Treasury of David
TITLE. To the Chief Musician, to Jeduthun. This is the second Psalm which is dedicated to Jeduthun, or Ethan, the former one being the thirty-ninth, a Psalm which is almost a twin with this in many respects, containing in the original the word translated only four times as this does six.
We shall meet with two other Psalms similarly appointed for Jeduthun: namely, Psalms 77, and 89.
The sons of Jeduthun were porters or doorkeepers, according to 1 Chronicles 16:42. Those who serve well make the best of singers, and those who occupy the highest posts in the choir must not be ashamed to wait at the posts of the doors of the Lord's house.
A PSALM OF DAVID. Even had not the signature of the royal poet been here placed, we should have been sure from internal evidence that he alone penned these stanzas; they are truly Davidic. From the six-fold use of the word only, we have been accustomed to call it THE ONLY PSALM.
DIVISION. The Psalmist has marked his own pauses, by inserting SELAH at the end of verses 4 and 8. His true and sole confidence in God laughs to scorn all its enemies. When this Psalm was composed it was not necessary for us to know, since true faith is always in season, and is usually under trial. Moreover, the sentiments here uttered are suitable to occasions which are very frequent in a believer's life, and therefore no one historic incident is needful for their explanation.
Verse 1. Truly, or truly, or only. The last is probably the most prominent sense here. That faith alone is true which rests on God alone, that confidence which relies but partly on the Lord is vain confidence. If we Anglicized the word by our word truly, as some do, we should have here a striking reminder of our blessed Lord's frequent use of that adverb.
My soul waits upon God. My inmost self draws near in reverent obedience to God. I am no hypocrite or mere posture maker. To wait upon God, and for God, is the habitual position of faith; to wait on him truly is sincerity; to wait on him only is spiritual chastity.
The original is, "only to God is my soul silence." The presence of God alone could awe his heart into quietude, submission, rest, and acquiescence; but when that was felt, not a rebellious word or thought broke the peaceful silence.
The proverb that "speech is silver but silence is gold," is more than true in this case. No eloquence in the world is half so full of meaning as the patient silence of a child of God. It is an eminent work of grace to bring down the will and subdue the affections to such a degree, that the whole mind lies before the Lord like the sea beneath the wind, ready to be moved by every breath of his mouth, but free from all inward and self-caused emotion, as also from all power to be moved by anything other than the divine will. We should be wax to the Lord, but adamant to every other force.
From him comes my salvation. The godly man will, therefore, in patience possess his soul until deliverance comes. Faith can hear the footsteps of coming salvation, because she has learned to be silent. Our salvation in no measure or degree comes to us from any inferior source; let us, therefore, look alone to the true fountain, and avoid the detestable crime of ascribing to the creature what belongs alone to the Creator.
If to wait on God be worship, to wait on the creature is idolatry. If to wait on God alone be true faith, to associate an arm of the flesh with him is audacious unbelief.
Verse 2. He only is my rock and my salvation. Sometimes a metaphor may be more full of meaning and more suggestive than literal speech: hence the use of the figure of a rock, the very mention of which would awaken grateful memories in the psalmists' mind. David had often lain concealed in rocky caverns, and here he compares his God to such a secure refuge; and, indeed, declares him to be his only real protection, all-sufficient in himself and never failing.
At the same time, as if to show us that what he wrote was not mere poetic sentiment but blessed reality, the literal word salvation follows the figurative expression: that our God is our refuge is no fiction, nothing in the world is more a matter of fact.
He is my fortress, my height, my lofty rampart, my high fort. Here we have another and bolder image; the tried believer not only abides in God as in a cavernous rock; but dwells in him as a warrior in some bravely defiant tower or lordly castle.
I shall not be greatly moved. His personal weakness might cause him to be somewhat moved; but his faith would come in to prevent any very great disturbance; not much would he be tossed about. Moved, as one says, "but not removed." Moved like a ship at anchor which swings with the tide, but is not swept away by the tempest.
When a man knows assuredly that the Lord is his salvation, he cannot be very much cast down: it would need more than all the devils in Hell greatly to alarm a heart which knows God to be its salvation.
Verse 3. How long will you imagine mischief against a man? It is always best to begin with God, and then we may confront our enemies. Make all sure with Heaven, then may you grapple with earth and Hell.
David expostulates with his insensate foes; he marvels at their dogged perseverance in malice, after so many failures and with certain defeat before them. He tells them that their design was an imaginary one, which they never could accomplish however deeply they might plot.
