Treasury of David
TITLE AND SUBJECT. To the Chief Musician upon Gittith. A Psalm for the sons of Korah.
This Psalm well deserved to be committed to the noblest of the sons of song. No music could be too sweet for its theme, or too exquisite in sound to match the beauty of its language. Sweeter than the joy of the wine press, (for that is said to be the meaning of the word rendered upon Gittith), is the joy of the holy assemblies of the Lord's house; not even the favored children of grace, who are like the sons of Korah, can have a richer subject for song than Zion's sacred festivals.
It matters little when this Psalm was written, or by whom; for our part it exhales to us a Davidic perfume, it smells of the mountain heather and the lone places of the wilderness, where King David must have often lodged during his many wars. This sacred ode is one of the choicest of the collection; it has a mild radiance about it, entitling it to be called The Pearl of Psalms. If the twenty-third be the most popular, the one-hundred- and-third the most joyful, the one-hundred-and-nineteenth the most deeply experimental, the fifty-first the most plaintive, this is one of the most sweet of the Psalms of peace.
Pilgrimages to the tabernacle were a great feature of Jewish life. In our own country, pilgrimages to the shrine of Thomas of Canterbury, and our Ladye of Walsingham, were so general as to affect the entire population, cause the formation of roads, the erection and maintenance of hostelries, and the creation of a special literature; this may help us to understand the influence of pilgrimage upon the ancient Israelites. Families journeyed together, making bands which grew at each halting place; they camped in sunny glades, sang in unison along the roads, toiled together over the hill and through the slough, and as they went along, stored up happy memories which would never be forgotten. One who was debarred the holy company of the pilgrims, and the devout worship of the congregation, would find in this Psalm fit expression for his mournful spirit.
Verse 1. "How amiable"
Or, How lovely! He does not tell us how lovely they were, because he could not. His expressions show us that his feelings were inexpressible. Lovely to the memory, to the mind, to the heart, to the eye, to the whole soul, are the assemblies of the saints. Earth contains no sight so refreshing to us as the gathering of believers for worship. Those are sorry saints who see nothing amiable in the services of the Lord's house.
"Are your tabernacles."
The tabernacle had been pitched in several places, and, moreover, was divided into several courts and portions; hence, probably, the plural number is here used. It was all and altogether lovely to David. Outer court, or inner court, he loved every portion of it. Every cord and curtain was dear to him. Even when at a distance, he rejoiced to remember the sacred tent where Jehovah revealed himself, and he cried out with exultation while he pictured in fond imagination its sacred services, and solemn rites, as he had seen them in bygone times.
Because they are your tabernacles, "O Lord Almighty," therefore are they so dear to your people. Your pavilion is the center of the camp, around which all your creatures gather, and towards which their eyes are turned, as armies look to the tent of the king. You rule all the companies of creatures with such goodness, that all their hosts rejoice in your dwelling-place, and the bands of your saints especially hail you with joyful loyalty as Jehovah Almighty.
Verse 2. My soul longs, it pines, and faints to meet with the saints in the Lord's house.
The desire was deep and insatiable—the very soul of the man was yearning for his God.
Yes, even faints
As though it could not long hold out—but was exhausted with delay. He had a holy lovesickness upon him, and was wasted with an inward consumption because he was debarred the worship of the Lord in the appointed place.
For the courts of the Lord.
To stand once again in those areas which were dedicated to holy adoration was the soul longing of the psalmist. True subjects love the courts of their king.
My heart and my flesh cries out for the living God.
It was God himself that he pined for, the only living and true God. His whole nature entered into his longing. Even the clay cold flesh grew warm through the intense action of his fervent spirit. Seldom, indeed, does the flesh incline in the right direction—but in the matter of Sabbath services our weary body sometimes comes to the assistance of our longing heart, for it desires the physical rest as much as the soul desires the spiritual repose.
The psalmist declared that he could not remain silent in his desires—but began to cry out for God and his house; he wept, he sighed, he pleaded for the privilege. Some need to be whipped to church, while here is David crying for it. He needed no clatter of bells from the belfry to ring him in, he carried his bell in his own bosom—holy appetite is a better call to worship than a full chime.
Verse 3. Yes, the sparrow has found a house.
He envied the sparrows which lived around the house of God, and picked up the stray crumbs in the courts thereof; he only wished that he, too, could frequent the solemn assemblies and bear away a little of the heavenly food.
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young.
