Treasury of David
TITLE. Here is a lengthy title, but it helps us much to expound the Psalm. To the Chief Musician upon Shushaneduth, or the Lily of Testimony. The forty-fifth was on the lilies, and represented the kingly warrior in his beauty going forth to war; here we see him dividing the spoil and bearing testimony to the glory of God.
Tunes have strange names apparently, but this results from the fact that we do not know what was in the composer's mind, else they might seem to be touchingly appropriate; perhaps the music or the musical instruments have more to do with this title than the Psalm itself.
A Michtam of David, to teach. David obeyed the precept to teach the children of Israel; he recorded the Lord's mighty acts that they might be rehearsed in the ears of generations to come. Golden secrets are to be told on the house tops; these things were not done in a corner and ought not to be buried in silence. We ought gladly to learn what inspiration so beautifully teaches.
When Joab returned. He had been engaged in another region, and the enemies of Israel took advantage of his absence, but on his return with Abishai the fortunes of war were changed.
And smote of Edom in the valley of salt twelve thousand. More than this appear to have fallen according to 1 Chronicles 18:12, but this commemorates one memorable part of the conflict. Terrible must have been the battle, but decisive indeed were the results, and the power of the enemy was utterly broken. Well did the Lord deserve a song from his servant.
DIVISION. Properly the song may be said to consist of three parts:
the complaining, verses 1-3;
the happy, verses 4-8;
the prayerful, verses 9-12.
We have divided it as the sense appeared to change.
Verse 1. Before the days of Saul, Israel had been brought very low; during his government it had suffered from internal strife, and his reign was closed by an overwhelming disaster at Gibeon. David found himself the possessor of a tottering throne, troubled with the double evil of factions at home, and invasion from abroad. He traced at once the evil to its true source, and began at the fountainhead. His were the politics of piety, which after all are the wisest and most profound. He knew that the displeasure of the Lord had brought calamity upon the nation, and to the removal of that displeasure he set himself by earnest prayer.
O God, you have cast us off. You have treated us as foul and offensive things, to be put away; as mean and beggarly people, to be shunned with contempt; as useless dead boughs, to be torn away from the tree, which they disfigure.
To be cast off by God is the worst calamity that can befall a man or a people; but the worst form of it is when the person is not aware of it and is indifferent to it. When the divine desertion causes mourning and repentance, it will be but partial and temporary. When a cast off soul sighs for its God, it is indeed not cast off at all.
You has scattered us. David clearly sees the fruits of the divine anger, he traces the flight of Israel's warriors, the breaking of her power, the division in her body politic, to the hand of God. Whoever might be the secondary agent of these disasters, he beholds the Lord's hand as the prime moving cause, and pleads with the Lord concerning the matter.
Israel was like a city with a breach made in its wall, because her God was wroth with her.
These first two verses, with their depressing confession, must be regarded as greatly enhancing the power of the faith which in the after verses rejoices in better days, through the Lord's gracious return unto his people.
You have been displeased. This is the secret of our miseries. Had we pleased you, you would have pleased us; but as we have walked contrary to you, you have walked contrary to us.
O turn yourself to us again. Forgive the sin and smile once more. Turn us to you, turn to us. Aforetime your face was towards your people, be pleased to look on us again with your favor and grace.
Some read it, "You will turn to us again," and it makes but slight difference which way we take it, for a true hearted prayer brings a blessing so soon that it is no presumption to consider it already obtained. There was more need for God to turn to his people than for Judah's troops to be brave, or Joab and the commanders wise. God with us is better than strong battalions. God displeased is more terrible than all the Edomites that ever marched into the valley of salt, or all the devils that ever opposed the church.
If the Lord turn to us, what care we for death or Hell? but if he withdraws his presence we tremble at the fall of a leaf.
Verse 2. You have made the earth to tremble. Things were as unsettled as though the solid earth had been made to quake; nothing was stable; the priests had been murdered by Saul, the worst men had been put in office, the military power had been broken by the Philistines, and the civil authority had grown despicable through insurrections and internal contests.
You have broken it. As the earth cracks, and opens itself in rifts during violent earthquakes, so was the kingdom rent with strife and calamity.
Heal the breaches thereof. As a house in time of earthquake is shaken, and the walls begin to crack, and gape with threatening fissures, so was it with the kingdom.
