Treasury of David
TITLE. A maschil of Asaph. An instructive Psalm by Asaph. The history of the suffering church is always edifying; when we see how the faithful trusted and wrestled with their God in times of dire distress, we are thereby taught how to behave ourselves under similar circumstances. We learn moreover, that when fiery trial befalls us, no strange thing happened unto us, we are following the trail of the host of God.
DIVISION. From verses 1-11 the poet pleads the sorrows of the nation, and the despite done to the assemblies of the Lord;
then he urges former displays of divine power as a reason for present deliverance (verses 12-23).
Whether it is a prophetic Psalm, intended for use in troubles foreseen, or whether it was written by a later Asaph, after the invasion by Sennacherib or during the Maccabean wars, it would be very hard to determine, but we see no difficulty in the first supposition.
Verse 1. O God, why have you cast us off forever? To cast us off at all were hard, but when you do for so long a time desert they people it is an evil beyond all endurance葉he very chief of woes and abyss of misery. It is our wisdom when under chastisement to inquire, "Show me wherefore you contend with me?" and if the affliction be a protracted one, we should more eagerly inquire the purpose of it. Sin is usually at the bottom of all the hiding of the Lord's face; let us ask the Lord to reveal the special form of it to us, that we may repent of it, overcome it, and henceforth forsake it.
When a church is in a forsaken condition it must not sit still in apathy, but turn to the hand which smites it, and humbly inquire the reason why.
At the same time, the inquiry of the text is a faulty one, for it implies two mistakes. There are two questions, which only admit of negative replies. "Has God cast away his people?" (Romans 11:1); and the other, "Will the Lord cast off for ever?" (Psalm 77:7).
God is never weary of his people so as to abhor them, and even when his anger is turned against them, it is but for a small moment, and with a view to their eternal good. Grief in its distraction asks strange questions and surmises impossible terrors. It is a wonder of grace that the Lord has not long ago put us away as men lay aside cast off garments, but he hates putting away, and will still be patient with his chosen.
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? They are yours, they are the objects of your care, they are poor, silly, and defenseless things: pity them, forgive them, and come to their rescue. They are but sheep, do not continue to be wroth with them. It is a terrible thing when the anger of God smokes, but it is an infinite mercy that it does not break into a devouring flame. It is fit to ask the Lord to remove every sign of his wrath, for it is to those who are truly the Lord's sheep a most painful thing to be the objects of his displeasure.
To vex the Holy Spirit is no slight sin, and yet how frequently are we guilty of it; hence it is no marvel that we are often under a cloud.
Verse 2. Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old. What a mighty plea is redemption! O God, can you see the blood mark on your own sheep, and yet allow grievous wolves to devour them? The church is no new purchase of the Lord; from before the world's foundation the chosen were regarded as redeemed by the Lamb slain; shall ancient love die out, and the eternal purpose become frustrated? The Lord would have his people remember the paschal Lamb, the blood-stained lintel, and the overthrow of Egypt; and will he forget all this himself? Let us put him in remembrance, let us plead together. Can he desert his blood-bought and forsake his redeemed? Can election fail and eternal love cease to glow? Impossible! The woes of Calvary, and the covenant of which they are the seal, are the security of the saints.
The rod of your inheritance, which you have redeemed. So sweet a plea deserved to be repeated and enlarged upon. The Lord's portion is his people謡ill he lose his inheritance? His church is his kingdom, over which he stretches the rod of sovereignty; will he allow his possessions to be torn from him? God's property in us is a fact full of comfort. His value of us, his dominion over us, his connection with us are all so many lights to cheer our darkness. No man will willingly lose his inheritance, and no prince will relinquish his dominions; therefore we believe that the King of kings will hold his own, and maintain his rights against all comers.
This mount Zion, wherein you have dwelt. The Lord's having made Zion the especial center of his worship, and place of his manifestation, is yet another plea for the preservation of Jerusalem. Shall the sacred temple of Jehovah be desecrated by heathen, and the throne of the Great King be defiled by his enemies? Has the Spirit of God dwelt in our hearts, and will he leave them to become a haunt for the devil? Has he sanctified us by his indwelling, and will he, after all, vacate the throne? God forbid.
It may be well to note that this Psalm was evidently written with a view to the temple upon Zion, and not to the tabernacle which was there in David's time, and was a mere tent; but the destructions here bewailed were exercised upon the carved work of a substantial structure. Those who had seen the glory of God in Solomon's peerless temple might well mourn in bitterness, when the Lord allowed his enemies to make an utter ruin of that matchless edifice.
