Treasury of David
TITLE. To the Chief Musician, a Psalm or Song of David. We have already said enough upon this title when dealing with Psalms 65 and 66. The present is obviously a song to be sung at the removal of the ark; and in all probability was rehearsed when David conducted it with holy joy from the house of Obed-Edom to the prepared place on Mount Zion.
It is a most soul stirring hymn. The first verses were often the battle song of the Covenanters and Ironsides. The whole Psalm fitly pictures the way of the Lord Jesus among his saints, and his ascent to glory.
The Psalm is at once surpassingly excellent and difficult. Its darkness in some stanzas is utterly impenetrable. Well does a German critic speak of it as a Titan very hard to master. Our slender scholarship has utterly failed us and we have had to follow a surer Guide. We trust our thoughts may not however prove unprofitable.
DIVISION. With the words of the first two verses the ark is uplifted, and the procession begins to move.
In verses 3-6, the godly in the assembly are exhorted to commence their joyous songs, and arguments are adduced to help their joy.
Then the glorious march of Jehovah in the wilderness is sung in verses 7-10,
and his victories in war are celebrated in verses 11-14.
The joyous shouts are louder as Zion comes in sight, and the ark is borne up the hill in verses 15-19.
On the summit of the mount the priests sing a hymn concerning the Lord's goodness and justice; the safety of his friends, and ruin of his foes in verses 20-23.
Meanwhile the procession is described as it winds up the hill in verses 24-27.
The poet anticipates a time of wider conquest in verses 28-31.
And concludes with a noble burst of song unto Jehovah.
Verse 1. Let God arise. In some such words Moses spoke when the cloud moved onward, and the ark was carried forward. The ark would have been a poor leader if the Lord had not been present with the symbol.
Before we move, we should always desire to see the Lord lead the way.
The words suppose the Lord to have been passive for awhile, allowing his enemies to rage, but restraining his power. Israel beseeches him to "arise," as elsewhere to "awake," "gird on his sword," and other similar expressions.
We, also, may thus importunately cry unto the Lord, that he would be pleased to make bare his arm, and plead his own cause.
Let his enemies be scattered. Our glorious Captain of the vanguard clears the way readily, however many may seek to obstruct it; he has but to arise, and they flee.
He has easily over thrown his foes in days of yore, and will do so all through the ages to come. Sin, death, and Hell know the terror of his arm; their ranks are broken at his approach. Our enemies are his enemies, and in this is our confidence of victory.
Let them also that hate him flee before him. To hate the infinitely good God is infamous, and the worst punishment is not too severe. Hatred of God is impotent. His proudest foes can do him no injury. Alarmed beyond measure, they shall flee before it comes to blows. Long before the army of Israel can come into the fray, the haters of God shall flee before Him who is the champion of his chosen. He comes, he sees, he conquers.
How fitting a prayer is this for the commencement of a revival! How it suggests the true mode of conducting one—the Lord leads the way, his people follow, the enemies flee.
Verse 2. As smoke is driven away. Easily the wind chases the smoke, completely it removes it, no trace is left; so, Lord, do you to the foes of your people. They fume in pride, they darken the sky with their malice, they mount higher and higher in arrogance, they defile wherever they prevail. Lord, let your breath, your Spirit, your Providence, make them to vanish forever from the march of your people.
Philosophic skepticism is as flimsy and as foul as smoke; may the Lord deliver his Church from the reek of it.
As wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. Wax is hard when by itself, but put it to the fire, how soft it is.
Just so, wicked men are haughty until they come into contact with the Lord, and then they faint for fear; their hearts melt like wax when they feel the power of his anger.
Wax, also, burns and passes away; the candle is utterly consumed by the flame. So shall all the boastful power of the opposers of the gospel be as a thing of nothing. Rome, like the candles on her altars, shall dissolve, and with equal certainty shall infidelity disappear. Israel saw, in the ark, God on the mercy-seat—power in connection with propitiation—and they rejoiced in the omnipotence of such a manifestation. This is even more clearly the confidence of the New Testament church, for we see Jesus, the appointed atonement, clothed with glory and majesty, and before his advance all opposition melts like snow in the sun; the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hands. When he comes by his Holy Spirit, conquest is the result; and when he arises in person, his foes shall utterly perish.
Verse 3. But let the righteous be glad. The presence of God on the throne of grace is an overflowing source of delight to the godly; let them not fail to drink of the streams which are meant to make them glad.
Let them rejoice before God. The courtiers of the happy God should wear the garments of gladness, for in his presence is fullness of joy. That presence, which is the dread and death of the wicked—is the desire and delight of the saints.
Yes, let them exceedingly rejoice. Let them dance with all their might, as David did, for very joy. No bounds should be set to joy in the Lord. "Again, I say, rejoice!" says the apostle, as if he would have us add joy to joy without measure or pause.
