Treasury of David
TITLE. A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and pours out his complaint before the Lord.
This Psalm is a prayer far more in spirit than in words. The formal petitions are few—but a strong stream of supplication runs from beginning to end, and like an under-current, finds its way heavenward through the moanings of grief and confessions of faith which make up the major part of the Psalm.
It is a prayer of the afflicted, or of "a sufferer, "and it bears the marks of its parent age; as it is recorded of Jabez that "his mother bore him with sorrow," so may we say of this Psalm. Yet as Rachel's Benoni, or child of sorrow, was also her Benjamin, or son of her right hand—so is this Psalm as eminently expressive of consolation as of desolation. It is scarcely correct to call it a penitential Psalm, for the sorrow of it is rather of one suffering, than sinning. It has its own bitterness, and it is not the same as that of the Fifty-first Psalm.
The sufferer is afflicted more for others than for himself, more for Zion and the house of the Lord, than for his own house.
When he is overwhelmed, or sorely troubled, and depressed. The best of men are not always able to stem the torrent of sorrow. Even when Jesus is on board, the vessel may fill with water and begin to sink.
And pours out his complaint before the LORD. When a cup is overwhelmed or turned bottom over, all that is in it is naturally poured out; great trouble removes the heart from all reserve and causes the soul to flow out without restraint; it is well when that which is in the soul is such as may be poured out in the presence of God, and this is only the case where the heart has been renewed by divine grace.
The word rendered "complaint" has in it none of the idea of fault-finding or repining—but should rather be rendered "moaning,"—the expression of pain, not of rebellion. To help the memory we will call this Psalm THE PATRIOT'S LAMENT.
This is a patriot's lament over his country's distress. He arrays himself in the griefs of his nation as in a garment of sackcloth, and casts her dust and ashes upon his head as the ensigns and causes of his sorrow. He has his own private woes and personal enemies, he is moreover sore afflicted in body by sickness—but the miseries of his people cause him a far more bitter anguish, and this he pours out in an earnest, pathetic lamentation. Not, however, without hope does the patriot mourn; he has faith in God, and looks for the resurrection of the nation through the omnipotent favor of the Lord; this causes him to walk among the ruins of Jerusalem, and to say with hopeful spirit, "No, Zion, you shall never perish. Your sun is not set forever; brighter days are in store for you." It is in vain to inquire into the precise point of Israel's history which thus stirred this patriot's soul, for many a time was the land oppressed, and at any of her sad seasons this song and prayer would have been a most natural and appropriate utterance.
In the first part of the Psalm, 1-11, the moaning monopolizes every verse, the lamentation is unceasing, sorrow rules the hour.
The second portion, from 12-28, has a vision of better things, a view of the gracious Lord, and his eternal existence, and care for his people, and therefore it is interspersed with sunlight as well as shaded by the cloud, and it ends up right gloriously with calm confidence for the future, and sweet restfulness in the Lord. The whole composition may be compared to a day which, opening with wind and rain, clears up at noon and is warm with the sun, continues fine, with intervening showers, and finally closes with a brilliant sunset.
Verse 1. Hear my prayer, O LORD. Or O JEHOVAH.
Sincere supplicants are not content with praying for praying's sake, they desire really to reach the ear and heart of the great God. It is a great relief in time of distress to acquaint others with our trouble, we are eased by their hearing our lamentation—but it is the sweetest solace of all to have God himself as a sympathizing listener to our plaint. That he is such is no dream or fiction—but an assured fact. It would be the direst of all our woes if we could be indisputably convinced that with God there is neither hearing nor answering; he who could argue us into so dreary a belief would do us no better service than if he had read us our death-warrants. Better die than be denied the mercy-seat. As well be atheists at once as believe in an unhearing, unfeeling God.
And let my cry come unto you.
When sorrow rises to such a height that words become too weak a medium of expression, and prayer is intensified into a cry, then the heart is even more urgent to have audience with the Lord. If our cries do not enter within the veil, and reach to the living God, we may as well cease from prayer at once, for it is idle to cry to the winds. But, blessed be God, the philosophy which suggests such a hideous idea is disproved by the facts of every day experience, since thousands of the saints can declare, "Truly, God has heard us!"
Verse 2. Hide not your face from me in the day when I am in trouble.
