days of old," so the people of God under the old dispensation made their families cheerful around the table, be rehearsing the wondrous doings of the Lord their God.
Religious conversation need not be dull, and indeed it could not be if, as in this case, it dealt more with facts and less with opinions.
What work you did in their days, in the times of old. They began with what their own eyes had witnessed, and then passed on to what were the traditions of their youth. Note that the main point of the history transmitted from father to son was the work of God; this is the core of history, and therefore no man can write history aright who is a stranger to the Lord's work.
It is delightful to see the footprints of the Lord on the sea of changing events, to behold him riding on the whirlwind of war, pestilence, and famine, and above all to see his unchanging care for his chosen people.
Those who are taught to see God in history have learned a good lesson from their fathers, and no son of believing parents should be left in ignorance of so holy an are.
A nation tutored as Israel was in a history so marvelous as their own, always had an available argument in pleading with God for aid in trouble, since he who never changes gives in every deed of grace, a pledge of mercy yet to come. The traditions of our past experience, are powerful pleas for present help.
Verse 2. How you drove out the heathen with your hand. The destruction of the Canaanites from the promised land is the work here brought to remembrance. A people numerous, warlike, gigantic and courageous, firmly established and strongly fortified—were driven out by a far feebler nation, because the Lord was against them in the fight.
It is clear from Scripture that God sent a plague (so that the land ate up the inhabitants thereof), and also a visitation of hornets against the Canaanites, and by other means dispirited them, so that the easy victories of Joshua were but the results of God's having worked beforehand against the idolatrous nation.
And planted them. The tribes of Israel were planted in the places formerly occupied by the heathen. Hivites and Jebusites were chased from their cities to make room for Ephraim and Judah. The Great Wonder worker tore up by the roots the oaks of Bashan, that he might plant instead thereof his own chosen "vineyard of red wine."
How you did afflict the people. With judgments and plagues the condemned nations were harassed, by fire and sword they were hunted to the death, until they were all expelled, and the enemies of Israel were banished far away.
And made our fathers flourish. He who troubled his enemies, smiled on his friends; he meted out vengeance to the ungodly nations, but he reserved of his mercy for the chosen tribes. How fair is mercy, when she stands by the side of justice! Bright beams the star of grace, amid the night of wrath! It is a solemn thought that the greatness of divine love, has its counterpart in the greatness of his indignation.
The weight of mercy bestowed on Israel is balanced by the tremendous vengeance which swept the thousands of Amorites and Hittites down to Hell with the edge of the sword. Hell is as deep as Heaven is high, and the flame of Tophet is as everlasting as the blaze of the celestial glory. God's might, as shown in deeds both of mercy and justice, should be called to mind in troublous times as a stay to our fainting faith.
Verse 3. For they got not the land in possession by their own sword. Behold how the Lord alone was exalted in bringing his people to the land which flows with milk and honey! He, in his distinguishing grace, had put a difference between Canaan and Israel, and therefore, by his own effectual power, he wrought for his chosen ones, and against their adversaries. The tribes fought for their allotments, but their success was wholly due to the Lord who wrought with them. The warriors of Israel were not inactive, but their valor was secondary to that mysterious, divine working by which Jericho's walls fell down, and the hearts of the heathen failed them for fear.
The efforts of all the men at arms were employed, but as these would have been futile without divine support, all the honor is ascribed unto the Lord.
The passage may be viewed as a beautiful parable of the work of salvation. Men are not saved without prayer, repentance, etc., but none of those save a man, salvation is altogether of the Lord.
Canaan was not conquered without the armies of Israel, but equally true is it that is was not conquered by them. The Lord was the conqueror, and the people were but instruments in his hands.
Neither did their own arm save them. They could not ascribe their memorable victories to themselves; he who made sun and moon stand still for them was worthy of all their praise.
A negative is put both upon their weapons and themselves as if to show us how ready men are to ascribe success to second causes.
But your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance. The divine hand actively fought for them, the divine arm powerfully sustained them with more than human energy, and the divine smile inspired them with dauntless courage. Who could not win with such triple help, though earth, death, and Hell should rise in war against him?
What did the tallness of the sons of Anak matter, or the terror of their chariots of iron—they were as nothing when Jehovah arose for the avenging of Israel.
Because you loved them. Here is the fountain from whence every stream of mercy flows. The Lord's delight in his people, his peculiar affection, his distinguishing regard—this is the mainspring which moves every wheel of a gracious providence.