When God is seen to shine propitious from above the mercy-seat in the person of our Immanuel, our hearts must needs leap within us with exultation, if we are indeed among those made righteous in his righteousness, and sanctified by his Spirit. Move on, O army of the living God, with shouts of abounding triumph, for Jesus leads the van.
Verse 4. Sing unto God, sing praises to his name. To time and tune, with order and care—celebrate the character and deeds of God, the God of his people. Do it again and again; and let the praise, with resolution of heart, be all directed to him.
Sing not for ostentation, but devotion; not to be heard of men, but of the Lord himself. Sing not to the congregation, but "unto God."
Extol him that rides upon the heavens by his name JAH. Remember his most great, incomprehensible, and awful name; reflect upon his self-existence and absolute dominion, rise to the highest pitch of joyful reverence in adoring him. Heaven beholds him riding on the clouds in storm, and earth has seen him marching over its plains with majesty.
The Hebrew seems to be: "Cast up a highway for him who marches through the wilderness," in allusion to the wanderings of the tribes in the desert. The marches of God were in the waste howling wilderness. His eternal power and Godhead were there displayed in his feeding, ruling, and protecting the vast hosts which he had brought out of Egypt. The ark brought all this to remembrance, and suggested it as a theme for song.
The name JAH is an abbreviation of the name Jehovah; it is not a diminution of that name, but an intensified word, containing in it the essence of the longer, august title. It only occurs here in our version of Scripture, except in connection with other words such as HalleluJAH.
And rejoice before him. In the presence of him who marched so gloriously at the head of the elect nation, it is most fitting that all his people should display a holy delight. We ought to avoid dullness in our worship. Our songs should be weighty with solemnity, but not heavy with sadness. Angels are nearer the throne than we, but their deepest awe is consonant with the purest bliss. Our sense of divine greatness must not minister terror but gladness to our souls—we should rejoice before him.
It should be our wish and prayer, that in this wilderness world, a highway may be prepared for the God of grace. "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God!" is the cry of gospel heralds, and we must all zealously aim at obedience thereto; for where the God of the mercy-seat comes, blessings innumerable are given to the sons of men.
Verse 5. A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation. In the wilderness the people were like an orphan nation, but God was more than a father to them. As the generation which came out of Egypt gradually died away, there were many widows and fatherless ones in the camp, but they suffered no want or wrong, for the righteous laws and the just administrators whom God had appointed, looked well to the interests of the needy.
The tabernacle was the Palace of Justice; the ark was the seat of the great King. This was a great cause for joy to Israel, that they were ruled by the ONE who would not allow the poor and needy to be oppressed.
To this day and for ever, God is, and will be, the peculiar guardian of the defenseless. He is the President of Orphanages, the Protector of Widows. He is so glorious that he rides on the heavens, but so compassionate that he remembers the poor of the earth. How zealously ought his church to cherish those who are here marked out as Jehovah's especial charge. Does he not here in effect say, "Feed my lambs"? Blessed duty, it shall be our privilege to make this one of our life's dearest objects.
The reader is warned against misquoting this verse; it is generally altered into "the husband of the widow," but Scripture had better be left as God gave it.
Verse 6. God sets the solitary in families. The people had been sundered and scattered over Egypt; family ties had been disregarded, and affections crushed. But when the people escaped from Pharaoh they came together again, and all the fond associations of household life were restored. This was a great joy.
He brings out those which are bound with chains. The most oppressed in Egypt were chained and imprisoned, but the divine Emancipator brought them all forth into perfect liberty. He who did this of old, continues his gracious work.
The solitary heart, convinced of sin and made to pine alone, is admitted into the family of the Firstborn. The fettered spirit is set free, and its prison broken down, when sin is forgiven; and for all this, God is to be greatly extolled, for he has done it, and magnified the glory of his grace.
But the rebellious dwell in a dry land. If any find the rule of Jehovah to be irksome, it is because their rebellious spirits kick against his power. Israel did not find the desert dry, for the smitten rock gave forth its streams; but even in Canaan itself men were consumed with famine, because they cast off their allegiance to their covenant God. Even where God is revealed on the mercy-seat, some men persist in rebellion, and such need not wonder if they find no peace, no comfort, no joy, even where all these abound.
Justice is the rule of the Lord's kingdom, and hence there is no provision for the unjust to indulge their evil lustings. A perfect earth, and even Heaven itself, would be a dry land to those who can only drink of the waters of sin. Of the most soul satisfying of sacred ordinances these witless rebels cry, "what a weariness it is!" and, under the most soul sustaining ministry, they complain of "the foolishness of preaching." When a man has a rebellious heart, he must of necessity find all around him a dry land.
