Treasury of David
This is a continuation of the Paschal Hallel, and therefore must in some measure be interpreted in connection with the coming out of Egypt. It has all the appearance of being a personal song in which the believing soul, reminded by the Passover of its own bondage and deliverance, speaks thereof with gratitude, and praises the Lord accordingly. We can conceive the Israelite with a staff in his hand singing, "Return unto your rest, O my soul," as he remembered the going back of the house of Jacob to the land of their fathers; and then drinking the cup at the feast using the words of verse 13, "I will take the cup of salvation." The pious man evidently remembers both his own deliverance and that of his people as he sings in the language of verse 16, "You have loosed my bonds"; but he rises into sympathy with his nation as he thinks of the courts of the Lord's house and of the glorious city, and pledges himself to sing "in the midst of you, O Jerusalem."
Personal love fostered by a personal experience of redemption is the theme of this Psalm, and in it we see the redeemed . . .
answered when they pray,
preserved in time of trouble,
resting in their God,
walking at large,
sensible of their obligations,
conscious that they are not their own but bought with a price, and
joining with all the ransomed company to sing hallelujahs unto God.
Since our divine Master sang this hymn, we can hardly err in seeing here words to which he could set his seal—words in a measure descriptive of his own experience; but upon this we will not enlarge, as in the notes we have indicated how the Psalm has been understood by those who love to find their Lord in every line.
David Dickson has a somewhat singular division of this Psalm, which strikes us as being exceedingly suggestive. He says, "This Psalm is a threefold engagement of the Psalmist unto thanksgiving unto God, for his mercy unto him, and in particular for some notable delivery of him from death, both bodily and spiritual.
The first engagement is, that he shall out of love have recourse unto God by prayer, verses 1-2;
the reasons and motives whereof are set down, because of his former deliverances, verses 3-8,
the second engagement is to a holy conversation, verse 9,
and the motives and reasons are given in verses 10-13;
the third engagement is to continual praise and service, and specially to pay those vows before the church, which he had made in days of sorrow, the reasons whereof are given in verses 14-19."
Verse 1. I love the LORD. A blessed declaration: every believer ought to be able to declare without the slightest hesitation, "I love the Lord!" It was required under the law—but was never produced in the heart of man except by the grace of God, and upon gospel principles. It is a great thing to say "I love the Lord"; for the sweetest of all graces and the surest of all evidences of salvation is love to God. It is great goodness on the part of God that he condescends to be loved by such poor creatures as we are, and it is a sure proof that he has been at work in our heart when we can say, "You know all things—you know that I love you."
Because he has heard my voice and my supplications. The Psalmist not only knows that he loves God—but he knows why he does so. When love can justify itself with a reason, it is deep, strong, and abiding.
They say that love is blind; but when we love God our affection has its eyes open and can sustain itself with the most rigid logic. We have reason, superabundant reason, for loving the Lord; and so because in this case principle and passion, reason and emotion go together, they make up an admirable state of mind.
David's reason for his love was the love of God in hearing his prayers. The Psalmist had used his "voice" in prayer, and the habit of doing so is exceedingly helpful to devotion. If we can pray aloud without being overheard, it is well to do so. Sometimes, however, when the Psalmist had lifted up his voice, his utterance had been so broken and painful that he scarcely dared to call it prayer; words failed him, he could only produce a groaning sound—but the Lord heard his moaning voice. At other times his prayers were more regular and better formed—these he calls "supplications." David had praised as best he could, and when one form of devotion failed him, he tried another. He had gone to the Lord again and again, hence he uses the plural and says "my supplications," but as often as he had gone, so often had he been welcome.
Jehovah had heard, that is to say, accepted, and answered both his broken cries and his more composed and orderly supplications; hence he loved God with all his heart.
Answered prayers are silken bonds which bind our hearts to God. When a man's prayers are answered, love is the natural result. According to Alexander, both verbs may be translated in the present, and the text may run thus, "I love because Jehovah hears my voice, my supplications." This also is true in the case of every pleading believer. Continual love flows out of daily answers to prayer.
Verse 2. Because he has inclined his ear unto me—bowing down from his grandeur to attend to my prayer; the figure seems to be that of a tender physician or loving friend leaning over a sick man whose voice is faint and scarcely audible, so as to catch every accent and whisper. When our prayer is very feeble, so that we ourselves can scarcely hear it, and question whether we do pray or not—yet God bows a listening ear, and regards our supplications.
