Treasury of David
TITLE AND SUBJECT.
This Psalm is one of pure praise, and contains but little which requires exposition. A warm heart full of admiring adoration of the Most High will best of all comprehend this sacred hymn. Its subject is the greatness and condescending goodness of the God of Israel, as exhibited in lifting up the needy from their low estate.
It may fitly be sung by the church during a period of revival after it has long been diminished and brought low.
With this Psalm begins the Hallel, or Hallelujah of the Jews, which was sung at their solemn feasts. We will therefore call it the Commencement of the Hallel.
Its allusions to the poor in the dust and the needy upon the dunghill are all in keeping with Israel in Egypt, and so also is the reference to the birth of numerous children where they were least expected.
No division need be made in the exposition of this Psalm, except it be that which is suggested by the always instructive headings supplied by the excellent authors of our common version: an exhortation to praise God, for his excellency, 1-5; for his mercy, 6-9.
Verse 1. Praise the LORD, or Hallelujah, or praise to JAH, or praise to Jehovah. Praise is an essential offering at all the solemn feasts of the people of God. Prayer is the myrrh, and praise is the frankincense, and both of these must be presented unto the Lord. How can we pray for mercy for the future, if we do not bless God for his love in the past? The Lord has wrought all good things for us, let us therefore adore him. All other praise is to be excluded, the entire devotion of the soul must be poured out unto Jehovah only.
Praise, O servants of the LORD. You above all men, for you are bound to do so by your calling and profession. If God's own servants do not praise him, who will? You are a people near unto him, and should be heartiest in your loving gratitude.
While they were slaves of Pharaoh, the Israelites uttered groans and sighs by reason of their hard bondage; but now that they had become servants of the Lord, they were to express themselves in songs of joy. His service is perfect freedom, and those who fully enter into it discover in that service a thousand reasons for adoration. They are sure to praise God best, who serve him best; indeed, service is praise.
Praise the name of the LORD. Extol his revealed character, magnify every sacred attribute, exult in all his doings, and reverence the very name by which he is called.
The name of Jehovah is thrice used in this verse, and may by us who understand the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity be regarded as a thinly veiled allusion to that holy mystery. Let Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all be praised as the one, only, living, and true God. The close following of the words, "Hallelujah, Hallelu, Hallelu," must have had a fine effect in the public services. These were not vain repetitions, for the theme is one which we ought to dwell upon; it should be deeply impressed upon the soul, and perseveringly kept prominent in the life.
Verse 2. Blessed be the name of the LORD. While praising him aloud, the people were also to bless him in the silence of their hearts, wishing glory to his name, success to his cause, and triumph to his truth.
By mentioning the name, the Psalmist would teach us to bless each of the attributes of the Most High, which are as it were the letters of his name; not quarreling with his justice or his severity, nor servilely dreading his power—but accepting him as we find him revealed in the inspired word and by his own acts, and loving him and praising him as such.
We must not give the Lord a new name nor invent a new nature, for that would be the setting up of a false God. Every time we think of the God of Scripture we should bless him, and his august name should never be pronounced without joyful reverence.
From this time forth. If we have never praised him before, let us begin now. As the Passover stood at the beginning of the year it was well to commence the new year with blessing him who wrought deliverance for his people. Every solemn feast had its own happy associations, and might be regarded as a fresh starting place for adoration.
Are there not reasons why the reader should make the present day the opening of a year of praise? When the Lord says, "From this time I will bless you," we ought to reply, "Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth."
And forevermore: eternally. The Psalmist could not have intended that the divine praise should cease at a future date however remote. "Forevermore" in reference to the praise of God, must signify endless duration. Can our hearts ever cease to praise the name of the Lord? Can we imagine a period in which the praises of Israel shall no more surround the throne of the Divine Majesty? Impossible. Forever, and more than "forever," if more can be, let him be magnified.
Verse 3. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD'S name is to be praised. From early morn until evening the ceaseless hymn should rise unto Jehovah's throne, and from east to west over the whole round earth pure worship should be rendered unto his glory.
So ought it to be; and blessed be God, we are not without faith that so it shall be. We trust that before the world's dread evening comes, the glorious name of the Lord will be proclaimed among all nations, and all people shall call him blessed. At the first proclamation of the gospel the name of the Lord was glorious throughout the whole earth; shall it not be much more so before the end shall be? At any rate, this is the desire of our souls. Meanwhile, let us endeavor to sanctify every day with praise to God.