Verse 3. Lift up your feet unto the perpetual desolations. The ruin made had already long been an eyesore to the suppliant, and there seemed no hope of restoration. Havoc lorded it not only for a day or a year, but with perpetual power.
This is another argument with God. Would Jehovah sit still and see his own land made a wilderness, his own palace a desolation? Until he should arise, and draw near, the desolation would remain. Only his presence could cure the evil, therefore is he entreated to hasten with uplifted feet for the deliverance of his people.
Even all that the enemy has done wickedly in the sanctuary. Every stone in the ruined temple appealed to the Lord; on all sides were the marks of impious spoilers, the holiest places bore evidence of their malicious wickedness. Would the Lord forever permit this? Would he not hasten to overthrow the foe who defied him to his face, and profaned the throne of his glory? Faith finds pleas in the worst circumstances, she uses even the fallen stones of her desolate palaces, and assails with them the gates of Heaven, casting them forth with the great engine of prayer.
Verse 4. Your enemies roar in the midst of your congregations. Where your people sang like angels, these barbarians roar like beasts. When your saints come together for worship, these cruel men attack them with all the fury of lions. They have no respect for the most solemn gatherings, but intrude themselves and their blasphemies into our most hallowed meetings. How often in times of persecution or prevalent heresy has the church learned the meaning of such language. May the Lord spare us such misery.
When hypocrites abound in the church, and pollute her worship, the case is parallel to that before us; Lord save us from so severe a trial.
They set up their ensigns for signs. Idolatrous emblems used in war were set up over God's altar, as an insulting token of victory, and of contempt for the vanquished and their God. Papists, Arians, and the modern school of Neologians, have, in their day, set up their ensigns for signs. Superstition, unbelief, and carnal wisdom have endeavored to usurp the place of Christ crucified, to the grief of the church of God.
The enemies without do us small damage, but those within the church cause her serious harm; by supplanting the truth and placing error in its stead, they deceive the people, and lead multitudes to destruction. As a Jew felt a holy horror when he saw an idolatrous emblem set up in the holy place, even so do we when in a Protestant church we see the fooleries of Rome; and when from pulpits, once occupied by men of God, we hear philosophy and vain deceit.
Verse 5. A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees. Once men were renowned for felling the cedars and preparing them for building the temple, but now the axe finds other work, and men are as proud of destroying as their fathers were of erecting. Thus in the olden times our sires dealt sturdy blows against the forests of error, and labored hard to lay the axe at the root of the trees; but, alas! their sons appear to be quite as diligent to destroy the truth and to overthrow all that their fathers built up. O for the good old times again! O for an hour of Luther's hatchet, or Calvin's mighty axe!
Verse 6. But now they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers. The invaders were as industrious to destroy as the ancient builders had been to construct. Such fair carving it was barbarous to hew in pieces, but the Vandals had no mercy and broke down all, with any weapon which came to hand.
In these days men are using axes and sledge-hammers against the gospel and the church. Glorious truths, far more exquisite than the goodliest carving, are caviled over and smashed by the blows of modern criticism. Truths which have upheld the afflicted and cheered the dying are smitten by pretentious Goths, who would be accounted learned, but know not the first principals of the truth. With sharp ridicule, and heavy blows of sophistry, they break the faith of some; and would, if it were possible, destroy the confidence of the elect themselves. Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans are but types of spiritual foes who labor to crush the truth and the people of God.
Verse 7. They have cast fire into your sanctuary. Axes and hammers were not sufficient for the purpose of the destroyers, they must needs try fire. Malice knows no bounds. Those who hate God are never sparing of the most cruel weapons. To this day the enmity of the human heart is quite as great as ever; and, if providence did not restrain, the saints would still be as fuel for the flames.
They have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of your name to the ground. They made a heap of the temple, and left not one stone upon another. When the Lord left Mount Zion, and the Roman gained entrance, the military fury led the soldiers to burn out and root up the memorial of the famous House of the Lord. Could the powers of darkness have their way, a like fate would befall the church of Christ. "Raze it, "say they, "raze it even to the foundation thereof." Defilement to the church is destruction; her foes would defile her until nothing of her purity, and consequently of her real self, remained. Yet, even if they could wreak their will upon the cause of Christ, they are not able to destroy it, it would survive their blows and fires; the Lord would hold them still like dogs on a leash, and in the end frustrate all their designs.
Verse 8. They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together. It was no idle wish葉heir cruelty was sincere, deep-seated, a matter of their inmost heart. Extirpation was the desire of Haman, and the aim of many another tyrant; not a remnant of the people of God would have been left if oppressors could have had their way. Pharaoh's policy to stamp out the nation has been a precedent for others, yet the Jews survive, and will葉he bush though burning has not been consumed.
