Treasury of David
In the former psalm the past wonders which God had wrought were recounted to his honor, and in the present psalm he is entreated to glorify himself again, because the heathen were presuming upon the absence of miracles, were altogether denying the miracles of former ages, and insulting the people of God with the question, "Where is now their God?" It grieved the heart of the godly that Jehovah should be thus dishonored, and treating their own condition of reproach as unworthy of notice, they beseech the Lord at least to vindicate his own name.
The Psalmist is evidently indignant that the worshipers of foolish idols should be able to put such a taunting question to the people who worshiped the only living and true God; and having spent his indignation in sarcasm upon the images and their makers, he proceeds to exhort the house of Israel to trust in God and bless his name.
As those who were dead and gone could no longer sing psalms unto the Lord among the sons of men, he exhorts the faithful who were then living to take care that God is not robbed of his praise, and then he closes with an exulting Hallelujah. Should not living men extol the living God?
For the better expounding of it, the psalm may be divided into an entreaty of God to vindicate his own honor, verses 1, 2;
a contemptuous description of the false gods and their worshipers, verses 3-8;
an exhortation to the faithful to trust in God and to expect great blessings from him, verses 9-15;
an explanation of God's relationship to their present condition of things, verse 16;
and a reminder, that, not the deadóbut the living, must continually praise God here below.
It will be well to remember that this psalm was sung at the Passover, and therefore it bears relationship to the deliverance from Egypt. The burden of it, seems to be a prayer that the living God, who had been so glorious at the Red Sea and at the Jordan, should again for his own name's sake display the wonders of his power.
Verse 1. Not unto us, O LORD, not unto usóbut unto your name give glory. The people undoubtedly wished for relief from the contemptuous insults of idolatersóbut their main desire was that Jehovah himself should no longer be the object of heathen insults. The saddest part of all their trouble was that their God was no longer feared and dreaded by their adversaries. When Israel marched into Canaan, a terror was upon all the people round about, because of Jehovah, the mighty God; but this dread the nations had shaken off since there had been of late no remarkable display of miraculous power. Therefore Israel cried unto her God that he would again make bare his arm as in the day when he cut Rahab and wounded the dragon.
The prayer is evidently tinctured with a consciousness of unworthiness; because of their past unfaithfulness, they hardly dared to appeal to the covenant, and to ask blessings for themselvesóbut they fell back upon the honor of the Lord their Godóan old style of argument which their great lawgiver, Moses, had used with such effect when he pleaded, "Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people." Joshua also used the like argument when he said, "What will you do for your great name?" In such manner also let us pray when no other plea is available because of our sense of sin; for the Lord is always jealous of his honor, and will work for his name's sake when no other motive will move him.
The repetition of the words, Not unto us, would seem to indicate a very serious desire to renounce any glory which they might at any time have proudly appropriated to themselves, and it also sets forth the vehemence of their wish that God would at any cost to them magnify his own name. They loathed the idea of seeking their own glory, and rejected the thought with the utmost detestation; again and again disclaiming any self-glorifying motive in their supplication.
For your mercy, and for your truth's sake. These attributes seemed most in jeopardy. How could the heathen think Jehovah to be a merciful God if he gave his people over to the hands of their enemies? How could they believe him to be faithful and true if, after all his solemn covenant engagements, he utterly rejected his chosen nation?
God is very jealous of the two glorious attributes of grace and truth, and the plea that these may not be dishonored has great weight with him. In these times, when the first victories of the gospel are only remembered as histories of a dim and distant past, skeptics are apt to boast that the gospel has lost its youthful strength, and they even presume to cast a slur upon the name of God himself. We may therefore rightly entreat the divine interposition that the apparent blot may be removed from his escutcheon, and that his own word may shine forth gloriously as in the days of old. We may not desire the triumph of our opinions, for our own sakes, or for the honor of a sectóbut we may confidently pray for the triumph of truth, that God himself may be honored.
Verse 2. Why should the heathen say, Where is now their God? Why should the nations be allowed with a sneer of contempt to question the existence, and mercy, and faithfulness of Jehovah? They are always ready to blaspheme; we may well pray that they may not derive a reason for so doing from the course of providence, or the decline of the church. When they see the godly downtrodden while they themselves live at ease, and act the part of persecutors, they are very apt to speak as if they had triumphed over God himself, or as if he had altogether left the field of action and deserted his saints. When the prayers and tears of the godly seem to be unregarded, and their miseries are rather increased than assuagedóthen do the wicked multiply their taunts and jeers, and even argue that their own wretched irreligion is better than the faith of Christians, because for the present their condition is so much preferable to that of the afflicted saints. And, truly, this is the very sting of the trials of God's chosen when they see the veracity of the Lord questioned, and the name of God profaned because of their sufferings. If they could hope that some good result would come out of all this they would endure it with patience; but as they are unable to perceive any desirable result consequent thereon, they inquire with holy anxiety. "Why should the heathen be permitted to speak thus?"