It is a marvel of mercy that the sun should rise on the rebellious sons of men, and prepare for the undeserving fruitful seasons and days of pleasantness; let us for this prodigy of goodness praise the Lord of all. From hour to hour let us renew the strain, for each moment brings its mercy.
Verse 4. The Lord is high above all nations. Though the Gentiles knew him not—yet was Jehovah their ruler: their false gods were no gods, and their kings were puppets in his hands. The Lord is high above all the learning, philosophy, and imagination of heathen sages, and far beyond the pomp and might of the monarchs of the nations. Like the great arch of the firmament, the presence of the Lord spans all the lands where dwell the varied tribes of men, for his providence is universal: this may well excite our confidence and praise.
And his glory above the heavens: higher than the loftiest part of creation; the clouds are the dust of his feet, and sun, moon, and stars twinkle far below his throne. Even the Heaven of heavens cannot contain him. His glory cannot be set forth by the whole visible universe, nor even by the solemn pomp of angelic armies; it is above all conception and imagination, for he is God—infinite. Let us above all adore him who is above all.
Verse 5. Who is like unto the LORD our God? The challenge will never be answered. None can be compared with him for an instant; Israel's God is without parallel. Our own God in covenant stands alone, and none can be likened unto him. Even those whom he has made like himself in some respects are not like him in godhead, for many of his divine attributes are incommunicable and inimitable. None of the metaphors and figures by which the Lord is set forth in the Scriptures can give us a complete idea of him; his full resemblance is borne by nothing in earth or in Heaven. Only in Jesus is the Godhead seen—but he unhesitatingly declared "he who has seen me has seen the Father."
Who dwells on high. In the height of his abode none can be like him. His throne, his whole character, his person, his being, everything about him—is lofty, and infinitely majestic, so that none can be likened unto him. His serene mind abides in the most elevated condition, he is never dishonored, nor does he stoop from the pure holiness and absolute perfection of his character. His saints are said to dwell on high, and in this they are the reflection of his glory. But as for himself, the height of his dwelling place surpasses thought, and he rises far above the most exalted of his glorified people.
"Eternal Power! whose high abode
Becomes the grandeur of a God:
Infinite lengths beyond the bounds
Where stars revolve their little rounds."
"The lowest step around your seat
Rises too high for Gabriel's feet;
In vain the tall archangel tries
To reach your height with wondering eyes."
"Lord, what shall earth and ashes do?
We would adore our Maker too;
From sin and dust to you we cry,
The Great, the Holy, and the High!"
Verse 6. Who humbles himself to behold the things that are in Heaven and in the earth! He dwells so far on high that even to observe heavenly things, he must humble himself. He must stoop to view the skies, and bow to see what angels do. What, then, must be his condescension, seeing that he observes the humblest of his servants upon earth, and makes them sing for joy like Mary when she said, "You have regarded the low estate of your handmaiden."
How wonderful are those words of Isaiah, "For thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."
Heathen philosophers could not believe that the great God was observant of the small events of human history; they pictured him as abiding in serene indifference to all the wants and woes of his creatures. "Our Rock is not as their rock"; we have a God who is high above all gods, and yet who is . . .
our Father, knowing what we have need of before we ask him;
our Shepherd, who supplies our needs;
our Guardian, who counts the hairs of our heads;
our tender and considerate Friend, who sympathizes in all our griefs.
Truly the name of our condescending God should be praised wherever it is known.
Verse 7. He raises up the poor out of the dust. This is an instance of his gracious stoop of love: he frequently lifts the lowest of mankind out of their poverty and degradation and adopts them into His family. His gracious Spirit is continually visiting the down-trodden, giving beauty for ashes to those who are cast down, and elevating the hearts of his mourners until they shout for joy. These upliftings of grace are here ascribed directly to the divine hand, and truly those who have experienced them will not doubt the fact that it is the Lord alone who brings his people up from the dust of sorrow and death. When no hand but his can help, he interposes and the work is done.
It is worth while to be cast down, to be so divinely raised from the dust.
And lifts the needy out of the dunghill, whereon they lay like worthless refuse, cast off and cast out—left as they thought to rot into destruction, and to be everlastingly forgotten.
