Treasury of David
TITLE. A Song and Psalm for the Sons of Korah. A song for joyfulness and a Psalm for reverence. Alas! every song is not a Psalm, for poets are not all Heaven born, and every Psalm is not a song, for in coming before God we have to utter mournful confessions as well as exulting praises. The Sons of Korah were happy in having so large a selection of songs; the worship where such a variety of music was used could not become monotonous, but must have given widest scope for all the sacred passions of gracious souls.
SUBJECT AND DIVISION. It would be vain to attribute this song to any one event of Jewish history. Its author and date are unknown. It records the withdrawal of certain confederate kings from Jerusalem, their courage failing them before striking a blow. The mention of the ships of Tarshish may allow us to conjecture that the Psalm was written in connection with the overthrow of Ammon, Moab, and Edom in the reign of Jehoshaphat. If the reader will turn to 2 Chronicles 20, and note especially 2 Chronicles 20:19,25,36, he will probably accept the suggestion.
Verses 1-3, are in honor of the Lord and the city dedicated to his worship.
From Verses 4-8 the song records the confusion of Zion's foes, ascribing all the praise to God.
Verses 9-11 extolling Zion, and avowing Jehovah to be her God for evermore.
Verse 1. Great is the Lord. How great Jehovah is, essentially none can conceive; but we can all see that he is great in the deliverance of his people, great in their esteem who are delivered, and great in the hearts of those enemies whom he scatters by their own fears.
Instead of the mad cry of Ephesus, "Great is Diana," we bear the reasonable, demonstrable, self-evident testimony, "Great is Jehovah." There is none great in the church but the Lord. Jesus is "the great Shepherd," he is "a Savior, and a great one," our great God and Savior, our great High Priest; his Father has divided him a portion with the great, and his name shall be great unto the ends of the earth.
And greatly to be praised. According to his nature should his worship be; it cannot be too constant, too laudatory, too earnest, too reverential, too sublime.
In the city of our God. He is great there, and should be greatly praised there. If all the world beside renounced Jehovah's worship, the chosen people in his favored city should continue to adore him, for in their midst and on their behalf his glorious power has been so manifestly revealed. In the church the Lord is to be extolled though all the nations rage against him.
Jerusalem was the peculiar abode of the God of Israel, the seat of the theocratic government, and the center of prescribed worship—even thus is the church the place of divine manifestation.
In the mountain of his holiness. Where his holy temple, his holy priests, and his holy sacrifices might continually be seen. Zion was a mount, and as it was the most renowned part of the city, it is mentioned as a synonym for the city itself. Just so, the church of God is a mount for elevation and for conspicuousness, and it should be adorned with holiness, her sons being partakers of the holiness of God. Only by holy men can the Lord be fittingly praised, and they should be incessantly occupied with his worship.
Verse 2. Beautiful for situation. Jerusalem was so naturally, she was styled the Queen of the East. Just so, the church is so spiritually, being placed near God's heart, within the mountain of his power, upon the hills of his faithfulness, in the center of providential operations.
The elevation of the church is her beauty. The more she is above the world the fairer she is.
The joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion. Jerusalem was the world's star; whatever light lingered on earth was borrowed from the oracles preserved by Israel. An ardent Israelite would esteem the holy city as the eye of the nations, the most precious pearl of all lands. Certainly the church of God, though despised by men, is the true joy and hope of the world.
On the sides of the north, the city of the great King. Either meaning that Jerusalem was in the northern extremity of Judah, or it may denote that part of the city that lay to the north of Mount Zion. It was the glory of Jerusalem to be God's city, the place of his regal dwelling, and it is the joy of the church that God is in her midst.
The great God is the great King of the church, and for her sake he rules all the nations. The people among whom the Lord deigns to dwell are privileged above all others; the lines have fallen unto them in pleasant places, and they have a goodly heritage. We who dwell in Great Britain in the sides of the north, have this for our chief glory, that the Lord is known in our land, and the abode of his love is among us.
Verse 3. God is known in her palaces for a refuge. We worship no unknown God. We know him as our refuge in distress, we delight in him as such, and run to him in every time of need. We know nothing else as our refuge. Though we are made kings, and our houses are palaces—yet we have no confidence in ourselves, but trust in the Lord Protector, whose well known power is our bulwark.
