Treasury of David
TITLE. A Psalm of Asaph. This is the first of the Psalms of Asaph, but whether the production of that eminent musician, or merely dedicated to him, we cannot tell. The titles of twelve Psalms bear his name, but it could not in all of them be meant to ascribe their authorship to him, for several of these Psalms are of too late a date to have been composed by the same writer as the others.
There was an Asaph in David's time, who was one of David's chief musicians, and his family appear to have continued long after in their hereditary office of temple musicians.
An Asaph is mentioned as a recorder or secretary in the days of Hezekiah 2 Kings 18:18, and another was keeper of the royal forests under Artaxerxes.
That Asaph did most certainly write some of the Psalms is clear from 2 Chronicles 29:30, where it is recorded that the Levites were commanded to "sing praises unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer," but that other Asaphic Psalms were not of his composition, but were only committed to his care as a musician, is equally certain from 1 Chronicles 16:7, where David is said to have delivered a Psalm into the hand of Asaph and his brethren. It matters little to us whether he wrote or sang, for poet and musician are near akin, and if one composes words and another sets them to music, they rejoice together before the Lord.
DIVISION. The Lord is represented as summoning the whole earth to hear his declaration, Verses 1-6;
he then declares the nature of the worship which he accepts, Verses 7-15,
he then accuses the ungodly of breaches of the precepts of the second table, Verses 16-21,
and closes the court with a word of threatening, Verses 22,
and a direction of grace, Verses 23.
Verse 1. The mighty God, even the Lord. El, Elohim, Jehovah, three glorious names for the God of Israel. To render the address the more impressive, these august titles are mentioned, just as in royal decrees the names and dignities of monarchs are placed in the forefront. Here the true God is described as Almighty, as the only and perfect object of adoration and as the self-existent One.
Has spoken, and called the earth from the rising of the sun until the going down thereof. The dominion of Jehovah extends over the whole earth, and therefore to all mankind is his decree directed. The east and the west are bidden to hear the God who makes his sun to rise on every quarter of the globe. Shall the summons of the great King be despised? Will we dare provoke him to anger by slighting his call?
Verse 2. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shined. The Lord is represented not only as speaking to the earth, but as coming forth to reveal the glory of his presence to an assembled universe. God of old dwelt in Zion among his chosen people, but here the beams of his splendor are described as shining forth upon all nations.
The sun was spoken of in the first verse, but here is a far brighter sun. The majesty of God is most conspicuous among his own elect, but is not confined to them; the church is not a dark lantern, but a candlestick. God shines not only in Zion, but out of her. She is made perfect in beauty by his indwelling, and that beauty is seen by all observers when the Lord shines forth from her. Observe how with trumpet voice and flaming ensign the infinite Jehovah summons the heavens and the earth to hearken to his word.
Verse 3. Our God shall come. The psalmist speaks of himself and his brethren as standing in immediate anticipation of the appearing of the Lord upon the scene. "He comes," they say, "our covenant God is coming; "they can hear his voice from afar, and perceive the splendor of his attending train.
Even thus should we await the long promised appearing of the Lord from Heaven.
And shall not keep silence. He comes to speak, to plead with his people, to accuse and judge the ungodly. He has been silent long in patience, but soon he will speak with power. What a moment of awe when the Omnipotent is expected to reveal himself! What will be the reverent joy and solemn expectation when the poetic scene of this Psalm becomes in the last great day an actual reality!
A fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. Flame and hurricane are frequently described as the attendants of the divine appearance. "Our God is a consuming fire." "At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hailstones and coals of fire." Psalm 18:12. "He rode upon a cherub, and flew; yes, he flew upon the wings of the wind." "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God." 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8.
Fire is the emblem of justice in action, and the tempest is a token of his overwhelming power. Who will not listen in solemn silence when such is the tribunal from which the judge pleads with Heaven and earth?