Do not seem as if you did not see me, or would not own me. Smile now at any rate. Reserve your frowns for other times when I can bear them better, if, indeed, I can ever bear them; but now in my heavy distress, favor me with looks of compassion.
Incline your ear unto me.
Bow your greatness to my weakness. If because of sin your face is turned away, at least let me have a side view of you, lend me your ear if I may not see your eye. Turn yourself to me again if, my sin has turned you away, give to your ear an inclination to my prayers.
In the day when I call, answer me speedily.
Because the case is urgent, and my soul little able to wait. We may ask to have answers to prayer as soon as possible—but we may not complain of the Lord if he should think it more wise to delay. We have permission to request and to use importunity—but no right to dictate or to be petulant. If it be important that the deliverance should arrive at once, we are quite right in making an early time a point of our entreaty, for God is as willing to grant us a favor now as tomorrow, and he is not slack concerning his promise.
It is a proverb concerning favors from human hands, that "he gives twice who gives quickly," because a gift is enhanced in value by arriving in a time of urgent necessity. Just so, we may be sure that our heavenly Patron will grant us the best gifts in the best manner, granting us grace to help in time of need.
When answers come upon the heels of our prayers they are all the more striking, more consoling, and more encouraging.
In these two verses the psalmist has gathered up a variety of expressions all to the same effect; in them all he entreats an audience and answer of the Lord, and the whole may be regarded as a sort of preface to the prayer which follows.
Verse 3. For my days are consumed like smoke.
My grief has made life unsubstantial to me, I seem to be but a puff of vapor which has nothing in it, and is soon dissipated. The metaphor is very admirably chosen, for, to the unhappy, life seems not merely to be frail—but to be surrounded by so much that is darkening, defiling, blinding, and depressing, that, sitting down in despair, they compare themselves to men wandering in a dense fog, and themselves so dried up thereby that they are little better than pillars of smoke. When our days have neither light of joy nor fire of energy in them—but become as a smoking flax which dies out ignobly in darkness, then have we cause enough to appeal to the Lord that he would not utterly quench us.
And my bones are burned as a hearth.
He became as dry as the hearth on which a wood fire has burned out, or as spent ashes in which scarcely a trace of fire can be found. His soul was ready to be blown away as smoke, and his body seemed likely to remain as the bare hearth when the last comforting ember is quenched.
How often has our piety appeared to us to be in this condition! We have had to question its reality, and fear that it never was anything more than a smoke; we have had the most convincing evidence of its weakness, for we could not derive even the smallest comfort from it, any more than a chilled traveler can derive from the cold hearth on which a fire had burned long ago.
Soul-trouble experienced in our own heart will help us to interpret the language here employed; and church-troubles may help us also, if unhappily we have been called to endure them. The psalmist was moved to grief by a view of national calamities, and these so wrought upon his patriotic soul that he was wasted with anxiety, his spirits were dried up, and his very life was ready to expire. There is hope for any country which owns such a son; no nation can die while true hearts are ready to die for it.
Verse 4. My heart is smitten—like a plant parched by the fierce heat of a tropical sun. And withered like grass—which dries up when once the scythe has laid it low. The psalmist's heart was as a wilted, withered flower, a burned up mass of what once was verdure. His energy, beauty, freshness, and joy, were utterly gone, through the wasting influence of his anguish.
So that I forget to eat my bread.
Or "because I forget to eat my bread." Grief often destroys the appetite, and the neglect of food tends further to injure the constitution and create a yet deeper sinking of spirit. As the smitten flower no longer drinks in the dew, or draws up nutriment from the soil, so a heart parched with intense grief often refuses consolation for itself and nourishment for the bodily frame, and descends at a doubly rapid rate into weakness, despondency, and dismay.
The case here described is by no means rare, we have frequently met with individuals so disordered by sorrow that their memory has failed them even upon such pressing matters as their meals, and we must confess that we have passed through the same condition ourselves. One sharp pang has filled the soul, monopolized the mind, and driven everything else into the background, so that such common matters as eating and drinking have been utterly despised, and the appointed hours of refreshment have gone by unheeded, leaving no manifest faintness of body—but an increased weariness of heart.
Verse 5. By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin.
He became emaciated with sorrow. He had groaned himself down to a living skeleton, and so in his bodily appearance was the more like the smoke-dried, withered, burnt-up things to which he had previously compared himself. It will be a very long time before the distresses of the church of God make some Christians shrivel into skeletons—but this good man was so moved with sympathy for Zion's ills that he was wasted down to skin and bone.
