Treasury of David
TITLE. A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. This was probably written while David was fleeing from Absalom; certainly at the time he wrote it he was king (verse 11), and hard pressed by those who sought his life. David did not leave off singing because he was in the wilderness, neither did he in slovenly idleness go on repeating Psalms intended for other occasions; but he carefully made his worship suitable to his circumstances, and presented to his God a wilderness hymn when he was in the wilderness.
There was no desert in his heart, though there was a desert around him. We too may expect to be cast into rough places before we go hence. In such seasons, may the Eternal Comforter abide with us, and cause us to bless the Lord at all times, making even the solitary place to become a temple for Jehovah.
The distinguishing word of this Psalm is EARLY. When the bed is the softest we are most tempted to rise at lazy hours; but when comfort is gone, and the couch is hard, if we rise the earlier to seek the Lord, we have much for which to thank the wilderness.
DIVISION. In verses 1-8 verses the writer expresses his holy desires after God, and his confidence in him.
Then in the remaining three verses he prophesies the overthrow of all his enemies. This Psalm is peculiarly suitable for the bed of sickness, or in any constrained absence from public worship.
Verse 1. O God, you are my God. Or, O God, you are my Mighty One. The last Psalm left the echo of power ringing in the ear, and it is here remembered. Strong affiance bids the fugitive poet confess his allegiance to the only living God; and firm faith enables him to claim him as his own. He has no doubts about his possession of his God; and why should other believers have any? The straightforward, clear language of this opening sentence would be far more becoming in Christians than the timorous and doubtful expressions so usual among professors.
How sweet is such language! Is there any other word comparable to it for delights? Meus Deus. Can angels say more?
Early will I seek you. Possession breeds desire. Full assurance is no hindrance to diligence, but is the mainspring of it. How can I seek another man's God? but it is with ardent desire that I seek after him whom I know to be my own.
Observe the eagerness implied in the time mentioned; he will not wait for noon or the cool eventide; he is up at cock-crowing to meet his God. Communion with God is so sweet that the chill of the morning is forgotten, and the luxury of the couch is despised. The morning is the time for dew and freshness, and the psalmist consecrates it to prayer and devout fellowship.
The best of men have been early on their knees. The word early has not only the sense of early in the morning, but that of eagerness, immediateness. He who truly longs for God longs for him now. Holy desires are among the most powerful influences that stir our inner nature; hence the next sentence,
My soul thirsts for you. Thirst is an insatiable longing after that which is one of the most essential supports of life; there is no reasoning with it, no forgetting it, no despising it, no overcoming it by stoical indifference. Thirst will be heard; the whole man must yield to its power; even thus is it with that divine desire which the grace of God creates in regenerate men; only God himself can satisfy the craving of a soul really aroused by the Holy Spirit.
My flesh longs for you; by the two words soul and flesh, he denotes the whole of his being.
The flesh, in the New Testament sense of it, never longs after the Lord, but rather it wars against the spirit; David only refers to that sympathy which is sometimes created in our bodily frame by vehement emotions of the soul. Our corporeal nature usually tugs in the other direction, but the spirit when ardent can compel it to throw in what power it has upon the other side. When the wilderness caused David weariness, discomfort, and thirst, his flesh cried out in unison with the desire of his soul.
In a dry and thirsty land, where no water is. A weary place and a weary heart make the presence of God the more desirable. If there is nothing below and nothing within to cheer, it is a thousand mercies that we may look up and find all we need.
How frequently have believers traversed in their experience this dry and thirsty land, where spiritual joys are things forgotten! And how truly can they testify that the only true necessity of that country is the near presence of their God! The absence of outward comforts can be borne with serenity, when we walk with God; and the most lavish multiplication of them avails not, when he withdraws. Only after God, therefore, let us pant. Let all desires be gathered into one. Seeking first the kingdom of God—all else shall be added unto us.
Verse 2. To see your power and your glory, so as I have seen you in the sanctuary. He longed not so much to see the sanctuary as to see his God; he looked through the veil of ceremonies to the invisible One. Often had his heart been gladdened by communion with God in the outward ordinances, and for this great blessing he sighs again; as well he might, for it is the weightiest of all earth's sorrows for a Christian man to lose the conscious presence of his covenant God.
