Treasury of David
TITLE. A Psalm or Song for the Sabbath day.
This admirable composition is both a Psalm and a Song, full of equal measures of solemnity and joy; and it was intended to be sung upon the day of rest. The subject is the praise of God; praise is Sabbatic work, the joyful occupation of resting hearts. Since a true Sabbath can only be found in God, it is wise to meditate upon him on the Sabbath day. The style is worthy of the theme and of the day, its inspiration is from the "fount of every blessing"; David spoke as the Spirit gave him utterance. In the church of Christ, at this hour, no Psalm is more frequently sung upon the Lord's day than the present.
The Sabbath was set apart for adoring the Lord in his finished work of creation, hence the suitableness of this Psalm; Christians may take even a higher flight, for they celebrate complete redemption. No one acquainted with David's style will hesitate to ascribe to him the authorship of this divine hymn; the ravings of the Rabbis who speak of its being composed by Adam, only need to be mentioned to be dismissed. Adam in Paradise had neither harps to play upon, nor wicked men to contend with.
Verse 1. It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.
It is good ethically, for it is the Lord's right.
It is good emotionally, for it is pleasant to the heart.
It is good practically, for it leads others to render the same homage. When duty and pleasure combine, who will not act? To give thanks to God is but a small return for the great benefits with which he daily loads us; yet as he by his Spirit calls it a good thing we must not despise it, or neglect it.
We thank men when they oblige us, how much more ought we to bless the Lord when he benefits us. Devout praise is always good, it is never out of season, never superfluous—but it is especially suitable to the Sabbath; a Sabbath without thanksgiving is a Sabbath profaned.
And to sing praises unto your name, O most High.
It is good to give thanks in the form of vocal song. Nature itself teaches us thus to express our gratitude to God; do not the birds sing, and the brooks warble as they flow? To give his gratitude a tongue is wise in man. Silent worship is sweet—but vocal worship is sweeter. To deny the tongue the privilege of uttering the praises of God involves an unnatural strain upon the most commendable prompting of our renewed manhood. It is a problem to us how the members of the Society of Friends can deprive themselves of so noble, so natural, so inspiring a part of sacred worship. Good as they are, they miss one good thing when they decline to sing praises unto the name of the Lord. Our personal experience has confirmed us in the belief that it is good to sing unto the Lord. We have often felt like Luther when he said, "Come, let us sing a psalm, and drive away the devil."
Verse 2. To show forth your loving kindness in the morning.
The day should begin with praise: no hour is too early for holy song. Loving kindness is a most appropriate theme for those dewy hours when morn is sowing all the earth with orient pearl. Eagerly and promptly should we magnify the Lord; we leave unpleasant tasks as long as we can—but our hearts are so engrossed with the adoration of God that we would rise early to attend to it. There is a peculiar freshness and charm about early morning praises. The day is loveliest when it first opens its eyelids, and God himself seems then to make distribution of the day's manna, which tastes most sweetly if gathered before the sun is hot. It seems most fit that if our hearts and harps have been silent through the shades of night, we should be eager again to take our place among the chosen choir who ceaselessly hymn the Eternal One.
And your faithfulness every night.
No hour is too late for praise, the end of the day must not be the end of gratitude. When nature seems in silent contemplation to adore its Maker, it ill becomes the children of God to refrain their thanksgiving. Evening is the time for retrospect, memory is busy with the experience of the day, hence the appropriate theme for song is the divine faithfulness, of which another day has furnished fresh evidences. When darkness has settled down over all things, "a shade immense", then there comes over wise men a congenial, meditative spirit, and it is most fitting that they should take an expanded view of the truth and goodness of Jehovah—
"This sacred shade and solitude, what is it?
It is the felt presence of the Deity."
Clouded or clear, moonlit or dark, calm or tempestuous, is alike suitable for a song upon the faithfulness of God, since in all seasons, and under all circumstances, it abides the same, and is the mainstay of the believer's consolation. Shame on us that we are so backward in magnifying the Lord, who in the daytime scatters bounteous love, and in the night season walks his rounds of watching care.
Verse 3. Upon an instrument of ten strings.
With the fullest range of music, uttering before God with the full compass of melody the richest emotions of his soul.
And upon the psaltery.