For it shakes. It tottered to a fall; if not soon propped up and repaired it would come down in complete ruin. So far gone was Israel, that only God's interposition could preserve it from utter destruction. How often have we seen churches in this condition, and how suitable is the prayer before us, in which the extremity of the need is used as an argument for help.
The like may be said of our personal religion, it is sometimes so tried, that like a house shaken by earthquake it is ready to come down with a crash, and none but the Lord himself can repair its breaches, and save us from utter destruction.
Verse 3. You have showed your people hard things. Hardships had been heaped upon them, and the psalmist traces these rigorous providences to their fountainhead. Nothing had happened by chance, but all had come by divine design and with a purpose—yet for all that things had gone hard with Israel. The psalmist claims that they were still the Lord's own people, though in the first verse he had said, "you have cast us off." The language of complaint is usually confused, and faith in time of trouble before long contradicts the desponding statements of the flesh.
You have made us to drink the wine of astonishment. Our afflictions have made us like men drunken with some potent and bitter wine; we are in amazement, confusion, delirium; our steps reel, and we stagger as those about to fall.
The great physician gives his patients potent potions to purge out their abounding and deep-seated diseases. Astonishing evils bring with them astonishing results. The grapes of the vineyard of sin produce a wine which fills the most hardened with anguish when justice compels them to quaff the cup. There is a fire water of anguish of soul which even to the righteous makes a cup of trembling, which causes them to be exceeding sorrowful almost unto death. When grief becomes so habitual as to be our drink, and to take the place of our joys, becoming our only wine, then are we in an evil case indeed.
Verse 4. Here the strain takes a turn. The Lord has called back to himself his servants, and commissioned them for his service, presenting them with a standard to be used in his wars.
You have given a banner to those who fear you. Their afflictions had led them to exhibit holy fear, and then being fitted for the Lord's favor, he gave them an ensign, which would be both a rallying point for their hosts, a proof that he had sent them to fight, and a guarantee of victory.
The bravest men are usually entrusted with the banner, and it is certain that those who fear God must have less fear of man than any others. The Lord has given us the standard of the gospel, let us live to uphold it, and if needful die to defend it. Our right to contend for God, and our reason for expecting success, are found in the fact that the faith has been once committed to the saints, and that by the Lord himself.
That it may be displayed because of the truth. Banners are for the breeze, the sun, the battle. Israel might well come forth boldly, for a sacred standard was borne aloft before them.
To publish the gospel is a sacred duty, to be ashamed of it is a deadly sin.
The truth of God was involved in the triumph of David's armies, he had promised them victory; and so in the proclamation of the gospel we need feel no hesitancy, for as surely as God is true he will give success to his own word. For the truth's sake, and because the true God is on our side, let us in these modern days of warfare emulate the warriors of Israel, and unfurl our banners to the breeze with confident joy. Dark signs of present or coming ill must not dishearten us; if the Lord had meant to destroy us he would not have given us the gospel; the very fact that he has revealed himself in Christ Jesus involves the certainty of victory.
Selah. There is so much in the fact of a banner being given to the hosts of Israel, so much of hope, of duty, of comfort, that a pause is fitly introduced. The sense justifies it, and the more joyful strain of the music necessitates it.
Verse 5. That your beloved may be delivered. David was the Lord's beloved, his name signifies "dear, or beloved," and there was in Israel a remnant according to the election of grace, who were the beloved of the Lord; for their sakes the Lord wrought great marvels, and he had an eye to them in all his mighty acts. God's beloved are the inner seed, for whose sake he preserves the entire nation, which acts as a husk to the vital part.
This is the main design of providence, That your beloved may be delivered; if it were not for their sakes he would neither give a banner nor send victory to it.
Save with your right hand, and hear me. Save at once, before the prayer is over; the case is desperate unless there be immediate salvation. Tarry not, O Lord, until I have done pleading: save first and hear afterwards. The salvation must be a right royal and eminent one, such as only the omnipotent hand of God linked with his dexterous wisdom can achieve.
Urgent distress puts men upon pressing and bold petitions such as this. We may by faith ask for and expect that our extremity will be God's opportunity; special and memorable deliverances will be wrought out when dire calamities appear to be imminent.
Here is one suppliant for many, even as in the case of our Lord's intercession for his saints. He, the Lord's David, pleads for the rest of the beloved, beloved and accepted in him the Chief Beloved. He seeks salvation as though it were for himself, but his eye is ever upon all those who are one with him in the Father's love. When divine interposition is necessary for the rescue of the elect it must occur, for the first and greatest necessity of providence is the honor of God, and the salvation of his chosen people. This is fixed fate, the center of the immutable decree, the inmost thought of the unchangeable Jehovah.
Verse 6. God has spoken in his holiness. Faith is never happier than when it can fall back upon the promise of God. She sets this over against all discouraging circumstances; let outward providences say what they will, the voice of a faithful God drowns every sound of tear.
God had promised Israel victory, and David the kingdom; the holiness of God secured the fulfillment of his own covenant, and therefore the king spoke confidently. The goodly land had been secured to the tribes by the promise made to Abraham, and that divine grant was an abundantly sufficient warrant for the belief that Israel's arms would be successful in battle.
Believer make good use of this, and banish doubts while promises remain.
I will rejoice, or "I will triumph." Faith regards the promise not as fiction but fact, and therefore drinks in joy from it, and grasps victory by it. "God has spoken; I will rejoice:" here is a fit motto for every soldier of the cross.
I will divide Shechem. As a victor David would allot the conquered territory to those to whom God had given it by lot. Shechem was an important portion of the country, which as yet had not yielded to his government; but he saw that by Jehovah's help it would be, and indeed was all his own. Faith divides the spoil, she is sure of what God has promised, and enters at once into possession.
And mete out the valley of Succoth. As the east so the west of Jordan should be allotted to the proper people. Enemies should be expelled, and the landmarks of peaceful ownership set up. Where Jacob had pitched his tent, there his rightful heirs should cultivate the soil.
When God has spoken, his divine shall, our I will, becomes no idle boast, but the fit echo of the Lord's decree. Believer, up and take possession of covenant mercies.
Divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth. Let not Canaanite doubts and legalisms keep you out of the inheritance of grace. Live up to your privileges, take the good which God provides you.
Verse 7. Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine. He claims the whole land on account of the promise. Two other great divisions of the country he mentions, evidently delighting to survey the goodly land which the Lord had given him.
All things are ours, whether things present or things to come; no mean portion belongs to the believer, and let him not think meanly of it. No enemy shall withhold from true faith what God has given her, for grace makes her mighty to wrest it from the foe. Life is mine, death is mine, for Christ is mine.
Ephraim also is the strength of my head. All the military power of the valiant tribe was at the command of David, and he praises God for it. God will bow to the accomplishment of his purposes all the valor of men; the church may cry, "the prowess of armies is mine," but God will overrule all their achievements for the progress of his cause.
Judah is my lawgiver. There the civil power was concentrated: the king being of that tribe sent forth his laws out of her midst. We know no lawgiver, but the King who came out of Judah. To all the claims of Rome, Or Oxford, or the councils of men, we pay no attention; we are free from all other ecclesiastical rule, but that of Christ: but we yield joyful obedience to him.
Judah is my lawgiver. Amid distractions it is a great thing to have good and sound legislation, it was a balm for Israel's wounds, it is our joy in the Church of Christ.
Verse 8. Having looked at home with satisfaction, the hero king now looks abroad with exultation.
Moab, so injurious to me in former years, is my washpot. That is, the basin into which the water falls when it is poured from an pitcher upon my feet. A mere pot to hold the dirty water after my feet have been washed in it.
Once she defiled Israel, according to the counsel of Balaam, the son of Beor; but she shall no longer be able to perpetrate such baseness; she shall be a washpot for those whom she sought to pollute.
The wicked as we see in them the evil, the fruit, and the punishment of sin, shall help on the purification of the saints. This is contrary to their will, and to the nature of things, but faith finds honey in the lion, and a washpot in filthy Moab.
David treats his foes as but insignificant and inconsiderable; a whole nation he counts but as a footbath for his kingdom.
Over Edom will I cast out my shoe. As a man when bathing throws his shoes on one side, so would he obtain his dominion over haughty Esau's descendants as easily as a man casts a shoe.
