Treasury of David
This may be called THE SANCTUS, or, THE HOLY, HOLY, HOLY PSALM, for the word "holy" is the conclusion and the refrain of its three main divisions. Its subject is the holiness of the divine government, the sanctity of the mediatorial reign.
It seems to us to declare the holiness of Jehovah himself in verses 1-3. It mentions the equity of the king whom the Lord had appointed, as an illustration of the Lord's love of holiness, or more probably it describes the Lord as himself the king, in verses 4-5. It then sets forth the severely righteous character of God's dealings with those favored persons whom in former times he had selected to approach him on behalf of the people, verses 6-9.
It is a hymn fitted for the cherubim who surround the throne, who are mentioned in verse 1. It is a Psalm most fitting for saints who dwell in Zion, the holy city, and especially worthy to be reverently sung by all who, like David the king, Moses the lawgiver, Aaron the priest, or Samuel the seer, are honored to lead the church of God, and plead for her with her Lord.
Verse 1. The Lord reigns.
One of the most joyous utterances which ever leaped from mortal lip. The overthrow of the reign of evil and the setting up of Jehovah's kingdom of goodness, justice, and truth, is worthy to be hymned again and again, as we have it here for the third time in the psalms.
Let the people tremble.
Let the chosen people feel a solemn yet joyful awe, which shall thrill their whole manhood. Saints quiver with devout emotion, and sinners quiver with terror when the rule of Jehovah is fully perceived and felt. It is not a light or trifling matter, it is a truth which, above all others, should stir the depths of our nature.
He sits between the cherubim.
In grandeur of sublime glory—yet in nearness of mediatorial condescension, Jehovah revealed himself above the mercy-seat, whereon stood the likeness of those flaming ones who gaze upon his glory, and forever cry, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!"
The Lord reigning on that throne of grace which is sprinkled with atoning blood, and veiled with the covering wings of mediatorial love, is above all other revelations wonderful, and fitted to excite emotion among all mankind, hence it is added,
Let the earth be moved.
Not merely "the people," but the whole earth should feel a movement of adoring awe when it is known that on the mercy-seat God sits as universal monarch. The pomp of Heaven surrounds him, and is symbolized by the outstretched wings of waiting cherubs. Let not the earth be less moved to adoration, rather let all her tribes bow before his infinite majesty, yes, let the solid earth itself with reverent tremor acknowledge his presence.
Verse 2. The Lord is great in Zion.
Of old the temple's sacred hill was the center of the worship of the great King, and the place where his grandeur was most clearly beheld. His church is now his favored palace, where his greatness is displayed, acknowledged, and adored. He there unveils his attributes and commands the lowliest homage. The ignorant forget him, the wicked despise him, the atheistic oppose him—but among his own chosen he is great beyond comparison. He is great in the esteem of the gracious, great in his acts of mercy, and really great in himself—great in mercy, power, wisdom, justice, and glory.
And he is high above all the people.
Towering above their highest thoughts and loftiest conceptions. The highest are not high to him—yet, blessed be his name, the lowliest are not despised by him. In such a God we rejoice, his greatness and loftiness are exceedingly delightful in our esteem; the more he is honored and exalted in the hearts of men, the more exultant are his people.
If Israel delighted in Saul because he was head and shoulders above the people, how much more should we exult in our God and King, Who is as high above us as the heavens are above the earth.
Verse 3. Let them praise your great and terrible name.
Let all the dwellers in Zion and all the nations upon the earth praise the Lord, or "acknowledge thankfully" the goodness of his divine nature, albeit that there is so much in it which must inspire their awe.
Under the most terrible aspect the Lord is still to be praised. Many profess to admire the milder beams of the sun of righteousness—but burn with rebellion against its more flaming radiance. So it ought not to be: we are bound to praise a terrible, God and worship him who casts the wicked down to Hell. Did not Israel praise him "who overthrew Pharaoh and his hosts in the Red Sea, for his mercy endures forever."
The terrible Avenger is to be praised, as well as the loving Redeemer. Against this the sympathy of man's evil heart with sin rebels; it cries out for an effeminate God in whom pity has strangled justice. The well-instructed servants of Jehovah praise him in all the aspects of his character, whether terrible or tender. Grace streaming from the mercy-seat can alone work in us this admirable frame of mind.
For He is holy.
In him is no flaw or fault, excess or deficiency, error or iniquity. He is wholly excellent, and is therefore called holy. In his words, thoughts, acts, and revelations as well as in himself—he is perfection itself. O come let us worship and bow down before him.
Verse 4. The king's strength also loves judgment.
