Treasury of David
OBJECT AND OCCASION. It is the prayer of a patriot for his afflicted country, in which he pleads the Lord's former mercies, and by faith foresees brighter days. We believe that David wrote it, but many question that assertion. Certain interpreters appear to grudge the psalmist David the authorship of any of the psalms, and refer the sacred songs by wholesale to the times of Hezekiah, Josiah, the Captivity, and the Maccabees. It is remarkable that, as a rule, the more skeptical a writer is, the more resolute is he to have done with David; while the purely evangelic annotators are for the most part content to leave the royal poet in the chair of authorship. The charms of a new theory also operate greatly upon writers who would have nothing at all to say if they did not invent a novel hypothesis, and twist the language of the psalm in order to justify it. The present psalm has of course been referred to the Captivity, the critics could not resist the temptation to do that, though, for our part we see no need to do so: it is true a captivity is mentioned in Ps 85:1, but that does not necessitate the nation's having been carried away into exile, since Job's captivity was turned, and yet he had never left his native land: moreover, the text speaks of the captivity of Jacob as brought back, but had it referred to the Babylonian emigration, it would have spoken of Judah; for Jacob or Israel, as such, did not return. The first verse in speaking of "the land" proves that the author was not an exile. Our own belief is that David penned this national hymn when the land was oppressed by the Philistines, and in the spirit of prophecy he foretold the peaceful years of his own reign and the repose of the rule of Solomon, the psalm having all along an inner sense of which Jesus and his salvation are the key. The presence of Jesus the Savior reconciles earth and Heaven, and secures to us the golden age, the balmy days of universal peace.
Verse 1. LORD, you have been favorable unto your land.
The self existent, all-sufficient JEHOVAH is addressed: by that name he revealed himself to Moses when his people were in bondage, by that name he is here pleaded with. It is wise to dwell upon that view of the divine character which arouses the sweetest memories of his love. Sweeter still is that dear name of "Our Father," with which Christians have learned to commence their prayers.
The psalmist speaks of Canaan as the Lord's land, for he chose it for his people, conveyed it to them by covenant, conquered it by his power, and dwelt in it in mercy; it was fit therefore that he should smile upon a land so peculiarly his own. It is most wise to plead the Lord's union of interest with ourselves, to lash our little boat as it were close to his great barque, and experience a sacred community in the tossings of the storm.
It is our land that is devastated—but O Jehovah, it is also your land. The psalmist dwells upon the Lord's favor to the chosen land, which he had showed in a thousand ways. God's past doings are prophetic of what he will do; hence the encouraging argument, "You have been favorable unto your land," therefore deal graciously with it again. Many a time had foes been baffled, pestilence stayed, famine averted, and deliverance given, because of the Lord's favor; that same favorable regard is therefore again invoked. With an immutable God this is powerful reasoning; it is because he changes not that we are not consumed, and know we never shall be if he has once been favorable to us.
From this example of prayer let us learn how to order our cause before God. It is clear that Israel was not in exile, or the prayer before us would not have referred to the land but to the nation.
You have brought back the captivity of Jacob.
When down trodden and oppressed through their sins, the Ever merciful One had looked upon them, changed their sad condition, chased away the invaders, and given to his people rest: this he had done not once, nor twice—but times without number. Many a time have we also been brought into soul captivity by our backslidings—but we have not been left therein; the God who brought Jacob back from Padanaram to his father's house, has restored us to the enjoyment of holy fellowship. Will he not do the like again? Let us appeal to him with Jacob-like wrestlings, beseeching him to be favorable, or sovereignly gracious to us notwithstanding all our provocations of his love. Let declining churches remember their former history, and with holy confidence plead with the Lord to turn their captivity yet again.
Verse 2. You have forgiven the iniquity of your people.
Often and often had he done this, pausing to pardon even when his sword was bared to punish. Who is a pardoning God like you, O Jehovah? Who is so slow to anger, so ready to forgive? Every believer in Jesus enjoys the blessing of pardoned sin, and he should regard this priceless blessing as the pledge of all other needful mercies. He should plead it with God: "Lord, have you pardoned me, and will you let me perish for lack of grace, or fall into my enemies' hands for want of help. You will not thus leave your work unfinished."
You have covered all their sin.
