Treasury of David
TITLE. To the Chief Musician upon Neginah, a Psalm of David. The original indicates that both the hymn and the musical instrument were David's. He wrote the verses and himself sang them to the stringed instrument whose sound he loved so well. We have left the Psalms entitled Michtam, but we shall still find much precious meaning though the golden name be wanting. We have met with the title of this Psalm before, in Psalms 4, 6, 54, and 55, but with this difference, that in the present case the word is in the singular number: the Psalm itself is very personal, and well adapted for the private devotion of a single individual.
SUBJECT AND DIVISION. This Psalm is a pearl. It is little, but precious. To many a mourner it has furnished utterance when the mind could not have devised a speech for itself. It was evidently composed by David after he had come to the throne—see verse 6. The second verse leads us to believe that it was written during the psalmist's enforced exile from the tabernacle, which was the visible abode of God: if so, the period of Absalom's rebellion has been most suitably suggested as the date of its authorship, and Delitzsch is correct in entitling it, "Prayer and thanksgiving of an expelled King on his way back to his throne."
We might divide the verses according to the sense, but it is preferable to follow the author's own arrangement, and make a break at each SELAH.
Verse 1. Hear my cry, O God. He was in terrible earnest; he shouted, he lifted up his voice on high. He is not however content with the expression of his need: to give his sorrows vent is not enough for him, he wants actual audience of Heaven, and manifold support as the result.
Pharisees may rest in their prayers; true believers are eager for an answer to them. Ritualists may be satisfied when they have, "said or sung" their litanies, but living children of God will never rest until their supplications have entered the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth.
Attend unto my prayer. Give it your consideration, and such an answer as your wisdom sees fit. When it comes to crying with us, we need not doubt but that it will come to attending with God. Our heavenly Father is not hardened against the cries of his own children. What a consoling thought it is that the Lord at all times hears his people's cries, and is never forgetful of their prayers; whatever else fails to move him, praying breath is never spent in vain!
Verse 2. From the end of the earth will I cry unto you. He was banished from the spot which was the center of his delight, and at the same time his mind was in a depressed and melancholy condition; both actually and figuratively he was an outcast—yet he does not therefore restrain prayer, but rather finds therein a reason for the louder and more importunate cries.
To be absent from the place of divine worship was a sore sorrow to saints in the olden times; they looked upon the tabernacle as the center of the world, and they counted themselves to be at the fag end of the universe when they could no longer resort to the sacred shrine; their heart was heavy as in a strange land when they were banished from its solemnities.
Yet even they knew right well that no place is unsuitable for prayer. There may be an end of the earth, but there must not be an end to devotion. On creation's verge we may call upon God, for even there he is within call. No spot is too dreary, no condition is too deplorable; whether it be the world's end or life's end, prayer is equally available. To pray in some circumstances needs resolve, and the psalmist here expresses it, I will cry. It was a wise resolution, for had he ceased to pray he would have become the victim of despair; there is an end to a man when he makes an end to prayer.
Observe that David never dreamed of seeking any other God; he did not imagine the dominion of Jehovah to be local: he was at the end of the promised land, but he knew himself to be still in the territory of the Great King; to him only does he address his petitions.
When my heart is overwhelmed. When the huge waves of trouble wash over me, and I am completely submerged, not only as to my head, but also my heart. It is hard to pray when the very heart is drowning—yet gracious men plead best at such times. Tribulation brings us to God, and brings God to us. Faith's greatest triumphs are achieved in her heaviest trials.
It is all over with me, affliction is all over me; it encompasses me as a cloud, it swallows me up like a sea, it shuts me in with thick darkness—yet God is near, near enough to hear my voice, and I will call him.
Is not this brave talk? Mark how our psalmist tells the Lord, as if he knew he were hearing him, that he intended to call upon him. Our prayer by reason of our distress may be like to a call upon a far off friend, but our inmost faith has its quiet heart whispers to the Lord as to one who is assuredly our very present help.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. I see you to be my refuge, sure and strong; but alas! I am confused, and cannot find you; I am weak, and cannot climb you. You are so steadfast, guide me. You are so high, uplift me.