Verse 7. O God, when you went forth before your people. What a sweetly suitable association, "you" and "your people"—you before, and your people following! The Lord went before, and, therefore, whether the Red Sea or burning sand lay in the way, it mattered not; the pillar of cloud and fire always led them by a right way.
When you marched through the wilderness. He was the Commander in chief of Israel, from whom they received all orders, and the march was therefore his march. "His stately step the region drear beheld." We may speak, if we will, of the "wanderings of the children of Israel," but we must not think them purposeless strayings, they were in reality a well arranged and well considered march.
SELAH. This seems an odd place for a musical pause or direction, but it is better to break a sentence than spoil praise. The sense is about to be superlatively grand, and, therefore, the selah intimates the fact to the players and singers, that they may with suitable solemnity perform their parts. It is never untimely to remind a congregation that the worship of God should be thoughtfully and heartily presented.
Verse 8. The earth shook. Beneath the sublime tread the solid ground trembled.
The heavens also dropped at the presence of God, as if they bowed before their God, the clouds descended, and "a few dark shower drops stole abroad." Even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God. Moses tell us, in Exodus 19, that "the whole mountain quaked greatly." That hill, so lone and high, bowed before the manifested God. The God of Israel. The one only living and true God, whom Israel worshiped, and who had chosen that nation to be his own above all the nations of the earth. The passage is so sublime, that it would be difficult to find its equal. May the reader's heart adore the God before whom the unconscious earth and sky act as if they recognized their Maker and were moved with a tremor of reverence.
Verse 9. You, O God, send a plentiful rain. The march of God was not signalized solely by displays of terror, for goodness and bounty were also made conspicuous. Such rain as never fell before dropped on the desert sand, bread from Heaven and winged bird fell all around the host; good gifts were poured upon them, rivers leaped forth from rocks. The earth shook with fear, and in reply, the Lord, as from a cornucopia, shook out blessings upon it; so the original may be rendered.
Whereby you did confirm your inheritance, when it was weary. As at the end of each stage, when they halted, weary with the march, they found such showers of good things awaiting them that they were speedily refreshed.
Their foot did not swell all those forty years. When they were exhausted, God was not. When they were weary, He was not. They were his chosen heritage, and, therefore, although for their good he allowed them to be weary—yet he watchfully tended them and tenderly considered their distresses.
In like manner, to this day, the elect of God in this wilderness state are apt to become tired and faint, but their ever loving Jehovah comes in with timely supports, cheers the faint, strengthens the weak, and refreshes the hungry; so that once again, when the silver trumpets sound, the church militant advances with bold and firm step towards "the rest which remains." By this faithfulness, the faith of God's people is confirmed, and their hearts established. If fatigue and want made them waver, the timely supply of grace stays them again upon the eternal foundations.
Verse 10. Your congregation has dwelt therein. In the wilderness itself, enclosed as in a wall of fire, your chosen church has found a home; or, rather, girdled by the shower of free grace which fell all around the camp, your flock has rested.
The congregation of the faithful find the Lord to be their "dwelling place in all generations." Where there were no dwellings of men, God was the dwelling of his people.
You, O God, have prepared of your goodness for the poor. Within the guarded circle there was plenty for all; all were poor in themselves—yet there were no beggars in all the camp, for celestial fare was to be had for the gathering.
We, too, still dwell within the circling protection of the Most High, and find goodness made ready for us: although poor and needy by nature, we are enriched by grace; divine preparations in the decree, the covenant, the atonement, providence, and the Spirit's work, have made ready for us a fullness of the blessing of the Lord. Happy people, though in the wilderness, for all things are ours, in possessing the favor and presence of our God.
Verse 11. In the next verse we do not sing of marching, but of battle and victory. The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it. The enemy was near, and the silver trumpet from the tabernacle door was God's mouth to warn the camp: then was there hurrying to and fro, and a general telling of the news; great was the company of those that published it. The women ran from tent to tent and roused their lords to battle. Ready as they always were to chant the victory, they were equally swift to publish the fact that the battle note had been sounded. The ten thousand maids of Israel, like good handmaids of the Lord, aroused the sleepers, called in the wanderers, and bade the valiant men to hasten to the fray.
O for the like zeal in the church of today, that, when the gospel is published, both men and women may eagerly spread the glad tidings of great joy.
Verse 12. Kings of armies did flee apace. The almighty lords fled before the Lord Almighty. No sooner did the ark advance than the enemy turned his back: even the princely leaders stayed not, but took to flight. The rout was complete, the retreat hurried and disorderly—they "did flee, did flee; "helter skelter, pell mell, as we say.
"Where are the kings of mighty hosts?
Fled far away, fled far and wide.
Their triumph and their trophied boasts
The damsels in their bowers divide."
And she that tarried at home divided the spoil. The women who had published the war cry shared the booty. The feeblest in Israel had a portion of the prey. Gallant warriors cast their spoils at the feet of the women and bade them array themselves in splendor, taking each one "a prey of divers colors, of divers colors of needlework on both sides."