All of it, every spot, and wrinkle, the veil of love has covered all. Sin has been divinely put out of sight. Hiding it beneath the propitiatory, covering it with the sea of the atonement, blotting it out, making it to cease to be, the Lord has put it so completely away that even his omniscient eye sees it no more. What a miracle is this! To cover up the sun would be easy work compared with the covering up of sin. Not without a covering atonement is sin removed—but by means of the great sacrifice of our Lord Jesus, it is most effectually put away by one act, forever. What a covering does his blood afford!
Verse 3. You have taken away all your wrath.
Having removed the sin, the anger is removed also. How often did the longsuffering of God take away from Israel the punishments which had been justly laid upon them! How often also has the Lord's chastising hand been removed from us when our waywardness called for heavier strokes!
You have turned yourself from the fierceness of your anger.
Even when judgments had been most severe, the Lord had in mercy stayed his hand. In mid-volley he had restrained his thunder. When ready to destroy, he had averted his face from his purpose of judgment and allowed mercy to interpose. The book of Judges is full of illustrations of this, and the psalmist does well to quote them while he interceded. Is not our experience equally studded with instances in which judgment has been stayed and tenderness has ruled? What a difference between the fierce anger which is feared and deprecated here, and the speaking of peace which is foretold in verse 8. There are many changes in Christian experience, and therefore we must not despair when we are undergoing the drearier portion of the spiritual life, for soon, very soon, it may be transformed into gladness.
"The Lord can clear the darkest skies,
Can give us day for night.
Make drops of sacred sorrow rise
To rivers of delight."
Verse 4. Turn us, O God of our salvation.
This was the main business. Could the erring tribes be rendered penitent all would be well. It is not that God needs turning from his anger, so much as that we need turning from our sin; here is the hinge of the whole matter. Our trials frequently arise out of our sins, they will not go until the sins go. We need to be turned from our sins—but only God can turn us: God the Savior must put his hand to the work: it is indeed a main part of our salvation. Conversion is the dawn of salvation. To turn a heart to God is as difficult as to make the world revolve upon its axis. Yet when a man learns to pray for conversion there is hope for him, he who turns to prayer is beginning to turn from sin. It is a very blessed sight to see a whole people turn unto their God; may the Lord so send forth his converting grace on our land that we may live to see the people flocking to the loving worship of God as the doves to their cotes.
And cause your anger toward us to cease.
Make an end of it. Let it no longer burn. When sinners cease to rebel, the Lord ceases to be angry with them. When they return to him he returns to them; yes, he is first in the reconciliation, and turns them when otherwise they would never turn of themselves. May all those who are now enduring the hidings of Jehovah's face seek with deep earnestness to be turned anew unto the Lord, for so shall all their despondencies come to an end.
Thus the sweet singer asks for his nation priceless blessings, and quotes the best of arguments. Because the God of Israel has been so rich in favor in bygone years, therefore he is entreated to reform and restore his backsliding nation.
Verse 5. Will you be angry with us forever?
See how the psalmist makes bold to plead. We are in time as yet and not in eternity, and does not time come to an end, and therefore your wrath! Will you be angry always as if it were eternity? Is there no boundary to your indignation? Will your wrath never have done? And if forever angry—yet will you be angry with us, your favored people, the seed of Abraham, your friend? That our enemies should be always angry is natural—but will you, our God, be always incensed against us? Every word is an argument. Men is distress never waste words.
Will you draw out your anger to all generations?
Shall sons suffer for their father's faults, and punishment become an entailed inheritance? O merciful God, have you a mind to spin out your anger, and make it as long as the ages? Cease, as you have ceased aforetime, and let grace reign as it has done in days of yore. When we are under spiritual desertion we may beg in the like manner that the days of tribulation may be shortened, lest our spirit should utterly fail beneath the trial.
Verse 6. Will you not revive us again?
Hope here grows almost confident. She feels sure that the Lord will return in all his power to save. We are dead or dying, faint and feeble—God alone can revive us, he has in other times refreshed his people, he is still the same, he will repeat his love. Will he not? Why should he not? We appeal to him—Will you not?
That your people may rejoice in you.
You love to see your children happy with that best of happiness which centers in yourself, therefore revive us, for revival will bring us the utmost joy. The words before us teach us that gratitude has an eye to the giver, even beyond the gift—your people may rejoice in you. Those who were revived would rejoice not only in the new life but in the Lord who was the author of it.