Therefore will I call upon him as long as I live, or "in my days." Throughout all the days of my life I will address my prayer to God alone, and to him I will unceasingly pray. It is always wise to go where we are welcome and are well-treated. The word "call" may imply praise as well as prayer. Calling upon the name of the Lord is an expressive name for adoration of all kinds. When prayer is heard in our feebleness, and answered in the strength and greatness of God—then we are strengthened in the habit of prayer, and confirmed in the resolve to make ceaseless intercession. We would not thank a beggar who informed us that because we had granted his request he would never cease to beg of us, and yet doubtless it is acceptable to God that his petitioners should form the resolution to continue in prayer: this shows the greatness of his goodness, and the abundance of divine patience.
In all days let us pray and praise the Ancient of days. He promises that as our days, our strength shall be; let us resolve that as our days, our devotion shall be.
Verse 3. The Psalmist now goes on to describe his condition at the time when he prayed unto God. The sorrows of death encompassed me. As hunters surround a stag with dogs and men, so that no way of escape is left, so was David enclosed in a ring of deadly griefs. The bands of sorrow, weakness, and terror with which death is accustomed to bind men before he drags them away to their long captivity, were all around him.
Nor were these things around him in a distant circle, they had come close home, for he adds, and the pains of Hell got hold upon me. Horrors such as those which torment the lost seized me, grasped me, found me out, searched me through and through, and held me a prisoner. He means by the pains of Hell those pangs which belong to death, those terrors which are connected with the grave; these were so closely upon him that they fixed their teeth in him as hounds seize their prey.
I found trouble and sorrow—trouble was around me, and sorrow was within me. His griefs were double, and as he searched into them they increased. A man rejoices when he finds a hidden treasure; but what must be the anguish of a man who finds, where he least expected it, a vein of trouble and sorrow? The Psalmist was sought for by trouble and it found him out, and when he himself became a seeker he found no relief—but double distress!
Verse 4. Then I called upon the name of the LORD. Prayer is never out of season. David prayed when things were at their worst. When the godly man could not run to God, he called to him. In his extremity, his faith came to the front. It was useless to call on man, and it may have seemed almost as useless to appeal to the Lord; yet he did with his whole soul invoke all the attributes which make up the sacred name of Jehovah, and thus he proved the truth of his confidence. We can some of us remember certain very special times of trial of which we can now say, "then called I upon the name of the Lord."
The Psalmist appealed to the Lord's mercy, truth, power, and faithfulness, and this was his prayer—O Lord, I beseech you, deliver my soul. This form of petition is short, comprehensive, to the point, humble, and earnest. It were well if all our prayers were molded upon this model; perhaps they would be if we were in similar circumstances to those of the Psalmist, for real trouble produces real prayer. Here we have no multiplicity of words, and no fine arrangement of sentences; everything is simple and natural; there is not a redundant syllable, and yet there is not one lacking.
Verse 5. Gracious is the Lord, and righteous. In hearing prayer the grace and righteousness of Jehovah are both conspicuous. It is a great favor to hear a sinner's prayer, and yet since the Lord has promised to do so, he is not unrighteous to forget his promise and disregard the cries of his people. The combination of grace and righteousness in the dealings of God with his servants, can only be explained by remembering the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the cross we see how gracious and righteous is the Lord.
Yes, our God is merciful, or compassionate, tender, pitiful, full of mercy. We who have accepted him as ours have no doubt as to his mercy, for he would never have been our God if he had not been merciful. See how the attribute of righteousness seems to stand between two guards of love—gracious, righteous, merciful. The sword of justice is scabarded in a jeweled sheath of grace.
Verse 6. The LORD preserves the simple. Those who have a great deal of wit may take care of themselves. Those who have no worldly craft and subtlety and deceit—but simply trust in God, and do the right, may depend upon it that God's care shall be over them. The worldly wise with all their prudence shall be caught in their own craftiness—but those who walk in their integrity with single-minded truthfulness before God shall be protected against the wiles of their enemies, and enabled to outlive their foes. Though the saints are like sheep in the midst of wolves, and comparatively defenseless—yet there are more sheep in the world than wolves, and it is highly probable that the sheep will feed in safety when not a single wolf is left upon the face of the earth. Even so the meek shall inherit the earth when the wicked shall be no more.
I was brought low, and he helped me—simple though I was, the Lord did not pass me by. Though reduced in circumstances, slandered in character, depressed in spirit, and sick in body—the Lord helped me.