Verse 6. I am like a pelican of the wilderness.
A mournful and even hideous object, the very image of desolation.
I am like an owl of the desert.
Loving solitude, moping among ruins, hooting discordantly. The Psalmist likens himself to two birds which were commonly used as emblems of gloom and wretchedness. On other occasions he had been as the eagle—but the griefs of his people had pulled him down, the brightness was gone from his eye, and the beauty from his person; he seemed to himself to be as a melancholy bird sitting among the fallen palaces and prostrate temples of his native land.
Should not we also lament when the ways of Zion mourn and her strength languishes? Were there more of this holy sorrow we should soon see the Lord returning to build up his church. It is ill for men to be playing the peacock with worldly pride, when the ills of the times should make them as mournful as the pelican; and it is a terrible thing to see men flocking like vultures to devour the prey of a decaying church, when they ought rather to be lamenting among her ruins like the owl.
Verse 7. I watch, and am like a sparrow alone upon the house top.
I keep a solitary vigil as the lone sentry of my nation; my fellows are too selfish, too careless to care for the beloved land, and so like a bird which sits alone on the housetop, I keep up a sad watch over my country. The Psalmist compared himself to a bird—a bird when it has lost its mate or its young, or is for some other reason made to mope alone in a solitary place. Probably he did not refer to the cheerful sparrow of our own land—but if he did, the illustration would not be out of place, for the sparrow is happy in company, and if it were alone, the sole one of its species in the neighborhood, there can be little doubt that it would become very miserable, and sit and pine away.
Just so, he who has felt himself to be so weak and inconsiderable as to have no more power over his times than a sparrow over a city, has also, when bowed down with despondency concerning the evils of the age, sat himself down in utter wretchedness to lament the ills which he could not heal. Christians of an earnest, watchful kind often find themselves among those who have no sympathy with them; even in the church they look in vain for kindred spirits; then do they persevere in their prayers and labors—but feel themselves to be as lonely as the poor bird which looks from the ridge of the roof, and meets with no friendly greeting from any of its kind.
Verse 8. My enemies reproach me all the day.
Their rage was unrelenting and unceasing, and vented itself in taunts and insults, the Psalmist's patriotism and his griefs were both made the subjects of their sport. Pointing to the sad estate of his people they would ask him, "Where is your God?" and exult over him because their false gods were in the ascendant. Reproach cuts like a razor, and when it is continued from hour to hour, and repeated all the day and every day, it makes life itself undesirable.
And they that are mad against me are sworn against me.
They were so furious that they bound themselves by oath to destroy him, and used his name as their usual execration, a word to curse by, the synonym of abhorrence and contempt. What with inward sorrows and outward persecutions, he was in as ill a plight as may well be conceived.
Verse 9. For I have eaten ashes like bread.
He had so frequently cast ashes upon his head in token of mourning, that they had mixed with his ordinary food, and grated between his teeth when he ate his daily bread. One while he forgot to eat, and then the fit changed, and he ate with such a hunger that even ashes were devoured. Grief has strange moods and tenses.
And mingled my drink with weeping.
His drink became as nauseous as his food, for copious showers of tears had made it brackish. This is a telling description of all-saturating, all-embittering sadness—and this was the portion of one of the best of men, and that for no fault of his own—but because of his love to the Lord's people. If we, too, are called to mourn, let us not be amazed by the fiery trial as though some strange thing had happened unto us. Both in food and drink we have sinned; it is not therefore wonderful if in both we are made to mourn.
Verse 10. Because of your indignation and your wrath: for you have lifted me up and cast me down.
A sense of the divine wrath which had been manifested in the overthrow of the chosen nation and their sad captivity, led the Psalmist into the greatest distress. He felt like a sere leaf caught up by a hurricane and carried right away, or the spray of the sea which is dashed upwards that it may be scattered and dissolved. Our translation gives the idea of a vessel uplifted in order that it may be dashed to the earth with all the greater violence and the more completely broken in pieces. Or to change the figure, it reminds us of a wrestler whom his opponent catches up that he may give him a more desperate fall.
The first interpretation which we have given is, however, more fully in accordance with the original, and sets forth the utter helplessness which the writer felt, and the sense of overpowering terror which bore him along in a rush of tumultuous grief which he could not withstand.
