Treasury of David
TITLE. A Prayer of David.
We have here one of the five psalms entitled Tephillahs or prayers. This psalm consists of praise as well as prayer, but it is in all parts so directly addressed to God that it is most fitly called "a prayer." A prayer is none the less but all the more a prayer because veins of praise run through it. This psalm would seem to have been specially known as David's prayer; even as the ninetieth is "the prayer of Moses." David composed it, and no doubt often expressed himself in similar language; both the matter and the wording are suitable to his varied circumstances and expressive of the different characteristics of his mind. In many respects it resembles Psalm 17:1-15, which bears the same title, but in other aspects it is very different; the prayers of a good man have a family likeness, but they vary as much as they agree. We may learn from the present psalm that the great saints of old were accustomed to pray very much in the same fashion as we do; believers in all ages are of one genus. The name of God occurs very frequently in this psalm, sometimes it is Jehovah, but more commomly Adonai, which it is believed by many learned scholars was written by the Jewish transcribers instead of the sublimer title, because their superstitious dread led them to do so: we, laboring under no such tormenting fear, rejoice in Jehovah, our God. It is singular that those who were so afraid of their God, that they dared not write his name, had yet so little godly fear, that they dared to alter his word.
Verse 1. Bow down your ear, O Lord, hear me.
In condescension to my littleness, and in pity to my weakness, "bow down your ear, O Lord." When our prayers are lowly by reason of our humility, or feeble by reason of our sickness, or without wing by reason of our despondency, the Lord will bow down to them, the infinitely exalted Jehovah will have respect unto them. Faith, when she has the loftiest name of God on her tongue, and calls him Jehovah—yet dares to ask from him the most tender and condescending acts of love. Great as he is he loves his children to be bold with him.
For I am poor and needy.
Doubly a son of poverty, because, first, poor and without supply for my needs, and next needy, and so full of wants, though unable to supply them. Our distress is a forcible reason for our being heard by the Lord God, merciful, and gracious, for misery is ever the master argument with mercy. Such reasoning as this would never be adopted by a proud man, and when we hear it repeated in the public congregation by those great ones of the earth who count the peasantry to be little better than the earth they tread upon, it sounds like a mockery of the Most High. Of all despicable sinners those are the worst who use the language of spiritual poverty while they think themselves to be rich and increased in goods.
Verse 2. Preserve my soul.
Let my life be safe from my enemies, and my spiritual nature be secure from their temptations. He feels himself unsafe except he be covered by the divine protection.
For I am holy.
I am set apart for holy uses, therefore do not let your enemies commit a sacrilege by injuring or defiling me. I am clear of the crimes laid to my charge, and in that sense innocent; therefore, I beseech you, do not allow me to suffer from unjust charges. I am inoffensive, meek, and gentle towards others, therefore deal mercifully with me as I have dealt with my fellow men.
Any of these renderings may explain the text, perhaps all together will expound it best. It is not self-righteous in godly men to plead their innocence as a reason for escaping from the results of sins wrongfully ascribed to them; penitents do not bedaub themselves with mire for the love of it, or make themselves out to be worse than they are out of compliment to Heaven. No, the humblest saint is not a fool, and he is as well aware of the matters wherein he is clear as of those wherein he must cry "peccavi." To plead guilty to offences we have never committed, is as great a lie as the denial of our real faults.
O you my God, save your servant that trusts in you.
Lest any man should suppose that David trusted in his own holiness he immediately declared his trust in the Lord, and begged to be saved as one who was not holy in the sense of being perfect—but was even yet in need of the very elements of salvation. How sweet is that title, "my God", when joined to the other, "your servant"; and how sweet is the hope that on this ground we shall be saved; seeing that our God is not like the Amalekitish master who left his poor sick servant to perish.
Verse 3. Be merciful unto me, O Lord.
The best of men need mercy, and appeal to mercy, yes to nothing else but mercy; they need it for themselves, and crave it eagerly of their God as a personal requisite.
For I cry unto you daily.
Is there not a promise that importunity shall prevail? May we not, then, plead our importunity as an argument with God? He who prays every day, and all the day, for so the word may mean, may rest assured that the Lord will hear him in the day of his need.
If we cried sometimes to man, or other false confidences, we might expect to be referred to them in the hour of our calamity—but if in all former times we have looked to the Lord alone, we may be sure that he will not desert us now.
See how David pleaded, first that he was poor and needy, next that he was the Lord's set apart one, then that he was God's servant and had learned to trust in the Lord, and lastly that he had been taught to pray daily. Surely these are such holy pleadings as any tried believer may employ when wrestling with a prayer hearing God, and with such weapons the most trembling suppliant may hope to win the day.