Verse 4. The kings were assembled, they passed by together. They came and they went. No sooner together than scattered. They came one way, and fled twenty ways. Boastful the gathering hosts with their royal leaders, despairing the fugitive bands with their astonished captains. They came like foam on the angry sea—and like foam they melted away. This was so remarkable that the psalmist puts in a note of exclamation, Lo! What! have they so suddenly fled! Even thus shall the haters of the church vanish from the field. Papists, Ritualists, Arians, Sceptics—they shall each have their day, and shall pass on to the limbo of forgetfulness.
Verse 5. They saw it, and so they marveled. They came, they saw, but they did not conquer. There was no conquering for them. No sooner did they perceive that the Lord was in the Holy City, than they took to their heels. Before the Lord came to blows with them, they were faint hearted, and beat a retreat.
They were troubled and hastened away. The troublers were troubled. Their haste in coming, was nothing compared to their hurry in going. Panic seized them, horses were not fleet enough; they would have borrowed the wings of the wind. They fled ignominiously, like children in a fright.
Glory be to God, it shall be even thus with the foes of his church. When the Lord comes to our help, our enemies shall be as nothing. Could they foresee their ignominious defeat, they would not advance to the attack.
Verse 6. Fear took hold upon them there. They were in Giant Despair's grip. Where they hoped to triumph—there they quivered with dismay. They did not take the city—but fear took hold on them.
And pain, as of a woman in travail. They were as much overcome as a woman whose fright causes premature delivery; or, as full of pain as a poor mother in her pangs—a strong expression, commonly employed by Orientals to set forth the extremity of anguish. When the Lord arises for the help of his church, the proudest of his foes shall be as trembling women, and their dismay shall be but the beginning of eternal defeat.
Verse 7. You break the ships of Tarshish with an east wind. As easily as vessels are driven to shipwreck—does God overturn the most powerful adversaries; or it may mean the strength of some nations lies in their ships, whose wooden walls are soon broken; but our strength is in our God, and therefore, it fails not.
Or there may be another meaning, though you are our defense—yet you take vengeance on our inventions, and while you do preserve us—yet our ships, our comforts, our earthly ambitions, are taken from us that we may look alone to you.
God is seen at sea, but he is equally present on land. Speculative heresies, pretending to bring us wealth from afar, are constantly assailing the church, but the breath of the Lord soon drives them to destruction. The church too often relies on the wisdom of men, and these human helps are soon shipwrecked; yet the church itself is safe beneath the care of her God and King.
Verse 8. As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord Almighty, in the city of our God. Our father's stories are reproduced before our very eyes. We heard the promise, and we have seen the fulfillment. The records of Zion, wonderful as they are, are proved to be truthful, because present facts are in perfect harmony therewith.
Note how the Lord is first spoken of as Lord Almighty, a name of power and sovereignty—and then as our God, a name of covenant relation and condescension. No wonder that since the Lord bears both titles, we find him dealing with us after the precedents of his loving-kindness, and the faithfulness of his promises.
God will establish it forever. The true church can never be disestablished. That which kings establish can last for time only; that which God establishes endures to all eternity.
Selah. Here is a fit place to pause, viewing the past with admiration, and the future with confidence.
Verse 9. We have thought. Holy men are thoughtful men; they do not allow God's wonders to pass before their eyes and melt into forgetfulness, but they meditate deeply upon them.
Of your loving-kindness, O God. What a delightful subject! Devout minds never tire of so divine a theme. It is well to think of past loving-kindness in times of trial—and equally profitable to remember it in seasons of prosperity. Grateful memories sweeten sorrows and sober joys.
In the midst of your temple. Fit place for so devout a meditation. Where God is most seen, he is best loved. The assembled saints constitute a living temple, and our deepest musings when so gathered together should have regard to the loving-kindness of the Lord, exhibited in the varied experiences of each of the living stones. Memories of mercy should be associated with continuance of praise. Nearby the table of show bread commemorating his bounty—should stand the altar of incense denoting our praise.
Verse 10. According to your name, O God, so is your praise unto the ends of the earth. Great fame is due to his great name. The glory of Jehovah's exploits overleaps the boundaries of earth; angels behold with wonder, and from every star delighted intelligences proclaim his fame beyond the ends of the earth.
What if men are silent—yet the woods, and seas, and mountains, with all their countless tribes, and all the unseen spirits that walk them, are full of the divine praise. As in a shell we listen to the murmurs of the sea, so in the convolutions of creation we hear the praises of God.