Verse 4. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth. Angels and men, the upper and the lower worlds, are called to witness the solemn scene. The whole creation shall stand in court to testify to the solemnity and the truth of the divine pleading. Both earth beneath and Heaven above shall unite in condemning sin; the guilty shall have no appeal, though all are summoned that they may appeal if they dare.
Both angels and men have seen the guilt of mankind and the goodness of the Lord, they shall therefore confess the justice of the divine utterance, and say "Amen" to the sentence of the supreme Judge.
Alas, you despisers! What will you do and to whom will you fly?
That he may judge his people. Judgment begins at the house of God. The trial of the visible people of God will be a most solemn ceremonial. He will thoroughly purge his floor. He will discern between his nominal and his real people, and that in open court, the whole universe looking on. My soul, when this actually takes place, how will it fare with you? Can you endure the day of his coming?
Verse 5. Gather my saints together unto me. Go, you swift winged messengers, and separate the precious from the vile. Gather out the wheat of the heavenly garner. Let the long scattered, but elect people, known by my separating grace to be my sanctified ones, be now assembled in one place.
All are not saints who seem to be so—a severance must be made; therefore let all who profess to be saints be gathered before my throne of judgment, and let them hear the word which will search and try the whole, that the false may be convicted and the true revealed.
Those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice; this is the grand test, and yet some have dared to imitate it. The covenant was ratified by the slaying of victims, the cutting and dividing of offerings; this the righteous have done by accepting with true faith the great propitiatory sacrifice, and this the pretenders have done in merely outward form. Let them be gathered before the throne for trial and testing, and as many as have really ratified the covenant by faith in the Lord Jesus shall be attested before all worlds as the objects of distinguishing grace, while formalists shall learn that outward sacrifices are all in vain. Oh, solemn assize, how does my soul bow in awe at the prospect thereof!
Verse 6. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness. Celestial intelligences and the spirits of just men made perfect, shall magnify the infallible judgment of the divine tribunal. Now they doubtless wonder at the hypocrisy of men; then they shall equally marvel at the exactness of the severance between the true and the false.
For God is judge himself. This is the reason for the correctness of the judgment. Priests of old, and churches of later times, were readily deceived, but not so the all discerning Lord. No deputy judge sits on the great white throne; the injured Lord of all himself weighs the evidence and allots the vengeance or reward. The scene in the Psalm is a grand poetical conception, but it is also an inspired prophecy of that day which shall burn as an oven, when the Lord shall discern between him that fears and him, that fears him not.
Selah. Here we may well pause in reverent prostration, in deep searching of heart, in humble prayer, and in awe struck expectation.
Verses 7-15. The address which follows is directed to the professed people of God. It is clearly, in the first place, meant for Israel; but is equally applicable to the visible church of God in every age. It declares the futility of external worship when spiritual faith is absent, and the mere outward ceremonial is rested in.
Verse 7. Hear, O my people, and I will speak. Because Jehovah speaks and they are avowedly his own people, they are bound to give earnest heed. "Let me speak," says the great I AM. The heavens and earth are but listeners, the Lord is about both to testify and to judge.
O Israel, and I will testify against you. Their covenant name is mentioned to give point to the address; it was a double evil that the chosen nation should become so carnal, so unspiritual, so false, so heartless to their God. God himself, whose eyes sleep not, who is not misled by rumor, but sees for himself, enters on the scene as witness against his favored nation.
Alas! for us when God, even our fathers' God, testifies to the hypocrisy of the visible church!
I am God, even your God. He had taken them to be his peculiar people above all other nations, and they had in the most solemn manner avowed that he was their God. Hence the special reason for calling them to account. The law began with, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt," and now the session of their judgment opens with the same reminder of their singular position, privilege, and responsibility. It is not only that Jehovah is God, but your God, O Israel; this is that makes you so amenable to his searching reproofs.
Verse 8. I will not reprove you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, to have been ever before me. Though they had not failed in maintaining his outward worship, or even if they had, he was not about to call them to account for this: a more weighty matter was now under consideration.
