Treasury of David
TITLE AND SUBJECT. A Psalm of Asaph. A Psalm of complaint such as Jeremiah might have written amid the ruins of the beloved city. It evidently treats of times of invasion, oppression, and national overthrow. Asaph was a patriotic poet, and was never more at home than when he rehearsed the history of his nation. Would to God that we had national poets whose song should be of the Lord.
Verse 1. O God, the heathen are come into your inheritance.
It is the cry of amazement at sacrilegious intrusion; as if the poet were struck with horror. The stranger pollutes your hallowed courts with his tread. All Canaan is your landóbut your foes have ravaged it.
"Your holy temple have they defiled."
Into the inmost sanctuary they have profanely forced their way, and there behaved themselves arrogantly. Thus, the holy land, the holy house, and the holy city, were all polluted by the uncircumcised. It is an awful thing when wicked men are found in the church and numbered with her ministry. Then are the tares sown with the wheat, and the poisoned gourds cast into the pot.
"They have laid Jerusalem on heaps."
After devouring and defiling, they have come to destroying, and have done their work with a cruel completeness. Jerusalem, the beloved city, the joy of the nation, the abode of her God, was totally wrecked. Alas! alas! for Israel! It is sad to see the foe in our own houseóbut worse to meet him in the house of God; they strike hardest who smite at our religion. The psalmist piles up the agony; he was a suppliant, and he knew how to bring out the strong points of his case.
We ought to order our case before the Lord with as much care as if our success depended on our pleading. Men in earthly courts use all their powers to obtain their ends, and so also should we state our case with earnestness, and bring forth our strong arguments.
Verse 2. "The dead bodies of your servants have they given to be food unto the birds of the Heaven, the flesh of your saints unto the beasts of the earth."
The enemy cared not to bury the dead, and there was not a sufficient number of Israel left alive to perform the funeral rites; therefore, the precious relics of the departed were left to be devoured of vultures and torn by wolves. Beasts on which man could not feed, fed on him. The flesh of the Lord's servants became food for carrion crows and hungry dogs. Dire are the calamities of waróyet have they happened to God's saints and servants. This might well move the heart of the poet, and he did well to appeal to the heart of God by reciting the grievous evil. Such might have been the lamentation of an early Christian as he thought of the amphitheater and all its deeds of blood. Note in the two verses how the plea is made to turn upon God's property in the temple and the people: we read "your inheritance," "your temple," "your servants," and "your saints." Surely the Lord will defend his own, and will not allow rampant adversaries to despoil them.
Verse 3. "Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem."
The invaders slew men as if their blood was of no more value than so much water; they poured it forth as lavishly as when the floods deluge the plains. The city of holy peace became a field of blood.
"And there was none to bury them."
The few who survived were afraid to engage in the task. This was a serious trial and grievous horror to the Jews, who evinced much care concerning their burials. Has it come to this, that there are none to bury the dead of your family, O Lord? Can none be found to grant a shovelful of earth with which to cover up the poor bodies of your murdered saints? What woe is here! How glad should we be that we live in so quiet an age, when the blast of the war trumpet is no more heard in our streets.
Verse 4. "We are become a reproach to our neighbors."
They make a mockery of us, they fling our disasters into our face, and ask us, "Where is your God?" Pity should be shown to the afflictedóbut in too many cases it is not so, for a hard logic argues that those who suffer more than ordinary calamities must have been extraordinary sinners. Neighbors especially are often the reverse of neighborly; the nearer they dwell the less they sympathize. It is most pitiable it should be so.
"A scorn and a derision to those who are round about us."
To find mirth in others' miseries, and to exult over the ills of others, is worthy only of the devil and of those whose father he is. Thus the case is stated before the Lord, and it is a very deplorable one. Asaph was an excellent advocate, for he gave a telling description of calamities which were under his own eyes, and in which he sympathizedóbut we have a mightier Intercessor above, who never ceases to urge our suit before the eternal throne.
Verse 5. "How long, Lord?"
Will there be no end to these chastisements? They are most sharp and overwhelming; will you much longer continue them?
"Will you be angry forever?"
Is your mercy gone so that you will forever smite?
"Shall your jealousy burn like fire?"
There was great cause for the Lord to be jealous, since idols had been set up, and Israel had gone aside from his worshipóbut the psalmist begs the Lord not to consume his people utterly as with fireóbut to abate their woes.
Verse 6. "Pour out your wrath upon the heathen that have not known you."
If you must smite look further afield; spare your children and strike your foes. There are lands where you are in no measure acknowledged; be pleased to visit these first with your judgments, and let your erring Israel have a respite.
"And upon the kingdoms that have not called upon your name."
Hear us the prayerful, and avenge yourself upon the prayerless. Sometimes providence appears to deal much more severely with the righteous than with the wicked, and this verse is a bold appeal founded upon such an appearance. It in effect saysóLord, if you must empty out the vials of your wrath, begin with those who have no measure of regard for youóbut are openly up in arms against you; and be pleased to spare your people, who are yours notwithstanding all their sins.