It is a marvel that men will readily enough continue in vain and sinful courses, and yet to persevere in grace is so great a difficulty as to be an impossibility, were it not for divine assistance. The persistency of those who oppose the people of God is so strange that we may well expostulate with them and say, "How long will you thus display your malice?"
A hint is given in the text as to the cowardliness of so many pressing upon one man; but none are less likely to act a fair and manly part than those who are opposed to God's people for righteousness' sake.
Satan could not enter into combat with Job in fair duel, but must needs call in the Sabeans and Chaldeans, and even then must borrow the lightning and the wind before his first attack was complete. If there were any shame in him, or in his children, they would be ashamed of the dastardly manner in which they have waged war against the seed of the woman. Ten thousand to one has not seemed to them too mean an advantage; there is not a drop of chivalrous blood in all their veins.
You shall be slain all of you. Your sharp-edged tools will cut your own fingers. Those who take the sword shall perish with the sword. However many or fierce the bands of the wicked may be, they shall not escape the just retribution of Heaven; rigorously shall the great Lawgiver exact blood from men of blood, and award death to those who seek the death of others.
As a bowing wall shall you be, and as a tottering fence. Boastful persecutors bulge and swell with pride, but they are only as a bulging wall ready to fall in a heap; they lean forward to seize their prey, but it is only as a tottering fence inclines to the earth upon which it will soon lie at length. They expect men to bow to them, and quake for fear in their presence; but men made bold by faith see nothing in them to honor, and very, very much to despise.
It is never well on our part to think highly of ungodly people; whatever their position, they are near their destruction, they totter to their fall; it will be our wisdom to keep our distance, for no one is advantaged by being near a falling wall; if it does not crush with its weight, it may stifle with its dust.
The passage is thought to be more correctly rendered as follows: "How long will you press on one man, that you may crush him in a body, like a toppling wall, a sinking fence?"
We have, however, kept to our own version as yielding a good and profitable meaning. Both senses may blend in our meditations; for if David's enemies battered him as though they could throw him down like a bulging wall, he, on the other hand, foresaw that they themselves would by retributive justice be overthrown like an old crumbling, leaning, yielding fence.
Verse 4. They only consult to cast him down from his excellency. The excellencies of the righteous are obnoxious to the wicked, and the main object of their fury. The elevation which God gives to the godly in Providence, or in disputation, is also the envy of the baser sort, and they labor to pull them down to their own level.
Observe the concentration of malice upon our point only, as here set in contrast with the sole reliance of the gracious one upon his Lord. If the wicked could but ruin the work of grace in us, they would be content; to crush our character, to overturn our influence, is the object of their consultation.
They delight in lies; hence they hate the truth and the truthful, and by falsehood endeavor to compass their overthrow. To lie is base enough, but to delight in it is one of the blackest marks of infamy.
They bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly. Flattery has ever been a favorite weapon with the enemies of godly men; they can curse bitterly enough when it serves their turn; meanwhile, since it answers their purpose, they mask their wrath, and with smooth words pretend to bless those whom they would willingly tear in pieces. It was fortunate for David that he was well practiced in silence, for to cozening deceivers there is no other safe reply.
Selah. Here pause, and consider with astonishment the futile rancor of unholy men, and the perfect security of such as rest themselves upon the Lord.
Verse 5. My soul, wait only upon God. When we have already practiced a virtue, it is yet needful that we bind ourselves to a continuance in it. The soul is apt to be dragged away from its anchorage, or is readily tempted to add a second confidence to the one sole and sure ground of reliance; we must, therefore, stir ourselves up to maintain the holy position which we were at first able to assume.
Be still silent, O my soul! submit yourself completely, trust immovably, wait patiently. Let none of your enemies' imaginings, consultings, flatteries, or maledictions cause you to break the King's peace. Be like the sheep before her shearers, and like your Lord, conquer by the passive resistance of victorious patience. You can only achieve this as you shall be inwardly persuaded of God's presence, and as you wait solely and alone on him.
Unmingled faith is undismayed. Faith with a single eye sees herself secure, but if her eye be darkened by two confidences, she is blind and useless.
For my expectation is from him. We expect from God because we believe in him. Expectation is the child of prayer and faith, and is owned of the Lord as an acceptable grace. We should desire nothing but what would be right for God to give, then our expectation would be all from God; and concerning truly good things we should not look to second causes, but to the Lord alone, and so again our expectation would be all from him. The vain expectations of worldly men come not; they promise but there is no performance. Our expectations are on the way, and in due season will arrive to satisfy our hopes. Happy is the man who feels that all he has, all he wants, and all he expects are to be found in his God.