They thought the daily sacrifices and the abounding burnt offerings to be everything: he counted them nothing if the inner sacrifice of heart devotion had been neglected. What was greatest with them, was least with God.
It is even so today. Sacraments (so called) and sacred rites are them main concern with unconverted but religious men, but with the Most High the spiritual worship which they forget is the sole matter.
Let the external be maintained by all means, according to the divine command, but if the secret and spiritual are not in them, they are a vain oblation, a dead ritual, and even an abomination before the Lord.
Verse 9. I will take no bullock out of your house. Foolishly they dreamed that bullocks with horns and hoofs could please the Lord, when indeed he sought for hearts and souls. Impiously they imagined that Jehovah needed these supplies, and that if they fed his altar with their fat beasts, he would be content. What he intended for their instruction, they made their confidence. They remembered not that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."
Nor he goats out of your folds. He mentions these lesser victims as if to rouse their common sense to see that the great Creator could find not satisfaction in mere animal offerings. If he needed these, he would not appeal to their scanty stalls and folds; in fact, he here refuses to take so much as one, if they brought them under the false and dishonoring view, that they were in themselves pleasing to him.
This shows that the sacrifices of the law were symbolic of higher and spiritual things, and were not pleasing to God except under their typical aspect. The believing worshiper looking beyond the outward was accepted; the unspiritual who had no respect to their meaning was wasting his substance, and blaspheming the God of Heaven.
Verse 10. For every beast of the forest is mine. How could they imagine that the Most High God, possessor of Heaven and earth, had need of beasts, when all the countless hordes that find shelter in a thousand forests and wildernesses belong to him?
And the cattle upon a thousand hills. Not alone the wild beasts, but also the tamer creatures are all his own. Even if God cared for these things, he could supply himself. Their cattle were not, after all, their own, but were still the great Creator's property, why then should he be indebted to them. From Dan to Beersheba, from Nebaioth to Lebanon, there was not a beast which was not marked with the name of the great Shepherd; why, then, should he crave oblations of Israel?
What a slight is here put even upon sacrifices of divine appointment when wrongly viewed as in themselves pleasing to God! And all this to be so expressly stated under the law! How much more is this clear under the gospel, when it is so much more plainly revealed, that "God is a Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth"? You Ritualists, you Sacramentarians, you modern Pharisees, what do you say to this?
Verse 11. I know all the birds of the mountain. All the winged creatures are under my inspection and near my hand; what then can be the value of your pairs of turtle-doves, and your two young pigeons? The great Lord not only feeds all his creatures, but is well acquainted with each one; how wondrous is this knowledge!
And the wild beasts of the fields are mine. The whole population moving over the plain belongs to me; why then should I seek you cows and rams? In me all things live and move—how mad are you to suppose that I desire your living things! A spiritual God demands other life than that which is seen in animals; he looks for spiritual sacrifice; for the love, the trust, the praise, the life of your hearts.
Verse 12. If I were hungry, I would not tell you. Strange conception, a hungry God! Yet if such an absurd idea could be truth, and if the Lord hungered for meat, he would not ask it of men. He could provide for himself out of his own possessions; he would not turn suppliant to his own creatures.
Even under the grossest ideal of God, faith in outward ceremonies is ridiculous. Do men imagine that the Lord needs banners, and music, and incense, and fine linen? If he did, the stars would emblazon his standard, the winds and the waves become his orchestra, ten thousand times ten thousand flowers would breathe forth perfume, the snow should be his alb, the rainbow his belt, the clouds of light his mantle. O fools and slow of heart, you worship you know not what!
For the world is mine, and the fullness thereof. What can he need who is owner of all things and able to create as he wills? Thus overwhelmingly does the Lord pour forth his arguments upon religious formalists.