Even thus the church of Christ has gone through baptism of blood and fire, but it is all the brighter for them.
They have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land. Here is no allusion to places called synagogues, but to assemblies; and as no assemblies for worship here held in but one place, the ruin of the temple was the destruction of all the holy gatherings, and so in effect all the meeting places were destroyed.
One object of persecutors has always been to put an end to all conventicles, as they have called them. Keep them from meeting and you will scatter them, so have the enemy said; but, glory be to God, saints are independent of walls, and have met on the hillside, by the moss, or in the catacombs, or in a boat at sea. Yet has the attempt been almost successful, and the hunt so hot, that the faithful have wandered in solitude, and their solemn congregations have been, under such circumstances, few and far between. What sighs and cries have in such times gone up to the ears of the Lord God Almighty. How happy are we that we can meet for worship in any place we choose, and none dare molest us.
Verse 9. We see not our signs. Alas, poor Israel! No Urim and Thummim blazed on the High Priest's bosom, and no Shekinah shone from between the cherubim. The smoke of sacrifice and cloud of incense no more arose from the holy hill; solemn feasts were suspended, and even circumcision, the covenant sign, was forbidden by the tyrant.
We, too, as believers, know what it is to lose our evidences and grope in darkness; and too often do our churches also miss the tokens of the Redeemer's presence, and their lamps remain untrimmed. Sad complaint of a people under a cloud!
There is no more any prophet. Prophecy was suspended. No inspiring psalm or consoling promise fell from bard or seer. It is ill with the people of God when the voice of the preacher of the gospel fails, and a famine of the word of life falls on the people. God sent ministers are as needful to the saints as their daily bread, and it is a great sorrow when a congregation is destitute of a faithful pastor. It is to be feared, that with all the ministers now existing, there is yet a dearth of men whose hearts and tongues are touched with the celestial fire.
Neither is there any among us that knows how long. If someone could foretell an end, the evil might be borne with a degree of patience, but when none can see a termination, or foretell an escape, the misery has a hopeless appearance, and is overwhelming.
Blessed be God, he has not left his church in these days to be so deplorably destitute of cheering words; let us pray that he never may. Contempt of the word is very common, and may well provoke the Lord to withdraw it from us; may his longsuffering endure the strain, and his mercy afford us still the word of life.
Verse 10. O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? Though we know not how long, yet you do. The times and seasons are with you. When God is reproached, there is hope for us, for it may be he will hearken and avenge his dishonored name. Wickedness has great license allowed it, and justice lingers on the road. God has his reasons for delay, and his seasons for action, and in the end it shall be seen that he is not slack concerning his promise as some men count slackness.
Shall the enemy blaspheme your name forever? He will do so forever, unless you give him his quietus. Will you never defend yourself, and stop slanderous tongues? Will you always endure the jeers of the profane? Is there to be no end to all this sacrilege and cursing?
Yes, it shall all be ended, but not by and by. There is a time for the sinner to rage, and a time in which patience bears with him; yet it is but a time, and then. Ah, THEN!
Verse 11. Why do you withdraw your hand, even your right hand? Wherefore this inaction, this indifference for your own honor and your people's safety? How bold is the suppliant! Does he err? Nay, truly, we who are so chill, and distant, and listless in prayer are the erring ones. The kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and he who learns the art shall surely prevail with God by its means. It is fit that we should inquire why the work of grace goes on so slowly, and the enemy has so much power over men: the inquiry may suggest practical reflections of unbounded value.
"Why do you from the conflict stay?
Why do your chariot wheels delay?
Lift up yourself, hell's kingdom shake,
Arm of the Lord, awake, awake."
Pluck it out of your bosom. A bold simile, but dying men must venture for their lives. When God seems to fold his arms we must not fold ours, but rather renew our entreaties that he would again put his hand to the work. O for more agony in prayer among professing Christians, then would we see miracles of grace.
We have here before us a model of pleading, a very rapture of prayer. It is humble, but very bold, eager, fervent, and effectual. The heart of God is always moved by such entreaties. When we bring forth out strong reasons, then will he bring forth his choice mercies!
Verses 12-23. Having spread the sad case before the Lord, the pleader now urges another series of arguments for divine help. He reasons from the Lord's former wonders of grace, and his deeds of power, imploring a repetition of the same divine works.