Israel was a chosen nation, hence their victories and the scattering of their foes. Just so, believers are an elect people, hence their spiritual blessings and conquests. There was nothing in the people themselves to secure them success, the Lord's favor alone did it, and it is ever so in our case; our hope of final glory must not rest on anything in ourselves, but on the free and sovereign favor of the Lord Almighty.
Verse 4. You are my King, O God. Knowing right well your power and grace, my heart is glad to own you for her sovereign prince. Who among the mighty are so illustrious as you are? To whom, then, should I yield my homage or turn for aid? God of my fathers in the olden time, you are my soul's monarch and Lord.
Command deliverances for Jacob. To whom should a people look but to their king? he it is who, by virtue of his office, fights their battles for them. In the case of our King, how easy it is for him to scatter all our foes! O Lord, the King of kings, with what ease can you rescue your people; a word of your can do it, give but the command and your persecuted people shall be free.
Jacob's long life was crowded with trials and deliverances, and his descendants are here called by his name, as if to typify the similarity of their experience to that of their great forefather. He who would win the blessings of Israel must share the sorrows of Jacob.
This verse contains a personal declaration and an intercessory prayer. Those pray best who make most sure of their personal interest in God, and those who have the fullest assurance that the Lord is their God should be the foremost to plead for the rest of the tried family of the faithful.
Verse 5. Through you will we push down our enemies. The fight was very close, bows were of no avail, and swords failed to be of service, it came to daggers drawing, and hand to hand wrestling, pushing and tugging. Jacob's God was renewing in the seed of Jacob their father's wrestling. And how fared it with faith then? Could she stand foot to foot with her foe and hold her own? Yes, truly, she came forth victorious from the encounter, for she is great at a close push, and overthrows all her adversaries, the Lord being her helper.
Through your name will we tread those down who rise up against us. The Lord's name served instead of weapons, and enabled those who used it to leap on their foes and crush them with jubilant valor. In union and communion with God, saints work wonders; if God be for us, who can be against us?
Mark well that all the conquests of these believers are said to be "through you," "through your name." Never let us forget this, lest going a warfare at our own charges, we fail most ignominiously.
Let us not, however, fall into the equally dangerous sin of distrust, for the Lord can make the weakest of us equal to any emergency. Though today we are timid and defenseless as sheep, he can by his power make us strong as the firstling of his bullock, and cause us to push as with the horns of the wild ox, until those who rose up against us shall be so crushed and battered as never to rise again.
Those who of themselves can scarcely keep their feet, but like little babes totter and fall—are by divine assistance made to overthrow their foes, and set their feet upon their necks. Read Christian's fight with Apollyon, and see how,
"The man so bravely played the man
He made the fiend to fly."
Verse 6. For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me. Your people Israel, under your guidance, shouldered out the heathen, and gained their land—not by skill of weapons or prowess of arms, but by your power alone. Therefore will we renounce forever all reliance upon outward confidences, of which other men make such boast, and we will cast ourselves upon the omnipotence of our God.
Bows having been newly introduced by king Saul, were regarded as very formidable weapons in the early history of Israel, but they are here laid aside together with the all conquering sword, in order that there may be room for faith in the living God.
This verse, in the first person singular, may serve as the confession of faith of every believer renouncing his own righteousness and strength, and looking alone to the Lord Jesus. O for grace to stand to this self-renunciation, for alas! our proud nature is all too apt to fix its trust on the puffed up and supposed power of the creature. Arm of flesh, how dare I trust you? How dare I bring upon myself the curse of those who rely upon man?
Verse 7. But you have saved us from our enemies. In ages past all our rescues have been due to you, O God. Never have you failed us. Out of every danger you has brought us.
And have put them to shame that hated us. With the back of your saving hand you have given them a cuff which has made them hide their faces. You have defeated them in such a manner as to make them ashamed of themselves to be overthrown by such puny adversaries as they thought the Israelites to be.
The double action of God in blessing his people and confounding his enemies, is evermore to be observed. Pharaoh is drowned, while Israel passes through the sea. Amalek is smitten, while the tribes rejoice. The heathen are chased from their abodes, while the sons of Jacob rest beneath their vine and fig tree.
Verse 8. In God we boast all the day long. We have abundant reason for doing so while we recount his mighty acts. What blessed boasting is this! it is the only sort of boasting that is bearable.
All other manna bred worms and stank except that which was laid up before the Lord. Just so, all other boasting is loathsome save this glorying in the Lord, which is laudable and pleasing.