Verse 11. My days are like a shadow that declines.
His days were but a shadow at best—but now they seem to be like a shadow which was passing away. A shadow is unsubstantial enough, how feeble a thing must a declining shadow be? No expression could more forcibly set forth his extreme feebleness.
And I am withered like grass.
He was like grass, blasted by a parching wind, or cut down with a scythe, and then left to be dried up by the burning heat of the sun. There are times when through depression of spirit a man feels as if all life were gone from him, and existence had become merely a breathing death. Heart-break has a marvelously withering influence over our entire system. Our flesh at its best is but as grass, and when it is wounded with sharp sorrows, its beauty fades, and it becomes a shriveled, dried, uncomely thing.
Verse 12. But you, O Lord, shall endure forever.
Now the writer's mind is turned away from his personal and relative troubles to the true source of all consolation, namely, the Lord himself, and his gracious purposes towards his own people.
I perish—but you will not, my nation has become almost extinct—but you are altogether unchanged. The original has the word "sit," "you, Jehovah, to eternity shall sit." That is to say, you reign on, your throne is still secure even when your chosen city lies in ruins, and your peculiar people are carried into captivity. The sovereignty of God in all things is an unfailing ground for consolation; he rules and reigns whatever happens, and therefore all is well.
Firm as his throne his promise stands,
And he can well secure,
What I have committed to his hands.
Until the decisive hour.
And your remembrance unto all generations.
Men will forget me—but as for you, O God, the constant tokens of your presence will keep the race of man in mind of you from age to age. What God is now, he always will be; that which our forefathers told us of the Lord we find to be true at this present time, and what our experience enables us to record will be confirmed by our children and their children's children. All other things are vanishing like smoke, and withering like grass—but over all the one eternal, immutable light shines on, and will shine on when all these shadows have declined into nothingness.
Verse 13. You shall arise, and have mercy upon Zion.
He firmly believed and boldly prophesied that apparent inaction on God's part, would turn to effective working. Others might remain sluggish in the matter—but the Lord would most surely bestir himself. Zion had been chosen of old, highly favored, gloriously inhabited, and wondrously preserved—and therefore by the memory of her past mercies it was certain that mercy would again be showed to her.
God will not always leave his church in a low condition; he may for a while hide himself from her in chastisement, to make her see her nakedness and poverty apart from himself—but in love he must return to her, and stand up in her defense, to work her welfare.
For the time to favor her, yes, the set time, is come.
Divine decree has appointed a season for blessing the church, and when that period has arrived, blessed she shall be. There was an appointed time for the Jews in Babylon, and when the weeks were fulfilled, no bolts nor bars could longer imprison the ransomed of the Lord. When the time came for the walls to rise stone by stone, no Tobiah or Sanballat could stay the work, for the Lord himself had arisen, and who can restrain the hand of the Almighty?
When God's own time is come, neither Rome, nor the devil, nor persecutors, nor atheists, can prevent the kingdom of Christ from extending its bounds. It is God's work to do it;—he must "arise"; he will do it—but he has his own appointed season; and meanwhile we must, with holy anxiety and believing expectation, wait upon him.
Verse 14. For your servants take pleasure in her stones, and favor the dust thereof.
They delight in her so greatly that even her rubbish is dear to them. It was a good omen for Jerusalem when the captives began to feel a home-sickness, and began to sigh after her. We may expect the modern Jews to be restored to their own land when the love of their country begins to sway them, and casts out the love of gain. To the church of God no token can be more full of hope than to see the members thereof deeply interested in all that concerns her; no prosperity is likely to rest upon a church when carelessness about ordinances, enterprises, and services is manifest; but when even the least and lowest matter connected with the Lord's work is carefully attended to, we may be sure that the set time to favor Zion has come.
The poorest church member, the most grievous backslider, the most ignorant convert, should be precious in our sight—because forming a part, although possibly a very feeble part, of the new Jerusalem. If we do not care about the prosperity of the church to which we belong, need we wonder if the blessing of the Lord is withheld?
Verse 15. So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD.
Mercy within the church is soon perceived by those without. When a candle is lit in the house, it shines through the window. When Zion rejoices in her God, the heathen been to reverence his name, for they hear of the wonders of his power, and are impressed thereby.
And all the kings of the earth your glory.