Thus giving variety to praise, the Psalmist felt that every sweet-sounding instrument should be consecrated to God. George Herbert and Martin Luther aided their private devotions by instrumental music; and whatever may have been the differences of opinion in the Christian church, as to the performance of instrumental music in public, we have met with no objection to its personal and private use.
Upon the harp with a solemn sound.
Or upon meditation with a harp; as much as to say, my meditative soul is, after all, the best instrument, and the harp's dulcet tones comes in to aid my thoughts. It is blessed work when hand and tongue work together in the heavenly occupation of praise.
"Strings and voices, hands and hearts,
In the concert bear your parts;
All that breathe, your God adore,
Praise him, praise him, evermore."
It is, however, much to be feared that attention to the mere mechanics of music, noting keys and strings, bars and strains, has carried many away from the spiritual harmony, which is the soul and essence of praise. Fine music without devotion of heart, is but a splendid garment upon a corpse!
Verse 4. For you, Lord, have made me glad through your work.
It was natural for the psalmist to sing, because he was glad, and to sing unto the Lord, because his gladness was caused by a contemplation of the divine work. If we consider either creation or providence, we shall find overflowing reasons for joy; but when we come to review the work of redemption, gladness knows no bounds—but feels that she must praise the Lord with all her might. There are times when in the contemplation of redeeming love, we feel that if we did not sing we must die; silence would be as horrible to us as if we were gagged by inquisitors, or stifled by murderers.
I will triumph in the works of your hands.
I cannot help it, I must and I will rejoice in the Lord, even as one who has won the victory and has divided great spoil. In the first sentence of this verse he expresses the unity of God's work, and in the second the variety of his works; in both there is reason for gladness and triumph. When God reveals his work to a man, and performs a work in his soul, he makes his heart glad most effectually, and then the natural consequence is continual praise.
Verse 5. O Lord, how great are your works!
The Psalmist is lost in wonder. He utters an exclamation of amazement. How vast! How stupendous are the doings of Jehovah! All the creations of the Infinite One are great for number, extent, and glory and design!
And your thoughts are very deep.
Man is superficial, God is inscrutable.
Man is shallow, God is deep.
The Lord's thoughts and plans are as marvelous as His acts.
His designs are as profound as His doings are vast.
Creation is immeasurable, and the wisdom displayed in it unsearchable.
Providence is inexhaustible, and the divine decrees which originate it are inscrutable.
Redemption is grand beyond conception, and the thoughts of love which planned it are infinite.
Dive as we may, we shall never fathom the mysterious plan, or exhaust the boundless wisdom of the all-comprehending mind of the Lord. We can only stand by the fathomless sea of divine wisdom, and exclaim with holy awe, "O the depth!"
Verse 6. A brutish man knows not; neither does a fool understand this.
In this and the following verses the effect of the psalm is heightened by contrast; the shadows are thrown in to bring out the lights more prominently. What a stoop from the preceding verse; from the saint to the brute, from the worshiper to the boor, from the psalmist to the fool! Yet, alas, the character described here is no uncommon one. The boorish or boarish man, for such is almost the very Hebrew word, sees nothing in nature; and if it is pointed out to him, his foolish mind will not comprehend it. He may be a philosopher, and yet be such a brutish being that he will not own the existence of a Maker for the ten thousand matchless creations around him, which wear, even upon their surface, the evidences of profound design.
The unbelieving heart, let it boast as it will, does not know; and with all its parade of intellect, it does not understand. A man must either be a saint or a brute, he has no other choice. His type must be the adoring seraph, or the ungrateful swine. So far from paying respect to great thinkers who will not own the glory or being of God, we ought to regard them as comparable to the beasts which perish, only vastly lower than mere brutes, because their degrading condition is of their own choosing. O God, how sorrowful a thing it is that men whom you have so largely gifted, and made in your own image, should so brutify themselves that they will neither see nor understand what you have made so clear. Well might an eccentric writer say, "God made man a little lower than the angels at first, and he has been trying to get lower ever since."
Verse 7. When the wicked spring as the grass.
In abundance, and apparent strength, hastening on their progress like verdant plants, which come to perfection in a day.
And when all the workers of iniquity flourish.
Flowering in their prime and pride, their pomp and their prosperity—it is that they shall be destroyed forever.
They grow to die, they blossom to be blasted. They flower for a short space to wither without end. God's greatness and glory are to them but the prelude of their overthrow. Little does their opposition matter, the Lord reigns on as if they had never blasphemed him; as a mountain abides the same though the meadows at its feet bloom or wither, even so the Most High is unaffected by the fleeting mortals who dare oppose him.