Your right hand is full of righteousness. Your scepter and your sword, your government and your vengeance—are altogether just. Your hand is never empty, but full of energy, of bounty, and of equity. Neither saint nor sinner shall find the Lord to be an empty-handed God; he will in both cases deal out righteousness to the full: to the one, through Jesus, he will be just to forgive—to the other, he will be just to condemn.
Verse 11. Let Mount Zion rejoice. As the first of the cities of Judah, and the main object of the enemies' attack—let her lead the song.
Let the daughters of Judah be glad, let the smaller towns join the chorus, for they join in the common victory. Let the women, who fare worst in the havoc of war, be among the gladdest of the glad, now that the spoilers have fled.
All the church, and each individual member, should rejoice in the Lord, and magnify his name.
Because of your judgments. The righteous acts of the Lord are legitimate subjects for joyful praise. However it may appear on earth—yet in Heaven the eternal ruin of the wicked will be the theme of adoring song. Revelation 19:1,3, "Alleluia; salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God. For true and righteous are his judgments; for he has judged the great whore which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and has avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia, and her smoke rose up forever and ever!"
God's justice which to our poor optics now seems severe, will then be perceived to be perfectly consistent with God's name of love, and to be one of the brightest jewels of his crown!
Verse 12. Walk about Zion; go around her, even as Israel marched around Jericho. With leisurely and careful inspection survey her. And go round about her. Encircle her again and again with loving strolls.
We cannot too frequently or too deeply consider the origin, privileges, history, security, and glory of the church. Some subjects deserve but a passing thought; but this is worthy of the most patient consideration.
Count the towers thereof. See if any of them have crumbled, or have been demolished. Is the church of God what she was in doctrine, in strength and in beauty? Her foes counted her towers in envy first, and then in terror—let us count them with sacred exultation.
The city of Lucerne, encircled by its ancient walls, adorned with a succession of towers, is a visible illustration of this figure; and as we have gone around it, and paused at each picturesque tower, we have realized the loving lingering inspection which the metaphor implies.
Verse 13. Mark well her bulwarks. Consider most attentively how strong are her ramparts, how safely her inhabitants are entrenched behind successive lines of defense.
The security of the people of God is not a doctrine to be kept in the background—it may be safely taught, and frequently pondered. Only to base hearts will that glorious truth prove harmful; the sons of perdition make a stumbling stone even of the Lord Jesus himself—it is little wonder that they pervert the truth of God concerning the final perseverance of the saints.
We are not to turn away from inspecting Zion's ramparts, because idlers skulk behind them.
Consider her palaces. Examine with care the fair dwellings of the city. Let the royal promises which afford quiet resting places for believers be attentively inspected. See how sound are the defenses, and how fair are the pleasure-gardens of "that ancient city," of which you are citizens.
A man should be best acquainted with his own home; and the church is our dear and blessed abode. Would to God professors were more considerate of the condition of the church; so far from counting the towers, some of them scarcely know what or where they are; they are too busy counting their money, and considering their ledgers.
That you may tell it to the generation following. An excellent reason for studious observation. We have received, and we must transmit. We must be students, that we may be teachers. The debt we owe to the past, we must endeavor to repay by handing down the truth to the future.
Verse 14. For this God is our God forever and ever. A good reason for preserving a record of all that he has wrought. Israel will not change her God so as to wish to forget, nor will the Lord change so as to make the past mere history. He will be the covenant God of his people world without end.
There is no other God—we wish for no other, we would have no other even if there were.
There are some who are so ready to comfort the wicked, that for the sake of ending their punishment they weaken the force of language, and make forever and ever mean but a time; nevertheless, despite their interpretations we exult in the hope of an eternity of bliss, and to us "everlasting," and "forever and ever" mean what they say.
He will be our guide even unto death. Throughout life, and to our dying couch, he will graciously conduct us—and even after death he will lead us to the living fountains of waters. We look to him for resurrection and eternal life.
This consolation is clearly derivable from what has gone before; hitherto our foes have been scattered, and our bulwarks have defied attack, for God has been in our midst, therefore all possible assaults in the future shall be equally futile.
"The church has all her foes defied
And laughed to scorn their rage;
Even thus for yes she shall abide
Secure from age to age."
Farewell, fear. Come hither, gratitude and faith, and sing right joyously.