The restoration of Jerusalem was a marvel among the princes who heard of it, and its ultimate resurrection in days yet to come will be one of the prodigies of history. A church quickened by divine power is so striking an object in current history that it cannot escape notice, rulers cannot ignore it, it affects the Legislature, and forces from the great ones of the earth a recognition of the divine working. Oh that we might see in our days such a revival of religion that our senators and princes might be compelled to pay homage to the Lord, and own his glorious grace. This cannot be until the saints are better edified, and more fully built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. Internal prosperity is the true source of the church's external influence.
Verse 16. When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.
As kings display their skill and power and wealth in the erection of their capitals, so would the Lord reveal the splendor of his attributes in the restoration of Zion, and so will he now glorify himself in the edification of his church. Never is the Lord more honorable in the eyes of his saints than when he prospers the church. To add converts to her, to train these for holy service, to instruct, illuminate, and sanctify the brotherhood, to bind all together in the bonds of Christian love, and to fill the whole body with the energy of the Holy Spirit—this is to build up Zion.
Other builders do but puff her up, and their wood, hay, and stubble come to an end almost as rapidly as it was heaped together; but what the Lord builds is surely and well done, and redounds to his glory.
Truly, when we see the church in a low state, and mark the folly, helplessness, and indifference of those who profess to be her builders; and, on the other hand, the energy, craft, and influence of those opposed to her, we are fully prepared to own that it will be a glorious work of omnipotent grace should she ever rise to her pristine grandeur and purity.
Verse 17. He will regard the prayer of the destitute.
Only the poorest of the people were left to sigh and cry among the ruins of the beloved city; as for the rest, they were strangers in a strange land, and far away from the holy place—yet the prayers of the captives and the forlorn off-scourings of the land would be heard of the Lord, who does not hear men because of the amount of money they possess, or the breadth of the acres which they call their own—but in mercy listens most readily to the cry of the greatest need.
And not despise their prayer.
When great kings are building their palaces it is not reasonable to expect them to turn aside and listen to every beggar who pleads with them. Yet when the Lord builds up Zion, and appears in his robes of glory, he makes a point of listening to every petition of the poor and needy. He will not treat their pleas with contempt; he will incline his ear to hear, his heart to consider, and his hand to help. What comfort is here for those who account themselves to be utterly destitute; their abject want is here met with a most condescending promise. It is worth while to be destitute, to be thus assured of the divine regard.
Verse 18. This shall be written for the generation to come.
A note shall be made of it, for there will be destitute ones in future generations, "the poor shall never cease out of the land"—and it will make glad their eyes to read the story of the Lord's mercy to the needy in former times.
Registers of divine kindness ought to be made and preserved. We write down in history the calamities of nations—wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes are recorded; how much rather then should we set up memorials of the Lord's loving-kindness! Those who have in their own souls endured spiritual destitution, and have been delivered out of it, cannot forget it; they are bound to tell others of it, and especially to instruct their children in the goodness of the Lord.
And the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD.
The Psalmist here intends to say that the rebuilding of Jerusalem would be a fact in history for which the Lord would be praised from age to age. Revivals of religion not only cause great joy to those who are immediately concerned in them—but they give encouragement and delight to the people of God long after, and are indeed perpetual incentives to adoration throughout the church of God.
This verse teaches us that we ought to have an eye to posterity, and especially should we endeavor to perpetuate the memory of God's love to his church and to his poor people, so that young people as they grow up may know that the Lord God of their fathers is good and full of compassion.
Sad as the Psalmist was when he wrote the dreary portions of this complaint, he was not so absorbed in his own sorrow, or so distracted by the national calamity, as to forget the claims of coming generations. This, indeed, is a clear proof that he was not without hope for his people, for he who is making arrangements for the good of a future generation has not yet despaired of his nation. The praise of God should be the great object of all that we do, and to secure him a revenue of glory both from the present and the future is the noblest aim of intelligent beings.
Verses 19-20. For he has looked down from the heights of his sanctuary.
Or "leaned from the high place of his holiness."
From Heaven did the LORD behold the earth.
Looking out like a watcher from his tower.
What was the object of this leaning lrom the battlements of Heaven? Why this intent gaze upon the race of men? The answer is full of astounding mercy; the Lord does not look upon mankind to note their grandees, and observe the doings of their nobles—but to hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death.