How great a stoop from the height of his throne, to a dunghill! How wonderful is that power which occupies itself in lifting up beggars, all befouled with the filthiness in which they lay! For he lifts them out of the dunghill, not disdaining to search them out from amidst the base things of the earth that he may by their means bring to nothing the great ones, and pour contempt upon all human glorying.
What a dunghill was that upon which we lay by nature!
What a mass of corruption is our original estate!
What a heap of loathsomeness we have accumulated by our sinful lives!
What reeking abominations surround us in the society of our fellow men!
We could never have risen out of this corruption by our own efforts; we were dead men rotting in a sepulcher of sin. Almighty were the arms which lifted us, which are still lifting us, and will lift us into the perfection of Heaven itself! Praise the Lord.
Verse 8. That he may set him with princes. The Lord does nothing by halves: when he raises men from the dust he is not content until he places them among the peers of his kingdom. We are made kings and priests unto God, and we shall reign forever and ever. Instead of poverty, he gives us the wealth of princes. Instead of dishonor, he gives us a more exalted rank than that of the great ones of the earth.
Even with the princes of his people. All his people are princes, and so the text teaches us that God places needy souls whom he favors among the princes of princes. He often enables those who have been most despairing to rise to the greatest heights of spirituality and gracious attainment, for those who once were last shall be first. Paul, though less than the least of all saints was, nevertheless, made to be not a whit behind the very chief of the apostles. In our own times, Bunyan, the blaspheming tinker, was raised into another apostle John, whose dream almost rivals the visions of the Apocalypse.
Such verses as these should give great encouragement to those who are lowest in their own esteem. The Lord pours contempt upon princes; but as for those who are in the dust and on the dunghill, he looks upon them with compassion, acts towards them in grace, and in their case displays the riches of his glory by Christ Jesus. Those who have experienced such amazing favor should sing continual hallelujahs to the God of their salvation.
Verse 9. He makes the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. The strong desire of the easterns to have children caused the birth of offspring to be hailed as the choicest of favors, while barrenness was regarded as a curse; hence this verse is placed last as if to crown the whole, and to serve as a climax to the story of God's mercy.
The glorious Lord displays his condescending grace in regarding those who are despised on account of their barrenness, whether it be of body or of soul. Sarah, Rachel, the wife of Manoah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and others were all instances of the miraculous power of God in literally fulfilling the statement of the psalmist. Women were not supposed to have a house until they had children; but in certain cases where childless women pined in secret the Lord visited them in mercy, and made them not only to have a house—but to keep it.
The Gentile church is a spiritual example upon a large scale of the gift of fruitfulness after long years of hopeless barrenness; and the Jewish church in the latter days will be another amazing display of the same quickening power. Long forsaken for her spiritual adultery, Israel shall be forgiven, and restored, and joyously shall she keep that house which now is left unto her desolate.
Nor is this all, each believer in the Lord Jesus must at times have mourned his lamentable barrenness; he has appeared to be a dry tree yielding no fruit to the Lord, and yet when visited by the Holy Spirit, he has found himself suddenly to be like Aaron's rod which budded, and blossomed, and brought forth almonds.
Before we have been aware, our barren heart has kept house, and entertained the Savior, our graces have been multiplied as if many children had come to us at a single birth, and we have exceedingly rejoiced before the Lord. Then have we marveled greatly at the Lord who dwells on high, that he has deigned to visit such poor worthless things. Like Mary, we have lifted up our Magnificat, and like Hannah, we have said, "There is none holy as the Lord; for there is none beside you: neither is there any rock like our God."
Praise the LORD. The music concludes upon its key note. The Psalm is a circle, ending where it began, praising the Lord from its first syllable to its last. May our life psalm partake of the same character, and never know a break or a conclusion.
In an endless circle let us bless the Lord, whose mercies never cease. Let us praise him in youth, and all along our years of strength; and when we bow in the ripeness of abundant age, let us still praise the Lord, who does not cast off his old servants.
Let us not only praise God ourselves—but exhort others to do it; and if we meet with any of the needy who have been enriched, and with the barren who have been made fruitful—then let us join with them in extolling the name of him whose mercy endures forever.
Having been ourselves lifted from spiritual beggary and barrenness, let us never forget our former estate or the grace which has visited us—but world without end let us praise the Lord. Hallelujah.