Treasury of David
TITLE. To the Chief Musician. He had need be a man of great skill, worthily to sing such a Psalm as thisóthe best music in the world would be honored by marriage with such expressions.
A Song or Psalm, or a Song and Psalm. It may be either said or sung. It is a marvelous poem if it be but read; but set to suitable music, it must have been one of the noblest strains ever heard by the Jewish people. We do not know who is its author, but we see no reason to doubt that David wrote it. It is in the Davidic style, and has nothing in it unsuited to his times. It is true the "house" of God is mentioned, but the tabernacle was entitled to that designation as well as the temple.
SUBJECT AND DIVISION. Praise is the topic, and the subjects for song are the Lord's great works, his gracious benefits, his faithful deliverances, and all his dealings with his people, brought to a close by a personal testimony to special kindness received by the prophet bard himself.
Verses 1-4 are a kind of introductory hymn, calling upon all nations to praise God, and dictating to them the words of a suitable song.
Verses 5-7 invite the beholder to "Come and see" the works of the Lord, pointing attention to the Red Sea, and perhaps the passage of Jordan.
This suggests the similar position of the afflicted people which is described, and its joyful outcome predicted, Verses 8-12.
The singer then becomes personal, and confesses his own obligations to the Lord (Verses 13-15).
And, bursting forth with a vehement "Come and hear," declares with thanksgiving the special favor of the Lord to himself, Verses 16-20.
Verse 1. Make a joyful noise unto God. "In Zion," where the more instructed saints were accustomed to profound meditation, the song was silent unto God, and was accepted of him. But in the great popular assemblies a joyful noise was more appropriate and natural, and it would be equally acceptable.
If praise is to be wide spread, it must be vocal; exulting sounds stir the soul and cause a sacred contagion of thanksgiving. Composers of tunes for the congregation should see to it that their airs are cheerful; we need not so much noise, as joyful noise. God is to be praised with the voice, and the heart should go therewith in holy exultation.
All praise from all nations should be rendered unto the Lord. Happy the day when no shouts shall be presented to Juggernaut or Buddha, but all the earth shall adore the Creator thereof.
All you lands. You heathen nations, you who have not known Jehovah hitherto, with one consent let the whole earth rejoice before God. The languages of the lands are many, but their praises should be one, addressed to one only God.
Verse 2. Sing forth the honor of his name. The noise is to be modulated with tune and time, and fashioned into singing, for we adore the God of order and harmony. The honor of God should be our subject, and to honor him our object when we sing. To give glory to God is but to restore to him his own. It is our glory to be able to give God glory; and all our true glory should be ascribed unto God, for it is his glory. "All worship be to God only," should be the motto of all true believers.
The name, nature, and person of God are worthy of the highest honor.
Make his praise glorious. Let not his praise be mean and grovelingólet it arise with grandeur and solemnity before him. The pomp of the ancient festivals is not to be imitated by us, under this dispensation of the Spirit, but we are to throw so much of heart and holy reverence into all our worship that it shall be the best we can render. Heart worship and spiritual joy render praise more glorious than vestments, incense, and music could do.
Verse 3. Say unto God. Turn all your praises to him. Devotion, unless it be resolutely directed to the Lord, is no better than whistling to the wind. How terrible are you in your works. The mind is usually first arrested by those attributes which cause fear and trembling; and, even when the heart has come to love God, and rest in him, there is an increase of worship when the soul is awed by an extraordinary display of the more dreadful of the divine characteristics.
Looking upon the convulsions which have shaken continents, the hurricanes which have devastated nations, the plagues which have desolated cities, and other great and amazing displays of divine working, men may well say: How terrible are you in your works. Until we see God in Christ, the terrible predominates in all our apprehensions of him.
Through the greatness of your power shall your enemies submit themselves unto you; but, as the Hebrew clearly intimates, it will be a forced and false submission. Power brings a man to his knee, but love alone wins his heart. Pharaoh said he would let Israel go, but he lied unto God; he submitted in word but not in deed. Tens of thousands, both in earth and Hell, are rendering this constrained homage to the Almighty; they only submit because they cannot do otherwise; it is not their loyalty, but his power, which keeps them subjects of his boundless dominion.