And praise your name forever. Praise should be perpetual. If there were no new acts of love—yet ought the Lord to be praised for what he has done for his people. High let the song be lifted up as we bring to remembrance the eternal love which chose us, predestined us to be sons, redeemed us with a price, and then enriched us with all the fullness of God.
Selah. A pause comes in fitly here, when we are about to descend from the highest to the lowest key. No longer are we to hear Miriam's timbrel, but rather Rachel's weeping.
Verse 9. But you have cast us off, and put us to shame. Here the patriot bard begins to contrast the past glories of the nation's history with its present sadness and distress; which he does not ascribe to the death of some human champion, or to the accidents of war—but solely and alone to the withdrawal of Israel's God.
It seemed to the mourner that Jehovah had grown weary of his people and put them away in abhorrence, as men lay aside leprous garments, loathing the sight of them.
To show his displeasure he had made his people to be ridiculed by the heathen, whose easy victories over their largest armies covered Israel with disgrace. Alas! for a church and people when the Lord in the active energy of his Spirit withdraws from them, they want no greater shame or sorrow. He will not cast away his people finally and totally, but many a church has been left to defeat and disgrace on account of sin, and therefore all churches should be exceedingly watchful lest the like should happen to themselves.
Poverty and distress bring no shame on a people, but the Lord's absence takes from a church everything which can exalt and ennoble.
And go not forth with our armies. If the Lord be not the leader, of what avail are strong battalions? Vain are the combined efforts of the most zealous workers if God's arm be not revealed. May none of us in our churches have to mourn over the ministry, the Sabbath school, the missionary work, the visiting, the street preaching—left to be carried out without the divine aid. If our great ally will not go with us, our defeat is inevitable.
Verse 10. You make us to turn back from the enemy. The humiliating consciousness that the Lord has left them, soon makes men cowards. Flight closes the fight of those who have not the Lord in the van.
And those who hate us plunder us. After defeat and retreat, comes plundering. The poor, vanquished nation paid a terrible penalty for being overcome; plunder and murder desolated the conquered land, and the invaders loaded themselves with every precious thing which they could carry away.
In spiritual experience we know what it is to be plundered by our enemies. Doubts and fears rob us of our comforts, and terrible forebodings spoil us of our hopes; and all because the Lord, for wise purposes, sees fit to leave us to ourselves. Alas! for the deserted soul; no calamity can equal the sorrow of being left by God, though it be but for a small moment.
Verse 11. You have given us like sheep appointed to be devoured. As sheep are slaughtered for food, so were the people slain in flocks, with ease, and frequency. Not with dignity of sacrifice, but with the cruelty of the shambles, were they put to death. God appeared to give them up like sheep allotted to the butcher, to abandon them as the hireling abandons the flock to wolves.
The complaint is bitterly eloquent.
And have scattered us among the heathen. Many were carried into captivity, far off from the public worship of the temple of God, to pine as exiles among idolaters. All this is ascribed to the Lord, as being allowed by him, and even appointed by his decree. It is well to trace the hand of God in our sorrows, for it is surely there.
Verse 12. You sell your people for nothing. As men sell merchandise to any one who cares to have it, so the Lord seemed to hand over his people to any nation who might choose to make war upon them.
Meanwhile no good result was perceptible from all the miseries of Israel. So far as the psalmist could discover, the Lord's name received no honor from the sorrows of his people. They were given away to their foes as if they were so little valued as not to be worth the ordinary price of slaves, and the Lord did not care to gain by them so long as they did but suffer.
The woe expressed in this line is as vinegar mingled with gall—the expression is worthy of the weeping prophet.
And do not increase your wealth by their price. If Jehovah had been glorified by all this wretchedness it could have been borne patiently, but it was the reverse; the Lord's name had, through the nation's calamities, been despised by the insulting heathen, who counted the overthrow of Israel to be the defeat of Jehovah himself. It always lightens a believer's trouble when he can see that God's great name will be honored thereby, but it is a grievous aggravation of misery when we appear to be tortured in vain.
For our comfort let us rest satisfied that in reality the Lord is glorified, and when no revenue of glory is manifestly rendered to him, he none the less accomplishes his own secret purposes, of which the grand result will be revealed in due time. We do not suffer for nothing, nor are our griefs without result.
Verse 13. You make us a reproach to our neighbors. Scorn is always an intensely bitter ingredient in the cup of the oppressed. The taunts and jeers of the victors, pain the vanquished almost as much as their swords and spears. It was a mystery indeed that God should allow his royal nation, his peculiar people, to be taunted by all who dwelt near them.