They shall soon vanish forever from among the living. But as for the wicked—how can our minds endure the contemplation of their doom "forever." Destruction "forever" is a portion far too terrible for the mind to realize. Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, the full terror of the wrath to come!
Verse 8. But you, Lord, are most high for evermore.
This is the middle verse of the Psalm, and the great fact which this Sabbath song is meant to illustrate. God is at once the highest and most enduring of all beings. Others rise to fall—but he is the Most High to eternity. Glory be to his name! How great a God we worship! Who would not fear you, O High Eternal One! The ungodly are destroyed forever, and God is most high forever; evil is cast down—and the Holy One reigns supreme eternally.
Verse 9. For, surely, your enemies, O Lord.
It is a wonder full of instruction and warning, observe it, O sons of men; for, surely, your enemies shall parish; they shall cease from among men, they shall be known no more. In that the thing is spoken twice it is confirmed by the Lord, it shall surely be, and that speedily. All the workers of iniquity shall be scattered; their forces shall be dispersed, their hopes broken, and themselves driven hither and thither like chaff before the tempest. They shall scatter like timid sheep pursued by the lion, they will not have the courage to remain in arms, nor the unity to abide in confederacy.
The grass cannot resist the scythe—but falls in withering ranks, even so are the ungodly cut down and swept away in process of time, while the Lord whom they despised sits unmoved upon the throne of his infinite dominion. Terrible as this fact is, no true hearted man would wish to have it otherwise. Treason against the great Monarch of the universe ought not to go unpunished; such wanton wickedness richly merits the severest doom.
Verse 10. But my horn shall you exalt like the horn of a wild ox.
The believer rejoices that he shall not be allowed to perish—but shall be strengthened and enabled to triumph over his enemies, by the divine aid. The wild ox may have been some gigantic ox or buffalo now unknown, and perhaps extinct—among the ancients it was the favorite symbol of unconquerable power; the psalmist adopts it as his emblem. Faith takes delight in foreseeing the mercy of the Lord, and sings of what he will do as well as of what he has done.
I shall be anointed with fresh oil.
Strengthening shall be attended with refreshment and honor. As guests were anointed at feasts with perfumed ointments, so shall the saints be cheered and delighted by fresh outpourings of divine grace; and for this reason they shall not pass away like the wicked.
Observe the contrast between the happiness of the brutish people and the joy of the righteous: the brutish men grow with a sort of vegetable vigor of their own—but the righteous are dealt with by the Lord himself, and all the good which they receive comes directly from his own right hand, and so is doubly precious in their esteem. The psalmist speaks in the first person, and it should be a matter of prayer with the reader that he may be enabled to do the same.
Verse 11. My eyes shall see my desire on my enemies.
The words, "my desire", inserted by the translators, had far better have been left out. He does not say what he should see concerning his enemies, he leaves that blank, and we have no right to fill in the vacant space with words which look vindictive. He would see that which would be for God's glory, and that which would be eminently right and just.
And my ears shall hear my desire of the wicked that rise up against me.
Here, again, the words "my desire" are not inspired, and are a needless and perhaps a false interpolation. The good man is quite silent as to what he expected to hear; he knew that what he would hear would vindicate his faith in his God, and he was content to leave his cruel foes in God's hands, without an expression concerning his own desire one way or the other.
It is always best to leave Scripture as we find it. The broken sense of inspiration is better let alone than pieced out with additions of a translator's own invention; it is like repairing pure gold with tinsel, or a mosaic of gems with painted wood.
The holy psalmist had seen the beginning of the ungodly, and expected to see their end; he felt sure that God would right all wrongs, and clear his Providence from the charge of favoring the unjust; this confidence he here expresses, and sits down contentedly to wait the issues of the future.
Verse 12. The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree.
The song now contrasts the condition of the righteous with that of the graceless. The wicked "spring up as the grass"—but the righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, whose growth may not be so rapid—but whose endurance for centuries is in fine contrast with the transitory verdure of the meadow.
When we see a noble palm tree standing erect, sending all its strength upward in one bold column, and growing amid the dearth and drought of the desert, we have a fine picture of the godly man, who in his uprightness aims alone at the glory of God; and, independent of outward circumstances, is made by divine grace to live and thrive where all things else perish.