Verse 4. Rejoice the soul of your servant.
Make my heart glad, O my Maker, for I count it my honor to call myself again and again your servant, and I reckon your favor to be all the wages I could desire. I look for all my happiness in you only, and therefore unto you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. As the heliotrope looks to the sun for its smile, so turn I my heart to you. You are as the brazen serpent to my sick nature, and I lift up my soul's eye to you that I may live. I know that the nearer I am to you the greater is my joy, therefore be pleased to draw me nearer while I am laboring to draw near. It is not easy to lift a soul at all; it needs a strong shoulder at the wheel when a heart sticks in the miry clay of despondency. It is less easy to lift a soul up to the Lord, for the height is great as well as the weight oppressive; but the Lord will take the will for the deed, and come in with a hand of almighty grace to raise his poor servant out of the earth and up to Heaven.
Verse 5. For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive.
Good at giving and forgiving; supplying us with his good, and removing our evil. Here was the great reason why the Psalmist looked to the Lord alone for his joy, because every joy-creating attribute is to be found in perfection in Jehovah alone. Some men who would be considered good are so self-exultingly indignant at the injuries done them by others, that they cannot forgive; but we may rest assured that the better a being is, the more willing he is to forgive, and the best and highest of all is ever ready to blot out the transgressions of his creatures.
And plenteous in mercy unto all those who call upon you.
God does not dispense his mercy from a slender store which perhaps may be so impoverished as to give out altogether—but out of a cornucopia he pours forth the infinite riches of his mercy: his goodness flows forth in abounding streams towards those who pray and in adoring worship make mention of his name. David seems to have stood in the cleft of the rock with Moses, and to have heard the name of the Lord proclaimed even as the great lawgiver did, for in two places in this psalm he almost quotes verbatim the passage in Exodus 34:6, "The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth."
Verse 6. Give ear, O LORD, unto my prayer.
Even the glory which his spirit had beheld did not withdraw him from his prayer—but rather urged him to be more fervent in it; hence he implores the Lord to hear his requests.
Attend to the voice of my supplications.
Here are repetitions—but not vain repetitions. When a child cries it repeats the same note—but it is equally in earnest every time, and so was it with the suppliant here. Note the expression, "the voice of my supplications", as if they were not all voice but were partly made up of inarticulate noise—yet amid much that was superfluous there really was a distinct voice, an inner meaning, a living sense which was the heart's intention. This he would have the Lord sift out from the chaff, and hear amid the mingled din. May our prayers never be voiceless; may the soul's intent always give them a live core of meaning.
Verse 7. In the day of my trouble I will call upon you: for you will answer me.
A pious resolve backed by a judicious reason. It is useless to cry to those who cannot or will not hear; once convince men that prayer has no effect upon God, and they will have no more of it. In these busy days and especially in troublous times, men cannot afford to waste time in entreaties which must be unavailing. Our experience confirms us in the belief that Jehovah the living God really does aid those who call upon him, and therefore we pray and mean to pray, not because we are so fascinated by prayer that for its own sake we would continue in it if it proved to be mere folly and superstition, as vain philosophers assert; but because we really, indeed, and of a truth, find it to be a practical and effectual means of obtaining help from God in the hour of need.
There can be no reason for praying, if there be no expectation of the Lord's answering. Who would make a conscience of pleading with the winds, or find a solace in supplicating the waves? The mercy seat is a mockery if there be no hearing nor answering. David, as the following verses show, believed the Lord to be a living and potent God, and indeed to be "God alone", and it was on that account that he resolved in every hour of trouble to call upon him.
Verse 8. Among the gods there is none like unto you, O Lord.
There are gods by delegated office, such as kings and magistrates—but they are as nothing in the presence of Jehovah; there are also gods by the nomination of superstition—but these are vanity itself, and cannot be compared with the living and true God. Even if the heathen idols were gods, none of them in power or even in character, could be likened unto the self-existent, all-creating God of Israel. If every imaginary deity could start into actual existence, and become really divine—yet would we choose Jehovah to be our God, and reject all others.
Neither are there any works like unto your works.
What have the false gods ever made or unmade? What miracles have they wrought? When did they divide a sea, or march through a wilderness scattering bread from the skies? O Jehovah, in your person and in your works, you are as far above all gods as the heavens are above the nethermost abyss.
Verse 9. All nations whom you have made.
These include all mankind, since they all come of the first Adam—your creature, and their lives are all distinct creations of your omnipotence. All these shall come with penitent hearts, in your own way, to your own self.
And worship before you, O Lord.