Verse 6. He only is my rock and my salvation. Alone, and without other help, God is the foundation and completion of my safety. We cannot too often hear the toll of that great bell only; let it ring the death knell of all carnal reliances, and lead us to cast ourselves on the bare arm of God.
He is my defense. Not my defender only, but my actual protection. I am secure, because he is faithful.
I shall not be moved—not even in the least degree.
See how his confidence grows. In the second verse an adverb qualified his quiet; here, however, it is absolute; he altogether defies the rage of his adversaries, he will not stir an inch, nor be made to fear even in the smallest degree. A living faith grows; experience develops the spiritual muscles of the saint, and gives a manly force which our religious childhood has not yet reached.
Verse 7. In God is my salvation and my glory. Wherein should we glory but in him who saves us? Our honor may well be left with him who secures our souls. To find all in God, and to glory that it is so, is one of the sure marks of an enlightened soul.
The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. He multiplies titles, for he would render much honor to the Lord, whom he had tried, and proved to be a faithful God under so many aspects. Ignorance needs but few words, but when experience brings a wealth of knowledge, we need varied expressions to serve as coffers for our treasure. God who is our rock when we flee for shelter, is also our strong rock when we stand firm and defy the foe; he is to be praised under both characters.
Observe how the psalmist brands his own initials upon every name which he rejoicingly gives to his God—my expectation, my rock, my salvation, my glory, my strength, my refuge. He is not content to know that the Lord is all these things; he acts faith towards him, and lays claim to him under every character.
What are the mines of Peru or Golconda to me if I have no inheritance in them? It is the word MY which puts the honey into the comb. If our experience has not yet enabled us to realize the Lord under any of these consoling titles, we must seek grace that we may yet be partakers of their sweetness.
The bees in some way or other penetrate the flowers and collect their juices; it must be hard for them to enter the closed cups and mouthless bags of some of the favorites of the garden—yet the honey gatherers find or make a passage; and in this they are our instructors, for into each delightful name, character, and office of our covenant God our persevering faith must find an entrance, and from each it must draw delight.
Verse 8. Trust in him at all times. Faith is an abiding duty, a perpetual privilege. We should trust when we can see, as well as when we are utterly in the dark. Adversity is a fit season for faith; but prosperity is not less so. God at all times deserves our confidence. We at all times need to place our confidence in him. A day without trust in God is a day of wrath, even if it be a day of mirth. Lean ever, you saints, on him, on whom the world leans.
You people, pour out your heart before him. You to whom his love is revealed, reveal yourselves to him. His heart is set on you, lay bare your hearts to him. Turn the vessel of your soul upside down in his secret presence, and let your inmost thoughts, desires, sorrows, and sins be poured out like water. Hide nothing from him, for you can hide nothing. To the Lord unburden your soul; let him be your only father confessor, for he only can absolve you when he has heard your confession.
To keep our griefs to ourselves is to hoard up wretchedness. The stream will swell and rage if you dam it up: give it a clear course, and it leaps along and creates no alarm. Sympathy we need, and if we unload our hearts at Jesus' feet, we shall obtain a sympathy as practical as it is sincere, as consolatory as it is ennobling.
The writer in the Westminster Assembly's Annotations well observes that it is the tendency of our wicked nature to bite the bridle, and hide our grief in sullenness; but the gracious soul will overcome this propensity, and utter its sorrow before the Lord.
God is a refuge for us. Whatever he may be to others, his own people have a peculiar heritage in him; for us he is undoubtedly a refuge: here then is the best of reasons for resorting to him whenever sorrows weigh upon our bosoms. Prayer is peculiarly the duty of those to whom the Lord has specially revealed himself as their defense.
SELAH. Precious pause! Timely silence! Sheep may well lie down when such pasture is before them.
Verse 9. Surely men of low degree are vanity. Here the word is only again; men of low degree are only vanity, nothing more. They are many and enthusiastic, but they are not to be depended on; they are mobile as the waves of the sea, ready to be driven to and fro by any and every wind; they cry "Hosanna" today, and "Crucify him" tomorrow.
The instability of popular applause is a proverb; as well build a house with smoke as find comfort in the adulation of the multitude.