A scorn and a derision to them that are round about us. The down trodden people had become a common jest; "as base as Israel" cried the cruel tongue of the tyrant. So ordinary had the scorn become that the neighboring nations, though perhaps equally oppressed, borrowed the language of the conquerors, and joined in the common mockery. To be a derision to both strong and weak, superiors, equals, and inferiors, is hard to bear. The tooth of scoffing bites to the bone.
The psalmist sets forth the brutality of the enemy in many words, in order to move the pity of the Lord, to whose just anger he traced all the sorrows of his people. He used the very best of arguments, for the sufferings of his chosen people touch the heart of God far more readily than any other reasonings.
Blessed be his name, our great Advocate above knows how to avail himself of this powerful plea, and if we are at this hour enduring reproach for truth's sake, he will urge it before the eternal throne; and shall not God avenge his own elect? A father will not long endure to see his children despitefully entreated; he may put up with it for a little, but his love will speedily arouse his anger, and then it will fare ill with the persecutor and reviler!
Verse 14. You make us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people. The lamentation is here repeated. They had sunk so low that none did them reverence, but universally and publicly they were treated as infamous and despicable.
Those who reviled others dragged in Israel's name by the way as a garnish to their insults, and if perhaps they saw one of the seed of Jacob in the street they used lewd gestures to annoy him. Those whose heads were emptiest wagged them at the separated people. They were the common butts of every fool's arrow. Such has been the lot of the righteous in ages past, such is their portion in a measure now, such may be yet again their heritage in the worst sense. The world knows not its nobility, it has no eye for true excellence—it found a cross for the Master, and cannot be expected to award crowns to his disciples.
Verse 15. My confusion is continually before me. The poet makes himself the representative of his nation, and declares his own constant distress of soul. He is a man of ill blood who is unconcerned for the sorrows of the church of which he is a member, or the nation of which he is a citizen; the better the heart the greater its sympathy.
And the shame of my face has covered me. One constant blush, like a crimson mantle, covered him both before God and man; he felt before God that the divine desertion was well deserved, and before man, that he and his people were despicable indeed now that heavenly help was gone. It is well for a nation when there still exist in it men who lay to heart its sin and shame. God will have pity on his chastened ones, and it is a pledge thereof when he sends us choice ministers, men of tenderness, who make the people's case their own.
Verse 16. For the voice of him that reproaches and blasphemes. It seems that from mocking the people of God, the adversaries advanced to reviling God himself, they proceeded from persecution to the sin which is next of kin, namely blasphemy.
By reason of the enemy and avenger. The enemy boasted of avenging the defeats of their forefathers; they took revenge for the ancient victories of Israel, by insulting over the now fallen people. Here was a sad plight for a nation to be placed in, but it was by no means a hopeless case, for the Lord who brought all this evil upon them could with equal ease release them from it. So long as Israel looked alone to her God, and not to her own arm, no foe could retain her beneath his foot; she must arise, for God was on her side.
Verse 17. All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten you. Here the psalmist urges that Israel had not turned away from her allegiance to Jehovah. When in the midst of many griefs we can still cling to God in loving obedience, it must be well with us.
True fidelity can endure rough usage. Those who follow God for what they get, will leave him when persecution is stirred up, but not so the sincere believer; he will not forget his God, even though the worst come to the worst.
Neither have we dealt falsely in your covenant. No idol was set up, the ordained worship was not relinquished, God was still nationally acknowledged, and therefore the psalmist is more earnest that the Lord should interpose.
This and the succeeding verses are suitable for the lips of martyrs; indeed the entire psalm might be called the martyr's complaint. Not for sin but for righteousness did the saints suffer, not for falsehood but for truth, not for forsaking the Lord, but for following hard after him. Sufferings of such a sort may be very terrible, but they are exceedingly honorable—and the comforts of the Lord shall sustain those who are accounted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake.
Verse 18. Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from your way. Heart and life were agreed, and both were true to the Lord's way. Neither within nor without had the godly sufferers offended; they were not absolutely perfect, but they were sincerely free from all willful transgression.
It was a healthy sign for the nation that her prophet poet could testify to her uprightness before God, both in heart and act; far oftener the case would have worn quite another color, for the tribes were all too apt to set up other gods and forsake the rock of their salvation.
Verse 19. Though you have sore broken us in the place of jackels. Though utterly crushed and rendered desolate and driven as it were to associate with creatures such as jackals, owls, serpents, which haunt deserted ruins—yet Israel remained faithful. To be true to a smiting God, even when the blows lay our joys in ruinous heaps, is to be such as the Lord delights in. Better to be broken by God, than from God. Better to be in the place of jackels, than of deceivers.