Verse 13. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Are you so infatuated as to think this? Is the great I AM subject to corporeal wants, and are they to be thus grossly satisfied? Heathen thought thus of their idols, but dare you think thus of the God who made the heavens and the earth? Can you have fallen so low as to think thus of me, O Israel? What vivid reasoning is here! How the fire flashes dart into the idiot faces of trusters in outward forms! You dupes of Rome, can you read this and be unmoved? The expostulation is indignant; the questions utterly confound; the conclusion is inevitable; heart worship alone can be acceptable with the true God. It is inconceivable that outward things can gratify him, except so far as through them our faith and love express themselves.
Verse 14. Offer unto God thanksgiving. No longer look at your sacrifices as in themselves gifts pleasing to me, but present them as the tributes of your gratitude; it is then that I will accept them, but not while your poor souls have no love and no thankfulness to offer me.
The sacrifices, as considered in themselves, are despised, but the internal emotions of love consequent upon a remembrance of divine goodness, are commended as the substance, meaning, and soul of sacrifice.
Even when the legal ceremonials were not abolished, this was true, and when they came to an end, this truth was more than ever made manifest. Not for want of bullocks on the altar was Israel blamed, but for want of thankful adoration before the Lord. She excelled in the visible, but in the inward grace, which is the one thing needful, she sadly failed. Too many in these days are in the same condemnation.
And pay your vows unto the most High. Let the sacrifice be really presented to the God who sees the heart, pay to him the love you promised, the service you covenanted to render, the loyalty of heart you have vowed to maintain. O for grace to do this! O that we may be graciously enabled to love God, and live up to our profession! To be, indeed, the servants of the Lord, the lovers of Jesus—this is our main concern. What avails our baptism, to what end our gatherings at the Lord's table, to what purpose our solemn assemblies—if we have not the fear of the Lord, and vital godliness reigning within our bosoms?
Verse 15. And call upon me in the day of trouble. Oh blessed verse! Is this then true sacrifice? Is it an offering to ask the alms of Heaven? It is even so. The King himself so regards it. For herein is faith manifested, herein is love proved, for in the hour of peril we fly to those we love. It seems a small think to pray to God when we are distressed—yet is it a more acceptable worship than the mere heartless presentation of bullocks and goats.
This is a voice from the throne, and how full of mercy it is! It is very tempestuous round about Jehovah, and yet what soft drops of mercy's rain drop from the bosom of the storm! Who would not offer such sacrifices? Troubled one, haste to present it now! Who shall say that Old Testament saints did not know the gospel? Its very spirit and essence breathes like frankincense all around this holy Psalm.
I will deliver you. The reality of your sacrifice of prayer shall be seen in its answer. Whether the smoke of burning bulls be sweet to me or not, certainly your humble prayer shall be, and I will prove it so by my gracious reply to your supplication.
This promise is very large, and may refer both to temporal and eternal deliverances; faith can turn it every way, like the sword of the cherubim.
And you shall glorify me. Your prayer will honor me, and your grateful perception of my answering mercy will also glorify me. The goats and bullocks would prove a failure, but the true sacrifice never could. The calves of the stall might be a vain oblation, but not the calves of sincere lips.
Thus we see what is true ritual. Here we read inspired rubrics. Spiritual worship is the great, the essential matter; all else without it is rather provoking than pleasing to God. As helps to the soul, outward offerings were precious, but when men went not beyond them—even their hallowed things were profaned in the view of Heaven.
Verses 16-21. Here the Lord turns to the manifestly wicked among his people; and such there were even in the highest places of his sanctuary. If moral formalists had been rebuked, how much more these immoral pretenders to fellowship with Heaven? If the lack of heart spoiled the worship of the more decent and virtuous, how much more would violations of the law, committed with a high hand, corrupt the sacrifices of the wicked?
Verse 16. But unto the wicked God says. To the breakers of the second table he now addresses himself; he had previously spoken to the neglectors of the first.
What have you to do to declare my statutes? You violate openly my moral law, and yet are great sticklers for my ceremonial commands! What have you to do with them? What interest can you have in them? Do you dare to teach my law to others, and profane it yourselves? What impudence, what blasphemy is this!
