Treasury of David
TITLE. To the Chief Musician. Who he was matters not, and who we may be is also of small consequence, so long as the Lord is glorified.
On upon stringed instruments. This is the fifth Psalm so entitled, and no doubt like the others was meant to be sung with the accompaniment of "harpers harping with their harps." No author's name is given, but he would be a bold man who should attempt to prove that David did not write it. We will be hard pushed before we will look for any other author upon whom to father these anonymous odes which lie side by side with those ascribed to David, and wear a family likeness to them.
A Psalm or Song. Solemnity and vivacity are here united. A Psalm is a song, but all songs are not Psalms; this is both one and the other.
Verse 1. May God be merciful unto us. This is a fit refrain to the blessing of the High Priest in the name of the Lord, as recorded in Numbers 6:24-25, "The Lord bless you, and keep you: the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you."
It begins at the beginning with a cry for mercy. Forgiveness of sin is always the first link in the chain of mercies experienced by us. Mercy is a foundation attribute in our salvation. The best saints and the worst sinners may unite in this petition. It is addressed to the God of mercy, by those who feel their need of mercy, and it implies the death of all legal hopes or claims of merit.
And bless us. Next, the church begs for a blessing; bless us—a very comprehensive and far reaching prayer. When we bless God we do but little, for our blessings are but words—but when God blesses he enriches us indeed, for his blessings are gifts and deeds.
And cause his face to shine upon us. But his blessing alone is not all his people crave, they desire a personal consciousness of his favor, and pray for a smile from his face.
These three petitions include all that we need here or hereafter. This verse may be regarded as the prayer of Israel, and spiritually of the Christian church. The largest charity is shown in this Psalm, but it begins at home. The whole church, each church, and each little company, may rightly pray, bless us. It would, however, be very wrong to let our charity end where it begins, as some do; our love must make long marches, and our prayers must have a wide sweep, we must embrace the whole world in our intercessions.
Selah. Lift up the heart, lift up the voice. A higher key, a sweeter note is called for.
Verse 2. That your way may be known upon earth. As showers which first fall upon the hills, afterwards run down in streams into the valleys, so the blessing of the Most High comes upon the world through the church. We are blessed for the sake of others, as well as ourselves. God deals in a way of mercy with his saints, and then they make that way known far and wide, and the Lord's name is made famous in the earth.
Ignorance of God is the great enemy of mankind, and the testimonies of the saints, experimental and grateful, overcome this deadly foe. God has set a way and method of dealing out mercy to men, and it is the duty and privilege of a revived church to make that way to be everywhere known.
Your salvation among all nations. This all nations need, but many of them do not know it, desire it, or seek it. Our prayer and labor should be, that the knowledge of salvation may become as universal as the light of the sun. Despite the gloomy notions of some, we cling to the belief that the kingdom of Christ will embrace the whole habitable globe, and that all flesh shall see the salvation of God—for this glorious consummation we agonize in prayer.
Verse 3. Let the people praise you, O God. Cause them to own your goodness and thank you with all their hearts. Let nations do this, and do it continually, being instructed in your gracious way.
Let all the people praise you. May every man bring his music, every citizen his canticle, every peasant his praise, every prince his psalm. All are under obligations to you, to thank you will benefit all, and praise from all will greatly glorify you; therefore, O Lord, give all men the grace to adore your grace, and the goodness to see your goodness.
What is here expressed as a prayer in our translation, may be read as a prophecy, if we follow the original Hebrew.
Verse 4. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy, or, they shall joy and triumph. When men know God's way and see his salvation, it brings to their hearts much happiness. Nothing creates gladness so speedily, surely, and abidingly—as the salvation of God.
Nations never will be glad until they follow the leadership of the great Shepherd; they may shift their modes of government from monarchies to republics, and from republics to communes, but they will retain their wretchedness until they bow before the Lord of all.