When the Lord gives success to his gospel, the very least of his saints are made glad and feel themselves partakers in the blessing.
Verse 13. Though you have lien among the pots. Does he mean that the women at home, who had been meanly clad as they performed their household work, would be so gorgeously arrayed in the spoil, that they would be like doves of silver wing and golden plumage?
Or, would he say that Israel, which had been begrimed in the brick kilns of Egypt, should come forth lustrous and happy in triumph and liberty? Or, did the song signify that the ark should be brought from its poor abode with Obed Edom into a fairer dwelling place?
It is a hard passage, a hard nut for the learned to crack. If we knew all that was known when this ancient hymn was composed, the allusion would no doubt strike us as being beautifully appropriate, but as we do not, we will let it rest among the unriddled things.
Of making many conjectures there is no end; but the sense seems to be, that from the lowest condition the Lord would lift up his people into joy, liberty, wealth, and beauty. Their enemies may have called them squatters among the pots—in allusion to their Egyptian slavery; they may have jested at them as scullions of Pharaoh's kitchen—but the Lord would avenge them and give them beauty for blackness, glory for grime.
You shall you be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold. The dove's wing flashed light like silver, and anon gleams with the radiance of "the pale, pure gold." The lovely, changeable colors of the dove might well image the mild, lustrous beauty of the nation, when arrayed in white holiday attire, bedecked with their gems, jewels, and ornaments of gold.
God's saints have been in worse places than among the pots, but now they soar aloft into the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Verse 14. When the almighty scattered kings in it, it was white as snow in Salmon. The victory was due to the Almighty arm alone; he scattered the haughty ones who came against his people, and he did it as easily as snow is driven from the bleak sides of Salmon.
The word white appears to be imported into the text, and by leaving it out the sense is easy. A traveler informed the writer that on a raw and gusty day, he saw the side of what he supposed to be Mount Salmon suddenly swept bare by a gust of wind, so that the snow was driven hither and thither into the air like the down of thistles, or the spray of the sea. Thus did the Omnipotent one scatter all the potentates that defied Israel.
If our authorized version must stand, the conjectures that the bleached bones of the enemy, or the royal mantles cast away in flight, whitened the battle field, appear to be rather too far fetched for sacred poetry.
Another opinion is, that Salmon was covered with dark forests, and appeared black, but presented quite another aspect when the snow covered it, and that by this noteworthy change from somber shade to gleaming whiteness, the poet sets forth the change from war to peace.
Whatever may be the precise meaning, it was intended to portray the glory and completeness of the divine triumph over the greatest foes. In this let all believers rejoice.
Verse 15. Here the priests on the summit of the chosen hill begin to extol the Lord for his choice of Zion as his dwelling place. The hill of God is as the hill of Bashan, or more accurately, "a hill of God is Bashan," that is to say, Bashan is an eminent mountain, far exceeding Zion in height. According to the Hebrew custom, every great or remarkable thing is thus designated.
A high hill as the hill of Bashan, or rather, "a mount of peaks is Bashan." It does not appear that Zion is compared with Bashan, but contrasted with it. Zion certainly was not a high hill comparatively; and it is here conceded that Bashan is a greater mount, but not so glorious, for the Lord in choosing Zion had exalted it above the loftier hills.
The loftiness of nature is made as nothing before the Lord. He chooses as pleases him, and, according to the counsel of his own will, he selects Zion—and passes by the proud, uplifted peaks of Bashan. Thus does he make the base things of this world, and things that are despised, to become monuments of his grace and sovereignty.
Verse 16. Why gaze in envy, O high hills? Why are you moved to envy? Envy as you may, the Lord's choice is fixed. Lift up yourselves, and even leap from your seats, you cannot reach the sublimity which Jehovah's presence has bestowed on the little hill of Moriah.
This is the hill which God desires to dwell in. Elohim makes Zion his abode, yes, Jehovah resides there.
Yes, the Lord will dwell in it forever. Spiritually the Lord abides eternally in Zion, his chosen church, and it was Zion's glory to be typical thereof. What were Carmel and Sirion, with all their height, compared to Zion, the joy of the whole earth! God's election is a patent of nobility. They are choice men whom God has chosen, and that place is superlatively honored which he honors with his presence.
Verse 17. The chariots of God are twenty thousand. Other countries, which in the former verse were symbolically referred to as "high hills," gloried in their chariots of war; but Zion, though far more lowly, was stronger than they, for the omnipotence of God was to her as two myriads of chariots. The Lord Almighty could summon more forces into the field than all the petty lords who boasted in their armies; his horses of fire and chariots of fire would be more than a match for their fiery steeds and flashing cars.