Verse 4. All the earth shall worship you, and shall sing unto you. All men must even now prostrate themselves before you, but a time will come when they shall do this cheerfully; to the worship of fear, shall be added the singing of love. What a change shall have taken place when singing shall displace sighing, and music shall thrust out misery!
They shall sing to your name. The nature and works of God will be the theme of earth's universal song, and he himself shall be the object of the joyful adoration of our emancipated race. Acceptable worship not only praises God as the mysterious Lord, but it is rendered fragrant by some measure of knowledge of his name or character. God would not be worshiped as an unknown God, nor have it said of his people, "You worship you know not what." May the knowledge of the Lord soon cover the earth, that so the universality of intelligent worship may be possible: such a consummation was evidently expected by the writer of this Psalm; and, indeed, throughout all Old Testament writings, there are intimations of the future general spread of the worship of God.
It was an instance of willful ignorance and bigotry when the Jews raged against the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. Perverted Judaism may be exclusive, but the religion of Moses, and David, and Isaiah was not so.
Selah. A little pause for holy expectation is well inserted after so great a prophecy, and the uplifting of the heart is also a seasonable direction. No meditation can be more joyous that excited by the prospect of a world reconciled to its Creator.
Verse 5. Come and see the works of God. Such glorious events, as the cleaving of the Red Sea and the overthrow of Pharaoh, are standing wonders, and throughout all time a voice sounds forth concerning them, "Come and see."
Even until the close of all things, the marvelous works of God at the Red Sea will be the subject of meditation and praise; for, standing on the sea of glass mingled with fire, the triumphal armies of Heaven sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. It has always been the favorite subject of the inspired bards, and their choice was most natural.
He is terrible in his doing toward the children of men. For the defense of his church and the overthrow of her foes, he deals terrific blows, and strikes the mighty with fear. O you enemy, why do you vaunt yourself? Speak no more so exceeding proudly, but remember the plagues which bowed the will of Pharaoh, the drowning of Egypt's chariots in the Red Sea, the overthrow of Og and Sihon, the scattering of the Canaanites before the tribes. This same God still lives, and is to be worshiped with trembling reverence.
Verse 6. He turned the sea into dry land. It was no slight miracle to divide a pathway through such a sea, and to make it fit for the traffic of a whole nation. He who did this can do anything, and must be God, the worthy object of adoration. The Christian's inference is that no obstacle in his journey heavenward need hinder him, for the sea could not hinder Israel, and even death itself shall be as life; the sea shall be dry land when God's presence is felt.
They went through the flood on foot. Through the river the tribes passed dry shod, Jordan was afraid because of them.
There did we rejoice in him. We participate this day in that ancient joy. The scene is so vividly before us that it seems as if we were there personally, singing unto the Lord because he has triumphed gloriously. Faith casts herself bodily into the past joys of the saints, and realizes them for herself in much the same fashion in which she projects herself into the bliss of the future, and becomes the substance of things hoped for. It is to be remarked that Israel's joy was in her God, and there let ours be.
It is not so much what he has done, as what he is, that should excite in us a sacred rejoicing. "He is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him."
Verse 7. He rules by his power forever. He has not deceased, nor abdicated, nor suffered defeat. The prowess displayed at the Red Sea is undiminished: the divine dominion endures throughout eternity.
His eyes behold the nations. Even as he looked out of the cloud upon the Egyptians and discomfited them, so does he spy out his enemies, and mark their conspiracies. His hand rules and his eye observes, his hand has not waxed weak, nor his eye dim. As so many grasshoppers he sees the people and tribes, at one glance he takes in all their ways. He oversees all and overlooks none.
Let not the rebellious exalt themselves. The proudest have no cause to be proud. Could they see themselves as God sees them, they would shrivel into nothing. Where rebellion reaches to a great head, and hopes most confidently for success, it is a sufficient reason for abating our fears, that the Omnipotent ruler is also an Omniscient observer.
O proud rebels, remember that the Lord aims his arrows at the high soaring eagles and brings them down from their nest among the stars. "He has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree."
After a survey of the Red Sea and Jordan, rebels, if they were in their senses, would have no more stomach for the fight, but would humble themselves at the Conqueror's feet.
Selah. Pause again, and take time to bow low before the throne of the Eternal.