Even if you claim to be sons of Levi, what of that? Your wickedness disqualifies you, disinherits you, puts you out of the succession. It should silence you, and would if my people were as spiritual as I would have them, for they would refuse to hear you, and to pay you the portion of temporal things which is due to my true servants.
You count up your holy days, you contend for rituals, you fight for externals—and yet the weightier matters of the law you despise! You blind guides, you strain out gnats and swallow camels. Your hypocrisy is written on your foreheads and manifest to all.
Or that you should take my covenant in your mouth. You talk of being in covenant with me, and yet trample my holiness beneath you feet as swine trample upon pearls; do you think that I can tolerate this? Your mouths are full of lying and slander, and yet you mouth my words as if they were fit morsels for such as you!
How horrible and evil it is, that to this day we see men explaining doctrines who despise precepts! They make grace a coverlet for sin, and even judge themselves to be sound in the faith, while they are rotten in life! We need the grace of the doctrines, as much as the doctrines of grace, and without it an apostle is but a Judas, and a fair spoken professor is a vile enemy of the cross of Christ.
Verse 17. Seeing you hate instruction. Profane professors are often too wise to learn, too besotted with conceit to be taught of God. What a monstrosity that men should declare those statutes which with their hearts they do not know, and which in their lives they openly disavow! Woe unto the men who hate the instruction which they take upon themselves to give.
And cast my words behind you. Despising them, throwing them away as worthless, putting them out of sight as obnoxious. Many boasters of the law did this practically; and in these last days there are pickers and choosers of God's words who cannot endure the practical part of Scripture. They are disgusted at duty, they abhor responsibility, they disembowel texts of their plain meanings, they wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction.
It is an ill sign when a man dares not look a Scripture in the face, and an evidence of brazen impudence when he tries to make it mean something less condemnatory of his sins, and endeavors to prove it to be less sweeping in its demands. How powerful is the argument that such men have no right to take the covenant of God into their mouths, seeing that its spirit does not regulate their lives!
Verse 18. When you saw a thief, then you consent with him. Moral honesty cannot be absent where true grace is present. Those who excuse others in trickery are guilty themselves; those who use others to do unjust actions for them are doubly so. If a man be ever so religious, if his own actions do not rebuke dishonesty, he is an accomplice with thieves. If we can acquiesce in anything which is not upright, we are not upright ourselves, and our religion is a lie.
And have been partaker with adulterers. One by one the moral precepts are thus broken by the sinners in Zion. Under the cloak of piety, unclean livers conceal themselves. We may do this by smiling at unchaste jests, listening to obscene expressions, and conniving at licentious behavior in our presence; and if we thus act, how dare we preach, or lead public prayer, or wear the Christian name?
See how the Lord lays righteousness to the plummet. How plainly all this declares that without holiness no man shall see the Lord! No amount of ceremonial or theological accuracy can cover dishonesty and immorality. These filthy things must be either purged from us by the blood of Jesus, or they will kindle a fire in God's anger which will burn even to the lowest Hell!
Verse 19. You give your mouth to evil. Sins against the ninth commandment are here mentioned. The man who surrenders himself to the habit of slander is a vile hypocrite if he associates himself with the people of God.
A man's health is readily judged by his tongue. A foul mouth—a foul heart. Some slander almost as often as they breathe, and yet are great upholders of the church, and great sticklers for religious rituals. To what depths will not they go in evil, who delight in spreading it with their tongues?
And your tongue frames deceit. This is a more deliberate sort of slander, where the man dexterously elaborates false witness, and concocts methods of defamation. There is an ingenuity of calumny in some men, and, alas! even in some who are thought to be followers of the Lord Jesus. They manufacture falsehoods, weave them in their loom, hammer them on their anvil, and then retail their wares in every company.