The original is grandly expressive: "the war chariots of Elohim are myriads, a thousand thousands." The marginal reading of our Bibles, even many thousands, is far more correct than the rendering, even thousands of angels.
It is not easy to see where our venerable translators found these "angels," for they are not in the text; however, as it is a blessing to entertain them unawares, we are glad to meet with them in English, even though the Hebrew knows them not; and the more so because it cannot be doubted that they constitute a right noble squadron of the myriad hosts of God.
We read in Deuteronomy 33:2, of the Lord's coming "with ten thousands of saints," or holy ones, and in Hebrews 12:22, we find upon mount Zion "an innumerable company of angels," so that our worthy translators putting the texts together, inferred the angels, and the clause is so truthfully explanatory, that we have no fault to find with it.
The Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place, or, "it is a Sinai in holiness." God is in Zion as the Commander in chief of his countless hosts, and where he is, there is holiness. The throne of grace on Zion, is as holy as the throne of justice on Sinai. The displays of his glory may not be so terrible under the new covenant as under the old; but they are even more marvelous if seen by the spiritual eye. Sinai has no excellency of glory beyond Zion; but the rather it pales its light of law before the noontide splendors of Zion's grace and truth.
How joyful was it to a pious Hebrew to know that God was as truly with his people in the tabernacle and temple as amid the terrors of the Mount of Horeb; but it is even more heart cheering to us to be assured that the Lord abides in his church, and has chosen it to be his rest forever. May we be zealous for the maintenance of holiness in the spiritual house which God condescends to occupy; let a sense of his presence consume, as with flames of fire, every false way.
The presence of God is the strength of the church; all power is ours when God is ours. Twenty thousand chariots shall bear the gospel to the ends of the earth; and myriads of agencies shall work for its success. Providence is on our side, and it "has servants everywhere." There is no room for a shade of doubt or discouragement, but every reason for exultation and confidence.
Verse 18. You have ascended on high. The ark was conducted to the summit of Zion; God himself took possession of the high places of the earth, being extolled and very high. The antitype of the ark, the Lord Jesus, has ascended into the heavens with signal marks of triumph. To do battle with our enemies, the Lord descended and left his throne; but now the fight is finished, he returns to his glory; high above all things is he now exalted.
You have led captivity captive. A multitude of the sons of men are the willing captives of Messiah's power. As great conquerors of old led whole nations into captivity, so Jesus leads forth from the territory of his foe a vast company as the trophies of his mighty grace. From the gracious character of his reign, it comes to pass that to be led into captivity by him is for our captivity to cease, or to be itself led captive; a glorious result indeed. The Lord Jesus destroys his foes with their own weapons: he puts death to death, entombs the grave, and leads captivity captive.
You have received gifts for men, or, received gifts among men. They have paid you tribute, O mighty Conqueror, and shall in every age continue to do so willingly, delighting in your reign.
Paul's rendering is the gospel one: Jesus has "received gifts for men," of which he makes plentiful distribution, enriching his church with the priceless fruits of his ascension, such as apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, and all their varied endowments. In him, the man who received gifts for man, we are endowed with priceless treasures, and moved with gratitude, we return gifts to him, yes, we give him ourselves, our all.
Yes, for the rebellious also. These gifts the rebels are permitted to share in; subdued by love, they are indulged with the benefits peculiar to the chosen. The original runs, "even the rebellious," or, "even from the rebellious," of which the sense is that rebels become captives to the Lord's power, and tributaries to his throne.
"Great King of grace my heart subdue,
I would be led in triumph too;
As willing captive to my Lord,
To own the conquests of his word."
That the Lord God might dwell among them. In the conquered territory, Jah Elohim would dwell as Lord of all, blessing with his condescending nearness those who were once his foes. When Canaan was conquered, and the fort of Zion carried by storm, then was there found a resting place for the ark of God; and so when the weapons of victorious grace have overcome the hearts of men—the Lord God, in all the glory of his name, makes them to be his living temples.
Moreover, the ascension of Jesus is the reason for the descent of the Lord God, the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus dwells with God, God dwells with men. Christ on high is the reason for the Spirit below. It was expedient that the Redeemer should rise—that the Comforter should come down.
Verse 19. Blessed be the Lord. At the mention of the presence of God among men the singers utter an earnest acclamation suggested by reverential love, and return blessings to him who so plentifully blesses his people.
Who daily loads us with benefits. Our version contains a great and precious truth, though probably not the doctrine intended here. God's benefits are not few nor light, they are loads; neither are they intermittent, but they come "daily;" nor are they confined to one or two favorites, for all Israel can say, he loads us with benefits.
Delitzsch reads it, "He daily bears our burden;" and Alexander, "Whoever lays a load upon us, the Mighty God is our salvation." If he himself burdens us with sorrow, he gives strength sufficient to sustain it; and if others endeavor to oppress us, there is no cause for fear, for the Lord will come to the rescue of his people. Happy nation, to be subdued by a King whose yoke is easy, and who secures his people from all fear of foreign burdens which their foes might try to force upon them.