God is the king, the mercy-seat is his throne, and the scepter which he sways is holy like himself. His power never exerts itself tyrannically; he is a sovereign, and he is absolute in his government—but his might delights in right, his force is used for just purposes only.
Men in these days are continually arranging the Lord's government, and setting up to judge whether he does right or not; but saintly men in the olden time were of another mind, they were sure that what the Lord did was just, and instead of calling him to account they humbly submitted themselves to his will, rejoicing in the firm persuasion that with his whole omnipotence God was pledged to promote righteousness, and work justice among all his creatures.
You establish equity.
Not a court of equity merely—but equity itself you do set up, and that not for a time or upon an occasion—but as an established institution, stable as your throne. Not even for the sake of mercy does the Lord remove or injure the equity of his moral government: both in providence and in grace he is careful to conserve the immaculate purity of his justice.
Most kingdoms have an establishment of some kind, and generally it is inequitable; here we have an establishment which is equity itself. The Lord our God demolishes every system of injustice, and right alone is made to stand.
You execute judgment and righteousness in Jacob.
Justice is not merely established—but executed in God's kingdom; the laws are carried out, the executive is as righteous as the legislative. Herein let all the oppressed, yes, and all who love that which is right, find large occasion for praise.
Other nations under their despots were the victims and the perpetrators of grievous wrong—but when the tribes were faithful to the Lord they enjoyed an upright government within their own borders, and acted with integrity towards their neighbors.
That kingcraft which delights in cunning, favoritism, and brute force is as opposite to the divine Kingship as darkness to light. The palace of Jehovah is no robber's fortress nor despot's castle, built on dungeons, with stones carved by slaves, and cemented with the blood of toiling serfs. The annals of most human governments have been written in the tears of the downtrodden, and the curses of the oppressed. The chronicles of the Lord's kingdom are of another sort, truth shines in each line, goodness in every syllable, and justice in every letter. Glory be to the name of the King, whose gentle glory beams from between the cherubic wings.
Verse 5. Exalt the LORD our God.
If no others adore him, let his own people render to him the most ardent worship. Infinite condescension makes him stoop to be called our God, and truth and faithfulness bind him to maintain that covenant relationship; and surely we, to whom by grace he so lovingly gives himself, should exalt him with all our hearts. He shines upon us from under the veiling wings of cherubim, and above the seat of mercy, therefore let us come and worship at his footstool.
When he reveals himself in Christ Jesus, as our reconciled God, who allows us to approach even to his throne, it becomes us to unite earnestness and humility, joy and adoration, and, while we exalt him, prostrate ourselves in the dust before him.
Do we need to be thus excited to worship? How much ought we to blush for such backwardness! It ought to be our daily delight to magnify so good and great a God.
For he is holy.
A second time the note rings out, and as the ark, which was the divine footstool, has just been mentioned, the voice seems to sound forth from the cherubim where the Lord sits, who continually do cry, "Holy, Holy, Holy. Lord God Almighty!"
Holiness is the harmony of all the virtues. The Lord has not one glorious attribute alone, or in excess—but all glories are in him as a whole; this is the crown of his honor and the honor of his crown. His power is not his choicest jewel, nor his sovereignty—but his holiness. In this all comprehensive moral excellence he would have his creatures take delight, and when they do so their delight is evidence that their hearts have been renewed, and they themselves have been made partakers of his holiness.
The gods of the heathen were, according to their own votaries, lustful, cruel, and brutish. Their only claim to reverence lay in their supposed potency over human destinies. Who would not far rather adore Jehovah, whose character is unsullied purity, unswerving justice, unbending truth, unbounded love, in a word, perfect holiness?
Verse 6. Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call upon his name.
Though not ordained to the typical priesthood, Moses was a true priest, even as Melchizedek had been before him. God has ever had a priesthood beside and above that of the law. The three holy men here mentioned all stood in his courts, and saw his holiness, each one after his own order.
Moses saw the Lord in flaming fire revealing each perfect law.
Aaron full often watched the sacred fire devour the sin-offering.
Samuel witnessed the judgment of the Lord on Eli's house, because of the error of his way.
These each one stood in the gap when the wrath of God broke forth, because his holiness had been insulted; and acting as intercessors, they screened the nation from the great and terrible God, who otherwise would in a dreadful manner have executed judgment in Jacob.
Let these men, or such as these, lead us in our worship, and let us approach the Lord at the mercy-seat as they did, for he is as accessible to us as to them. They made it their life's business to call upon him in prayer, and by so doing brought down innumerable blessings upon themselves and others.