He envied also the swallows whose nests were built under the eaves of the priest's houses, who there found a place for their young, as well as for themselves.
We rejoice not only in our personal religious opportunities—but in the great blessing of taking our children with us to the sanctuary. The church of God is a house for us and a nest for our little ones.
Even your altars, O Lord Almighty.
To the very altars these free birds drew near, none could restrain them nor would have wished to do so, and David wished to come and go as freely as they did. Mark how he repeats the blessed name of Jehovah Almighty; he found in it a sweetness which helped him to bear his inward hunger. Probably David himself was with the host, and, therefore, he dwelt with emphasis upon the title which taught him that the Lord was in the tented field as well as within the holy curtains.
My King and my God.
Here he utters his loyalty from afar. If he may not tread the courts—yet he loves the King. If an exile, he is not a rebel. When we cannot occupy a seat in God's house, he shall have a seat in our memories and a throne in our hearts. The double "my" is very precious; he lays hold upon his God with both his hands, as one resolved not to let him go until the favor requested be at length accorded.
Verse 4. Blessed are those who dwell in your house.
Those he esteems to be highly favored who are constantly engaged in divine worship. To come and go is refreshing—but to abide in the place of prayer must be Heaven below. To be the guests of God, enjoying the hospitalities of Heaven, set apart for holy work, screened from a noisy world, and familiar with sacred things—why this is surely the choicest heritage a man can possess.
They will be still praising you.
So near to God, their very life must be adoration. Surely their hearts and tongues never cease from magnifying the Lord. We fear David here drew rather a picture of what should be than of what is; for those occupied daily with the offices needful for public worship are not always among the most devout; on the contrary, "the nearer the church, the further from God." Yet in a spiritual sense this is most true, for those children of God who in spirit abide even in his house, are also ever full of the praises of God. Communion is the mother of adoration. They fail to praise the Lord who wander far from him—but those who dwell in him are always magnifying him.
In such an occupation as this we might be content to remain forever. It is worth while to pause and meditate upon the prospect of dwelling with God and praising him throughout eternity.
Verse 5. Blessed is the man whose strength is in you.
Having spoken of the blessedness of those who reside in the house of God, he now speaks of those who are favored to visit it at appointed seasons, going upon pilgrimage with their devout brethren. He is not, however, indiscriminate in his eulogy—but speaks only of those who heartily attend to the sacred festivals. The blessedness of sacred worship belongs not to half hearted, listless worshipers—but to those who throw all their energies into it. Neither prayer, nor praise, nor the hearing of the word will be pleasant or profitable to persons who have left their hearts behind them. A company of pilgrims who had left their hearts at home would be no better than a caravan of carcasses, quite unfit to blend with living saints in adoring the living God.
In whose heart are your ways.
Those who love the ways of God are blessed. When we have God's ways in our hearts, and our heart in his ways, we are what and where we should be, and hence we shall enjoy the divine approval.
Verse 6. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well. Traversing joyfully the road to the great assembly, the happy pilgrims found refreshment even in the dreariest part of the road. As around a well men meet and converse cheerfully, being refreshed after their journey, so even in the valley of tears, or any other dreary glen, the pilgrims to the skies find sweet solace in brotherly communion and in anticipation of the general assembly above, with its joys unspeakable. Probably there is here a local allusion, which will never now be deciphered—but the general meaning is clear enough. There are joys of pilgrimage which make men forget the discomforts of the road.
The rain also fills the pools.
God gives to his people the supplies they need while traversing the roads which he points out for them. Where there were no natural supplies from below, the pilgrims found an abundant compensation in waters from above, and so also shall all the sacramental host of God's elect. Ways, which otherwise would have been deserted from want of accommodation, were made into highways abundantly furnished for the travelers' wants, because the great annual pilgrimages led in that direction. Even so, Christian converse and the joy of united worship makes many duties easy and delightful which else had been difficult and painful.
Verse 7. They go from strength to strength.
So far from being wearied they gather strength as they proceed. Each individual becomes happier, each company becomes more numerous, each holy song more sweet and full. We grow as we advance, if Heaven be our goal. If we spend our strength in God's ways we shall find it increase.
Every one of them in Zion appears before God.
This was the end of the pilgrim's march, the center where all met, the delight of all hearts. Not merely to be in the assembly—but to appear before God was the object of each devout Israelite. Would to God it were the sincere desire of all who in these days mingle in our religious gatherings. Unless we realize the presence of God we have done nothing; the mere gathering together is worth nothing.