There are many ways in which the child of God may be brought low—but the help of God is as various as the needs of his people. He . . .
supplies our necessities when impoverished,
restores our character when maligned,
raises up friends for us when deserted,
comforts us when desponding, and
heals our diseases when we are sick.
There are thousands in the church of God at this time who can each one of them say for himself, "I was brought low, and he helped me." Whenever this can be said it should be said to the praise of the glory of his grace, and for the comforting of others who may pass through the like ordeal.
Note how David after stating the general doctrine that the Lord preserves the simple, proves and illustrates it from his own personal experience. The habit of taking home a general truth and testing the power of it in our own case is an exceedingly blessed one; it is the way in which the testimony of Christ is confirmed in us, and so we become witnesses unto the Lord our God.
Verse 7. Return, unto your rest, O my soul. He calls the rest still his own, and feels full liberty to return to it. What a mercy it is that even if our soul has left its rest for a while, we can tell it, "it is your rest still."
The Psalmist had evidently been somewhat disturbed in mind, his troubles had ruffled his spirit but now with a sense of answered prayer upon him he quiets his soul. He had rested before, for he knew the blessed repose of faith, and therefore he returns to the God who had been the refuge of his soul in former days.
Even as a bird flies to its nest, so does his soul fly to his God. Whenever a child of God even for a moment loses his peace of mind, he should be concerned to find it again, not by seeking it in the world or in his own experience—but in the Lord alone. When the believer prays, and the Lord inclines his ear, the road to the old rest is before him, let him not be slow to follow it.
For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. You have served a good God, and built upon a sure foundation; go not about to find any other rest—but come back to him who in former days has condescended to enrich you by his love.
What a text is this! and what an exposition of it is furnished by the biography of every believing man and woman! The Lord has dealt bountifully with us, for he has given us his Son, and in him he has given us all things! He has sent us his Spirit, and by him he conveys to us all spiritual blessings. God deals with us like a God; he lays his fullness open to us, and of that fullness have all we received, grace upon grace. We have sat at no niggard's table, we have been clothed by no penurious hand, we have been equipped by no grudging provider; let us come back to him who has treated us with such exceeding kindness. More arguments follow.
Verse 8. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. The triune God has given us a trinity of deliverances: our life has been spared from the grave, our heart has been uplifted from its griefs, and our course in life has been preserved from dishonor. We ought not to be satisfied unless we are conscious of all three of these deliverance.
If our soul has been saved from death, why do we weep? What cause for sorrow remains? Whence those tears? And if our tears have been wiped away, can we endure to fall again into sin?
Let us not rest unless with steady feet we pursue the path of the upright, escaping every snare and shunning every stumbling block. Salvation, joy, and holiness must go together, and they are all provided for us in the covenant of grace. Death is vanquished, tears are dried, and fears are banished—when the Lord is near.
Thus has the Psalmist explained the reasons of his resolution to call upon God as long as he lived, and none can question but that he had come to a most justifiable resolve. When from so great a depth he had been uplifted by so special an interposition of God, he was undoubtedly bound to be forever the hearty worshiper of Jehovah, to whom he owed so much. Do we not all feel the force of the reasoning, and will we not carry out the conclusion? May God the Holy Spirit help us so to pray without ceasing and in everything to give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us.
Verse 9. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. This is the Psalmist's second resolution, to live as in the sight of God in the midst of the sons of men. By a man's walk is understood his way of life. Some men live only as in the sight of their fellow men, having regard to human judgment and opinion; but the truly gracious man considers the presence of God, and acts under the influence of his all-observing eye. "You God see me" is a far better influence than "My master sees me."
The life of faith, hope, holy fear, and true holiness—is produced by a sense of living and walking before the Lord, and he who has been favored with divine deliverances in answer to prayer finds his own experience the best reason for a holy life, and the best assistance to his endeavors. We know that God in a special manner is near unto his people—what manner of people ought we to be in all holy conduct and godliness?
Verse 10. I believed, therefore have I spoken. I could not have spoken thus if it had not been for my faith. I would never have spoken unto God in prayer, nor have been able now to speak to my fellow men in testimony—if it had not been that faith kept me alive, and brought me a deliverance, whereof I have good reason to boast. Concerning the things of God, no man should speak unless he believes; the speech of the waverer is mischievous—but the tongue of the believer is profitable; the most powerful speech which has ever been uttered by the lip of man has emanated from a heart fully persuaded of the truth of God.
Not only the Psalmist—but such men as Luther, and Calvin, and other great witnesses for the faith could each one most heartily say, "I believed, therefore have I spoken."