Even the God of our salvation. A name most full of glory to him, and consolation to us. No matter how strong the enemy, we shall be delivered out of his hands; for God himself, as King, undertakes to save his people from all harm.
What a glorious stanza this is! It is dark only because of its excessive light. A world of meaning is condensed into a few words. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light, therefore blessed be the Savior's name for evermore. All hail! O thrice blessed Prince of Peace! All your saved ones adore you, and call you blessed.
Selah. Well may the strings need tuning, they have borne an unparalleled strain in this mighty song. Higher and yet higher, you men of music, lift up the strain. Dance before the ark, you maidens of Israel; bring forth the timbrel, and sing unto the Lord who has triumphed gloriously!
Verse 20. He who is our God is the God of salvation. The Almighty who has entered into covenant with us is the source of our safety, and the author of our deliverances. As surely as he is our God he will save us. To be his is to be safe.
And unto God the Lord belong the issues from death. He has ways and means of rescuing his children from death. When they are at their wit's end, and see no way of escape, he can find a door of deliverance for them. The gates of the grave none can open but himself, we shall only pass into them at his bidding; while on the heavenward side he has set open the doors for all his people, and they shall enjoy triumphant issues from death. Jesus, our God, will save his people from their sins, and from all else besides, whether in life or death.
Verse 21. But God shall wound the head of his enemies. The Preserver is also the Destroyer. He smites his foes on the crown of their pride. The seed of the woman crushes the serpent's head. There is no defense against the Lord, he can in a moment smite with utter destruction the lofty crests of his haughty foes.
And the hairy scalp of such an one as goes on still in his trespasses. He may glory in his outward appearance, and make his hair his pride, as Absalom did; but the Lord's sword shall find him out, and pour out his soul. Headstrong sinners will find that providence overcomes them despite their strong heads. They who go on in sin will find judgments come on them; and the adornment of their pride may be made the instrument of their doom. He covers the head of his servants, but he crushes the head of his foes. At the second coming of the Lord Jesus, his enemies will find his judgments to be beyond conception terrible.
Verse 22. This verse, by the insertion of the words, my people, is made to bear the meaning which the translators thought best; but, if their interpolated word is omitted, we probably get nearer to the sense.
The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring again from the depths of the sea. Though his foes should endeavor to escape, they would not be able. Amos describes the Lord as saying, "Though they dig into Hell, thence shall my hand take them; though they climb up to Heaven, thence will I bring them down; and though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them!"
As there is no resisting Israel's God, so is there no escape from him, neither the heights of Bashan nor the depths of the great sea can shelter from his eye of detection, and his hand of justice. The powers of evil may flee to the utmost ends of the earth, but the Lord will arrest them, and lead them back in chains to adorn his triumph.
Verse 23. That your foot may be dipped in the blood of your enemies. Vengeance shall be awarded to the oppressed people, and that most complete and terrible.
And the tongue of your dogs in the same. So overwhelming should be the defeat of the foe that dogs should lick their blood. Here "the stern joy which warriors feel" expresses itself in language most natural to the oriental ear. To us, except in a spiritual sense, the verse sounds harshly; but read it with an inner sense, and we also desire the utter and crushing defeat of all evil, and that wrong and sin may be the objects of profound contempt.
Terrible is the God of Israel when he comes forth as a man of war, and dreadful is even the Christ of God when he bares his arm to smite his enemies. Contemplate Revelation 19 and note the following: "And I saw Heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he who sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood; and his name is called The Word of God... And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of Heaven, come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; that you may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of those who sit upon them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had the mark of the beast, and them that worshiped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him who sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the birds were filled with their flesh."
Verse 24. They have seen your goings, O God. In the song the marchings of the Lord had been described; friends and foes had seen his goings forth with the ark and his people. We suppose that the procession was now climbing the hill, and entering the enclosure where the tabernacle of the ark was pitched; it was suitable at this moment to declare with song that the tribes had seen the glorious progress of the Lord as he led forth his people.
Even the goings of my God, my King, in the sanctuary. The splendid procession of the ark, which symbolized the throne of the great King, was before the eyes of men and angels as it ascended to the holy place; and the psalmist points to it with exultation before he proceeds to describe it. All nature and providence are, as it were, a procession attending the great Lord, in his visitations of this lower globe. Winter and summer, sun and moon, storm and calm, and all the varied glories of nature swell the pomp of the King of kings, of whose dominion there is no end.
Verse 25. The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after. This was the order of the march, and God is to be worshiped evermore with due decorum. First the singers, and lastly the musicians, for the song must lead the music, and not the music drown the singing.