Joy in the Lord is the ripest fruit of grace, all revivals and renewals lead up to it. By our possession of it we may estimate our spiritual condition, it is a sure gauge of inward prosperity. A genuine revival without joy in the Lord is as impossible as spring without flowers, or day-dawn without light. If, either in our own souls or in the hearts of others, we see declension, it becomes us to be much in the use of this prayer, and if on the other hand we are enjoying visitations of the Spirit and bedewings of grace, let us abound in holy joy and make it our constant delight to joy in God.
Verse 7. Show us your mercy, O LORD.
Reveal it to our poor half blinded eyes. We cannot see it or believe it by reason of our long woes—but you can make it plain to us. Others have beheld it, Lord show it to us. We have seen your anger, Lord let us see your mercy. Your prophets have told us of it—but O Lord, display it in this our hour of need.
And grant us your salvation.
This includes deliverance from the sin as well as the chastisement, it reaches from the depth of their misery to the height of divine love. God's salvation is perfect in kind, comprehensive in extent, and eminent in degree; grant us this, O Lord, and we have all.
Having offered earnest intercession for the afflicted but penitent nation, the sacred poet in the true spirit of faith awaits a response from the sacred oracle. He pauses in joyful confidence, and then in ecstatic triumph he give utterance to his hopes in the richest form of song.
Verse 8. I will hear what God the LORD will speak.
When we believe that God hears us, it is but natural that we should be eager to hear him. Only from him can come the word which can speak peace to troubled spirits; the voices of men are feeble in such a case, a plaster far too narrow for the sore; but God's voice is power, he speaks and it is done, and hence when we hear him our distress is ended. Happy is the suppliant who has grace to lie patiently at the Lord's door, and wait until his love shall act according to its accustomed way, and chase all sorrow far away.
For he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints.
Even though for a while his voice is stern with merited rebuke, he will not always chide, the Great Father will reassume his natural tone of gentleness and pity. The speaking of peace is the peculiar prerogative of the Lord Jehovah, and deep, lasting, ay, eternal, is the peace he thus creates. Yet not to all does the divine word bring peace—but only to his own people, whom he means to make saints, and those whom he has already made so.
But let them not turn again to folly.
For if they do so, his rod will fall upon them again, and their peace will be invaded. Those who would enjoy communion with God must be jealous of themselves, and avoid all that would grieve the Holy Spirit; not only the grosser sins—but even the follies of life must be guarded against by those who are favored with the delights of conscious fellowship. We serve a jealous God, and must needs therefore be incessantly vigilant against evil. Backsliders should study this verse with the utmost care, it will console them and yet warn them, draw them back to their allegiance, and at the same time inspire them with a wholesome fear of going further astray. To turn again to folly is worse than being foolish once; it argues wilfulness and obstinacy, and it involves the soul in sevenfold sin. There is no fool like the man who will be a fool cost him what it may.
Verse 9. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him.
Faith knows that a saving God is always near at hand—but only (for such is the true rendering) to those who fear the Lord, and worship him with holy awe. In the gospel dispensation this truth is conspicuously illustrated. If to seeking sinners salvation is near, it is assuredly very near to those who have once enjoyed it, and have lost its present enjoyment by their folly; they have but to turn unto the Lord and they shall enjoy it again. We have not to go about by a long round of personal mortifications or spiritual preparations; we may come to the Lord, through Jesus Christ, just as we did at the first, and he will again receive us into his loving embrace. Whether it be a nation under adversity, or a single individual under chastisement, the sweet truth before us is rich with encouragement to repentance, and renewed holiness.
That glory may dwell in our land.
The object of the return of grace will be a permanent establishment of a better state of things, so that gloriously devout worship shall be rendered to God continuously, and a glorious measure of prosperity shall be enjoyed in consequence.
Israel was glorious whenever she was faithful—her dishonor always followed her disloyalty; believers also live glorious lives when they walk obediently, and they only lose the true glory of their religion when they fall from their steadfastness.
In these two verses we have, beneath the veil of the letter, an intimation of the coming of THE WORD OF GOD to the nations in times of deep apostasy and trouble, when faithful hearts would be looking and longing for the promise which had so long tarried. By his coming salvation is brought near, and glory, even the glory of the presence of the Lord, tabernacles among men. Of this the following verses speak without obscurity.