I was greatly afflicted. There was no mistake about that; the affliction was as bitter and as terrible as it well could be, and since I have been delivered from it, I am sure that the deliverance is no fanatical delusion—but a self-evident fact; therefore am I the more resolved to speak to the honor of God. Though greatly afflicted, the Psalmist had not ceased to believe: his faith was tried, but not destroyed.
Verse 11. I said in my haste: All men are liars. In a modified sense the expression will bear justification, even though hastily uttered, for all men will prove to be liars if we unduly trust in them; some from lack of truthfulness, and others from lack of power.
But from the expression, "I said in my haste," it is clear that the Psalmist did not justify his own language—but considered it as the ebullition of a hasty temper. In the sense in which he spoke, his language was unjustifiable. He had no right to distrust all men, for many of them are honest, truthful, and conscientious. There are faithful friends and loyal adherents yet alive; and if sometimes they disappoint us, we ought not to call them liars for failing when the failure arises entirely from want of power, and not from lack of will.
Under great affliction our temptation will be to form hasty judgments of our fellow men, and knowing this to be the case we ought carefully to watch our spirit, and to keep the door of our lips.
The Psalmist had believed, and therefore he spoke. He had doubted, and therefore he spoke in haste. He believed, and therefore he rightly prayed to God. He disbelieved, and therefore he wrongfully accused mankind. Speaking is as ill in some cases, as it is good in others. Speaking in haste is generally followed by bitter repentance. It is much better to be quiet when our spirit is disturbed and hasty, for it is so much easier to say than to unsay; we may repent of our words—but we cannot so recall them as to undo the mischief they have done. If even David had to eat his own words when he spoke in a hurry, none of us can trust our tongue without a bridle.
Verse 12. What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? He wisely leaves off fretting about man's falsehood and his own ill humor, and directs himself to his God. It is of little use to be harping on the string of man's imperfection and deceitfulness; it is infinitely better to praise the perfection and faithfulness of God.
The question of the verse is a very proper one: the Lord has rendered so much mercy to us that we ought to look about us, and look within us, and see what can be done by us to manifest our gratitude. We ought not only to do what is plainly before us—but also with holy ingenuity to search out various ways by which we may render fresh praises unto our God. His benefits are so many that we cannot number them, and our ways of acknowledging his bestowments ought to be varied and numerous in proportion. Each person should have his own peculiar mode of expressing gratitude. The Lord sends each one a special benefit, let each one inquire, "What shall I render? What form of service would be most becoming in me?"
Verse 13. I will take the cup of salvation. "I will take" is a strange answer to the question, "What shall I render?" and yet it is the wisest reply that could possibly be given.
"The best return for one like me,
So wretched and so poor,
Is from his gifts to draw a plea
And ask him still for more."
To take the cup of salvation was in itself an act of worship, and it was accompanied with other forms of adoration, hence the Psalmist says, and call upon the name of the LORD.
He means that he will utter blessings and thanksgivings and prayers, and then drink of the cup which the Lord had filled with his saving grace. What a cup this is! Upon the table of infinite love stands the cup full of blessing; it is ours by faith to take it in our hand, make it our own, and partake of it, and then with joyful hearts to laud and magnify the gracious One who has filled it for our sakes that we may drink and be refreshed.
We can do this figuratively at the sacramental table, we can do it spiritually every time we grasp the golden chalice of the covenant, realizing the fullness of blessing which it contains, and by faith receiving its divine contents into our inmost soul. Beloved reader, let us pause here and take a long and deep draught from the cup which Jesus filled, and then with devout hearts let us worship God.
Verse 14. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people. The Psalmist has already stated his third resolution, to devote himself to the worship of God evermore, and here he commences the performance of that resolve. The vows which he had made in anguish, he now determines to fulfill: "I will pay my vows unto the Lord." He does so at once, "now," and that publicly, "in the presence of all his people."
Good resolutions cannot be carried out too speedily; vows become debts, and debts should be paid. It is well to have witnesses to the payment of just debts, and we need not be ashamed to have witnesses to the fulfilling of holy vows, for this will show that we are not ashamed of our Lord, and it may be a great benefit to those who look on and hear us publicly sounding forth the praises of our prayer hearing God.
How can those do this who have never with their mouth confessed their Savior? O secret disciples, what do you say to this verse? Be encouraged to come into the light and own your Redeemer. If, indeed, you have been saved, come forward and declare it in his own appointed way.
Verse 15. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints, and therefore he did not allow the Psalmist to die—but delivered his soul from death.
This seems to indicate that the song was meant to remind Jewish families of the mercies received by any one of the household, supposing him to have been sore sick and to have been restored to health, for the Lord values the lives of his saints, and often spares them where others perish. They shall not die prematurely; they shall be immortal until their work is done; and when their time shall come to die, then their deaths shall be precious.
The Lord watches over their dying beds, smoothes their pillows, sustains their hearts, and receives their souls. Those who are redeemed with precious blood are so dear to God that even their deaths are precious to him. The deathbeds of saints are very precious to the church, she often learns much from them; they are very precious to all believers, who delight to treasure up the last words of the departed; but they are most of all precious to the Lord Jehovah himself, who views the triumphant deaths of his gracious ones with sacred delight. If we have walked before him in the land of the living, we need not fear to die before him when the hour of our departure is at hand.
Verse 16. The man of God in paying his vows rededicates himself unto God; the offering which he brings is himself, as he cries, O LORD, truly I am your servant—rightfully, really, heartily, constantly, I own that I am yours, for you have delivered and redeemed me.
I am your servant, and the son of your handmaid, a servant born in your house, born of a servant and so born a servant, and therefore doubly yours. My mother was your handmaid, and I, her son, confess that I am altogether your by claims arising out of my birth. O that children of godly parents would thus judge; but, alas, there are many who are the sons of the Lord's handmaids—but they are not themselves his servants. They give sad proof that grace does not run in the blood. David's mother was evidently a gracious woman, and he is glad to remember that fact, and to see in it a fresh obligation to devote himself to God.
You have loosed my bonds, freedom from bondage binds me to your service. He who is loosed from the bonds of sin, death, and Hell should rejoice to wear the easy yoke of the great Deliverer.
Note how the sweet singer delights to dwell upon his belonging to the Lord; it is evidently his glory, a thing of which he is thankful, a matter which causes him intense satisfaction. Truly, it ought to create rapture in our souls if we are able to call Jesus Master, and are acknowledged by him as his servants.
Verse 17. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Being your servant, I am bound to sacrifice to you, and having received spiritual blessings at your hands I will not bring bullock or goat—but I will bring that which is more suitable, namely, the thanksgiving of my heart. My inmost soul shall adore you in gratitude.
And will call upon the name of the Lord, that is to say, I will bow before you reverently, lift up my heart in love to you, think upon your character, and adore you as you reveal yourself. He is fond of this occupation, and several times in this Psalm declares that "he will call upon the name of the Lord," while at the same time he rejoices that he had done so many a time before. Good feelings and actions bear repeating—the more of hearty callings upon God, the better.
Verse 18. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people. He repeats the declaration. A good thing is worth saying twice. He thus stirs himself up to greater heartiness, earnestness, and diligence in keeping his vow—really paying it at the very moment that he is declaring his resolution to do so. The mercy came in secret—but the praise is rendered in public; the company was, however, select; he did not cast his pearls before swine—but delivered his testimony before those who could understand and appreciate it.
Verse 19. In the courts of the LORD'S house: in the proper place, where God had ordained that he should be worshiped. See how he is stirred up at the remembrance of the house of the Lord, and must needs speak of the holy city with a note of joyful exclamation—
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem. The very thought of the beloved Zion touched his heart, and he writes as if he were actually addressing Jerusalem, whose name was dear to him. There would he pay his vows, in the abode of fellowship, in the very heart of Judea, in the place to which the tribes went up, the tribes of the Lord.
There is nothing like witnessing for Jesus, where the report thereof will be carried into a thousand homes. God's praise is not to be confined to a closet, nor his name to be whispered in holes and corners, as if we were afraid that men should hear us; but in the thick of the throng, and in the very center of assemblies, we should lift up heart and voice unto the Lord, and invite others to join with us in adoring him, saying, Praise the LORD, or Hallelujah.
This was a very fit conclusion of a song to be sung when all the people were gathered together at Jerusalem to keep the feast. God's Spirit moved the writers of these Psalms to give them a fitness and suitability which was more evident in their own day than now; but enough is perceptible to convince us that every line and word had a peculiar adaptation to the occasions for which the sacred sonnets were composed. When we worship the Lord we ought with great care to select the words of prayer and praise, and not to trust to the opening of a hymn book, or to the unconsidered extemporizing of the moment. Let all things be done decently and in order, and let all things begin and end with Hallelujah, Praise the Lord.