Treasury of David
TITLE. To the Chief Musician upon Gittith. Very little is known of the meaning of this title. We have given the best explanation known to us in connection with Psalm 8 in Vol. 1 of this work. If it be intended to indicate a vintage song, it speaks well for the piety of the people for whom it was written; it is to be feared that in few places even in Christian countries would holy hymns be thought suitable to be sung in connection with the winepress. When the bells upon the horses shall be holiness unto the Lord, then shall the juice of the grape gush forth to the accompaniment of sacred song. A Psalm of Asaph. This poet here again dwells upon the history of his country; his great forte seems to be rehearsing the past in admonitory psalmody. He is the poet of the history and politics of Israel. A truly national songster, at once pious and patriotic.
Verse 1. Sing, in tune and measure, so that the public praise may be in harmony; sing with joyful notes, and sounds melodious.
Aloud. For the heartiest praise is due to our good Lord. His acts of love to us speak more loudly than any of our words of gratitude can do. No dullness should ever stupefy our psalmody, or half heartedness cause us to limp along.
Sing aloud, you debtors to sovereign grace, your hearts are profoundly grateful: let your voices express your thankfulness.
Unto God our strength. The Lord was the strength of his people in delivering them out of Egypt with a high hand, and also in sustaining them in the wilderness, placing them in Canaan, preserving them from their foes, and giving them victory. To whom do men give honor but to those upon whom they rely, therefore let us sing aloud unto our God, who is our strength and our song.
Make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob.
The God of the nation, the God of their father Jacob, was extolled in happy music by the Israelitish people; let no Christian be silent, or slack in praise, for this God is our God. It is to be regretted that the professionalism of modern singing frighten our congregations from joining lustily in the hymns. For our part we delight in full bursts of praise, and had rather discover the ruggedness of a lack of musical training than miss the heartiness of universal congregational song. The gentility which lisps the tune in well bred whispers, or leaves the singing altogether to the choir, is very like a mockery of worship. The gods of Greece and Rome may be worshiped well enough with classical music—but Jehovah can only be adored with the heart, and that music is the best for his service which gives the heart most play.
Verse 2. Take a psalm. Select a sacred song, and then raise it with your hearty voices.
And bring hither the timbrel.
Beat on your tambourines, you damsels, let the sound be loud and inspiriting.
Sound the trumpets, beat the drums. God is not to be served with misery but with mirthful music, sound you then the loud timbrel, as of old you smote it by "Egypt's dark sea."
The pleasant harp with the psaltery.
The timbrel for sound, must be joined by the harp for sweetness, and this by other stringed instruments for variety. Let the full compass of music be holiness unto the Lord.
Verse 3. Blow up the trumpet in the new moon.
Announce the sacred month, the beginning of months, when the Lord brought his people out of the house of bondage. Clear and shrill let the summons be which calls all Israel to adore the Redeeming Lord.
In the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.
Obedience is to direct our worship, not whim and sentiment: God's appointment gives a solemnity to rites and times which no ceremonial pomp or hierarchical ordinance could confer. The Jews not only observed the ordained month—but that part of the month which had been divinely set apart. The Lord's people in the olden time welcomed the times appointed for worship; let us feel the same exultation, and never speak of the Sabbath as though it could be other than "a delight" and "honorable." Those who plead this passage as authority of their man-appointed feasts and fasts must be moonstruck! We will keep such feasts as the Lord appoints—but not those which Rome or Canterbury may ordain.
Verse 4. For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob.
It was a precept binding upon all the tribes, that a sacred season should be set apart to commemorate the Lord's mercy; and truly it was but the Lord's due, he had a right and a claim to such special homage. When it can be proved that the observance of Christmas and other Popish festivals was ever instituted by a divine statute, we also will attend to them—but not until then. It is as much our duty to reject the traditions of men, as to observe the ordinances of the Lord. We ask concerning every rite and rubric, "Is this a law of the God of Jacob?" and if it is not clearly so, it is of no authority with us, who walk in Christian liberty.
Verse 5. This he ordained in Joseph for a testimony.
The nation is called Joseph, because in Egypt it would probably be known and spoken of as Joseph's family, and indeed Joseph was the foster father of the people. The Passover, which is probably here alluded to, was to be a standing memorial of the redemption from Egypt; and everything about it was intended to testify to all ages, and all peoples, the glory of the Lord in the deliverance of his chosen nation.
When he went out through the land of Egypt.
Much of Egypt was traversed by the tribes in their exodus march, and in every place the feast which they had kept during the night of Egypt's visitation would be a testimony for the Lord, who had also himself in the midnight slaughter gone forth through the land of Egypt. The once afflicted Israelites marched over the land of bondage as victors who trample down the slain.