Verse 12. For God is my King of old. How consoling is this avowal! Israel in holy loyalty acknowledges her King, and claims to have been his possession from of old, and thence she derives a plea for defense and deliverance. If the Lord be indeed the sole monarch of our bosoms, he will in his love put forth his strength on our behalf; if from eternity he has claimed us as his own, he will preserve us from the insulting foe.
Working salvation in the midst of the earth. From the most remote period of Israel's history the Lord had worked out for her many salvations; especially at the Red Sea, the very heart of the world was astonished by his wonders of deliverance.
Now, every believer may plead at this day the ancient deeds of the Lord葉he work of Calvary, the overthrow of sin, death, and Hell. He who wrought out our salvation of old will not, cannot desert us now. Each past miracle of grace assures us that he who has begun to deliver will continue to redeem us from all evil. His deeds of old were public and wrought in the teeth of his foes, they were no delusions or make believes; and, therefore, in all our perils we look for true and manifest assistance, and we shall surely receive it.
Verse 13. You broke the heads of the dragons in the waters. Monsters long accustomed to the deep found themselves left high and dry. Huge things of the sea cave and the coral grot were deprived of their vital element, and left with crushed heads upon the dry channel bed.
There, too, that old dragon Pharaoh was utterly broken, and Egypt herself had the head of her power and pomp broken with an almighty blow.
Even thus is that old dragon broken by him who came to bruise the serpent's head, and the sea of wrath no longer rolls before us; we pass through it dry shod. Our faith as to the present is revived by glad memories of the past.
Verse 14. You broke the heads of leviathan in pieces. It is the Lord who has done it all. The mighty dragon of Egypt was utterly slain, and his proud heads broken in pieces. Our Lord Jesus is the true Hercules, dragons with a hundred heads are crushed beneath his foot葉he infernal hydra he utterly vanquishes.
And gave him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness. Not only did the wild beasts feed upon the carcasses of the Egyptians, but the dwellers along the shores stripped the bodies and enriched themselves with the spoil. Israel, too, grew rich with the relics of her drowned adversaries.
How often do great afflictions work our lasting good. Leviathan, who would have devoured us, is himself devoured, and out of the monster we gather sweetness. Let us not give way to fear; hydra-headed evils shall be slain, and monstrous difficulties shall be overcome, and all things shall work our everlasting good!
Verse 15. You did cleave the fountain and the flood. Jordan was divided by Jehovah's power; the Lord is able to repeat his miracles, what he did with a sea, he can do with a river; lesser difficulties shall be removed as well as greater ones.
Perhaps the fountain refers to the smitten rock, which from its cleft poured forth a perpetual stream; so the Lord opens to us springs of water in the wilderness.
You dried up mighty rivers. Rivers which were permanent, and not like the transient torrents of the land, were dried up for awhile; the Jordan itself, being such, was laid dry for a season. Observe the repetition of the pronoun "you;" the song is all for God, and the prayer is all directed to him. The argument is that he who wrought such wonders would be pleased to do the like now that an emergency had arisen.
Verse 16. The day is yours, the night also is yours. You are not restricted by times and seasons. Our prosperity comes from you, and our adversity is ordained by you. You rule in the darkness, and one glance of your eye kindles it into day. Lord, be not slack to keep your word, but rise for the help of your people.
You have prepared the light and the sun. Both light and the light-bearer are of you. Our help, and the instrument of it, are both in your hand. There is no limit to your power; be pleased to display it and make your people glad. Let your sacred preparations of mercy ripen; say, "Let there be light," and light shall at once dispel our gloom.
Verse 17. You have set all the borders of the earth. Land and sea receive their boundaries from you. Continents and islands are mapped by your hand. Observe, again, how everything is ascribed to the divine agency by the use of the pronoun "you". Not a word about natural laws, and original forces, but the Lord is seen as working all.
It will be well when all our "ologies" are tinctured with "theology," and the Creator is seen at work amid his universe. The argument of our text is, that he who bounds the sea can restrain his foes; and he who guards the borders of the dry land can also protect his chosen people.
You have made summer and winter. Return, then, good lord, to us the bright summer days of joy. We know that all our changes come of you, we have already felt the rigors of your winter, grant us now the genial glow of your summer smile.
The God of nature is the God of grace; and we may argue from the revolving seasons that sorrow is not meant to rule the year, the flowers of hope will blossom, and ruddy fruits of joy will ripen yet.
Verse 18. Remember this, that the enemy has reproached, O Lord. Against you, the ever glorious Maker of all things, have they spoken, your honor have they assailed, and defied even you.
This is forcible pleading indeed, and reminds us of Moses and Hezekiah in their intercessions: "What will you do unto your great name?" "It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, who has reproached the living God." Jehovah is a jealous God, and will surely glorify his own name; here our hope finds foothold.