And covered us with the shadow of death. The language is very strong. The nation is described as completely enveloped in the dense darkness of despair and death, covered up as though confined in hopelessness. Yet the claim is made that they still remained mindful of their God, and a glorious plea it is. Better death, than false of faith. Those who are true to God, shall never find him false to them.
Verse 20. An appeal is now made to the omniscience of God; he is himself called in to bear witness that Israel had not set up another God.
If we have forgotten the name of our God. This would be the first step in apostasy; men first forget the true, and then adore the false.
Or stretched out our hands to a strange God. Stretching out the hands was the symbol of adoration or of entreaty in prayer; this they had not offered to any of the idols of the heathens.
Verse 21. Shall not God search this out? Could such idolatry be concealed from him? Would he not with holy indignation have detected unfaithfulness to itself, even had it been hidden in the heart and unrevealed in the life?
For he knows the secrets of the heart. He is acquainted with the inner workings of the mind, and therefore this could not have escaped him. Not the heart only which is secret, but the secrets of the heart, which are secrets of the most secret thing—are as open to God as a book to a reader. The reasoning is that the Lord himself knew the people to be sincerely his followers, and therefore was not visiting them for sin; hence, then, affliction evidently came from quite another cause.
Verse 22. Yes, that is, assuredly, certainly.
For your sake, not for our offences, but for obeying you; the trials of these suppliants came upon them because they were loyal to their God.
Are we killed all the day long. Persecution never ceased to hound them to the death, they had no respite and found no door of escape; and all in God's behalf, because they would not forsake their covenant God and King.
We are counted as sheep for the slaughter; as if we were only meant to be killed, and made on purpose to be victims; as if it were as easy and as innocent a thing to slay us, as to slaughter sheep.
In this and following verses we clearly hear the martyr's cry. From Piedmont and Smithfield, from St. Bartholomew's massacre and the dragoonades of Claverhouse—this appeal goes up to Heaven, while the souls under the altar continue their solemn cry for vengeance. Not long shall the church plead in this fashion, her shame shall be recompensed, her triumph shall dawn.
Verse 23. Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord. God does not sleep, but the psalmist puts it so, as if on no other theory he could explain the divine inaction. He would gladly see the great Judge ending oppression and giving peace to the holy, therefore does he cry "Awake!" he cannot understand why the reign of tyranny and the oppression of virtue are permitted, and therefore he inquires "Why sleep you?"
Arise. This is all you need to do, one move of your will save us.
Cast us not off forever. Long enough have you deserted us; the terrible effects of your absence are destroying us; end our calamities, and let your anger be appeased. In persecuting times men are apt to cry, Where is the God of Israel? At the thought of what the saints have endured from their haughty enemies, we join our voices in the great martyr cry and sing with the bard of Paradise:
"Avenge, O Lord, your slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;
Even those who kept your truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones,
Forget not: in your book record their groans
Who were your sheep."
Verse 24. Why do you hide your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression? Not petulantly, but piteously and inquiringly, we may question the Lord when his dealings are mysterious. We are permitted to order our case with arguments, and plead the right before the face of the august Majesty.
Why, Lord, do you become oblivious of your children's woes? This question is far more easily asked than answered; it is hard, indeed, in the midst of persecution to see the reason why we are left to suffer so severely.
Verse 25. For our soul is bowed down to the dust. Our heart is low as low can be, as low as the dust beneath the soles of men's feet. When the heart sinks, the man is down indeed. Heart sorrow is the very heart of sorrow.
Our bodies cleave unto the earth. The man is prone upon the earth, and he is not only down, but fastened down on the earth and glued to it. It is misery, indeed, when the heart cannot escape from itself, is shut up in its own dejection, and bound with the cords of despondency.
God's saints may be thus abject, they may be not only in the dust, but on the dunghill with Job and Lazarus. But their day comes, and their tide will turn, and they shall have a brave summer after their bitter winter.
Verse 26. Arise for our help. A short, but sweet and comprehensive prayer—much to the point, clear, simple, urgent, as all prayers should be.
And redeem us for your mercies' sake. Here is the final plea. The favor is redemption, the plea is mercy; and this, too, in the case of faithful sufferers who had not forgotten their God. Mercy is always a safe plea, and never will any man find a better.
"Were I a martyr at the stake.
I would plead my Savior's name,
Entreat a pardon for his sake,
And urge no other claim."
Here ends this memorable Psalm, but in Heaven its power ends not, but brings down deliverance for the tried people of God.