Where I heard a language that I understood not.
Surely the connection requires that we accept these words as the language of the Lord. But how can it be imagined that the Lord should speak of a language which he understood not, seeing he knows all things, and no form of speech is incomprehensible to him? The reply is, that the Lord here speaks as the God of Israel identifying himself with his own chosen nation, and calling that an unknown tongue to himself which was unknown to them. He had never been adored by psalm or prayer in the tongue of Egypt; the Hebrew was the speech known in his sacred house, and the Egyptian was outlandish and foreign there.
In strictest truth, and not merely in figure, might the Lord thus speak, since the wicked customs and idolatrous rites of Egypt were disapproved of by him, and in that sense were unknown. Of the wicked, Jesus shall say, "I never knew you;" and probably in the same sense this expression should be understood, for it may be correctly rendered, "a speech I knew not I am hearing." It was among the griefs of Israel that their taskmasters spoke an unknown tongue, and they were thus continually reminded that they were strangers in a strange land. The Lord had pity upon them, and emancipated them, and hence it was their bounden duty to maintain inviolate the memorial of the divine goodness. It is no small mercy to be brought out from an ungodly world and separated unto the Lord.
Verse 6. I removed his shoulder from the burden.
Israel was the drudge and slave of Egypt—but God gave him liberty. It was by God alone that the nation was set free. Other peoples owe their liberties to their own efforts and courage—but Israel received its Magna Charta as a free gift of divine power. Truly may the Lord say of everyone of his freed men, I removed his shoulder from the burden.
His hands were delivered from the pots.
He was no longer compelled to carry earth, and mold it, and bake it; the earth basket was no more imposed upon the people, nor the number of bricks exacted, for they came out into the open country where none could exact upon them.
How typical all this is of the believer's deliverance from legal bondage, when, through faith, the burden of sin glides into the Savior's sepulcher, and the servile labors of self righteousness come to an end forever.
Verse 7. You called in trouble, and I delivered you.
God heard his people's cries in Egypt, and at the Red Sea: this ought to have bound them to him. Since God does not forsake us in our need, we ought never to forsake him at any time. When our hearts wander from God, our answered prayers cry "shame" upon us.
I answered you in the secret place of thunder.
Out of the cloud the Lord sent forth tempest upon the foes of his chosen ones. That cloud was his secret pavilion, within it he hung up his weapons of war, his javelins of lightning his trumpet of thunder; forth from that pavilion he came and overthrew the foe that his own elect might be secure.
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
They had proved him and found him faithful, he afterwards proved them in return. Precious things are tested, therefore Israel's loyalty to her King was put to trial, and, alas, it failed lamentably. The God who was adored one day for his goodness was reviled the next, when the people for a moment felt the pangs of hunger and thirst.
The story of Israel is only our own history in another shape. God has heard us, delivered us, liberated us, and too often our unbelief makes the wretched return of mistrust, murmuring, and rebellion. Great is our sin; great is the mercy of our God: let us reflect upon both, and pause a while.
Hurried reading is of little benefit; to sit down a while and meditate is very profitable.
Verse 8. Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto you.
What? Are the people so insensible as to be deaf to their God? So it would seem, for he earnestly asks a hearing. Are we not also at times quite as careless and immovable?
O Israel, if you will hearken unto me.
There is much in this "if." How low have they fallen who will not hearken unto God himself! The deaf adder is not more groveling. We are not fond of being upbraided, we had rather avoid sharp and cutting truths; and, though the Lord himself rebuke us, we fly from his gentle reproofs.
Verse 9. There shall no strange God be in you.
No alien God is to be tolerated in Israel's tents.
Neither shall you worship any strange God.
Where false gods are, their worship is sure to follow. Man is so desperate an idolater that the image is always a strong temptation: while the nests are there the birds will be eager to return. No other God had done anything for the Jews, and therefore they had no reason for paying homage to any other.
To us the same argument will apply. We owe all to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world, the flesh, the devil, none of these have been of any service to us; they are aliens, foreigners, enemies, and it is not for us to bow down before them. "Little children keep yourselves from idols!" is our Lord's voice to us, and by the power of his Spirit we would cast out every false God from our hearts.
Verse 10. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
Thus did Jehovah usually introduce himself to his people. The great deliverance out of Egypt was that claim upon his people's allegiance which he most usually pleaded. If ever people were morally bound to their God, certainly Israel was a thousand times pledged unto Jehovah, by his marvelous deeds on their behalf in connection with the Exodus.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
Because he had brought them out of Egypt he could do great things for them. He had proved his power and his good will; it remained only for his people to believe in him and ask large things of him. If their expectations were enlarged to the utmost degree, they could not exceed the bounty of the Lord. Little birds in the nest open their mouths widely enough, and perhaps the parent birds fail to fill them—but it will never be so with our God. His treasures of grace are inexhaustible,
"Deep as our helpless miseries are,
And boundless as our sins."