Because you are thus above all gods, the people who have been so long deceived shall at last discover your greatness, and shall render you the worship which is your due: you have created them all, and unto you shall they all yield homage. This was David's reason for resorting to the Lord in trouble, for he felt that one day all men would acknowledge the Lord to be the only God.
It makes us content to be in the minority today, when we are sure that the majority will be with us tomorrow, ay, and that the truth will one day be carried unanimously and heartily. David was not a believer in the theory that the world will grow worse and worse, and that the dispensation will wind up with general darkness, and idolatry. Earth's sun is to go down amid tenfold night if some of our prophetic brethren are to be believed. Not so do we expect—but we look for day when the dwellers in all lands shall learn righteousness, shall trust in the Savior, shall worship you alone, O God.
And shall glorify your name.
The modern notion has greatly damped the zeal of the church for missions, and the sooner it is shown to be unscriptural the better for the cause of God. It neither consorts with prophecy, honors God, nor inspires the church with ardor. Far hence be it driven.
Verse 10. For you are great.
He had before said, "you are good"; it is a grand thing when greatness and goodness are united; it is only in the Divine Being that either of them exists absolutely, and essentially. Happy is it for us that they both exist in the Lord to an equal degree. To be great and not good might lead to tyranny in the King; and for him to be good and not great might involve countless calamities upon his subjects from foreign foes, so that either alternative would be terrible; let the two be blended, and we have a monarch in whom the nation may rest and rejoice.
And do wondrous things.
Being good, he is said to be ready to forgive: being great, he works wonders: we may blend the two, for there is no wonder so wonderful as the pardon of our transgressions. All that God does or makes has wonder in it; he breathes, and the wind is mystery; he speaks, and the thunder astounds us; even the commonest daisy is a marvel, and a pebble enshrines wisdom. Only to fools is anything which God has made uninteresting. The world is a world of wonders. Note that the verb do is in the present, the Lord is doing wondrous things, they are transpiring before our eyes. Where are they? Look upon the bursting buds of spring or the maturing fruits of autumn, gaze on the sky or skim the sea, mark the results of providence and the victories of grace, everywhere at all times the great worker of wonders stretches forth his rod of power.
You are God alone.
Alone were you God before your creatures were; alone in godhead still are you now that you have given life to throngs of beings; alone forever shall you be, for none can ever rival you. True religion makes no compromises, it does not admit Baal or Dagon to be a God; it is exclusive and monopolizing, claiming for Jehovah nothing less than all. The vaunted liberality of certain professors of modern thought is not to be cultivated by believers in the truth. "Philosophic breadth" aims at building a Pantheon, and piles a Pandemonium; it is not for us to be helpers in such an evil work. Benevolently intolerant, we would, for the good of mankind, as well as for the glory of God, undeceive mankind as to the value of their compromises—they are mere treason to truth. Our God is not to be worshiped as one among many good and true beings—but as God alone; and his gospel is not to be preached as one of several saving systems—but as the one sole way of salvation. Lies can face each other beneath one common dome; but in the temple of truth the worship is one and indivisible.
Verse 11. Teach me your way, O LORD.
Instruct me thus at all times, let me live in your school; but teach me now especially since I am in trouble and perplexity. Be pleased to show me the way which your wisdom and mercy have prepared for my escape; behold I lay aside all willfulness, and only desire to be informed as to your holy and gracious mind. Not my way give me—but your way teach me, I would follow you and not be willful.
I will walk in your truth.
When taught I will practice what I know, truth shall not be a mere doctrine or sentiment to me—but a matter of daily life. The true servant of God regulates his walk by his master's will, and hence he never walks deceitfully, for God's way is ever truth. Providence has a way for us, and it is our wisdom to keep in it. We must not be as the bullock which needs to be driven and urged forward because it likes not the road—but be as men who voluntarily go where their trusted friend and helper appoints their path.
Unite my heart to fear your name.
Having taught me one way, give me one heart to walk therein, for too often I feel a heart and a heart, two natures contending, two principles struggling for sovereignty.
Our minds are apt to be divided between a variety of objects, like trickling streamlets which waste their force in a hundred runnels; our great desire should be to have all our life floods poured into one channel and to have that channel directed towards the Lord alone. A man of divided heart is weak, the man of one object is the man. God who created the bands of our nature can draw them together, tighten, strengthen, and fasten them, and so braced and inwardly knit by his uniting grace, we shall be powerful for good—but not otherwise.
To fear God is both the beginning, the growth, and the maturity of wisdom, therefore should we be undividedly given up to it, heart, and soul.
Verse 12. I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart.
When my heart is one, I will give you all of it. Praise should never be rendered with less than all our heart, and soul, and strength, or it will be both unreal and unacceptable.