It is a question to which it would be hard to reply, and yet no doubt there is an answer. Sometimes the nations are permitted thus to blaspheme, in order that they may fill up the measure of their iniquity, and in order that the subsequent interposition of God may be rendered the more illustrious in contrast with their profane boastings.
Do they say, "Where is now their God?" They shall know by and by, for it is written, "Ah, I will ease me of my adversaries"; they shall know it also when the righteous shall "shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father."
Do they say, "Where is the promise of his coming?" That coming shall be speedy and terrible to them.
In our own case, by our own lukewarmness and the neglect of faithful gospel preaching, we have permitted the uprise and spread of modern doubt, and we are bound to confess it with deep sorrow of soul; yet we may not therefore lose heartóbut may still plead with God to save his own truth and grace from the contempt of men of the world. Our honor and the honor of the church are small mattersóbut the glory of God is the jewel of the universe, of which all else is but the setting; and we may come to the Lord and plead his jealousy for his name, being well assured that he will not allow that name to be dishonored.
Why should the pretended wise men of the period be permitted to say that they doubt the existence of God? Why should they say that answers to prayer are pious delusions, and that the resurrection and the deity of our Lord Jesus are moot points? Why should they be permitted to speak disparagingly of atonement by blood and by price, and reject utterly the doctrine of the wrath of God against sin, even that wrath which burns forever and ever? They speak exceeding proudly, and only God can stop their arrogant blusterings: let us by extraordinary intercession prevail upon him to interpose, by giving to his gospel such a triumphant vindication as shall utterly silence the perverse opposition of ungodly men.
Verse 3. But our God is in the heavensówhere he should be; above the reach of mortal sneers, over-hearing all the vain jangling of menóand looking down with silent scorn upon the makers of the babel. Supreme above all opposing powers, the Lord reigns upon a throne high and lifted up. Incomprehensible in essence, he rises above the loftiest thought of the wise. Absolute in will and infinite in power, he is superior to the limitations which belong to earth and time.
This God is our God, and we are not ashamed to own him, albeit he may not work miracles at the beck and call of every vainglorious boaster who may choose to challenge him.
Once they bade his Son come down from the cross and they would believe in him, now they would have God overstep the ordinary bounds of his providence and come down from Heaven to convince them. But other matters occupy his august mind besides the convincement of those who willfully shut their eyes to the superabundant evidences of his divine power and Godhead, which are all around them. If our God is neither seen nor heard, and is not to be worshiped under any outward symbolóyet is he none the less real and true, for he is where his adversaries can never beóin the heavens, whence he stretches forth his scepter, and rules with boundless power.
He has done whatever he has pleased. Up until this moment his decrees have been fulfilled, and his eternal purposes accomplished. He has not been asleep, nor oblivious of the affairs of men. He has worked, and he has worked effectually, none have been able to thwart, nor even so much as to hinder him.
"Whatever he has pleased"óhowever distasteful to his enemies, the Lord has accomplished all his good pleasure without difficulty; even when his adversaries raved and raged against him they have been compelled to carry out his designs against their will. Even proud Pharaoh, when most defiant of the Lord was but as clay upon the potter's wheel, and the Lord's end and design in him were fully answered.
We may well endure the jeering question, "Where is now their God?" while we are perfectly sure that . . .
his providence is undisturbed,
his throne unshaken, and
his purposes unchanged.
What he has done, he will yet do. His counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure. At the end of the great drama of human history, the omnipotence of God and his immutability and faithfulness will be more than vindicated to the eternal confusion of his adversaries.
Verse 4. Their idols are silver and gold, mere dead inert matter; at the best only made of precious metalóbut that metal quite as powerless as the commonest wood or clay. The value of the idol shows the folly of the maker in wasting his substanceóbut certainly does not increase the power of the image, since there is no more life in silver and gold than in brass or iron.
The work of men's hands. Inasmuch as the maker is always greater than the thing that he has made, these idols are less to be honored than the artificers who fashioned them. How irrational that men should adore that which is less than themselves! How strange that a man should think that he can make a God! Can madness go further?
Our God is a spirit, and his hands made the heavens and the earth. Well may we worship him, and we need not be disturbed at the sneering question of those who are so insane as to refuse to adore the living God, and yet bow their knees before images of their own carving.
We may make an application of all this to the times in which we are now living. The god of modern thought is the creation of the thinker himself, evolved out of his own consciousness, or fashioned according to his own notion of what a god should be. Now, it is evident that such a being is no God. It is impossible that there should be a God at all, except the God of revelation. A god who can be fashioned by our own thoughts is no more a God than the image manufactured or produced by our own hands. The true God must of necessity be his own revealer. It is clearly impossible that a being who can be comprehended by the reason of man should be the infinite and incomprehensible God. Their idols are blinded reason and diseased thought, the product of men's muddled brains, and they will come to nothing.
Verse 5. They have mouthsóbut they speak not. The idols cannot utter even the faintest sound, they cannot communicate with their worshipers, they can neither promise nor threaten, command nor console, explain the past nor prophesy the future. If they had no mouths they might not be expected to speakóbut having mouths and speaking not, they are mere dumb idols, and not worthy to be compared with the Lord God who thundered at Sinai, who in old time spoke by his servants the prophets, and whose voice even now breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
Eyes have theyóbut they see not. They cannot tell who their worshipers may be or what they offer. Certain idols have had jewels in their eyes more precious than a king's ransomóbut they were as blind as the rest of the fraternity. A god who has eyes, and cannot see, is a blind deity; and blindness is a calamity, and not an attribute of godhead. He must be very blind who worships a blind god. We pity a blind man, it is strange to worship a blind image.
Verse 6. They have earsóbut they hear not. The Psalmist might have pointed to the monstrous ears with which some heathen deities are disfigured. Truly they have ears; but no prayer of their votaries, though shouted by a million voices, can ever be heard by them. How can gold and silver hear, and how can a rational being address petitions to one who cannot even hear his words?
They have nosesóbut they smell not. The Psalmist seems to heap together these sentences with something of the grim sardonic spirit of Elijah when he said, "Cry aloud, for he is a God; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he sleeps, and must be awaked." In sacred scorn he mocks at those who burn sweet spices, and fill their temples with clouds of smoke, all offered to an image whose nose cannot perceive the perfume. He seems to point his finger to every part of the countenance of the image, and thus pours contempt upon the noblest part of the idol, if any part of such a thing can be noble even in the least degree.
Verse 7. They have handsóbut they handle not. Looking lower down upon the images, the Psalmist says, "They have handsóbut they handle not," they cannot receive that which is handed to them, they cannot grasp the scepter of power or the sword of vengeance, they can neither distribute benefits nor dispense judgments, and the most trifling act they are utterly unable to perform. An infant's hand excels them in power!
They have feetóbut they walk not. They must be lifted into their places or they would never reach their shrines; they must be fastened in their shrines or they would fall; they must be carried or they could never move; they cannot come to the rescue of their friends, nor escape their foes. The meanest insect has more power of locomotion than the greatest heathen God.
Neither can they utter a sound through their throats. They cannot even reach so far as the guttural noise of the lowest order of beasts; neither a grunt, nor a growl, nor a groan, nor so much as a mutter, can come from them.
Their priests asserted that the images of the gods upon special occasions uttered hollow soundsóbut it was a mere pretense, or a crafty artifice: images of gold or silver are incapable of living sounds.
Thus has the Psalmist surveyed the idol from head to foot, looked in its face, and sounded its throat, and he writes it down as utterly contemptible.
Verse 8. Those who make them are like unto them. Those who make such things for worship are as stupid, senseless, and irrational as the figures they construct! So far as any spiritual life, thought, and judgment are concerned, they are rather the images of men than rational beings. The censure is by no means too severe. Who has not found the words leaping to his lips when he has seen the idols of the Romans?
So is every one that trusts in them. Those who have sunk so low as to be capable of confiding in idols have reached the extreme of folly, and are worthy of as much contempt as their detestable deities.
Luther's hard speeches were well deserved by the Papists; they must be mere dolts to worship the rotten relics which are the objects of their veneration.
The god of modern thought exceedingly resembles the deities described in this Psalm. Pantheism is wondrously akin to Polytheism, and yet differs very little from Atheism. The god manufactured by our great thinkers is a mere myth: he has no eternal purposes, he does not interpose on the behalf of his people, he cares but very little as to how much man sins, for he has given to the initiated "a larger hope" by which the most incorrigible are to be restored. He is what the last set of critics chooses to make him, he has said what they choose to say, and he will do what they please to prescribe. Let this creed and its devotees alone, and they will work out their own refutation, for as now their god is fashioned like themselves, they will by degrees fashion themselves like their god; and when the principles of justice, law, and order shall have all been effectually sapped, we may possibly witness in some form of socialism, similar to that which is so sadly spreading in Germany, a repetition of the evils which have in former ages befallen nations which have refused the living God, and set up gods of their own.
Verse 9. O Israel, trust in the LORD. Whatever others do, let the elect of Heaven keep fast to the God who chose them. Jehovah is the God of Jacob, let his children prove their loyalty to their God by their confidence in him. Whatever our trouble may be, and however fierce the blasphemous language of our enemies, let us not fear nor falteróbut confidently rest in him who is able to vindicate his own honor, and protect his own servants.
He is their help and their shield. He is the friend of his servants, both actively and passively, giving them both aid in labor and defense in danger. In the use of the pronoun "their," the Psalmist may have spoken to himself, in a sort of soliloquy: he had given the exhortation, "trust in Jehovah," and then he whispers to himself, "They may well do so, for he is at all times the strength and security of his servants."
Verse 10. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD. You who are nearest to him, trust him most. Your very calling is connected with his truth and is meant to declare his glory, therefore never entertain a doubt concerning himóbut lead the way in holy confidence. The priests were the leaders, teachers, and exemplars of the people, and therefore above all others they should place an unreserved reliance upon Israel's God.
The Psalmist is glad to add that they did so, for he says, He is their help and their shield. It is good to exhort those to faith who have faith: "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; ...that you may believe on the name of the Son of God." We may stir up pure minds by way of remembrance, and exhort men to trust in the Lord because we know that they are trusting already.
Verse 11. The next verse is of the same tenoróYou who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD, whether belonging to Israel, or to the house of Aaron, or not, all those who reverence Jehovah are permitted and commanded to confide in him.
He is their help and their shield. He aids and protects all those who worship him in filial fear, to whatever nation they may belong. No doubt these repeated exhortations were rendered necessary by the trying condition in which the children of Israel were found: the sneers of the adversary would assail all the people, they would most bitterly be felt by the priests and ministers, and those who were secret proselytes would groan in secret under the contempt forced upon their religion and their God. All this would be very staggering to faith, and therefore they were bidden again and again and again to trust in Jehovah. This must have been a very pleasant song to households in Babylon, or far away in Persia, when they met together in the night to eat the Paschal supper in a land which knew them not, where they wept as they remembered Zion.
We seem to hear them repeating the threefold word, "Trust in Jehovah," men and women and little children singing out their scorn of the dominant idolatry, and declaring their adhesion to the one God of Israel. In the same manner in this day of blasphemy and scoffing, it becomes us all to abound in testimonies to the truth of God. The skeptic is loud in his unbelief, let us be equally open in the avowal of our faith.
Verse 12. The Lord has been mindful of us, or "Jehovah has remembered us." His past mercies prove that we are on his heart, and though for the present he may afflict usóyet he does not forget us. We have not to put him in remembrance as though he found it hard to recollect his childrenóbut he has remembered us and therefore he will in future deal well with us.
He will bless us. The word "us" is supplied by the translators, and is superfluous, the passage should run, He will bless; he will bless the house of Israel he will bless the house of Aaron. The repetition of the word "bless" adds great effect to the passage. The Lord has many blessings, each one worthy to be remembered, he blesses and blesses and blesses again. Where he has once bestowed his favor, he continues it. His blessing delights to visit the same house very often and to abide where it has once lodged.
Blessing does not impoverish the Lordóhe has multiplied his mercies in the past, and he will pour them forth thick and threefold in the future. He will have a general blessing for all who fear him, a peculiar blessing for the whole house of Israel, and a double blessing for the sons of Aaron. It is his nature to bless, it is his prerogative to bless, it is his glory to bless, it is his delight to bless! He has promised to bless, and therefore be sure of this, that he will bless and bless and bless without ceasing.
Verse 13. He will bless those who fear the LORD, both small and great. So long as a man fears the Lord it matters nothing whether he be prince or peasant, patriarch or pauper, God will assuredly bless him. He supplies the needs of every living thing, from the leviathan of the sea to the insect upon a leaf, and he will allow none of the godly to be forgotten, however small their abilities, or mean their position.
This is a sweet cordial for those who are little in faith, and own themselves to be mere babes in the family of grace. There is the same blessing for the least saint, as for the greatest. Yes, if anything, the "small" shall be first; for as the necessity is the more pressing, the supply shall be the more speedy.
Verse 14. The LORD shall increase you more and more, you and your children. Just as in Egypt he multiplied the people exceedingly, so will he increase the number of his saints upon the earth. Not only shall the faithful be blessed with converts, and so with a spiritual seed; but those who are their spiritual children shall become fruitful also, and thus the multitude of the elect shall be accomplished.
God shall increase the people, and shall increase the joy. Even to the end of the ages the race of true believers shall be continued, and shall increasingly multiply in number and in power. The first blessing upon mankind was, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth"; and it is this blessing which God now pronounces upon those who fear him. Despite the idols of philosophy and sacramentarianism, the truth shall gather its disciples, and fill the land with its defenders.
Verse 15. May you be blessed by the LORD, the maker Heaven and earth. This is another form of the blessing of Melchizedek: "Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, possessor of Heaven and earth"; and upon us through our great Melchizedek this same blessing rests.
It is an omnipotent blessing, conveying to us all that an Almighty God can do, whether in Heaven or on earth. This fullness is infinite, and the consolation which it brings is unfailing. He who made Heaven and earth can give us all things needful while we dwell below, and bring us safely to his palace above. Happy are the people upon whom such a blessing rests; their portion is infinitely above that of those whose only hope lies in a piece of gilded wood, or an image of sculptured stone.
Verse 16. The Heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's. There he specially reigns, and manifests his greatness and his glory: but the earth has he given to the children of men. He has left the world during the present dispensation in a great measure under the power and will of men, so that things are not here below in the same perfect order as the things which are above. It is true the Lord rules over all things by his providenceóbut yet he allows and permits men to break his laws and persecute his people for the time being, and to set up their dumb idols in opposition to him. The free agency which he gave to his creatures necessitated that in some degree he should restrain his power and allow the children of men to follow their own evils ways; yet nevertheless, since he has not vacated Heaven, he is still master of earth, and can at any time gather up all the reins into his own hands.
Perhaps, however, the passage is meant to have another meaning, namely, that God will increase his people, because he has given the earth to them, and intends that they shall fill it. Man was constituted originally God's viceregent over the world, and though as yet we see not all things put under him, we see Jesus exalted on high, and in him the children of men shall receive a loftier dominion even on earth than as yet they have known. "The meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace": and our Lord Jesus shall reign among his ancients gloriously.
All this will reflect the exceeding glory of him who reveals himself personally in Heaven, and in the mystical body of Christ below. The earth belongs to the sons of God, and we are bound to subdue it for our Lord Jesus, for he must reign. The Lord has given him the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession.
Verse 17. The dead praise not the LORDóSo far as this world is concerned. They cannot unite in the Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with which the church delights to adore her Lord. The preacher cannot magnify the Lord from his coffin, nor the Christian worker further manifest the power of divine grace by daily activity while he lies in the grave.
Neither any that go down into silence. The tomb sends forth no voice; from moldering bones and flesh consuming worms there arises no sound of gospel ministry nor of gracious song. One by one the singers in the consecrated choir of saints steal away from us, and we miss their music. Thank God, they have gone above to swell the harmonies of the skiesóbut as far as we are concerned, we have need to sing all the more earnestly because so many songsters have left our choirs.
Verse 18. But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and for evermore. We who are still living will take care that the praises of God shall not fail among the sons of men. Our afflictions and depressions of spirit shall not cause us to suspend our praises; neither shall old age, and increasing infirmities damp the celestial fires, nay, nor shall even death itself cause us to cease from the delightful occupation.
The spiritually dead cannot praise Godóbut the life within us constrains us to do so. The ungodly may abide in silenceóbut we will lift up our voices to the praise of Jehovah. Even though for a time he may work no miracle, and we may see no peculiar interposition of his poweróyet on the strength of what he has done in ages past we will continue to laud his name "until the day breaks, and the shadows flee away," when he shall once more shine forth as the sun to gladden the faces of his children. The present time is auspicious for commencing a life of praise, since today he bids us hear his voice of mercy.
"From this time forth" is the suggestion of wisdom, for this duty ought not to be delayed; and it is the dictate of gratitude, for there are pressing reasons for prompt thankfulness. Once begin praising God and we have entered upon an endless service. Even eternity cannot exhaust the reasons why God should be glorified.
Praise the Lord, or Hallelujah. Though the dead cannot, and the wicked will not, and the careless do not praise Godóyet we will shout "Hallelujah" forever and ever. Amen.