What a sweet word is that to sing for joy! Some sing for form, others for show, some as a duty, others as an amusement, but to sing from the heart, because overflowing joy must find a vent, this is to sing indeed. Whole nations will do this when Jesus reigns over them in the power of his grace. We have heard hundreds and even thousands sing in chorus, but what will it be to hear whole nations lifting up their voices, as the noise of many waters and like great thunders. When shall the age of song begin? When shall groans and murmurs be exchanged for holy hymns and joyful melodies?
For you shall judge the people righteously. Wrong on the part of governors is a fruitful source of national woe, but where the Lord rules, rectitude is supreme. He does ill to none. His laws are righteousness itself. He rights all wrongs and releases all who are oppressed. Justice on the throne is a fit cause for national exultation.
And govern the nations upon earth. He will lead them as a shepherd leads his flock, and through his grace they shall willingly follow, then will there be peace, plenty, and prosperity. It is a great condescension on God's part to become the Shepherd of nations, and to govern them for their good. It is a fearful crime when a people, who know the salvation of God, apostatize and say to the Lord, "Depart from us." There is some cause for trembling lest our nation should fall into this condemnation; may God forbid.
Selah. Before repeating the chorus, the note is again elevated, that full force may be given to the burst of song and the accompaniment of harps.
"Strings and voices, hands and hearts,
In the concert bear your parts;
All that breathe, your Lord adore,
Praise him, Praise him, evermore!"
Verse 5. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. These words are no vain repetition, but are a chorus worthy to be sung again and again. The great theme of the psalm is the participation of the Gentiles in the worship of Jehovah; the psalmist is full of it, he hardly knows how to contain or express his joy.
Verse 6. Then shall the earth yield her increase. Sin first laid a curse on the soil, and grace alone can remove it. Under tyrannical governments lands become unproductive; even the land which flowed with milk and honey is almost a wilderness under Turkish rule. Bbut, when the principles of true religion shall have elevated mankind, and the dominion of Jesus shall be universally acknowledged, the science of tillage shall be perfected, men shall be encouraged to labor, industry shall banish poverty, and the soil shall be restored to more than its highest condition of fertility.
We read that the Lord turns "a fruitful land into barrenness," for the wickedness of them that dwell therein, and observation confirms the truth of the divine threatening; but even under the law it was promised, "The Lord shall make you plenteous in every work of your hand, in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your land for good."
There is certainly an intimate relation between moral and physical evil, and between spiritual and physical good. It seems that the prophet bard, hearing the nations praise the Lord, speaks of the bounteous harvest as already given in consequence. On the supposition that all the people praise Jehovah, the earth has yielded her increase.
And God, even our own God, shall bless us. He will make earth's increase to be a real blessing. Men shall see in his gifts, the hand of that same God whom Israel of old adored, and Israel, especially, shall rejoice in the blessing, and exult in her own God.
We never love God aright until we know him to be ours, and the more we love him the more we long to be fully assured that he is ours. What dearer name can we give to him than "my own God." The spouse in the song has no sweeter canticle than "my beloved is my and I am his."
Every believing Jew must feel a holy joy at the thought that the nations shall be blessed by Abraham's God; but every Gentile believer also rejoices that the whole world shall yet worship the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is our Father and our God.
Verse 7. God shall bless us. The prayer of the first verse, is the song of the last. We have the same phrase twice, and truly the Lord's blessing is manifold; he blesses and blesses and blesses again. How many are his beatitudes! How choice his blessings! They are the peculiar heritage of his chosen people.
In this verse we find a song for all future time. God shall bless us is our assured confidence; he may smite us, or strip us, or even slay us—but he must bless us. He cannot turn away from doing good to his elect.
And all the ends of the earth shall fear him. The far off shall fear. The ends of the earth shall end their idolatry, and adore their God. All tribes, without exception, shall feel a sacred awe of the God of Israel. Ignorance shall be removed, insolence subdued, injustice banished, idolatry abhorred—and the Lord's love, light, life, and liberty, shall be over all, the Lord himself being King of kings and Lord of lords! Amen, and Amen.