Verse 8. O Lord God Almighty, hear my prayer.
Allow me to go up to your house, or if I may not do so—yet let my cry be heard. You listen to the united supplications of your saints—but do not shut out my solitary petition, unworthy though I be.
Give ear, O God of Jacob.
Though Jehovah Almighty, you are also the covenant God of solitary pleaders like Jacob; regard you, then, my plaintive supplication. I wrestle here alone with you, while the company of your people have gone on before me to happier scenes. I beseech you bless me; for I am resolved to hold you until you speak the word of grace into my soul. The repetition of the request for an answer to his prayer denotes his eagerness for a blessing. What a mercy it is that if we cannot gather with the saints, we can still speak to their Master.
A pause was needed after a cry so vehement, a prayer so earnest.
Verse 9. Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of your anointed.
Here we have the nation's prayer for David; and the believer's prayer for the Son of David. Let but the Lord look upon our Lord Jesus, and we shall be shielded from all harm; let him behold the face of his Anointed, and we shall be able to behold his face with joy. We also are anointed by the Lord's grace, and our desire is that he will look upon us with an eye of love in Christ Jesus. Our best prayers when we are in the best place are for our glorious King, and for the enjoyment of his Father's smile.
Verse 10. For a day in your courts is better than a thousand.
Of course the psalmist means a thousand days spent elsewhere. Under the most favorable circumstances in which earth's pleasures can be enjoyed, they are not comparable by so much as one in a thousand to the delights of the service of God. To feel his love, to rejoice in the person of the anointed Savior, to survey the promises and feel the power of the Holy Spirit in applying precious truth to the soul, is a joy which worldlings cannot understand—but which true believers are ravished with. Even a glimpse at the love of God, is better than ages spent in the pleasures of sense.
I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
The lowest station in connection with the Lord's house is better than the highest position among the godless. Only to wait at his threshold and peep within, so as to see Jesus, is bliss.
To bear burdens and open doors for the Lord is more honor than to reign among the wicked. Every man has his choice, and this is ours. God's worst is better than the devil's best. God's doorstep is a happier rest than downy couches within the pavilions of royal sinners, though we might lie there for a lifetime of luxury.
Note how he calls the tabernacle the house of my God; there's where the sweetness lies: if Jehovah be our God, his house, his altars, his doorstep, all become precious to us. We know by experience that where Jesus is within, the outside of the house is better than the noblest chambers where the Son of God is not to be found.
Verse 11. For the Lord God is a sun and shield.
Pilgrims need both as the weather may be, for the cold would smite them were it not for the sun, and foes are apt to waylay the sacred caravan, and would haply destroy it if it were without a shield. Heavenly pilgrims are not left uncomforted or unprotected. The pilgrim nation found both sun and shield in that fiery cloudy pillar which was the symbol of Jehovah's presence, and the Christian still finds both light and shelter in the Lord his God. A sun for happy days and a shield for dangerous ones. A sun above, a shield around. A light to show the way and a shield to ward off its perils. Blessed are they who journey with such a convoy; the sunny and shady side of life are alike happy to them.
The Lord will give grace and glory.
Both in due time, both as needed, both to the full, both with absolute certainty. The Lord has both grace and glory in infinite abundance; Jesus is the fullness of both, and, as his chosen people, we shall receive both as a free gift from the God of our salvation. What more can the Lord give, or we receive, or desire.
No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
Grace makes us walk uprightly and this secures every covenant blessing to us. What a wide promise! Some apparent good may be withheld—but no real good, no, not one. "All things are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's." God has all good, there is no good apart from him, and there is no good which he either needs to keep back or will on any account refuse us, if we are but ready to receive it. We must be upright and neither lean to this or that form of evil: and this uprightness must be practical—we must walk in truth and holiness, then shall we be heirs of all things, and as we come of age all things shall be in our actual possession; and meanwhile, according to our capacity for receiving shall be the measure of the divine bestowal. This is true, not of a favored few—but of all the saints for evermore.
Verse 12. O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man that trusts in you.
Here is the key of the Psalm. The worship is that of faith, and the blessedness is peculiar to believers. No formal worshiper can enter into this secret. A man must know the Lord by the life of real faith, or he can have no true rejoicing in the Lord's worship, his house, his Son, or his ways. Dear reader, how fares it with your soul?