And that the foolish people have blasphemed your name. The baseness of the enemy is here pleaded. Sinners are fools, and shall fools be allowed to insult the Lord and oppress his people; shall the abjects curse the Lord and defy him to his face. When error grows too bold its day is near, and its fall certain. Arrogance foreshadows ripeness of evil, and the next step is rottenness. Instead of being alarmed when bad men grow worse and more audacious, we may reasonably take heart, for the hour of their judgment is evidently near.
Verse 19. O deliver not the soul of your turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked. Your poor church is weak and defenseless as a dove, but yet her adversaries cannot touch her without your permission; do not give them permission to devour her, consign her not to the merciless fangs of her foes. She is your dove, your turtledove, your favored one, do not cast her to her enemies. Be merciful, and preserve the weak. Thus may we each plead, and with good hope of prevailing, for the Lord is very pitiful and full of compassion.
Forget not the congregation of your poor forever. They look to you for everything, for they are very poor, and they are your poor, and there is a company of them, collected by yourself. Do not turn your back on them for long, do not appear strange unto them, but let their poverty plead with you.
Turn you unto them, and visit your afflicted. In such pleas we also can personally join when at any time we are sorely tried, and the Lord's presence is hidden from us.
Verse 20. Have respect unto the covenant. Here is the master-key幽eaven's gate must open to this. God is not a man that he should lie; his covenant he will not break, nor alter the thing that has gone forth out of his lips. The Lord had promised to bless the seed of Abraham, and make them a blessing; here they plead that ancient word, even as we also may plead the covenant made with the Lord Jesus for all believers. What a grand word it is! Reader, do you know how to cry "Have respect unto your covenant"?
For the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. Darkness is the fit hour for beasts of prey, and ignorance the natural dwelling place of cruelty. All the world is in a measure dark, and hence everywhere there are cruel enemies of the Lord's people; but in some places a sevenfold night of superstition and unbelief has settled down, and there rage against the saints reaches to madness.
Has not the Lord declared that the whole earth shall be filled with his glory? How can this be if he always permits cruelty to riot in dark places? Surely, he must arise, and end the days of wrong, the era of oppression. This verse is a most telling missionary prayer.
Verse 21. O let not the oppressed return ashamed. Though broken and crushed they come to you with confidence; do not allow them to be disappointed, for then they will be ashamed of their hope.
Let the poor and needy praise your name. By your speedy answer to their cries make their hearts glad, and they will render to you their gladdest songs. It is not the way of the Lord to allow any of those who trust in him to be put to shame; for his word is, "He shall call upon me, and I will deliver him, and he shall glorify me."
Verse 22. Arise, O God, plead your own cause. Answer the taunts of the profane by arguments which shall annihilate both the blasphemy and the blasphemer. God's judgments are awful replies to the defiance of his foes. When he makes empires crumble, and smites persecutors to the heart, his cause is pleaded by himself as none other could have advocated it. O that the Lord himself would come into the battlefield! Long has the fight been trembling in the balance; one glance of his eyes, one word from his lip, and the banners of victory shall be borne on the breeze.
Remember how the foolish man reproaches you daily. The Lord is begged to remember that he is himself reproached, and that by a mere man葉hat man a fool, and he is also reminded that these foul reproaches are incessant and repeated with every revolving day. It is bravely done when faith can pluck pleas out of the dragon's mouth and out of the blasphemies of fools find arguments with God.
Verse 23. Forget not the voice of your enemies. Great warrior let the enemy's taunt provoke you to the fray. They challenge you; accept you the gage of battle, and smite them with your terrible hand. If the cries of your children are too feeble to be heard, be pleased to note the loud voices of your foes and silence their profanities forever.
The tumult of those that rise up against you increases continually. The ungodly clamor against you and your people, their blasphemies are loud and incessant, they defy you, even you, and because you do not reply they laugh you to scorn. They go from bad to worse, from worse to worst; their fury swells like the thunders of an advancing tempest. What will it come too? What infamy will next be hurled at you and yours? O God, will you forever bear this? Have you no regard for your honor, no respect for your glory?
Much of this Psalm has passed over our mind while beholding the idolatries of Rome, (the author visited Rome in November and December, 1871, while this portion of the Treasury of David was in progress) and remembering her bloody persecution of the saints.
O Lord, how long shall it be before you will ease yourself of those profane wretches, the priests, and cast the harlot of Babylon into the ditch of corruption? May the church never cease to plead with you until judgment shall be executed, and the Lord avenged upon Antichrist.