In the midst of the vocal and instrumental band, or all around them, were the maidens: among them were the damsels playing with timbrels. Some have imagined that this order indicates the superiority of vocal to instrumental music: but we need not go so far for arguments, when the simplicity and spirituality of the gospel already teach us that truth. The procession depicted in this sublime song was one of joy, and every means was taken to express the delight of the nation in the Lord their God.
Verse 26. Bless God in the congregations. Let the assembled company magnify the God whose ark they followed. United praise is like the mingled perfume which Aaron made, it should all be presented unto God. He blesses us; let him be blessed.
Even the Lord, from the fountain of Israel. A parallel passage to that in Deborah's song: "They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord." The seat of the ark would be the fountain of refreshing for all the tribes, and there they were to celebrate his praises.
"Drink," says the old inscription, "drink, weary traveler; drink and pray." We may alter one word, and read it, drink and praise.
If the Lord overflows with grace, we should overflow with gratitude. Ezekiel saw an ever growing stream flow from under the altar, and issue out from under the threshold of the sanctuary, and wherever it flowed it gave life. Let as many as have quaffed this life giving stream glorify "the fountain of Israel."
Verse 27. There is little Benjamin with their ruler. The tribe was small, having been greatly reduced in numbers, but it had the honor of including Zion within its territory. "And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders."
Little Benjamin had been Jacob's darling, and now the tribe is made to march first in the procession, and to dwell nearest to the holy place.
The princes of Judah and their council. Judah was a large and powerful tribe, not with one governor, like Benjamin, but with many princes "and their company," for so the margin has it. "From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel," and the tribe was a quarry of stones with which to build up the nations: some such truth is hinted at in the Hebrew.
The princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali. Israel was there, as well as Judah; there was no schism among the people. The north sent a representative contingent as well as the south, and so the long procession set forth the hearty loyalty of all the tribes to their Lord and King. O happy day, when all believers shall be one around the ark of the Lord; striving for nothing but the glory of the God of grace.
The prophet now puts into the mouth of the assembly a song, foretelling the future conquests of Jehovah.
Verse 28. Your God has commanded your strength. His decree had ordained the nation strong, and his arm had made them so. As a commander in chief, the Lord made the valiant men pass in battle array, and bade them be strong in the day of conflict.
This is a very rich though brief sentence, and, whether applied to an individual believer, or to the whole church, it is full of consolation.
Strengthen, O God, that which you have wrought for us. As all power comes from God at first, so its continual maintenance is also of him. We who have life should pray to have it more "abundantly;" if we have strength we should seek to be still more established. We expect God to bless his own work. He has never left any work unfinished yet, and he never will. "When we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly;" and now, being reconciled to God, we may look to him to perfect that which concerns us, since he never forsakes the work of his own hands.
Verse 29. Because of your temple at Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto you. The palace of God, which towered above Jerusalem, is prophesied as becoming a wonder to all lands, and when it grew from the tabernacle of David to the temple of Solomon, it was so. So splendid was that edifice that the queen of far off Sheba came with her gifts; and many neighboring princes, overawed by the wealth and power therein displayed, came with tribute to Israel's God. The church of God, when truly spiritual, wins for her God the homage of the nations. In the latter day glory this truth shall be far more literally and largely verified.
Verse 30. Rebuke the company of spearmen; or, the beasts of the reeds, as the margin more correctly renders it. Speak to Egypt, let its growing power and jealousy be kept in order, by a word from you. Israel remembers her old enemy, already plotting the mischief, which would break out under Jeroboam, and begs for a rebuking word from her Omnipotent Friend. Antichrist also, that great red dragon, needs the effectual word of the Lord to rebuke its insolence.
The multitude of the bulls, the stronger foes; the proud, headstrong, rampant, fat, and roaring bulls, which sought to gore the chosen nation—these also need the Lord's rebuke, and they shall have it too. All Egypt's sacred bulls could not avail against a "thus says Jehovah." Popish bulls, and imperial edicts have dashed against the Lord's church, but they have not prevailed against her, and they never shall.
With the calves of the people. The poorer and baser sort are equally set on mischief, but the divine voice can control them; multitudes are as nothing to the Lord when he goes forth in power; whether bulls or calves, they are but cattle for the shambles when Omnipotence displays itself. The gospel, like the ark, has nothing to fear from great or small; it is a stone upon which every one that stumbles shall be broken.
Until every one submits himself with pieces of silver. The Lord is asked to subdue the enemies of Israel, until they rendered tribute in silver ingots. Blessed is that rebuke, which does not break but bend; for subjection to the Lord Almighty is liberty, and tribute to him enriches him that pays it.
The taxation of sin is infinitely more exacting than the tribute of religion. The little finger of lust is heavier than the loins of the law. Pieces of silver given to God are replaced with pieces of gold.