This is the second time in the psalm that David calls the Lord "my God", the first time he was in an agony of prayer (Psalm 86:2), and now he is in an ecstasy of praise. If anything can make a man pray and praise, it is the knowledge into that the Lord is his God.
And I will glorify your name for evermore.
Into eternity gratitude will prolong its praise. God has never done blessing us, let us never have done blessing him. As he ever gives us grace, let us ever render to him the glory of it.
Verse 13. For great is your mercy toward me.
Personal experience is ever the master singer. Whatever you are to others, to me your mercy is most notable. The psalmist claims to sing among the loudest, because his debt to divine mercy is among the greatest.
And you have delivered my soul from the lowest Hell.
From the direst death and the deepest dishonor David had been kept by God, for his enemies would have done more than send him to Hell had they been able. His sense of sin also made him feel as if the most overwhelming destruction would have been his portion had not grace prevented, therefore does he speak of deliverance from the nethermost abode of lost spirits. There are some alive now who can use this language sincerely, and he who pens these lines most humbly confesses that he is one. Left to myself to indulge my passions, to rush onward with my natural vehemence, and defy the Lord with recklessness of levity, what a candidate for the lowest abyss should I have made myself by this time. For me, there was but one alternative, great mercy—or the lowest Hell. With my whole heart do I sing, "Great is your mercy towards me, and you have delivered my soul from the lowest Hell." The psalmist here again touches a bold and joyful note—but soon he exchanges it for the mournful string.
Verse 14. O God, the proud are risen against me.
They could not let God's poor servant alone, his walk with God was as smoke to their eyes, and therefore they determined to destroy him. None hate godly men so fiercely as do the high minded and domineering.
And the assemblies of violent men have sought after my soul.
Unitedly oppressors sought the good man's life; they hunted in packs, with keen scent, and eager foot. In persecuting times many a saint has used these words in reference to Papal bishops and inquisitors.
And have not set you before them.
They would not have molested the servant if they had cared one whit for the master. Those who fear not God are not afraid to commit violent and cruel acts. An atheist is a misanthrope. Irreligion is akin to inhumanity.
Verse 15. But you, O Lord.
What a contrast! We get away from the hectorings and blusterings of proud but puny men, to the glory and goodness of the Lord. We turn from the boisterous foam of chafing waves to the sea of glass mingled with fire, calm and serene.
Are a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.
A truly glorious doxology, in which there is not one redundant word. As we have before observed, it is mainly transcribed from Exodus 34:6. Here is compassion for the weak and sorrowing, grace for the undeserving, longsuffering for the provoking, mercy for the guilty, and truth for the tried. God's love assumes many forms, and is lovely in them all. Into whatever state we may be cast, there is a peculiar hue in the light of love which will harmonize with our condition; love is one and yet sevenfold, its white ray contains the chromatic scale.
Are we sorrowful? We find the Lord full of compassion.
Are we contending with temptation? His grace comes to our aid.
Do we err? He is patient with us.
Have we sinned? He is plenteous in mercy.
Are we resting on his promise? He will fulfill it with abundant truth.
Verse 16. O turn unto me.
As though the face of God had been before averted in anger, the suppliant pleads for a return of conscious favor. One turn of God's face will turn all our darkness into day.
And have mercy upon me.
That is all he asks, for he is lowly in heart; that is all he wants, for mercy answers all a sinner's needs.
Give your strength unto your servant.
Gird me with it that I may serve you, guard me with it that I may not be overcome. When the Lord gives us his own strength we are sufficient for all emergencies, and have no cause to fear any adversaries.
And save the son of your handmaid.
He meant that he was a home born servant of God. As the sons of slaves were their master's property by their birth, so he gloried in being the son of a woman who herself belonged to the Lord. What others might think a degrading illustration he uses with delight, to show how intensely he loved the Lord's service; and also as a reason why the Lord should interpose to rescue him, seeing that he was no newly purchased servant—but had been in the house from his very birth.
Verse 17. Show to me a token for good.
Let me be assured of your mercy by being delivered out of trouble.
That they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed.
"Some token of your favor show,
Some sign which all my foes may see;
And filled with blank confusion know,
My comfort and my help in Thee."
What bodes good to me shall make them quail and blush. Disappointed and defeated, the foes of the good man would feel ashamed of what they had designed.
Because you, LORD, have helped me, and comforted me.
God does nothing by halves, those whom he helps he also consoles, and so makes them not merely safe but joyful. This makes the foes of the righteous exceedingly displeased—but it brings to the Lord double honor. Lord, deal you thus with us evermore, so will we glorify you, world without end. Amen.