He remembers and mentions the two attributes which had most impressed themselves upon his mind when he had been enrapt in adoration in the holy place; upon these his mind had dwelt in the preceding Psalm, and the savor of that contemplation is evidently upon his heart when in the wilderness. These he desires to behold again in the place of his banishment. It is a precious thought that the divine power and glory are not confined in their manifestation to any places or localities; they are to be heard above the roaring of the sea, seen amid the glare of the tempest, felt in the forest and the prairie, and enjoyed wherever there is a heart that longs and thirsts to behold them.
Our misery is that we thirst so little for these sublime things, and so much for the mocking trifles of time and sense. We are in very truth always in a weary land, for this poor world is not our rest; and it is marvelous that believers do not more continuously thirst after their portion far beyond the river where they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; but shall see the face of their God, and his name shall be in their foreheads.
David did not thirst for water or any earthly thing, but only for spiritual manifestations. The sight of God was enough for him, but nothing short of that would content him. How great a friend is he, the very sight of whom is consolation. Oh, my soul, imitate the psalmist, and let all your desires ascend towards the highest good; longing here to see God, and having no higher joy even for eternity.
Verse 3. Because your loving-kindness is better than life. A reason for that which went before, as well as for that which follows. Life is dear, but God's love is dearer. To dwell with God, is better than life at its best; life at ease, in a palace, in health, in honor, in wealth, in pleasure; yes, a thousand lives are not equal to the eternal life which abides in Jehovah's smile. In him we truly live, and move, and have our being; the withdrawal of the light of his countenance is as the shadow of death to us—hence we cannot but long after the Lord's gracious appearing.
Life is to many men a doubtful good: loving-kindness is an unquestioned blessing. Life is but transient, mercy is everlasting. Life is shared in by the lowest animals, but the loving-kindness of the Lord is the peculiar portion of the chosen.
My lips shall praise you. Openly, so that your glory shall be made known, I will tell of your goodness. Even when our heart is rather desiring than enjoying we should still continue to magnify the Most High, for his love is truly precious; even if we do not personally, for the time being, happen to be rejoicing in it. We ought not to make our praises of God to depend upon our own personal reception of benefits; this would be mere selfishness; even publicans and sinners have a good word for those whose hands are enriching them with gifts. It is the true believer only who will bless the Lord when he takes away his gifts or hides his face.
Verse 4. Thus will I bless you while I live. As I now bless you so will I ever do; or rather, so as you shall reveal your loving-kindness to me, I will in return continue to extol you.
While we live, we will love. If we see no cause to rejoice in our estate, we shall always have reason for rejoicing in the Lord. If none others bless God—yet his people will. His very nature, as being the infinitely good God, is a sufficient argument for our praising him as long as we exist.
I will lift up my hands in your name. For worship the hands were uplifted, as also in joy, in thanksgiving, in labor, in confidence; in all these senses we would lift up our hands in Jehovah's name alone. No hands need hang down, when God draws near in love. The name of Jesus has often made lame men leap as a deer, and it has made sad men clap their hands for joy.
Verse 5. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness. Though unable to feast on the sacrifice at your altar, my soul shall even here be filled with spiritual joys, and shall possess a complete, a double contentment. There is in the love of God a richness, a sumptuousness, a fullness of soul-filling joy, comparable to the richest food with which the body can be nourished.
The Hebrews were more fond of fat than we are, and their highest idea of festive provision is embodied in the two words, marrow and fatness. A soul hopeful in God and full of his favor is thus represented as feeding upon the best of the best, the dainties of a royal banquet.
And my mouth shall praise you with joyful lips. More joy, more praise. When the mouth is full of mercy, is should also be full of thanksgiving. When God gives us the marrow of his love, we must present to him the marrow of our hearts. Vocal praise should be rendered to God as well as mental adoration; others see our mercies, let them also hear our thanks.
Verse 6. When I remember you upon my bed. Lying awake, the godly man betook himself to meditation, and then began to sing. He had a feast in the night, and a song in the night. He turned his bedchamber into an oratory, he consecrated his pillow, his praise anticipated the place of which it is written, "There is no night there." Perhaps the wilderness helped to keep him awake, and if so, all the ages are debtors to it for this delightful hymn.
If day's cares tempt us to forget God, it is well that night's quiet should lead us to remember him. We see best in the dark, if we there see God best.
And meditate on you in the night watches. Keeping up sacred worship in my heart as the priests and Levites celebrated it in the sanctuary. Perhaps David had formerly united with those "who by night stand in the house of the Lord, "and now as he could not be with them in person, he remembers the hours as they pass, and unites with the choristers in spirit, blessing Jehovah as they did. It may be, moreover, that the king heard the voices of the sentries as they relieved guard, and each time he returned with renewed solemnity to his meditations upon his God.
Night is congenial, in its silence and darkness, to a soul which would forget the world, and rise into a higher sphere. Absorption in the most hallowed of all themes makes watches, which else would be weary, glide away all too rapidly; it causes the lonely and hard couch to yield the most delightful repose—repose more restful than even sleep itself. We read of beds of ivory, but beds of piety are better far. Some revel in the night, but they are not a tenth so happy as those who meditate in God.
Verse 7. Because you have been my help. Meditation had refreshed his memory and recalled to him his past deliverances. It were well if we oftener read our own diaries, especially noting the hand of the Lord in helping us in suffering, want, labor, or dilemma.
This is the grand use of memory—to furnish us with proofs of the Lord's faithfulness, and lead us onward to a growing confidence in him.
Therefore in the shadow of your wings will I rejoice. The very shadow of God is sweet to a believer. Under the eagle wings of Jehovah we hide from all fear, and we do this naturally and at once, because we have aforetime tried and proved both his love and his power. We are not only safe, but happy in God—we rejoice as well as repose.
Verse 8. My soul follows hard after you, or is glued to you. We follow close at the Lord's heels, because we are one with him. Who shall divide us from his love? If we cannot walk with him with equal footsteps, we will at least follow after with all the strength he lends us, earnestly panting to reach him and abide in his fellowship.
When professors follow hard after the world, they will fall into the ditch; but none are ever too eager after communion with the Lord.
Your right hand upholds me. Else he would not have followed the Lord with constancy, or even have longed after him. The divine power, which has so often been dwelt upon in this and the preceding Psalms, is here mentioned as the source of man's attachment to God. How strong are we when the Lord works in us by his own right hand, and how utterly helpless if he withholds his aid!
Verse 9. As David earnestly sought for God, so there were men of another order who as eagerly sought after his blood; of these he speaks: Those who seek my soul will be destroyed. At his life they aimed, at his honor, his best welfare; and this they would not merely injure but utterly ruin. The devil is a destroyer, and all his seed are greedy to do the same mischief; and as he has ruined himself by his crafty devices, so also shall they. Destroyers shall be destroyed. Those who hunt souls shall be themselves the victims.
They shall go into the lower parts of the earth. Into the pits which they dug for others, they shall fall themselves. The slayers shall be slain, and the grave shall cover them. The Hell which they in their curse invoked for others, shall shut its mouth upon them. Every blow aimed against the godly, will recoil on the persecutor. He who smites a believer, drives a nail in his own coffin!
Verse 10. They shall fall by the sword. So David's enemies did. Those who take the sword shall perish with the sword; bloody men shall feel their own life gushing forth from them, when their evil day shall at last come, and they shall be given up to feel in their own persons the horrors of death.
They shall be a portion for foxes. Too base to be fit food for the lions, the foxes shall sniff around their corpses, and the jackals shall hold carnival over their carcases. Unburied and unhonored, they shall be meat for the dogs of war. Frequently have malicious men met with a fate so dire, as to be evidently the award of retributive justice. Although the great assize is reserved for another world—yet even here, at the common sessions of providence, justice often bares her avenging sword in the eyes of all the people.
Verse 11. But the king shall rejoice in God. Usurpers shall fade, but he shall flourish; and his prosperity shall be publicly acknowledged as the gift of God. The Lord's anointed shall not fail to offer his joyful thanksgiving. His well established throne shall own the superior lordship of the King of kings; his rejoicing shall be alone in God.
Every one that swears by him shall glory. His faithful followers shall have occasion for triumph; they shall never need to blush for the oath of their allegiance. Or, "swearing by him," may signify adherence to God, and worship paid to him.
The heathen swore by their gods, and the Israelite called Jehovah to witness to his asseveration; those, therefore, who owned the Lord as their God should have reason to glory when he proved himself the defender of the king's righteous cause, and the destroyer of traitors.
But the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped. And the sooner the better. If shame will not do it, nor fear, nor reason, then let them be stopped with the sexton's shovelful of earth; for a liar is a human devil, he is the curse of men, and accursed of God, who has comprehensively said, "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone."
See the difference between the mouth that praises God, and the mouth that forges lies. The first shall never be stopped, but shall sing on forever. The second shall be made speechless at the bar of God.
O Lord, we seek you and your truth; deliver us from all malice and slander, and reveal to us your own self, for Jesus' sake. Amen.