Scatter the people that delight in war. So that, notwithstanding the strong expression of verse 23, God's people were peace men, and only desired the crushing of oppressive nations, that war might not occur again. Let the battles of peace be as fierce as they will; heap coals of fire on the heads of enemies, and slay their enmity thereby. That "they who take the sword should perish by the sword," is a just regulation for the establishment of quiet in the earth.
What peace can there be, while blood thirsty tyrants and their myrmidons are so many? Devoutly may we offer this prayer, and with equal devotion, we may bless God that it is sure to be answered, for "he breaks the bow and cuts the spear in sunder, he burns the chariot in the fire."
Verse 31. Princes shall come out of Egypt. Old foes shall be new friends. Solomon shall find a spouse in Pharaoh's house. Christ shall gather a people from the realm of sin. Great sinners shall yield themselves to the scepter of grace, and great men shall become godly men, by coming to God. Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God. Cush shall hasten to present peace offerings. Sheba's queen shall come from the far south. Candace's chamberlain shall ask of Him who was led as a lamb to the slaughter. Abyssinia shall yet be converted, and Africa become the willing seeker after grace, eagerly desiring and embracing the Christ of God.
Poor Ethiopia, your hands have been long manacled and hardened by cruel toil, but millions of your sons have in their bondage found the liberty with which Christ made men free; and so your cross, like the cross of Simon of Cyrene, has been Christ's cross, and God has been your salvation.
Hasten, O Lord, this day, when both the civilization and the barbarism of the earth shall adore you, Egypt and Ethiopia blending with glad accord in your worship! Here is the confidence of your saints, even your promise; hasten it in your own time, good Lord.
Verse 32. Sing unto God, you kingdoms of the earth. Glorious shall that song be in which whole empires join. Happy are men that God is one who is consistently the object of joyous worship, for not such are the demons of the heathen. So sweet a thing is song that it ought to be all the Lord's; a secular concert seems almost a sacrilege, a licentious song is treason.
O sing praises unto the Lord. Again and again is God to be magnified; we have too much sinning against God, but cannot have too much singing to God.
Selah. Well may we rest now that our contemplations have reached the millennial glory. What heart will refuse to be lifted up by such a prospect!
Verse 33. To him who rides upon the heavens of heavens, which were of old. Before, he was described in his earthly manifestations, as marching through the desert; now, in his celestial glory, as riding in the heavens of the primeval ages.
Long before this Heaven and earth were made, the loftier abodes of the Deity stood fast; before men or angels were created, the splendors of the Great King were as great as now, and his triumphs as glorious. Our knowledge reaches but to a small fragment of the life of God, whose "goings forth were of old, even from everlasting." Well might the Jewish church hymn the eternal God, and well may we join therewith the adoration of the Great Firstborn:
"Before sin was born, or Satan fell,
He led the host of morning stars.
Your generation who can tell?
Or count the number of your years?"
Lo, he does send out his voice, and that a mighty voice. Was there a thunderclap just then heard in Heaven? Or, did the poet's mind flash backward to the time when from the Heaven of heavens the voice of Jehovah broke the long silence and said, "Light be!" and light was. To this hour, the voice of God is power. This gospel, which utters and reveals his word, is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes. Our voices are fitly called to praise him whose voice spoke us into being, and gives us the effectual grace which secures our well being.
Verse 34. Ascribe strength unto God. When even his voice rends the rocks and uproots the cedars, what cannot his hand do? His finger shakes the earth; who can conceive the power of his arm? Let us never by our doubts or our daring defiances appear to deny power unto God; on the contrary, by yielding to him and trusting in him, let our hearts acknowledge his might. When we are reconciled to God, his omnipotence is an attribute of which we sing with delight.
His excellency is over Israel. The favored nation is protracted by his majesty; his greatness is to them goodness, his glory is their defense.
And his strength is in the clouds. He does not confine his power to the sons of men, but makes it like a canopy to cover the skies. Rain, snow, hail, and tempest are his artillery; he rules all nature with awe inspiring majesty. Nothing is so high as to be above him, or too low to be beneath him; praise him, then, in the highest.
Verse 35. O God, you are terrible out of your holy places. You inspire awe and fear. Your saints obey with fear and trembling, and your enemies flee in dismay. From your threefold courts, and especially from the holy of holies, your majesty flashes forth and makes the sons of men prostrate themselves in awe.
The God of Israel is he who gives strength and power unto his people. In this you, who are Israel's God by covenant, are terrible to your foes by making your people strong, so that one shall chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight. All the power of Israel's warriors is derived from the Lord, the fountain of all might. He is strong, and makes strong. Blessed are they who draw from his resources, they shall renew their strength. While the self-sufficient faint, the All sufficient shall sustain the feeblest believer, Blessed be God. A short but sweet conclusion. Let our souls say Amen to it, and yet again, Amen.