Now the groans of those in prison so far from being musical are very horrible to hear—yet God bends to hear them. Those who are bound for death are usually ill company—yet Jehovah deigns to stoop from his greatness to relieve their extreme distress and break their chains. This he does by providential rescues, by restoring health to the dying, and by finding food for the famishing.
Spiritually this deed of grace is accomplished by sovereign grace, which delivers us by pardon from the sentence of sin, and by the sweetness of the promise from the deadly despair which a sense of sin had created within us.
Well may those of us praise the Lord who were once the children of death—but are now brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
The Jews in captivity were in Haman's time appointed to death—but their God found a way of escape for them, and they joyfully kept the feast of Purim in memorial thereof; let all souls that have been set free from the crafty malice of the old dragon with even greater gratitude magnify the Lord of infinite compassion.
Verse 21. To declare the name of the LORD in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem.
Great mercy displayed to those greatly in need of it, is the plainest method of revealing the attributes of the Most High. Actions speak more loudly than words; deeds of grace are a revelation even more impressive than the most tender promises.
Jerusalem restored, the church re-edified, desponding souls encouraged, and all other manifestations of Jehovah's power to bless, are so many manifestos and proclamations put up upon the walls of Zion to publish the character and glory of the great God.
Every day's experience should be to us a new gazette of love, a court circular from Heaven, a daily despatch from the headquarters of grace. We are bound to inform our fellow Christians of all this, making them helpers in our praise, as they hear of the goodness which we have experienced. While God's mercies speak so eloquently, we ought not to be silent. To communicate to others what God has done for us personally and for the church at large is so evidently our duty, that we ought not to need urging to fulfill it. God has ever an eye to the glory of his grace in all that he does, and we ought not willfully to defraud him of the revenue of his praise.
Verse 22. When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the Lord.
The great work of restoring ruined Zion is to be spoken of in those golden ages when the heathen nations shall be converted unto God; even those glorious times will not be able to despise that grand event, which, like the passage of Israel through the Red Sea, will never be eclipsed and never cease to awaken the enthusiasm of the chosen people. Happy will the day be when all nations shall unite in the sole worship of Jehovah. Then shall the histories of the olden times be read with adoring wonder, and the hand of the Lord shall be seen as having ever rested upon the sacramental host of his elect. Then shall shouts of exulting praise ascend to Heaven in honor of him who loosed the captives, delivered the condemned, raised up the desolations of ages, and made out of stones and rubbish, a temple for his worship.
Verse 23. He weakened my strength in the way.
Here the Psalmist comes down again to the mournful string, and pours forth his personal complaint. His sorrow had cast down his spirit, and even caused weakness in his bodily frame, so that he was like a pilgrim who limped along the road, and was ready to lie down and die.
He shortened my days.
Though he had bright hopes for Jerusalem, he feared that he should have departed this life long before those visions had become realities; he felt that he was pining away and would be a short-lived man. Perhaps this may be our lot, and it will materially help us to be content with it, if we are persuaded that the grandest of all interests is safe, and the good old cause secure in the hands of the Lord.
Verse 24. I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days.
He betook himself to prayer. What better remedy is there for heart-sickness and depression? We may lawfully ask for recovery from sickness and may hope to be heard. Godly men should not dread death—but they are not forbidden to love life: for many reasons the man who has the best hope of Heaven may nevertheless think it desirable to continue here a little longer, for the sake of his family, his work, the church of God, and even the glory of God itself. Some read the passage, "Take me not up,"—let me not ascend like disappearing smoke, do not whirl me away like Elijah in a chariot of fire, for as yet I have only seen half my days, and that a sorrowful half; give me to live until the blustering morning shall have softened into a bright afternoon of happier existence.
Your years are throughout all generations.
You live, Lord; let me live also. A fullness of existence is with you, let me partake therein. Note the contrast between himself pining and ready to expire, and his God living on in the fullness of strength forever and ever. Then contrast is full of consolatory power to the man whose heart is stayed upon the Lord. Blessed be his name, he fails not, and, therefore, our hope shall not fail us, neither will we despair for ourselves or for his church.
Verse 25. Of old have you laid the foundation of the earth.
Creation is no new work with God, and therefore to "create Jerusalem a praise in the earth" will not be difficult to him. Long before the holy city was laid in ruins the Lord made a world out of nothing, and it will be no labor to him to raise the walls from their heaps and replace the stones in their courses. We can neither continue our own existence nor give being to others; but the Lord not only is—but he is the Maker of all things that are. Hence, when our affairs are at the very lowest ebb we are not at all despairing, because the Almighty and Eternal Lord can yet restore us.