The Lord began with his chosen nation upon a great scale, doing great wonders for them, and offering them vast returns for their faith and love, if they would but be faithful to him. Sad, indeed, was the result of this grand experiment.
Verse 11. But my people would not hearken to my voice.
His warnings were rejected, his promises forgotten, his precepts disregarded. Though the divine voice proposed nothing but good to them, and that upon an unparalleled scale of liberality—yet they turned aside.
And Israel would not submit to me.
They would not consent to his proposals, they walked in direct opposition to his commands, they hankered after the ox God of Egypt, and their hearts were bewitched by the idols of the nations round about. The same spirit of apostasy is in all our hearts, and if we have not altogether turned aside from the Lord, it is only grace which has prevented us.
Verse 12. So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust.
No punishment is more just or more severe than this. If men will not be checked—but madly take the bit between their teeth and refuse obedience, who shall wonder if the reins are thrown upon their necks, and they are let alone to work out their own destruction. It were better to be given up to lions than to our hearts' lusts.
And they walked in their own counsels.
There was no doubt as to what course they would take, for man is everywhere willful and loves his own way—that way being at all times in direct opposition to God's way. Men deserted by restraining grace, sin with deliberation; they consult, and debate, and consider, and then elect evil rather than good, with malice aforethought and in cool blood. It is a remarkable obduracy of rebellion when men not only run into sin through passion—but calmly "walk in their own counsels" of iniquity.
Verse 13. O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!
The condescending love of God expresses itself in painful regrets for Israel's sin and punishment. Such were the laments of Jesus over Jerusalem. Certain doctrinalists find a stumbling stone in such passages, and set themselves to explain them away—but to men in sympathy with the divine nature, the words and the emotions are plain enough. A God of mercy cannot see men heaping up sorrow for themselves through their sins without feeling his compassion excited toward them.
Verse 14. I would soon have subdued their enemies.
As he did in Egypt overthrow Pharaoh, so would he have baffled every enemy.
And turned my hand against their adversaries.
He would have smitten them once, and then have dealt them a return blow with the back of his hand. See what we lose by sin. Our enemies find the sharpest weapons against us in the armory of our transgressions. They could never overthrow us if we did not first overthrow ourselves. Sin strips a man of his armor, and leaves him naked to his enemies. Our doubts and fears would long ago have been slain if we had been more faithful to our God. Ten thousand evils which afflict us now would have been driven far from us if we had been more jealous of holiness in our walk and conversation. We ought to consider not only what sin takes from our present stock—but what it prevents our gaining: reflections will soon show us that sin always costs us dear. If we depart from God, our inward corruptions are sure to make a rebellion. Satan will assail us, the world will worry us, doubts will annoy us, and all through our own fault. Solomon's departure from God raised up enemies against him, and it will be so with us—but if our ways please the Lord he will make even our enemies to be at peace with us.
Verse 15. The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto him.
Though the submission would have been false and flattering—yet the enemies of Israel would have been so humiliated that they would have hastened to make terms with the favored tribes.
Our enemies become abashed and cowardly when we, with resolution, walk carefully with the Lord. It is in God's power to keep the fiercest in check, and he will do so if we have a filial fear, a pious awe of him.
But their time should have endured forever.
The people would have been firmly established, and their prosperity would have been stable. Nothing confirms a state or a church like holiness. If we be firm in obedience, we shall be firm in happiness. Righteousness establishes, sin ruins.
Verse 16. He would have fed them also with the finest of the wheat.
Famine would have been an unknown word, they would have been fed on the best of the best food, and have had abundance of it as their every day diet.
And with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied you.
Luxuries as well as necessities would be forthcoming, the very rocks of the land would yield abundant and sweet supplies; the bees would store the clefts of the rocks with luscious honey, and so turn the most sterile part of the land to good account.
The Lord can do great things for an obedient people. When his people walk in the light of his countenance, and maintain unsullied holiness, the joy and consolation which he yields them are beyond conception. To them the joys of Heaven have begun even upon earth. They can sing in the ways of the Lord. The spring of the eternal summer has commenced with them; they are already blessed, and they look for brighter things. This shows us by contrast how sad a thing it is for a child of God to sell himself into captivity to sin, and bring his soul into a state of famine by following after another God. O Lord, forever bind us to yourself alone, and keep us faithful unto the end.