Does not the Lord call us also to come up into the mount with Moses, and to enter the most holy place with Aaron? Do we not hear him call us by our name as he did Samuel? And do we not answer, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."
They called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
Not in vain were their prayers; but being a holy God he was true to his promises, and hearkened to them from off the mercy-seat. Here is reason for praise, for answers to the petitions of some are proofs of God's readiness to hear others. These three men asked large things, they pleaded for a whole nation, and they quelled great plagues and turned away fiery wrath. Who would not exercise himself in adoring so great and merciful a God? If he were unholy he would be false to his word and refuse his people's cries; this, then, is recorded for our joy and for his glory, that holy men of old were not allowed to pray in vain.
Verse 7. He spoke unto them in the cloudy pillar.
We have had mention of the ark and the shekinah, and now of the fiery cloudy pillar, which was another visible token of the presence of God in the midst of Israel. Responses came to Moses and Aaron out of that glorious over-shadowing cloud, and though Samuel saw it not—yet to him also came the mystic voice which was accustomed to thunder forth from that divine canopy. Men have had converse with God, let men therefore speak to God in return. He has told us things to come, let us in return confess the sins which are past; he has revealed his mind to us, let us then pour out our hearts before him.
They kept his testimonies.
When others turned aside they were faithful; in their hearts they laid up his word, and in their lives they obeyed it. When he spoke to them they observed his will, and therefore when they spoke to him he yielded to their desires.
This keeping of the divine testimonies is a virtue all too rare in these our days; men run after their own views and opinions, and make light of the truth of God; hence it is that they fail in prayer, and scoffers have even dared to say that prayer avails not at all. May the good Lord bring back his people to reverence his word, and then will he also have respect unto the voice of their cry.
And the ordinance that he gave them.
His practical precept they observed as well as his doctrinal instruction. Ordinances are not to be trifled with, or testimonies will also be despised. The converse is also true, a light estimate of inspired dogma is sure to end in neglect of moral virtues. To Moses, Aaron, and Samuel special and personal charges were committed, and they were all true to their trust, for they stood in awe of the Lord their God, and worshiped him with their whole souls. They were very different men, and had each one a work to do peculiar to himself—yet because each was a man of prayer they were all preserved in their integrity, fulfilled their office, and blessed their generation.
Lord, teach us like Moses to hold up our hands in prayer and conquer Amalek, like Aaron to wave the censer between the living and the dead until the plague is stayed, and like Samuel to say to a guilty people, "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you;" if you will make us mighty with you in prayer, we shall also be kept faithful before you in the service which you have laid upon us.
Verse 8. You answered them, O LORD our God.
A sweet title and a cheering fact. Our covenant God in a very special manner heard his three servants when they pleaded for the people.
You were a God that forgave them, though you took vengeance of their inventions.
He forgave the sinners—but he slew their sins. Some apply this verse to Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, and remind us that each of these fell into a fault and received chastisement.
Of Samuel they assert that, for having set up his sons as his successors, he was compelled to submit to the anointing of Saul as king, which was a great grief to him: this is to our mind a very doubtful statement, and leads us to abandon the interpretation altogether.
We believe that the passage refers to the nation which was spared through the intercession of these three holy men—but yet was severely chastened for its transgressions.
In answer to the cry of Moses the tribes lived on—but the then existing generation could not enter Canaan. Aaron's golden calf was broken, though the fire of the Lord did not consume the people. Israel smarted under the harsh government of Saul, though at Samuel's request its murmurings against the theocratic rule of their fathers' God was not visited with pestilence or famine.
So to forgive sin as at the same time to express abhorrence of it, is the peculiar glory of God, and is best seen in the atonement of our Lord Jesus.
Reader, are you a believer? Then your sin is forgiven; but so surely as you are a child of God the rod of paternal discipline will be laid upon you if your walk is not close with God. "You only have I known of all the nations of the earth, therefore I will punish you for your iniquities."
Verse 9. Exalt the LORD our God.
A second time the delightful title of Jehovah our God is used, and it is quickly followed by a third. The Psalm is Trinitarian in its whole structure. In each of his sacred persons the Lord is the God of his people; the Father is ours, the Son is ours, and the Holy Spirit is ours: let us exalt him with all our ransomed powers.
And worship at his holy hill.
Where he appoints his temple, let us resort. No spot of ground is now fenced about as peculiarly holy, or to be regarded as more sacred than another. Yet his visible church is his chosen hill, and there would we be found, numbered with his people, and unite with them in worship.
For the LORD our God is holy.
Again this devout description is repeated, and made the climax of the song. Oh for hearts made pure within, so that we may rightly perceive and worthily praise the infinite perfection of the Triune Lord.