Verse 10. Mercy and truth are met together.
In answer to prayer, the exulting psalmist sees the attributes of God confederating to bless the once afflicted nation. Mercy comes hand in hand with Truth to fulfill the faithful promise of their gracious God; the people recognize at once the grace and the veracity of Jehovah, he is to them neither a tyrant nor a deceiver.
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
The Lord whose just severity inflicted the smart—now in pity sends peace to bind up the wound. The people being now made willing to forsake their sins, and to follow after righteousness, find peace granted to them at once. "The war drum throbbed no longer, and the battle flags were furled;" for idolatry was forsaken, and Jehovah was adored.
This appears to be the immediate and primary meaning of these verses; but the inner sense is Christ Jesus, the reconciling Word. In him, the attributes of God unite in glad unanimity in the salvation of guilty men, they meet and embrace in such a manner as else were inconceivable either to our just fears or to our enlightened hopes. God is as true as if he had fulfilled every letter of his threatenings, as righteous as if he had never spoken peace to a sinner's conscience; his love in undiminished splendor shines forth—but no other of his ever blessed characteristics is eclipsed thereby.
It is the custom of modern skeptics to make sport of this representation of the result of our Lord's substitutionary atonement; but had they ever been themselves made to feel the weight of sin upon a spiritually awakened conscience, they would cease from their vain ridicule. Their doctrine of atonement has well been described by Dr. Duncan as the admission "that the Lord Jesus Christ did something or other, which somehow or other, was in some way or other connected with man's salvation." This is their substitute for substitution.
Our facts are infinitely superior to their dreams, and yet they sneer. It is but natural, that natural men should do so. We cannot expect animals to set much store by the discoveries of science, neither can we hope to see unspiritual men rightly estimate the solution of spiritual problems—they are far above and out of their sight. Meanwhile it remains for those who rejoice in the great reconciliation, to continue both to wonder and adore.
Verse 11. Truth shall spring out of the earth.
Promises which lie unfulfilled, like buried seeds, shall spring up and yield harvests of joy; and men renewed by grace shall learn to be true to one another and their God, and abhor the falsehood which they loved before.
And righteousness shall look down from Heaven.
As if it threw up the windows and leaned out to gaze upon a penitent people, whom it could not have looked upon before without an indignation which would have been fatal to them. This is a delicious scene. Earth yielding flowers of truth, and Heaven shining with stars of holiness; the spheres echoing to each other, or being mirrors of each other's beauties. "Earth carpeted with truth and canopied with righteousness," shall be a nether Heaven. When God looks down in grace, man sends his heart upward in obedience.
The person of our adorable Lord Jesus Christ explains this verse most sweetly. In Him truth is found in our humanity, and his deity brings divine righteousness among us. His Spirit's work even now creates a hallowed harmony between his church below, and the sovereign righteousness above; and in the latter day, earth shall be universally adorned with every precious virtue, and Heaven shall hold intimate fellowship with it. There is a world of meaning in these verses, only needing meditation to draw it out. Reader, "the well is deep," but if you have the Spirit, it cannot be said, that "you have nothing to draw with."
Verse 12. Yes, the LORD shall give that which is good.
Being himself pure goodness, he will readily return from his wrath, and deal out good things to his repenting people. Our evil brings evil upon us—but when we are brought back to follow that which is good, the Lord abundantly enriches us with good things. Material good will always be bestowed where it can be enjoyed in consistency with spiritual good.
And our land shall yield her increase.
The curse of barrenness will fly with the curse of sin. When the people yielded what was due to God, the soil would recompense their husbandry. See at this day what sin has done for Palestine, making her gardens a wilderness; her wastes are the scars of her iniquities: nothing but repentance and divine forgiveness will reclaim her desolations. The whole world also shall be bright with the same blessing in the days yet to come.
Verse 13. Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.
God's march of right will leave a track wherein his people will joyfully follow. He who smote in justice will also bless in justice, and in both will make his righteousness manifest, so as to affect the hearts and lives of all his people. Such are the blessings of our Lord's first advent, and such shall be yet more conspicuously the result of his second coming. Even so, come Lord Jesus.