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
The text tells us not only what the righteous is—but what he shall be; come what may, the good man shall flourish, and flourish after the noblest manner.
The cedar us another noble and long lived tree. "As the days of a tree are the days of my people", says the Lord. On the summit of the mountain, unsheltered from the blast, the cedar waves its mighty branches in perpetual verdure, and so the truly godly man under all adversities retains the joy of his soul, and continues to make progress in the divine life. Grass, which makes hay for oxen, is a good enough emblem of the unregenerate; but cedars, which build the temple of the Lord, are none too excellent to set forth the heirs of Heaven.
Verse 13. Those that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.
In the courtyards of Oriental houses trees were planted, and being thoroughly screened, they would be likely to bring forth their fruit to perfection in trying seasons; even so, those who by grace are brought into communion with the Lord, shall be likened to trees planted in the Lord's house, and shall find it good to their souls.
No heart has so much joy as that which abides in the Lord Jesus. Fellowship with the stem begets fertility in the branches. If a man abides in Christ he brings forth much fruit. Those professors who are rooted to the world do not flourish; those who send forth their roots into the marshes of frivolous pleasure cannot be in a vigorous condition; but those who dwell in habitual fellowship with God shall become men of full growth, rich in grace, happy in experience, mighty in influence, honored and honorable.
Much depends upon the soil in which a tree is planted; everything, in our case, depends upon our abiding in the Lord Jesus, and deriving all our supplies from him. If we ever really grow in the courts of the Lord's house we must be planted there, for no tree grows in God's garden self sown; once planted of the Lord, we shall never be rooted up—but in his courts we shall take root downward, and bring forth fruit upward to his glory forever.
Verse 14. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age.
Nature decays, but grace thrives. Fruit, as far as nature is concerned, belongs to days of vigor; but in the garden of grace, when plants are weak in themselves, they become strong in the Lord, and abound in fruit acceptable with God.
Happy are they who can sing this Sabbath Psalm, enjoying the rest which breathes through every verse of it; no fear as to the future can distress them, for their evil days, when the strong man fails, are the subject of a gracious promise, and therefore they await them with quiet expectancy.
Aged believers possess a ripe experience, and by their mellow tempers and sweet testimonies they feed many. Even if bedridden, they bear the fruit of patience; if poor and obscure, their lowly and contented spirit becomes the admiration of those who know how to appreciate modest worth.
Grace does not leave the saint when the keepers of the house tremble; the promise is still sure though the eyes can no longer read it; the bread of Heaven is fed upon when the grinders fail; and the voice of the Spirit in the soul is still melodious when the daughters of music are brought low. Blessed be the Lord for this! Because even to gray hair he is the I AM, who made his people, he therefore bears and carries them.
They shall be fat and flourishing.
They do not drag out a wretched, starveling existence—but are like trees full of sap, which bear luxuriant foliage. God does not pinch his poor servants, and diminish their consolations when their infirmities grow upon them; rather does he see to it that they shall renew their strength, for their mouths shall be satisfied with his own good things. Such a one as Paul the aged would not ask our pity—but invite our sympathetic gratitude; however feeble his outward man may be, his inner man is so renewed day by day that we may well envy his perennial peace.
Verse 15. This mercy to the aged proves the faithfulness of their God, and leads them to proclaim that the Lord is upright, by their cheerful testimony to his ceaseless goodness. We do not serve a Master who will run back from his promise. Whoever else may defraud us, he never will.
Every aged Christian is a letter of commendation to the immutable fidelity of Jehovah.
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
Here is the psalmist's own seal and sign manual; still was he building upon his God, and still was the Lord a firm foundation for his trust. For shelter, for defense, for indwelling, for foundation, God is our rock; hitherto he has been to us all that he said he would be, and we may be doubly sure that he will abide the same even unto the end.
He has tried us—but he has never allowed us to be tried above what we are able to bear. He has delayed our reward—but he has never been unrighteous to forget our work of faith and labor of love. He is a friend without fault, a helper without fail. Whatever he may do with us, he is always in the right; his dispensations have no flaw in them, no, not the most minute.
He is true and righteous altogether, and so we weave the end of the psalm with its beginning, and make a coronet of it, for the head of our Beloved. It is a good thing to sing praises unto the Lord, for "he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him."