There is a mint of meaning in this brief prayer. Along the iron bound coast of our northern shores, lives are lost because the rocks are inaccessible to the shipwrecked mariner. A clergyman of one of the coast villages has with immense labor cut steps up from the beach to a large chamber, which he has excavated in the chalk cliffs; here many mariners have been saved; they have climbed the rock, which had else been too high for them, and they have escaped.
We have heard of late, however, that the steps have been worn away by the storms, and that poor sailors have perished miserably within sight of the refuge which they could not reach, for it was too high for them: it is therefore proposed to drive in iron stanchions, and to hang up chain ladders that shipwrecked mariners may reach the chambers in the rock.
The illustration is self-interpreting. Our experience leads us to understand this verse right well, for the time was with us when we were in such amazement of soul be reason of sin, that although we knew the Lord Jesus to be a sure salvation for sinners—yet we could not come at him, by reason of our many doubts and forebodings.
A Savior would have been of no use to us if the Holy Spirit had not gently led us to him, and enabled us to rest upon him.
To this day we often feel that we not only need a rock, but to be led to it. With this in view we treat very leniently the half unbelieving prayers of awakened souls; for in their bewildered state we cannot expect from them all at once a fully believing cry.
A seeking soul should at once believe in Jesus, but it is legitimate for a man to ask to be led to Jesus; the Holy Spirit is able to effect such a leading, and he can do it even though the heart be on the borders of despair.
How infinitely higher that we are, is the salvation of God. We are low and groveling, but it towers like some tall cliff far above us. This is its glory, and is our delight when we have once climbed into the rock, and claimed an interest in it; but while we are as yet trembling seekers, the glory and sublimity of salvation appal us, and we feel that we are too unworthy ever to be partakers of it; hence we are led to cry for grace upon grace, and to see how dependent we are for everything, not only for the Savior, but for the power to believe on him.
Verse 3. For you have been a shelter for me. Observe how the psalmist rings the changes on, You have, and I will, verses 3-6.
Experience is the nurse of faith. From the past we gather arguments for present confidence. Many and many a time had the persecutions of Saul and the perils of battle imperiled David's life, and only by miracle had he escaped—yet was he still alive and unhurt; this he remembers, and he is full of hope.
And a strong tower from the enemy. As in a fort impregnable, David had dwelt, because surrounded by omnipotence. Sweet is it beyond expression to remember the lovingkindnesses of the Lord in our former days, for he is unchangeable, and therefore will continue to guard us from all evil.
Verse 4. I will abide in your tabernacle forever. Let me once get back to your courts, and nothing shall again expel me from them. Even now in my banishment my heart is there; and ever will I continue to worship you in spirit wherever my lot may be cast. Perhaps by the word tabernacle is here meant the dwelling place of God; and if so, the sense is, I will dwell with the Lord, enjoying his sacred hospitality, and sure protection.
"There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger or a guest,
But like a child at home."
He who communes with God is always at home. The divine omnipresence surrounds such a one consciously; his faith sees all around him the palace of the King, in which he walks with exulting security and overflowing delight.
Happy are the indoor servants who go not out from his presence. Hewers of wood and drawers of water in the tents of Jehovah are more to be envied than the princes who dwell in the pavilions of kings.
The best of all is that our residence with God is not for a limited period of time, but for ages; yes, for ages of ages, for time and for eternity. This is our highest and most heavenly privilege, I will abide in your tabernacle forever.
I will trust in the covert of your wings. Often does our sweet singer use this figure; and far better is it to repeat one apt and instructive image, than for the sake of novelty to ransack creation for poor, strained metaphors.
The chicks beneath the hen how safe, how comfortable, how happy! How warm the parent's bosom! How soft the cherishing feathers!