As the first son of Adam was called Abel or vanity, so here we are taught that all the sons of Adam are Abels. It were well if they were all so in character as well as in name; but alas! in this respect, too many of them are Cains.
And men of high degree are a lie. That is worse. We gain little by putting our trust in the aristocracy, they are not one whit better than the democracy—nay, they are even worse, for we expect something from them, but get nothing.
May we not trust the elite? Surely reliance may be placed in the educated, the chivalrous, the intelligent? For this reason are they a lie; because they promise so much, and in the end, when relied upon, yield nothing but disappointment. How wretched is that poor man who puts his trust in princes.
The more we rely upon God, the more shall we perceive the utter hollowness of every other confidence.
To be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity. Take a true estimate of them; judge them neither by quantity nor by appearance, but by weight, and they will no longer deceive you. Calmly deliberate, quietly ponder, and your verdict will be that which inspiration here records.
Vainer than vanity itself are all human confidences—the great and the mean, alike, are unworthy of our trust. A feather has some weight in the scale, vanity has none, and creature confidence has less than that. Yet such is the universal infatuation, that mankind prefer an arm of flesh to the power of the invisible but almighty Creator; and even God's own children are too apt to be bitten with this madness.
Verse 10. Trust not in oppression, and become not vain in robbery. Wealth ill gotten is the trust only of fools, for the deadly pest lies in it; it is full of canker, it reeks with God's curse.
To tread down the poor and silence their cries for justice, is the delight of many a braggart bully, who in his arrogance imagines that he may defy both God and man; but he is warned in these words, and it will be well for him if he takes the warning, for the Judge of all the earth will surely visit upon men the oppression of the innocent, and the robbery of the poor.
Both of these may be effected legally in the courts of man, but no twistings of the law, no tricks and evasions will avail with the Court of Heaven.
If riches increase, set not your heart upon them. If they grow in an honest, providential manner, as the result of industry or commercial success, do not make much account of the circumstance; be not unduly elated, do not fix your love upon your money bags. To bow an immortal spirit to the constant contemplation of fading possessions, is extreme folly. Shall those who call the Lord their glory, glory in yellow earth? Shall the image and superscription of Caesar deprive them of communion with him who is the image of the invisible God? As we must not rest in men, so neither must we repose in money. Gain and fame are only so much foam of the sea. All the wealth and honor the whole world can afford would be too slender a thread to bear up the happiness of an immortal soul.
Verse 11. God has spoken once. So immutable is God that he need not speak twice, as though he had changed; so infallible, that one utterance suffices, for he cannot err; so omnipotent, that his solitary word achieves all his designs.
We speak often and say nothing; God speaks once and utters eternal verities. All our speaking may yet end in sound; but he speaks, and it is done; he commands, and it stands fast.
Twice have I heard this. Our meditative soul should hear the echo of God's voice again and again. What he speaks once in revelation, we should be always hearing. Creation and providence are evermore echoing the voice of God; "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." We have two ears, that we may hear attentively, and the spiritual have inner ears with which they hear indeed. He hears twice in the best sense who hears with his heart as well as his ears.
That power belongs unto God. He is the source of it, and in him it actually abides. This one voice of God we ought always to hear, so as to be preserved from putting our trust in creatures in whom there can be no power, since all power is in God. What reason for faith is here! It can never be unwise to rest upon the almighty arm. Out of all troubles he can release us, under all burdens sustain us, while men must fail us at the last, and may deceive us even now. May our souls hear the thunder of Jehovah's voice as he claims all power, and henceforth may we wait only upon God!
Verse 12. Also unto you, O Lord, belongs mercy. This tender attribute sweetens the grand thought of his power. His divine strength will not crush us, but will be used for our good. God is so full of mercy that it belongs to him, as if all the mercy in the universe came from God, and still was claimed by him as his possession. His mercy, like his power, endures forever, and is ever present in him, ready to be revealed.
For you render to every man according to his work. This looks rather like justice than mercy; but if we understand it to mean that God graciously rewards the poor, imperfect works of his people, we see in it a clear display of mercy.
May it not also mean that according to the work he allots us, is the strength which he renders to us? He is not a hard master; he does not bid us to make bricks without straw, but he metes out to us strength equal to our day. In either meaning we have power and mercy blended, and have a double reason for waiting only upon God. Man neither helps us nor rewards us; God will do both. In him power and grace are eternally resident; our faith should therefore patiently hope and quietly wait, for we shall surely see the salvation of God. Deo soli gloria. All glory be to God only.