And the heavens are the work of your hands.
You can therefore not merely lay the foundations of Zion—but complete its roof, even as you have arched in the world with its ceiling of blue; the loftiest stories of your earthly palace shall be piled on high without difficulty when you do undertake the building thereof, since you are the architect of the stars, and the spheres in which they move. When a great labor is to be performed it is eminently reassuring to contemplate the power of him who has undertaken to accomplish it; and when our own strength is exhausted it is supremely cheering to see the unfailing energy which is still engaged on our behalf.
Verse 26. They shall perish—but you shall endure.
The power which made them shall dissolve them, even as the city of your love was destroyed at your command. Yet neither the ruined city nor the ruined earth can make a change in you, reverse your purpose, or diminish your glory. You stand when all things fall.
Yes, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture you shall change them, and they shall be changed.
Time impairs all things, the fashion becomes obsolete and passes away. The visible creation, which is like the garment of the invisible God, is waxing old and wearing out, and our great King is not so poor that he must always wear the same robes. He will before long fold up the worlds and put them aside as worn out vestures, and he will array himself in new attire, making a new Heaven and a new earth wherein dwells righteousness. How readily will all this be done.
You shall change them, and they shall be changed.
As in the creation so in the restoration, omnipotence shall work its way without hindrance.
Verse 27. But you are the same.
Or, "you are he." As a man remains the same when he has changed his clothing, so is the Lord evermore the unchanging One, though his works in creation may be changed, and the operations of his providence may vary. When Heaven and earth shall flee away from the dread presence of the great Judge, he will be unaltered by the terrible confusion, and the world in conflagration will effect no change in him.
Even so, the Psalmist remembered that when Israel was vanquished, her capital destroyed, and her temple leveled with the ground, her God remained the same self-existent, all-sufficient being, and would restore his people, even as he will restore the heavens and the earth, bestowing at the same time a new glory never known before.
The doctrine of the immutability of God should be more considered than it is, for the neglect of it tinges the theology of many religious teachers, and makes them utter many things of which they would have seen the absurdity long ago if they had remembered the divine declaration, "I am God, I do not change, therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed."
And your years shall have no end.
God lives on, no decay can happen to him, or destruction overtake him. What a joy is this! We may lose our dearest earthly friends—but not our heavenly Friend. Men's days are often suddenly cut short, and at the longest they are but few—but the years of the right hand of the Most High cannot be counted, for they have neither first nor last, beginning nor end. O my soul, rejoice in the Lord always, since he is always the same.
Verse 28. The children of your servants shall continue.
The Psalmist had early in the psalm looked forward to a future generation, and here he speaks with confidence that such a race would arise and be preserved and blessed of God.
Some read it as a prayer, "let the sons of your servants abide."
Any way, it is full of good cheer to us; we may plead for the Lord's favor to our seed, and we may expect that the cause of God and truth will revive in future generations. Let us hope that those who are to succeed us will not be so stubborn, unbelieving and erring as we have been. If the church has been diminished and brought low by the lukewarmness of the present race, let us entreat the Lord to raise up a better order of men, whose zeal and obedience shall win and hold a long prosperity. May our own dear ones be among the better generation who shall continue in the Lord's ways, obedient to the end.
And their seed shall be established before you.
God does not neglect the children of his servants. It is the rule that Abraham's Isaac should be the Lord's, that Isaac's Jacob should be beloved of the Most High, and that Jacob's Joseph should find favor in the sight of God. Grace is not hereditary—yet God loves to be served by the same family time out of mind, even as many great landowners feel a pleasure in having the same families as tenants upon their estates from generation to generation.
Here is Zion's hope, her sons will build her up, her offspring will restore her former glories. We may, therefore, not only for our own sakes—but also out of love to the church of God, daily pray that our sons and daughters may be saved, and kept by divine grace even unto the end—established before the Lord.
We have thus passed through the cloud, and in the next psalm we shall bask in the sunshine. Such is the chequered experience of the believer. Paul in the seventh of Romans cries and groans, and then in the eighth rejoices and leaps for joy. Just so, from the moaning of the hundred and second psalm, we now advance to the songs and dancing of the hundred and third, blessing the Lord that, "though weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning."