Treasury of David
This historic psalm was evidently composed by King David, for the first fifteen verses of it were used as a hymn at the carrying up of the ark from the house of Obed Edom, and we read in 1 Chronicles 16:7, "Then on that day David delivered first this psalm to thank the Lord, into the hand of Asaph and his brethren."
Such a song was suitable for the occasion, for it describes the movements of the Lord's people and his guardian care over them in every place, and all this on account of the covenant of which the ark, then removing, was a symbol.
Our last psalm sang the opening chapters of Genesis—and this takes up its closing chapters and conducts us into Exodus and Numbers.
The first verses are full of joyful praise, and call upon the people to extol Jehovah, 1-7;
then the earliest days of the infant nation, are described, 8-15;
the going into Egypt, 16-23,
the coming forth from it with the Lord's outstretched arm, 24-38,
the journeying through the wilderness and the entrance into Canaan.
We are now among the long Psalms, as at other times we have been among the short ones. These varying lengths of the sacred poems should teach us not to lay down any law either of brevity or prolixity in either prayer or praise. Short petitions and single verses of hymns are often the best for public occasions—but there are seasons when a whole night of wrestling or an entire day of psalm singing will be none too long. The Spirit is ever free in his operations, and is not to be confined within the rules of conventional propriety. The wind blows as it wills—and at one time rushes in short and rapid sweep, while at another it continues to refresh the earth hour after hour with its reviving breath.
Verse 1. O give thanks unto the Lord.
Jehovah is the author of all our benefits, therefore let him have all our gratitude.
Call upon his name.
Or call him by his name; proclaim his titles and fill the world with his renown.
Make known his deeds among the people.
Or among the nations. Let the heathen hear of our God, that they may forsake their idols and learn to worship him. The removal of the ark was a fit occasion for proclaiming aloud the glories of the Great King, and for publishing to all mankind the greatness of his doings, for it had a history in connection with the nations which it was well for them to remember with reverence.
The rest of the psalm is a sermon, of which these first verses constitute the text.
Verse 2. Sing unto him.
Bring your best thoughts and express them in the best language to the sweetest sounds. Take care that your singing is "unto him, "and not merely for the sake of the music or to delight the ears of others. Singing is so delightful an exercise that it is a pity so much or it should be wasted upon trifles, or worse than trifles. O you who can emulate the nightingale, and almost rival the angels, we do most earnestly pray that your hearts may be renewed so that your floods of melody may be poured out at your Maker's and Redeemer's feet.
Talk of all his wondrous works.
Men love to speak of marvels, and others are generally glad to hear of surprising things; surely the believer in the living God has before him the most amazing series of wonders ever heard of or imagined, his themes are inexhaustible and they are such as should hold men spellbound. We ought to have more of this talk—no one would be blamed as a Mr. Talkative if this were his constant theme. Talk, all of you—you all know something by experience of the marvelous loving kindness of the Lord. In this way, by all dwelling on this blessed subject, "all" his wondrous works will be published.
One cannot do it, nor ten thousand times ten thousand—but if all speak to the Lord's honor, they will at least come nearer to accomplishing the deed.
We ought to have a wide range when conversing upon the Lord's doings, and should not shut our eyes to any part of them. Talk of his wondrous works in creation and in grace, in judgment and in mercy, in providential interpositions and in spiritual comforting. Leave out none, or it will be to your damage. Obedience to this verse will give every sanctified tongue some work to do. The trained musicians can sing, and the commoner voices can talk, and in both ways the Lord will receive a measure of the thanks due to him, and his deeds will be made known among the people.
Verse 3. Glory in his holy name.
Make it a matter of joy that you have such a God. His character and attributes are such as will never make you blush to call him your God. Idolaters may well be ashamed of the actions attributed to their imagined deities, their names are foul with lust and red with blood—but Jehovah is wholly glorious; every deed of his will bear the strictest scrutiny. His name is holy, his character is holy, his law is holy, his government is holy, his influence is holy. In all this we may make our boast, nor can any deny our right to do so.
Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.
If they have not yet found him so fully as they desire—yet even to be allowed and enabled to seek after such a God is cause for gladness. To worship the Lord and seek his kingdom and righteousness is the sure way to happiness, mad indeed there is no other. True seekers throw their hearts into the engagement, hence their hearts receive joy; according to the text they have a permit to rejoice and they have the promise that they shall do so. How happy all these sentences are! Where can men's ears be when they talk of the gloom of psalm singing? What worldly songs are fuller of real mirth? One hears the sound of the timbrel and the harp in every verse. Even seekers find bliss in the name of the Lord Jesus—but as for the finders, we may say with the poet,
"And those who find you find a bliss,
Nor tongue nor pen can show:
The love of Jesus what it is,
None but his loved ones know."
Verse 4. Seek the Lord and his strength.
Put yourselves under his protection. Regard him not as a puny God—but look unto his omnipotence, and seek to know the power of his grace. We all need strength; let us look to the strong One for it. We need infinite power to bear us safely to our eternal resting place, let us look to the Almighty Jehovah for it.
Seek his face evermore.
Seek, seek, seek, we have the word three times, and though the words differ in the Hebrew, the sense is the same. It must be a blessed thing to seek, or we would not be thus stirred up to do so.
To seek his face is to desire his presence, his smile, his favor consciously enjoyed. First we seek him, then his strength and then his face; from the personal reverence, we pass on to the imparted power, and then to the conscious favor. This seeking must never cease—the more we know, the more we must seek to know. Finding him, we must "our minds inflame to seek him more and more." He seeks spiritual worshipers, and spiritual worshipers seek him; they are therefore sure to meet face to face before long.
Verse 5. Remember his marvelous works that he has done.
Memory is never better employed than upon such topics. Alas, we are far more ready to recollect foolish and evil things, than to retain in our minds the glorious deeds of Jehovah. If we would keep these in remembrance our faith would be stronger, our gratitude warmer, our devotion more fervent, and our love more intense. Shame upon us that we should let slip what it would seem impossible to forget. We ought to need no exhortation to remember such wonders, especially as he has wrought them all on the behalf of his people.
His wonders, and the judgments of his mouth.
These also should be had in memory. The judgments of his mouth are as memorable as the marvels of his hand. God had but to speak and the enemies of his people were sorely afflicted; his threats were not mere words—but smote his adversaries terribly. As the Word of God is the salvation of his saints, so is it the destruction of the ungodly. Out of his mouth goes a two edged sword with which he will slay the wicked.
Verse 6. O seed of Abraham his servant, you children of Jacob his chosen.
Should all the world forget, you are bound to remember. Your father Abraham saw his wonders and judgments upon Sodom, and upon the kings who came from far. Jacob also saw the Lord's marvelous works in visiting the nations with famine—yet providing for his chosen a choice inheritance in a goodly land. Therefore let the children praise their father's God.
The Israelites were the Lord's elect nation, and they were bound to imitate their progenitor, who was the Lord's faithful servant and walked before him in holy faith: the seed of Abraham should not be unbelieving, nor should the children of so true a servant become rebels.
As we read this pointed appeal to the chosen seed we should recognize the special claims which the Lord has upon ourselves, since we too have been favored above all others. Election is not a couch for ease—but an argument for sevenfold diligence. If God has set his choice upon us, let us aim to be choice men.
Verse 7. He is the Lord our God.
Blessed be his name. Jehovah condescends to be our God. This sentence contains a greater wealth of meaning than all the eloquence of orators can compass, and there is more joy in it than in all the sonnets of them that make merry.
His judgments are in all the earth.
Or in all the land, for the whole of the country was instructed by his law, ruled by his statutes, and protected by his authority. What a joy it is that our God is never absent from us, he is never non-resident, never an absentee ruler, his judgments are in all the places in which we dwell. If the second clause of this verse refers to the whole world, it is very beautiful to see the speciality of Israel's election united with the universality of Jehovah's reign.
Not alone to the one nation did the Lord reveal himself—but his glory flashed around the globe. It is astonishing that the Jewish people should have become so exclusive, and have so utterly lost the missionary spirit, for their sacred literature is full of the broad and generous sympathies which are so consistent with the worship of "the God of the whole earth."
Nor is it less painful to observe that among a certain class of believers in God's election of grace there lingers a hard exclusive spirit, fatal to compassion and zeal. It would be well for these also to remember that their Redeemer is "the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe."
Verse 8. He has remembered his covenant forever.
Here is the basis of all his dealings with his people: he had entered into covenant with them in their father Abraham, and to this covenant he remained faithful. The exhortation to remember (verse 5) receives great force from the fact that God has remembered. If the Lord has his promise in memory surely we ought not to forget the wonderful manner in which he keeps it. To us it should be matter for deepest joy that never in any instance has the Lord been unmindful of his covenant engagements, nor will he be so world without end. O that we were as mindful of them as he is.
The word which he commanded to a thousand generations.
This is only an amplification of the former statement, and serves to set before us the immutable fidelity of the Lord during the changing generations of men. His judgments are threatened upon the third and fourth generations of them that hate him—but his love runs on forever, even to "a thousand generations."
His promise is here said to be commanded, or vested with all the authority of a law. It is a proclamation from a sovereign, the command of an Emperor whose laws shall stand fast in every jot and tittle though Heaven and earth shall pass away. Therefore let us give thanks unto the Lord and talk of all his wondrous works, so wonderful for their faithfulness and truth.
Verse 9. Which covenant he made with ABRAHAM.
When the victims were divided and the burning lamp passed between the pieces (Genesis 15) then the Lord made, or ratified, the covenant with the patriarch. This was a solemn deed, performed not without blood, and the cutting in pieces of the sacrifice; it points us to the greater covenant which in Christ Jesus is signed, sealed, and ratified, that it may stand fast forever and ever.
And his oath unto ISAAC.
Isaac did not in vision see the solemn making of the covenant—but the Lord renewed unto him his oath (Genesis 26:2-5). This was enough for him, and must have established his faith in the Most High. We have the privilege of seeing in our Lord Jesus both the sacrificial seal, and the eternal oath of God, by which every promise of the covenant is made yes and amen to all the chosen seed.
Verse 10. And confirmed the same unto JACOB for a law.
Jacob in his wondrous dream (Genesis 28:10-15) received a pledge that the Lord's mode of procedure with him would be in accordance with covenant relations; for said Jehovah, "I will not leave you until I have done that which I have spoken to you of." Thus, if we may so speak with all reverence, the covenant became a law unto the Lord himself by which he bound himself to act. O matchless condescension, that the most free and sovereign Lord should put himself under covenant bonds to His chosen, and make a law for himself, though he is above all law.
And to ISRAEL for an everlasting covenant.
When he changed Jacob's name he did not change his covenant—but it is written, "he blessed him there" (Genesis 32:29), and it was with the old blessing, according to the unchangeable word of abiding grace.
Verse 11. Saying, Unto you will I give the land of Canaan, the portion of your inheritance.
This repetition of the great covenant promise is recorded in Genesis 35:9-12 in connection with the change of Jacob's name, and very soon after that slaughter of the Shechemites, which had put the patriarch into such great alarm and caused him to use language almost identical with that of the next verse.
Verse 12. When they were but a few men in number yes, very few, and strangers in it.
Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, "You have troubled me to make me to a stench among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me, and I shall be destroyed, and my house."
Thus the fears of the man of God declared themselves, and they were reasonable if we look only at the circumstances in which he was placed—but they are soon seen to be groundless when we remember that the covenant promise, which guaranteed the possession of the land, necessarily implied the preservation of the race to whom the promise was made. We often fear where no fear is.
The blessings promised to the seed of Abraham were not dependent upon the number of his descendants, or their position in this world. The covenant was made with one man, and consequently the number could never be less, and that one man was not the owner of a foot of soil in all the land, save only a cave in which to bury his dead, and therefore his seed could not have less inheritance than he.
The smallness of a church, and the poverty of its members, are no barriers to the divine blessing—if it be sought earnestly by pleading the promise. Were not the apostles few, and the disciples feeble, when the good work began? Neither because we are strangers and foreigners here below, as our fathers were, are we in any the more danger. We are like sheep in the midst of wolves—but the wolves cannot hurt us, for our shepherd is near.
Verse 13. When they went from one nation, to another, from one Kingdom to another people.
Migrating as the patriarchs did from the region of one tribe to the country of another they were singularly preserved. The little wandering family might have been cut off root and branch had not a special mandate been issued from the throne for their protection. It was not the gentleness of their neighbors which screened them; they were hedged about by the mysterious guardianship of Heaven. Whether in Egypt, or in Philistia, or in Canaan, the heirs of the promises, dwelling in their tents, were always secure.
Verse 14. He allowed no man to do them wrong.
Men cannot wrong us unless he allows them to do so; the greatest of them must wait his permission before they can place a finger upon us. The wicked would devour us if they could—but they cannot even cheat us of a farthing without divine permission.
Yes, he reproved kings for their sakes.
Pharaoh and Abimelech must both be made to respect the singular strangers who had come to sojourn in their land; the greatest kings are very second rate persons with God in comparison with his chosen servants.
Verse 15. Saying, touch not my anointed, and do my prophets no harm.
Abraham and his seed were in the midst of the world a generation of priests anointed to present sacrifice unto the most High God; since to them the oracles were committed, they were also the prophets of mankind. They were kings too—a royal priesthood; hence they had received a threefold anointing. Their holy office surrounded them with a sacredness which rendered it sacrilege to molest them. The Lord was pleased to impress the wild tribes of Canaan with a respectful awe of the pious strangers who had come to abide with them, so that they came not near them to do them ill.
The words here mentioned may not have been actually spoken—but the impression of awe which fell upon the nations is thus poetically described. God will not have those harmed, who have been set apart unto himself. He calls them his own, saying, "My anointed" he declares that he has "anointed" them to be prophets, priests, and kings unto himself, and yet again he claims them as his prophets, "Do my prophets no harm."
All through the many years in which the three great fathers dwelt in Canaan no man was able to injure them; they were not able to defend themselves by force of arms; but the eternal God was their refuge.
Even so at this present time the remnant according to the election of grace cannot be destroyed, nay, nor so much as touched, without the divine consent. Against the church of Christ the gates of Hell cannot prevail.
In all this we see reasons for giving thanks unto the Lord, and proclaiming his name according to the exhortation of the first verse of the Psalm.
Here ends the portion which was sung at the moving of the ark. Its fitness to be used for such a purpose is very manifest, for the ark was the symbol both of the covenant and of that mystic dwelling of God with Israel which was at once her glory and her defense. None could touch the Lord's peculiar ones, for the Lord was among them, flaming forth in majesty between the cherubim.
The presence of God having remained with his chosen ones while they sojourned in Canaan, it did not desert them when they were called to go down into Egypt. They did not go there of their own choice—but under divine direction, and hence the Lord prepared their way and prospered them until he saw fit to conduct them again to the land of promise.
Verse 16. Moreover he called for a famine upon the land.
He had only to call for it as a man calls for his servant, and it came at once. How grateful ought we to be that he does not often call in that terrible servant of his, so meager and gaunt, and grim, so pitiless to the women and the children, so bitter to the strong men, who utterly fail before it.
He broke the whole staff of bread.
Man's feeble life cannot stand without its staff—if bread fails him, he fails. As a cripple with a broken staff falls to the ground, so does man when there is no bread to sustain him. To God it is as easy to make a famine as to break a staff. He could make that famine universal, too, so that all countries should be in like case: then would the race of man fall indeed, and its staff would be broken forever.
There is this sweet comfort in the matter, that the Lord has wise ends to serve even by famine. He meant his people to go down into Egypt, and the scarcity of food was his method of leading them there, for "they heard that there was grain in Egypt."
Verse 17. He sent a man before them, even Joseph.
He was the advance guard and pioneer for the whole clan. His brethren sold him—but God sent him. Where the hand of the wicked is visible, God's hand may be invisibly at work, overruling their malice. No one was more of a man, or more fit to lead the van than Joseph: an interpreter of dreams was wanted, and his brethren had said of him, "Behold, this dreamer comes."
Who was sold for a servant.
Or rather for a slave. Joseph's journey into Egypt was not so costly as Jonah's voyage when he paid his own fare. His free passage was provided by the Midianites, who also secured his introduction to a great officer of state by handing him over as a slave. His way to a position in which he could feed his family lay through the pit, the slaver's caravan, the slave market and the prison—and who shall deny but what it was the right way, the surest way, the wisest way, and perhaps the shortest way. Yet assuredly it seemed not so.
Were we to send a man on such an errand we would furnish him with money—Joseph goes as a pauper; we would clothe him with authority—Joseph goes as a slave; we would leave him at full liberty—Joseph is a bondman.
Yet money would have been of little use when grain was so dear, authority would have been irritating rather than influential with Pharaoh, and freedom might not have thrown Joseph into connection with Pharaoh's captain and his other servants—and so the knowledge of his skill in interpretation might not have reached the monarch's ear. God way is the way.
Our Lord's path to his mediatorial throne ran by the cross of Calvary.
Our road to glory runs by the rivers of grief.
Verse 18. Whose feet they hurt with fetters.
From this we learn a little more of Joseph's sufferings than we find in the book of Genesis: inspiration had not ceased, and David was as accurate a historian as Moses, for the same Spirit guided his pen.
He was laid in iron.
Or "into iron came his soul." The prayer book version, "the iron entered into his soul," is ungrammatical—but probably expresses much the same truth. His fetters hurt his mind as well as his body, and well did Jacob say, "The archers shot at him, and sorely grieved him."
Under the cruelly false accusation, which he could not disprove, his mind was, as it were, belted and bolted around with iron, and had not the Lord been with him he might have sunk under his sufferings.
In all this, and a thousand things besides, he was an admirable type of him who in the highest sense is "the Shepherd, the stone of Israel."
The iron fetters were preparing him to wear chains of gold, and making his feet ready to stand on high places. It is even so with all the Lord's afflicted ones, they too shall one day step from their prisons to their thrones.
Verse 19. Until the time that his word came.
God has his times, and his children must wait until his "until" is fulfilled. Joseph was tried as in a furnace, until the Lord's assaying work was fully accomplished. The word of the chief butler was nothing, he had to wait until God's word came, and meanwhile the word of the Lord tried him. He believed the promise—but his faith was sorely exercised.
A delayed blessing tests men, and proves their metal, whether their faith is of that precious kind which can endure the fire. Of many a choice promise we may say with Daniel "the thing was true—but the time appointed was long." If the vision tarries, it is good to wait for it with patience. There is a trying word and a delivering word, and we must bear the one until the other comes to us.
How meekly Joseph endured his afflictions, and with what fortitude he looked forward to the clearing of his slandered character, we may readily imagine. It will be better still if under similar trials we are able to imitate him, and come forth from the furnace as thoroughly purified as he was, and as well prepared to bear the yet harder ordeal of honor and power.
Verse 20. The king sent and loosed him.
He was thrust into the prison by an officer—but he was released by the monarch himself.
Even the ruler of the people, and let him go free.
The tide had turned, so that Egypt's haughty potentate gave him a call from the prison to the palace. He had interpreted the dreams of captives, himself a captive. He must now interpret for a ruler and become a ruler himself. When God means to enlarge his prisoners, kings become his turnkeys.
Verse 21. He made him lord of his house.
Reserving no power—but saying "only in the throne will I be greater than you." The servitor of slaves becomes lord over nobles. How soon the Lord lifts his chosen from the dunghill to set them among princes.
And ruler of all his substance.
He empowered him to manage the storing of the seven plenteous harvests, and to dispense the provisions in the coming days of scarcity. All the treasures of Egypt were under his lock and key, yes, the granaries of the world were sealed or opened at his bidding. Thus was he in the best conceivable position for preserving alive the house of Israel with whom the covenant was made.
As our Lord was himself secured in Egypt from Herod's enmity, so, ages before, the redeemed race found an equally available shelter, in the hour of need.
God has always a refuge for his saints, and if the whole earth could not afford them sanctuary, the Lord himself would be their dwelling place, and take them up to lie in his own bosom. We are always sure to be fed, if all the world should starve.
It is delightful to think of our greater Joseph ruling the nations for the good of his own household, and it becomes us to abide in quiet confidence in every political disaster, since Jesus is on the throne of providence, King of kings and Lord of lords, and will be so until this dispensation ends.
Verse 22. To bind his princes at his pleasure.
He who was bound, obtains authority to bind. He is no longer kept in prison—but keeps all the prisons, and casts into them the greatest nobles when justice demands it.
And teach his senators wisdom.
The heads of the various peoples, the elders of the nations, learned from him the science of government, the are of providing for the people. Joseph was a great instructor in political economy, and we doubt not that he mingled with it the purest morals, the most upright jurisprudence, and something of that divine wisdom without which the most able senators remain in darkness.
The king's authority made him absolute both in the executive and in the legislative courts, and the Lord instructed him to use his power with discretion. What responsibilities and honors loaded the man who had been rejected by his brothers, and sold for twenty pieces of silver! What glories crown the head of that greater one who was "separated from his brethren."
Verse 23. Israel also came into Egypt.
The aged patriarch came, and with him that increasing company which bore his name. He was hard to bring there. Perhaps nothing short of the hope of seeing Joseph could have drawn him to take so long a journey from the tombs of his forefathers; but the divine will was accomplished and the church of God was removed into an enemy's country, where for a while it was nourished.
And Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham.
Shem the blessed came to lodge awhile with Ham the accursed: the dove was in the vulture's nest. God so willed it for a time, and therefore it was safe and right: still it was only a sojourn, not a settlement.
The fairest Goshen in Egypt was not the covenant blessing, neither did the Lord mean his people to think it so; even so to us "earth is our lodge" but only our lodge, for Heaven is our home. When we are best housed we ought still to remember that here we have no continuing city. It were ill news for us if we were doomed to reside in Egypt forever, for all its riches are not worthy to be compared with the reproach of Christ. Thus the song rehearsed the removals of the Lord's people, and was a most fit accompaniment to the bearing up of the ark, as the priest carried it into the city of David, where the Lord had appointed it a resting place.
Verse 24. And he increased his people greatly.
In Goshen they seem to have increased rapidly from the first, and this excited the fears of the Egyptians, so that they tried to retard their increase by oppression—but the Lord continued to bless them.
And made them stronger than their enemies.
Both in physical strength and in numbers they threatened to become the more powerful race. Nor was this growth of the nation impeded by tyrannical measures—but the very reverse took place, thus giving an early instance of what has since become a proverb in the church, "the more they oppressed them, the more they multiplied." It is idle to contend either with God or his people.
Verse 25. He turned their hearts to hate his people.
It was his goodness to Israel which called forth the ill will of the Egyptian court, and so far the Lord caused it, and moreover he made use of this feeling to lead on to the discomfort of his people, and so to their readiness to leave the land to which they had evidently become greatly attached. Thus far but no further did the Lord turn the hearts of the Egyptians.
God cannot in any sense be the author of sin so far as to be morally responsible for its existence—but it often happens through the evil which is inherent in human nature, that the acts of the Lord arouse the ill feelings of ungodly men. Is the sun to be blamed because while it softens wax it hardens clay? Is the orb of day to be accused of creating the foul exhalations which are drawn by its warmth from the pestilential marsh? The sun causes the reek of the dunghill only in a certain sense; had it been a bed of flowers his beams would have called forth fragrance.
The evil is in men, and the honor of turning it to good and useful purposes is with the Lord. Hatred is often allied with cunning, and so in the case of the Egyptians.
They began to deal subtly with his servants.
They treated them in a fraudulent manner, they reduced them to bondage by their exactions, they secretly concerted the destruction of their male children, and at length openly ordained that cruel measure, and all with the view of checking their increase, lest in time of war they should side with invaders in order to obtain their liberty. Surely the depths of Satanic policy were here reached—but vain was the cunning of man against the chosen seed.
Verse 26. He sent Moses his servant; and Aaron whom he had chosen.
When the oppression was at the worst, Moses came. For the second time we have here the expression, "he sent"; he who sent Joseph sent also Moses and his eloquent brother. The Lord had the men in readiness and all he had to do was to commission them and thrust them forward. They were two, for mutual comfort and strength, even as the apostles and the seventy in our Lord's day were sent forth two and two. The men differed, and so the one became the supplement of the other, and together they were able to accomplish far more than if they had been exactly alike. The main point was that they were both sent, and hence both clothed with divine might.
Verse 27. They showed his signs among them, and wonders in the land of Ham.
The miracles which were wrought by Moses were the Lord's, not his own. Hence they are here called HIS signs, as being the marks of Jehovah's presence hence they are here called "his" and power. The plagues were "words of his signs", that is to say, they were speaking marvels, which testified more plainly than words to the omnipotence of Jehovah, to his determination to be obeyed, to his anger at the obstinacy of Pharaoh.
Never were discourses more plain, pointed, personal, or powerful—and yet it took ten of them to accomplish the end designed. In the preaching of the gospel there are words, and signs, and wonders and these leave men without excuse for their impenitence. To have the kingdom of God come near unto them, and yet to remain rebellious is the unhappy sin of obstinate spirits. Those are wonders of sin who see wonders of grace, and yet are unaffected by them. As bad as he was, Pharaoh had not this guilt, for the prodigies which lie beheld were marvels of judgment and not of mercy.
Verse 28. He sent darkness, and made it dark.
It was no natural or common darkness to be accounted for by the blinding dust of the whirlwind, it was beyond all precedent and out of the range of ordinary events. It was a horrible palpable obscurity which men felt clinging about them as though it were a robe of death. It was a thick darkness, a total darkness, a darkness which lasted three days, a darkness in which no one dared to stir. What a condition to be in!
This plague is first mentioned, thought it is not first in order, because it fitly describes all the period of the plagues. The land was in the darkness of sorrow, and in the darkness of sin all the time. If we shudder as we think of that long and terrible gloom, let us reflect upon the gross darkness which still covers heathen lands as the result of sin, for it is one of the chief plagues which iniquity creates for itself. May the day soon come when the people which sit in darkness shall see a great light.
And they rebelled not against his word.
Moses and Aaron did as they were bidden, and during the darkness the Egyptians were so cowed that even when it cleared away they were anxious for Israel to be gone, and had it not been for the pride of Pharaoh they would have rejoiced to speed them on their journey there and then. God can force men to obey, and even make the stoutest hearts eager to pay respect to his will, for fear his plagues should be multiplied.
Possibly, however, the sentence before us neither refers to Moses nor the Egyptians—but to the plagues which came at the Lord's bidding. The darkness, the hail, the frogs, the murrain, were all so many obedient servants of the great Lord of all.
Verse 29. He turned their waters into blood, and slew their fish.
So that the plague was not a mere coloring of the water with red earth, as some suppose—but the river was offensive and fatal to the fish. The beloved Nile and other streams were all equally tainted and ensanguined.
Their commonest mercy became their greatest curse. Water is one of the greatest blessings, and the more plentiful it is the better—but blood is a hideous sight to look upon, and to see rivers and pools of it is frightful indeed.
Fish in Egypt furnished a large part of the food supply, and it was no small affliction to see them floating dead and white upon a stream of crimson. The hand of the Lord thus smote them where all classes of the people would become aware of it and suffer from it.
Verse 30. Their land brought forth frogs in abundance.
If fish could not live frogs might, yes, they multiplied both on land and in the water until they swarmed beyond all count.
In the chambers of their kings.
They penetrated the choicest rooms of the palace, and were found upon the couches of state. The Lord called for them and they marched forth. Obnoxious and even loathsome their multitudes became—but there was no resisting them; they seemed to spring out of the ground, the very land brought them forth. Their universal presence must have inspired horror and disgust which would cause sickness and make life a burden; their swarming even in the king's own chambers was a rebuke to his face, which his pride must have felt.
Kings are no more than other men with God, nay less than others when they are first in rebellion; if the frogs had abounded elsewhere—but had been kept out of his select apartments, the monarch would have cared little, for he was a heartless being—but God took care that there should be a special horde of the invaders for the palace; they were more than ordinarily abundant in the chambers of their kings.
Verse 31. He spoke.
See the power of the divine word. He had only to say it and it was done!
And there came divers sorts of flies.
Insects of various annoying kinds came up in infinite hordes, a mixture of biting, stinging, buzzing gnats, mosquitoes, files, beetles, and other vermin such as make men's flesh their prey, the place of deposit for their eggs, and the seat of peculiar torments.
And lice in all their coasts.
These unutterably loathsome forms of life were as the dust of the ground, and covered their persons, their garments, and all they ate. Nothing is too small to master man, when God commands it to assail him.
The sons of Ham had despised the Israelites and now they were made to loathe themselves. The meanest beggars were more approachable than the proud Egyptians; they were reduced to the meanest condition of filthiness, and the most painful state of irritation.
What armies the Lord can send forth when once his right arm is bared for war! And what scorn he pours on proud nations when he fights them, not with angels—but with lice!
Pharaoh had little left to be proud of when his own person was invaded by filthy parasites. It was a slap in the face which ought to have humbled his heart; but, alas, man, when he is altogether polluted, still maintains his self conceit, and when he is the most disgusting object in the universe, he still vaunts himself. Surely pride is moral madness.
Verse 32. He gave them hail for rain.
They seldom had rain—but now the showers assumed the form of heavy, destructive hail storms, and being accompanied with a hurricane and thunderstorm, they were overwhelming, terrible, and destructive.
And flaming fire in their land.
The lightning was peculiarly vivid, and seemed to run along upon the ground, or fall in fiery flakes. Thus all the fruit of the trees and the harvests of the fields were either broken to pieces or burned on the spot, and universal fear bowed the hearts of men to the dust. No phenomena are more appalling to the most of mankind than those which attend a thunderstorm; even the most audacious blasphemers quail when the dread artillery of Heaven opens fire upon the earth.
Verse 33. He smote their vines also and their fig trees.
So that all hope of gathering their best fruits was gone, and the trees were injured for future bearing. All the crops were destroyed, and these are mentioned as being the more prominent forms of their produce, used by them both at festivals and in common meals.
And broke the trees of their coasts.
From end to end of Egypt the trees were battered and broken by the terrible hailstorm. God is in earnest when he deals with proud spirits—he will either end them, or mend them.
Verse 34. He spoke, and the locusts came, and caterpillars, and that without number.
One word from the Captain, and the armies leap forward! The expression is very striking, and sets forth the immediate result of the divine word. The caterpillar is called the licker, because it seems to lick up every green thing as in a moment. Perhaps the caterpillar here meant is still the locust in another form. That locusts swarm in countless armies is a fact of ordinary observation, and the case would be worse on this occasion. We have ourselves ridden for miles through armies of locusts, and we have seen with our own eyes how completely they devour every green thing. The description is not strained when we read,
Verse 35. And did eat up all the herbs in their land, and devoured the fruit of their ground.
Nothing escapes these ravenous creatures, they even climb the trees to reach any remnant of foliage which may survive. Commissioned as these were by God, we may be sure they would do their work thoroughly, and leave behind them nothing but a desolate wilderness.
Verse 36. Are smote also all the firstborn in their land, the chief of all their strength.
Now came the master blow. The Lord spoke before—but now he smites; before he only smote vines—but now he strikes men themselves. The glory of the household dies in a single night, the prime and pick of the nation are cut off, the flower of the troops, the heirs of the rich, and the hopes of the poor all die at midnight.
Now the target was struck in the center, there was no confronting this plague. Pharaoh feels it as much as the woman slave at the mill. He had smitten Israel, the Lord's firstborn, and the Lord repaid him to his face. What a cry went up throughout the land of Egypt when every house wailed its firstborn at the dead of night! O Jehovah, you did triumph in that hour, and with an outstretched arm did you deliver your people.
Verse 37. He brought them forth also with silver and gold.
This they asked of the Egyptians, perhaps even demanded, and well they might, for they had been robbed and spoiled for many a day, and it was not fit that they should go forth empty handed. Glad were the Egyptians to hand over their jewels to propitiate a people who had such an awesome friend above; they needed no undue pressure, they feared them too much to deny them their requests.
The Israelites were compelled to leave their houses and lands behind them, and it was but justice that they should be able to turn these into portable property.
And there was not one feeble person among their tribes.
A great marvel indeed. Their number was very great and yet there was not one carried, or limping in the rear. Poverty and oppression had not enfeebled them. JEHOVAH ROPHI had healed them; they carried none of the diseases of Egypt with them, and felt none of the exhaustion which sore bondage produces.
When God calls his people to a long journey he fits them for it. In the pilgrimage of life, our strength shall be equal to our day.
See the contrast between Egypt and Israel—in Egypt one dead in every house, and among the Israelites not one so much as limping!
Verse 38. Egypt was glad when they departed.
Which would not have been the case had the gold and silver been borrowed by the Israelites, for men do not like to see borrowers carry their goods into a far country. The awe of God was on Egypt, and they feared his people and were glad to pay them to be gone. What a change from the time when the sons of Jacob were the drudges of the land, the offscouring of all things, the brick-makers whose toil was only requited by the lash or the stick. Now they were reverenced as prophets and priests.
For the fear of them fell upon them.
The people proceeded even to a superstitious terror them. Thus with cheers and good wishes their former taskmasters sent them on their way. Pharaoh was foiled and the chosen people were once more on the move, journeying to the place which the Lord had given to them by a covenant of salt. "O give thanks unto Jehovah; call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people!"
Verse 39. He spread a cloud for a covering.
Never people were so favored. What would not travelers in the desert now give for such a canopy? The sun could not scorch them with its burning ray; their whole camp was screened like a king in his pavilion. Nothing seemed to be too good for God to give his chosen nation, their comfort was studied in every way.
And fire to give light in the night.
While cities were swathed in darkness, their town of tents enjoyed a light which modern are with all its appliances cannot equal. God himself was their sun and shield, their glory and their defense.
Could they be unbelieving while so graciously shaded, or rebellious while they walked at midnight in such a light? Alas, the tale of their sin is as extraordinary as this story of His love. But this Psalm selects the happier theme and dwells only upon covenant love and faithfulness.
O give thanks unto the Lord for he is good.
We, too, have found the Lord all this to us, for he has been our sun and shield, and has preserved us alike from the perils of joys and the evils of grief.
"He has been my joy in woe,
Cheered my heart when it was low;
And with warnings softly sad
Calmed my heart when it was glad."
So has the promise been fulfilled to us, "the sun shall not hurt you by day, nor the moon by night."
Verse 40. The people asked.
But how badly, how wickedly! And yet his grace forgave the sin of their murmuring and heard its meaning. Or perhaps we may consider that while the multitude murmured there were a few, who were really gracious people, who prayed, and therefore the blessing came.
And he brought them quail, and satisfied them with the bread of Heaven.
He gave them what they asked amiss, as well as what was good for them—mingling judgment with goodness, for their discipline. The quail were more a curse than a blessing in the end, because of their greed and lust—but in themselves they were a peculiar indulgence, and favor: it was their own fault, that the dainty food brought death with it.
As for the manna it was unmingled good to them, and really satisfied them, which the quail never did. It was bread from Heaven—and the bread of Heaven, sent by Heaven. It was a pity that they were not led to look up to Heaven whence it came, and fear and love the God who out of Heaven rained it upon them. Thus they were housed beneath the Lord's canopy and fed with food from his own table; never were people so lodged and boarded. O house of Israel, Praise the Lord.
Verse 41. He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out.
With Moses' rod and his own word he cleft the rock in the desert, and forth leaped abundant floods for their drinking where they had feared to die of thirst. From most unlikely sources the all-sufficient God can supply his people's needs; hard rocks become springing fountains at the Lord's command.
They ran in the dry places like a river.
So that those at a distance from the rock could stoop down and refresh themselves, and the stream flowed on, so that in future journeyings they were supplied. The desert sand would naturally swallow up the streams, and yet it did not so, the refreshing river ran "in the dry places."
We know that the rock set forth our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom there flows a fountain of living waters which shall never be exhausted until the last pilgrim has crossed the Jordan and entered Canaan.
Verse 42. For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant.
Here is the secret reason for all this grace. The covenant, and he for whose sake it was made are ever on the heart of the Most High. He remembered his people, because he remembered his covenant. He could not violate that gracious compact, for it was sacred to him.
His holy promise.
A holy God must keep his promise holy. In our case the Lord's eye is upon his beloved Son, and his engagements with him on our behalf. This is the source and well-head of those innumerable favors which enrich us in all our wanderings through this life's wilderness.
Verse 43. And he brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness.
Up from the wilderness he led them, rejoicing over them himself and making them rejoice too. They were his people, his chosen—and hence in them he rejoiced, and upon them he showered his favors, that they might rejoice in him as their God, and their portion.
Verse 44. And gave them the lands of the heathen.
He drove out the Canaanites, and allotted the lands to the tribes. They were called on to fight—but the Lord wrought so wonderfully that the conquest was not effected by their bow or spear—the Lord gave them the land.
And they inherited the labor of the people.
They dwelt in houses which they had not built, and gathered fruit from vines and olives which they had not planted. They were not settled in a desert which needed to be reclaimed—but in a land fertile to a proverb, and cultivated carefully by its inhabitants. Like Adam, they were placed in a garden. This entrance into the goodly land was fitly celebrated when the ark was being moved to Zion.
Verse 45. That they might observe his statutes, and keep his laws. This was the practical design of it all. The chosen nation was to be the conservator of truth, the exemplar of morality, the pattern of devotion. Everything was so ordered as to place them in advantageous circumstances for fulfilling this trust. Theirs was a high calling and a glorious election. It involved great responsibilities—but it was in itself a distinguished blessing, and one for which the nation was bound to give thanks. Most justly then did the music close with the jubilant but solemn shout of HALLELUJAH.
Praise the Lord.
If this history did not make Israel praise God, what would?