Divine condescension allows us to appropriate the picture to ourselves, and how blessedly instructive and consoling it is! O for more trust; it cannot be too implicit: such a covert invites us to the most unbroken repose.
SELAH. Rest we well may when we reach this point. Even the harp may be eloquently silent when deep, profound calm completely fills the bosom, and sorrow has sobbed itself into a peaceful slumber.
Verse 5. For you, O God, have heard my vows. Proofs of divine faithfulness are to be had in remembrance, and to be mentioned to the Lord's honor. The prayer of verse 1 is certain of an answer because of the experience of verse 5, since we deal with an immutable God.
Vows may rightly be joined with prayers when they are lawful, well considered, and truly for God's glory. It is great mercy on God's part to take any notice of the vows and promises of such faithless and deceitful creatures as we are. What we promise him is his due already, and yet he deigns to accept our vows as if we were not so much his servants as his free suitors who could give or withhold at pleasure.
You have given me the heritage of those that fear your name. We are made heirs, joint heirs with all the saints, partakers of the same portion. With this we ought to be delighted. If we suffer, it is the heritage of the saints. If we are persecuted, are in poverty, or in temptation, all this is contained in the title deeds of the heritage of the chosen. Those we are to sup with we may well be content to dine with.
We have the same inheritance as the Firstborn himself; what better is conceivable?
Saints are described as fearing the name of God. They are reverent worshipers. They stand in awe of the Lord's authority. They are afraid of offending him. They feel their own nothingness in the sight of the Infinite One. To share with such men, to be treated by God with the same favor as he metes out to them, is matter for endless thanksgiving. All the privileges of all the saints are also the privileges of each one.
Verse 6. You will prolong the king's life; or, better, "days to the days of the King you will add."
Death threatened, but God preserved his beloved. David, considering his many perils, enjoyed a long and prosperous reign.
And his years as many generations. He lived to see generation after generation personally; in his descendants he lived as king through a very long period; his dynasty continued for many generations; and in Christ Jesus, his seed and son, spiritually David reigns on evermore.
Thus he who began at the foot of the rock, half-drowned, and almost dead, is here led to the summit, and sings as a priest abiding in the tabernacle, a king ruling with God forever, and a prophet foretelling good things to come. (verse 7.) See the uplifting power of faith and prayer. None so low but they may yet be set on high.
Verse 7. He shall abide before God forever. Though this is true of David in a modified sense, we prefer to view the Lord Jesus as here intended as the lineal descendant of David, and the representative of his royal race. Jesus is enthroned before God to eternity; here is our safety, dignity, and delight. We reign in him; in him we are made to sit together in the heavens.
David's personal claim to sit enthroned forever is but a foreshadowing of the revealed privilege of all true believers. O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him. As men cry, "Long live the king," so we hail with acclamation our enthroned Immanuel, and cry, "Let mercy and truth preserve him."
Eternal love and immutable faithfulness are the bodyguards of Jesus' throne, and they are both the providers and the preservers of all those who in him are made kings and priests unto God. We cannot keep ourselves, and nothing short of divine mercy and truth can do it; but these both can and will, nor shall the least of the people of God be allowed to perish.
Verse 8. So will I sing praise unto your name forever. Because my prayer is answered, my song shall be perpetual. Because Jesus forever sits at your right hand, it shall be acceptable. Because I am preserved in him, it shall be grateful.
David had given vocal utterance to his prayer by a cry; he will now give expression to his praise by a song. There should be a parallel between our supplications and our thanksgivings. We ought not to leap in petition, and limp in praise.
The vow to celebrate the divine name forever is no hyperbolical piece of extravagance, but such as grace and glory shall enable us to carry out to the letter.
That I may daily perform my vows. To God who adds days to our days we will devote all our days. We vowed perpetual praise, and we desire to render it without intermission. We would worship God going right on as the days roll on. We ask no vacation from this heavenly vocation; we would make no pause in this sacred service. God daily performs his promises, let us daily perform our vows. He keeps his covenant, let us not forget ours. Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth, even for evermore.