Perhaps he would throw his shoe as nowadays men throw their glove, as a challenge to them to dare dispute his sway. He did not need draw a sword to smite his now crippled and utterly despondent adversary, for if he dared revolt he would only need to throw his slipper at him, and he would tremble.
Easily are we victors when Omnipotence leads the way. The day shall come when the church shall with equal ease subdue China and Ethiopia to the scepter of the Son of David.
Every believer also may by faith triumph over all difficulties, and reign with him who has made us kings and priests. "They overcame through the blood of the Lamb," shall yet be said of all who rest in the power of Jesus.
Over Philistia, I shout in triumph. Be so subdued as to rejoice in my victories over my other foes. Or does he mean, I who smote your champion have at length so subdued you that you shall never be able to rejoice over Israel again; but if you must needs triumph it must be with me, and not against me. Or rather is it a taunting defiance, a piece of irony? O proud Philistia, where are your vaunts? Where now your haughty looks, and promised conquests? Thus dare we defy the last enemy, "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?"
So utterly hopeless is the cause of Hell when the Lord comes forth to the battle, that even the weakest daughter of Zion may shake her head at the enemy, and laugh him to scorn.
O the glorifying of faith! There is not a grain of vain glory in it, but yet her holy boastings none can hinder. When the Lord speaks the promise, we will not be slow to rejoice and glory in it.
Verse 9. As yet the interior fortresses of Edom had not been subdued. Their invading bands had been slain in the valley of salt, and David intended to push his conquests even to Petra the city of the rock, deemed to be impregnable.
Who will bring me into the strong city? It was all but inaccessible, and hence the question of David.
When we have achieved great success it must be a stimulus to greater efforts, but it must not become a reason for self-confidence. We must look to the strong for strength as much at the close of a campaign as at its beginning.
Who will lead me into Edom? High up among the stars stood the city of stone, but God could lead his servant up to it.
No heights of grace are too elevated for us, the Lord being our leader, but we must beware of high things attempted in self-reliance. EXCELSIOR is well enough as a cry, but we must look to the highest of all for guidance.
Joab could not bring David into Edom. The veterans of the valley of salt could not force the passage—yet was it to be attempted, and David looked to the Lord for help.
Heathen nations are yet to be subdued. The city of the seven hills must yet hear the gospel. Who will give the church the power to accomplish this? The answer is not far to seek.
Verse 10. Will not you, O God, which had cast us off? Yes, the chastising God is our only hope. He loves us still. For a small moment does he forsake, but with great mercy does he gather his people. Strong to smite, he is also strong to save.
He who proved to us our need of him by showing us what poor creatures we are without him, will now reveal the glory of his help by conducting great enterprises to a noble outcome.
And you, O God, which did not go out with our armies? The self same God are you, and to you faith cleaves. Though you slay us, we will trust in you, and look for your merciful help.
Verse 11. Give us help from trouble. Help us to overcome the disasters of civil strife and foreign invasion; save us from further incursions from without and division within.
Do you, O Lord, work this deliverance, for vain is the help of man. We have painfully learned the utter impotence of armies, kings, and nations without your help. Our banners trailed in the mire have proven our weakness without you, but yonder standard borne aloft before us shall witness to our valor now that you have come to our rescue.
How sweetly will this verse suit the tried people of God as a frequent prayer. We know how true it is.
Verse 12. Through God we shall do valiantly. From God all power proceeds, and all we do well is done by divine operation. But still we, as soldiers of the great king, are to fight, and to fight valiantly too.
Divine working is not an argument for human inaction, but rather is it the best excitement for courageous effort. Helped in the past, we shall also be helped in the future, and being assured of this we resolve to play the man.
For he it is that shall tread down our enemies. From him shall the might proceed, to him shall the honor be given. Like straw on the threshing floor beneath the feet of the oxen shall we tread upon our abject foes, but it shall rather be his foot which presses them down than ours; his hand shall go out against them so as to put them down and keep them in subjection. In the case of Christians there is much encouragement for a resolve similar to that of the first clause.
We shall do valiantly, we will not be ashamed of our colors, afraid of our foes, or fearful of our cause. The Lord is with us, omnipotence sustains us, and we will not hesitate, we dare not be cowards.
O that our King, the true David, were come to claim the earth, for the kingdom is the Lord's, and he is the governor among the nations!