Verse 8. O bless our God, you people. You chosen seed, peculiarly beloved, it is yours to bless your covenant God as other nations cannot. You should lead the strain, for he is peculiarly your God. First visited by his love, you should be foremost in his praise.
And make the voice of his praise to be heard. Whoever else may sing with bated breath, you be sure to give full tongue and volume to the song. Compel unwilling ears to hear the praises of your covenant God. Make rocks, and hills, and earth, and sea, and Heaven itself, to echo with your joyful shouts.
Verse 9. Which holds our soul in life. At any time the preservation of life, and especially the soul's life, is a great reason for gratitude but much more when we are called to undergo extreme trials, which of themselves would crush our being.
Blessed be God, who, having put our souls into possession of life, has been pleased to preserve that Heaven given life from the destroying power of the enemy.
And suffers not our feet to be moved. This is another and precious blessing. If God has enabled us not only to keep our life, but our position, we are bound to give him double praise. Living and standing is the saint's condition through divine grace. Immortal and immoveable are those whom God preserves. Satan is put to shame, for instead of being able to slay the saints, as he hoped, he is not even able to trip them up. God is able to make the weakest to stand fast, and he will do so.
Verse 10. For you, O God, have proved us. He proved his Israel with sore trials. David had his temptations.
All the saints must go to the proving house. God had one Son without sin, but he never had a son without trial. Why ought we to complain if we are subjected to the rule which is common to all the family, and from which so much benefit has flowed to them? The Lord himself proves us, who then shall raise a question as to the wisdom and the love which are displayed in the operation?
The day may come when, as in this case, we shall make hymns out of our griefs, and sing all the more sweetly because our mouths have been purified with bitter draughts.
You have tried us, as silver is tried. Searching and repeated, severe and thorough, has been the test. The same result has followed us as in the case of precious metal, for the dross and tin have been consumed, and the pure ore has been discovered. Since trial is sanctified to so desirable an end, ought we not to submit to it with abounding resignation.
Verse 11. You brought us into the net. The people of God in the olden time were often enclosed by the power of their enemies, like fish or birds entangled in a net; there seemed no way of escape for them. The only comfort was that God himself had brought them there, but even this was not readily available, since they knew that he had led them there in anger as a punishment for their transgressions; Israel in Egypt was much like a bird in the fowler's net.
You laid affliction upon our loins. They were pressed even to anguish by their burdens and pains. Not on their backs alone was the load, but their loins were pressed and squeezed with the straits and weights of adversity. God's people and affliction are intimate companions. As in Egypt every Israelite was a burden-bearer, so is every believer while he is in this foreign land. As Israel cried to God by reason of their sore bondage, so also do the saints.
We too often forget that God lays our afflictions upon us; if we remembered this fact, we would more patiently submit to the pressure which now pains us. The time will come when, for every ounce of present burden, we shall receive a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
Verse 12. You have caused men to ride over our heads. They stormed, and hectored, and treated us like the mire of the street. Riding the high horse, in their arrogance, they, who were in themselves base men, treated the Lord's people as if they were the meanest of mankind. They even turned their captives into beasts of burden, and rode upon their heads, as some read the Hebrew. Nothing is too bad for the servants of God when they fall into the hands of proud persecutors.
We went through fire and through water. Trials many and varied were endured by Israel in Egypt, and are still the portion of the saints. The fires of the brick kiln and the waters of the Nile did their worst to destroy the chosen race; hard labor and child murder were both tried by the tyrant, but Israel went through both ordeals unharmed, and even thus the church of God has outlived, and will outlive, all the artifices and cruelties of man.
Fire and water are pitiless and devouring, but a divine fiat stays their fury, and forbids these or any other agents from utterly destroying the chosen seed. Many an heir of Heaven has had a dire experience of tribulation; the fire through which he has passed has been more terrible than that which chars the bones, for it has fed upon the marrow of his spirit, and burned into the core of his heart; while the water-floods of affliction have been even more to be feared than the remorseless sea, for they have gone in even unto the soul, and carried the inner nature down into deeps horrible, and not to be imagined without trembling.
Yet each saint has been more than conqueror hitherto, and, as it has been, so it shall be. The fire is not kindled which can burn the woman's seed, neither does the dragon know how to vomit a flood which shall suffice to drown it.
But you brought us out into a wealthy place. A blessed outcome to a mournful story. Canaan was indeed a broad and royal domain for the once enslaved tribes. God, who took them into Egypt, also brought them into the land which flowed with milk and honey, and Egypt was in his purposes en route to Canaan. The way to Heaven is via tribulation.
"The path of sorrow and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown."
How wealthy is the place of every believer, and how doubly does he feel it to be so in contrast with his former slavery. What songs shall suffice to set forth our joy and gratitude for such a glorious deliverance and such a bountiful heritage. More awaits us. The depth of our griefs, bears no proportion to the height of our bliss. For our shame we have double, and more than double. Like Joseph we shall rise from the prison to the palace. Like Mordecai we shall escape the gallows prepared by malignity, and ride the white horse and wear the royal robe appointed by benignity. Instead of the net, liberty. Instead of a burden on the loins, a crown on our heads. Instead of men riding over us, we shall rule over the nations: fire shall no more try us, for we shall stand in glory on the sea of glass mingled with fire; and water shall not harm us, for there shall be no more sea. O the splendor of this brilliant conclusion to a gloomy history. Glory be unto him who saw in the apparent evil the true way to the real good. With patience we will endure the present gloom, for the morning comes. Over the hills faith sees the daybreak, in whose light we shall enter into the wealthy place.
Verse 13. I will. The child of God is so sensible of his own personal indebtedness to grace, that he feels that he must utter a song of his own. He joins in the common thanksgiving, but since the best public form must fail to meet each individual case, he makes sure that the special mercies received by him shall not be forgotten, for he records them with his own pen, and sings of theme with his own lips.
I will go into your house with burnt offerings; the usual sacrifices of godly men. Even the thankful heart dares not come to God without a victim of grateful praise; of this as well as of every other form of worship, we may say," the blood is the life thereof."
Reader, never attempt to come before God without Jesus, the divinely promised, given, and accepted burnt offering.
I will pay you my vows. He would not appear before the Lord empty, but at the same time he would not boast of what he offered, seeing it was all due on account of former vows. After all, our largest gifts are but payments; when we have given all, we must confess, "O Lord, of your own have we given unto you." We should be slow in making vows, but prompt in discharging them. When we are released from trouble, and can once more go up to the house of the Lord, we should take immediate occasion to fulfill our promises. How can we hope for help another time, if we prove faithless to covenants voluntarily entered upon in hours of need.
Verse 14. Which my lips have uttered, or vehemently declared; blurted out, as we say in common speech. His vows had been wrung from him; extreme distress burst open the doors of his lips, and out rushed the vow like a long pent up torrent, which had at last found a vent. What we were so eager to vow, we should be equally earnest to perform; but alas! many a vow runs so fast in words, that it lames itself for deeds.
And my mouth has spoken. He had made the promise public, and had no desire to go back; an honest man is always ready to acknowledge a debt.
When I was in trouble. Distress suggested the vow; God in answer to the vow removed the distress, and now the votary desires to make good his promise. It is well for each man to remember that he was in trouble: proud spirits are apt to speak as if the road had always been smooth for them, as if no dog dare bark at their nobility, and scarce a drop of rain would venture to besprinkle their splendor. Yet these very upstarts were probably once so low in spirits and condition that they would have been glad enough of the help of those they now despise.
All men have trouble, but they act not in the same manner while under it; the profane take to swearing and the godly to praying. Both bad and good have been known to resort to vowing, but the one is a liar unto God, and the other a conscientious respecter of his word.
Verse 15. I will offer unto you burnt sacrifices of fatlings. The godly man will give his best things to God. No starveling goat upon the hills will he present at the altar, but the well fed bullocks of the luxuriant pastures shall ascend in smoke from the sacred fire. He who is miserly with God is a wretch indeed. Few devise liberal things, but those few find a rich reward in so doing.
With the incense of rams. The smoke of burning rams should also rise from the altar; he would offer the strength and prime of his flocks as well as his herds. Of all we have we should give the Lord his portion, and that should be the choicest we can select.
It was no waste to burn the fat upon Jehovah's altar, nor to pour the precious ointment upon Jesus' head; neither are large gifts and bountiful offerings to the church of God any diminution to a man's estate: such money is put to good interest and placed where it cannot be stolen by thieves nor corroded by rust.
I will offer bullocks with goats. A perfect sacrifice, completing the circle of offerings, should show forth the intense love of his heart. We should magnify the Lord with the great and the little. None of his ordinances should be disregarded; we must not omit either the bullocks or the goats. In these three verses we have gratitude in action, not content with words, but proving its own sincerity by deeds of obedient sacrifice.
Selah. It is most fit that we should suspend the song while the smoke of the victims ascends the heavens; let the burnt offerings stand for praises while we meditate upon the infinitely greater sacrifice of Calvary.
Verse 16. Come and hear. Before, they were bidden to come and see. Hearing is faith's seeing. Mercy comes to us by way of ear gate. "Hear, and your soul shall live." They saw how terrible God was, but they heard how gracious he was.
All you that fear God. These are a fit audience when a godly man is about to relate his experience; and it is well to select our hearers when inward soul matters are our theme. It is forbidden us to throw pearls before swine. We do not want to furnish wanton minds with subjects for their comedies, and therefore it is wise to speak of personal spiritual matters where they can be understood, and not where they will be burlesqued. All God fearing men may hear us, but far hence you profane.
And I will declare what he has done for my soul. I will count and recount the mercies of God to me, to my soul, my best part, my most real self. Testimonies ought to be borne by all experienced Christians, in order that the younger and feebler sort may be encouraged by the recital to put their trust in the Lord.
To declare man's doings is needless; they are too trivial, and, besides, there are trumpeters enough of man's trumpery deeds; but to declare the gracious acts of God is instructive, consoling, inspiriting, and beneficial in many respects.
Let each man speak for himself, for a personal witness is the surest and most forcible; second hand experience lacks the flavor of first hand interest. Let no mock modesty restrain the grateful believer from speaking of himself, or rather of God's dealings to himself, for it is justly due to God; neither let him shun the individual use of the first person, which is most correct in detailing the Lord's ways of love. We must not be egotists, but we must be egotists when we bear witness for the Lord.
Verse 17. I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. It is well when prayer and praise go together, like the horses in Pharaoh's chariot. Some cry who do not sing, and some sing who do not cry: both together are best.
Since the Lord's answers so frequently follow close at the heels of our petitions, and even overtake them, it becomes us to let our grateful praises keep pace with our humble prayers. Observe that the psalmist did both cry and speak; the Lord has cast the dumb devil out of his children, and those of them who are least fluent with their tongues are often the most eloquent with their hearts.
Verse 18. If I regard iniquity in my heart. If, having seen it to be there, I continue to gaze upon it without aversion; if I cherish it, have a side glance of love toward it, excuse it, and palliate it.
The Lord will not hear me. How can he? Can I desire him to connive at my sin, and accept me while I willfully cling to any evil way? Nothing hinders prayer like iniquity harbored in the heart; as with Cain, so with us, sin lies at the door, and blocks the passage. If you listen to the devil, God will not listen to you. If you refuse to hear God's commands, he will surely refuse to hear your prayers.
An imperfect petition God will hear for Christ's sake, but not one which is willfully miswritten by a traitor's hand. For God to accept our devotions, while we are delighting in sin, would be to make himself the God of hypocrites, which is a fitter name for Satan than for the Holy One of Israel.
Verse 19. But truly God has heard me. This is a sure sign this that the petitioner was no secret lover of sin. The answer to his prayer was a fresh assurance that his heart was sincere before the Lord. See how sure the psalmist is that he has been heard; it is with him no hope, surmise, or imagination, but he seals it with a truly. Facts are blessed things when they reveal both God's heart as loving, and our own heart as sincere.
He has attended to the voice of my prayer. He gave his mind to consider my cries, interpreted them, accepted them, and replied to them; and therein proved his grace and also my uprightness of heart. Love of sin is a plague spot, a condemning mark, a killing sign, but those prayers, which evidently live and prevail with God, most clearly arise from a heart which is free from dalliance with evil. Let the reader see to it, that his inmost soul be rid of all alliance with iniquity, all toleration of secret lust, or hidden wrong.
Verse 20. Praise be to God. May his name be honored and loved. Which has not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me. He has neither withdrawn his love nor my liberty to pray.
Who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me. His mercy and my cries still meet each other. The psalm ends on its key note. Praise all through is its spirit and design. Lord enable us to enter into it. Amen.