Are these accepted with God? Though they bring their wealth to the altar, and speak eloquently of truth and of salvation—have they any favor with God? We would blaspheme the holy God if we were to think so. They are corrupt in his sight, a stench in his nostrils. He will cast all liars into Hell. Let them preach, and pray, and sacrifice as they will—until they become truthful, the God of truth loathes them utterly.
Verse 20. You sit and speak against your brother. He sits down to it, makes it his food, studies it, resolves upon it, becomes a master of defamation, occupies the chair of calumny. His nearest friend is not safe, his dearest relative escapes not.
You slander your own mother's son. He ought to love him best, but he has an ill word for him. The son of one's own mother was to the Oriental a very tender relation; but the wretched slanderer knows no claims of kindred. He stabs his brother in the dark, and aims a blow at him who came forth of the same womb. Yet he wraps himself in the robe of hypocrisy, and dreams that he is a favorite of Heaven, an accepted worshiper of the Lord.
Are such monsters to be met with nowadays? Alas! they pollute our churches still, and are roots of bitterness, spots on our solemn feasts, wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
Perhaps some such may read these lines, but they will probably read them in vain; their eyes are too dim to see their own condition, their hearts are waxen gross, their ears are dull of hearing; they are given up to a strong delusion to believe a lie, that they may be damned.
Verse 21. These things have you done, and I kept silence. No swift judgment overthrew the sinner—longsuffering reigned. No thunder was heard in threatening, and no bolt of fire was hurled in execution.
You thought that I was altogether such a one as yourself. The inference drawn from the Lord's patience was infamous; the respited culprit thought his judge to be one of the same order as himself. He offered sacrifice, and deemed it accepted; he continued in sin, and remained unpunished, and therefore he foolishly said, "Why need believe these crazy prophets? God cares not how we live so long as we pay our tithes. Little does he consider how we get the plunder, so long as we bring a bullock to his altar."
What will men not imagine of the Lord? At one time they liken the glory of Israel to a calf, and anon unto their brutish selves.
But I will reprove you. At last I will break silence and let them know my mind.
And set them in order before your eyes. I will marshal your sins in battle array. I will make you see them, I will put them down item by item, classified and arranged. You shall know that if silent awhile, I was never blind or deaf. I will make you perceive what you have tried to deny. I will leave the seat of mercy for the throne of judgment, and there I will let you see how great the difference is between you and me.
Verse 22. Now or oh! it is a word of entreaty, for the Lord is hesitant even to let the most ungodly run on to destruction.
Consider this; take these truths to heart, you who trust in ceremonies and you who live in vice, for both of you sin in that you forget God. Think how unaccepted you are, and turn unto the Lord. See how you have mocked the eternal, and repent of your iniquities.
Lest I tear you in pieces, as the lion rends his prey.
And there be none to deliver, no Savior, no refuge, no hope. You reject the Mediator: beware, for you will sorely need one in the day of wrath, and none will be near to plead for you.
How terrible, how complete, how painful, how humiliating, will be the destruction of the wicked! God uses no soft words, or velvet metaphors, nor may his servants do so when they speak of the wrath to come. O reader, consider this.
Verse 23. Whoever offers praise glorifies me. Praise is the best sacrifice—true, hearty, gracious thanksgiving from a renewed mind. Not the lowing of bullocks bound to the altar, but the songs of redeemed men are the music which the ear of Jehovah delights in. Sacrifice your loving gratitude, and God is honored thereby.
And to him that orders his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God. Holy living is a choice evidence of salvation. He who submits his whole way to divine guidance, and is careful to honor God in his life, brings an offering which the Lord accepts through his dear Son; and such a one shall be more and more instructed, and made experimentally to know the Lord's salvation. He needs salvation, for the best ordering of the life cannot save us—but that salvation he shall have. Not to ceremonies, not to unpurified lips, is the blessing promised—but to grateful hearts and holy lives.
O Lord, give us to stand in the judgment with those who have worshiped you aright and have seen your salvation.