Verse 7. "For they have devoured Jacob."
The oppressor would quite eat up the saints if he could. If these lions do not swallow us, it is because the Lord has sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths.
"And laid waste his dwelling place,"
or his pasture. The invader left no food for man or beastóbut devoured all as the locust. The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
Verse 8. "O remember not against us former iniquities."
Sins accumulate against nations. Generations lay up stores of transgressions to be visited upon their successors; hence this urgent prayer. In Josiah's days the most earnest repentance was not able to avert the doom which former long years of idolatry had sealed against Judah. Every man has reason to ask for an act of oblivion for his past sins, and every nation should make this a continual prayer.
"Let your tender mercies speedily come to meet us, for we are brought very low."
Hasten to our rescue, for our nation is hurrying down to destruction; our numbers are diminished and our condition is deplorable. Observe how penitent sorrow seizes upon the sweeter attributes, and draws her pleas from the "tender mercies" of God. See, too, how she pleads her own distress, and not her goodness, as a motive for the display of mercy. Let souls who are brought very low find an argument in their abject condition. What can so powerfully appeal to pity as dire affliction? The quaint prayer-book version is touchingly expressive: "O remember not our old sinsóbut have mercy upon us, and that soon; for we are come to great misery." This supplication befits a sinner's life. We have known seasons when this would have been as good a prayer for our burdened heart as any that human mind could compose.
Verse 9. "Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name."
This is masterly pleading. No argument has such force as this. God's glory was tarnished in the eyes of the heathen by the defeat of his people, and the profanation of his temple; therefore, his distressed servants implore his aid, that his great name may no more be the scorn of blaspheming enemies.
"And deliver us, and purge away our sins, for your name's sake."
Sinóthe root of the evilóis seen and confessed; pardon of sin is sought as well as removal of chastisement, and both are asked not as matters of rightóbut as gifts of grace. God's name is a second time brought into the pleading. Believers will find it their wisdom to use very frequently this noble plea: it is the great gun of the battle, the mightiest weapon in the armory of prayer.
Verse 10. "Why should the heathen say, Where is their God?"
Why should those impious mouths be filled with food so sweet to themóbut so bitter to us? When the afflictions of God's people become the derision of sinners, and cause them to ridicule religion, we have good ground for expostulation with the Lord.
"Let him be known among the heathen in our sight by the revenging of the blood of your servants which is shed."
Justice is desired that God may be vindicated and feared. It is but fit that those who taunted the people of God because they smarted under the Lord's rod, should be made themselves also to smart by the same hand. If any complain of the spirit of this imprecation, we think they do so needlessly; for it is the common feeling of every patriot to desire to see his country's wrongs redressed, and of every Christian to wish a noble vengeance for the church by the overthrow of error. The destruction of Antichrist is the recompense of the blood of the martyrs, and by no means is it to be deprecated; far rather is it one of the most glorious hopes of the latter days.
Verse 11. "Let the sighing of the prisoner come before you."
When your people cannot sing, and dare not shout aloud, then let their silent sigh ascend into your ear, and secure for them deliverance. These words are suitable for the afflicted in a great variety of conditions; men of experience will know how to adapt them to their own position and to use them in reference to others.
"According to the greatness of your power preserve those that are appointed to die."
Faith grows while it prays; the appeal to the Lord's tender mercy is here supplemented by another addressed to the divine power, and the petitioner rises from a request for those who are brought low, to a prayer for those who are on the verge of death, set apart as victims for the slaughter.
How consoling is it to desponding believers to reflect that God can preserve even those who bear the sentence of death in themselves. Men and devils may consign us to perdition, while sickness drags us to the grave, and sorrow sinks us in the dust; but, there is One who can keep our soul alive, ay, and bring it up again from the depths of despair. A lamb shall live between the lion's jaws if the Lord wills it. Even in the charnel house, life shall vanquish death if God be near.
Verse 12. "And render unto our neighbors sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, with which they have reproached you, O Lord."
They denied your existence, mocked your power, insulted your worship, and destroyed your house; up, therefore, O Lord, and make them feel to the full that you are not to be mocked with impunity. Pour into their laps good store of shame because they dared insult the God of Israel. Recompense them fully, until they have received the perfect number of punishments. It will be so. The wish of the text will become matter of fact. The Lord will avenge his own elect though he bear long with them.
Verse 13. "So we your people and sheep of your pasture will give you thanks far ever; we will show forth your praise to all generations."
The gratitude of the church is lasting as well as deep. On her tablets are memorials of great deliverances, and, as long as she shall exist, her sons will rehearse them with delight. We have a history which will survive all other records, and it is bright in every line with the glory of the Lord. From the direst calamities God's glory springs, and the dark days of his people become the prelude to unusual displays of the Lord's love and power.