Treasury of David
AUTHOR AND SUBJECT.
In Ezra 3:10-11, we read that "When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: "He is good; his love to Israel endures forever." And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid."
Now the words mentioned in Ezra are the first and last sentences of this Psalm, and we therefore conclude that the people chanted the whole of this sublime song; and, moreover, that the use of this composition on such occasions was ordained by David, whom we conceive to be its author.
The next step leads us to believe that he is its subject, at least in some degree; for it is clear that the writer is speaking concerning himself in the first place, though he may not have strictly confined himself to all the details of his our personal experience.
That the Psalmist had a prophetic view of our Lord Jesus is very manifest; the frequent quotations from this song in the New Testament prove this beyond all questions; but at the same time it could not have been intended that every particular line and sentence should be read in reference to the Messiah, for this requires very great ingenuity, and ingenious interpretations are seldom true. Certain devout expositors have managed to twist the expression of Psalm 118:17, "I shall not die—but live," so as to make it applicable to our Lord, who did actually die, and whose glory it is that he died; but we cannot bring our minds to do such violence to the words of holy writ.
The Psalm, seems to us to describe either David or some other man of God who was appointed by the divine choice to a high and honorable office in Israel. This elect champion found himself rejected by his friends and fellow countrymen, and at the same time was violently opposed by his enemies. In faith in God he battles for his appointed place, and in due time he obtains it in such a way as greatly to display the power and goodness of the Lord. He then goes up to the house of the Lord to offer sacrifice, and to express his gratitude for the divine interposition, all the people blessing him, and wishing him abundant prosperity.
This heroic personage, whom we cannot help thinking to be David himself, broadly typified our Lord—but not in such a manner that in all the minutiae of his struggles and prayers we are to hunt for parallels.
We judge it best to refer it to no one incident in particular—but to regard it as a national song, adapted alike for the rise of a chosen hero, and the building of a temple. Whether a nation is founded again by a conquering prince, or a temple founded by the laying of its cornerstone in joyful state, the Psalm is equally applicable.
We propose to divide this Psalm thus, from verses 1-4 the faithful are called upon to magnify the everlasting mercy of the Lord;
from verses 5-18 the Psalmist gives forth a narrative of his experience, and an expression of his faith;
in Psalm 118:19-21 he asks admittance into the house of the Lord, and begins the acknowledgment of the divine salvation.
In verses 22-27 the priests and people recognize their ruler, magnify the Lord for him, declare him blessed, and bid him approach the altar with his sacrifice.
In verses 28-29 the grateful hero himself exalts God the ever merciful.
Verse 1. O give thanks unto the LORD. The grateful hero feels that he cannot himself alone sufficiently express his thankfulness, and therefore he calls in the aid of others. Grateful hearts are greedy of men's tongues, and would monopolize them all for God's glory.
The whole nation was concerned in David's triumphant accession, and therefore it was right that they should unite in his adoring song of praise. The thanks were to be rendered unto Jehovah alone, and not to the patience or valor of the hero himself. It is always well to trace our mercies to him who bestows them, and if we cannot give him anything else, let us at any rate give him our thanks. We must not stop short at the second agent—but rise at once to the first cause, and render all our praises unto the Lord himself. Have we been of a forgetful or murmuring spirit? Let us hear the lively language of the text, and allow it to speak to our hearts: "Cease your complaining, cease from all self-glorification, and give thanks unto the Lord."
For he is good. This is reason enough for giving him thanks; goodness is his essence and nature, and therefore he is always to be praised whether we are receiving anything from him or not. Those who only praise God because he does them good should rise to a higher note and give thanks to him because he is good.
In the truest sense he alone is good, "There is none good but one, that is God"; therefore in all gratitude the Lord should have the royal portion. If others seem to be good, he is good. If others are good in a measure, he is good beyond measure. When others behave badly to us, it should only stir us up the more heartily to give thanks unto the Lord because he is good. And when we ourselves are conscious that we are far from being good, we should only the more reverently bless him that "he is good."
We must never tolerate an instant's unbelief as to the goodness of the Lord; whatever else may be questionable, this is absolutely certain, that Jehovah is good; his dispensations may vary—but his nature is always the same, and always good. It is not only that he was good, and will be good—but he is good; let his providence be what it may. Therefore let us even at this present moment, though the skies be dark with clouds—yet give thanks unto his name.
Because his mercy endures forever. Mercy is a great part of his goodness, and one which more concerns us than any other, for we are sinners and have need of his mercy. Angels may say that he is good—but they need not his mercy and cannot therefore take an equal delight in it. Inanimate creation declares that he is good—but it cannot feel his mercy, for it has never transgressed. But man, deeply guilty and graciously forgiven, beholds mercy as the very focus and center of the goodness of the Lord.
The endurance of the divine mercy is a special subject for song: notwithstanding our sins, our trials, and our fears—his mercy endures forever. The best of earthly joys pass away, and even the world itself grows old and hastens to decay—but there is no change in the mercy of God; he was faithful to our forefathers, he is merciful to us, and will be gracious to our children and our children's children. It is to be hoped that the philosophical interpreters who endeavor to clip the word "forever", into a mere period of time will have the goodness to let this passage alone. However, whether they do or not, we shall believe in endless mercy—mercy to eternity. The Lord Jesus Christ, who is the grand incarnation of the mercy of God, calls upon us at every remembrance of him to give thanks unto the Lord, for "he is good."
Verse 2. Let Israel now say, that his mercy endures forever. God had made a covenant with their forefathers, a covenant of mercy and love, and to that covenant he was faithful evermore. Israel sinned in Egypt, provoked the Lord in the wilderness, went astray again and again under the judges, and transgressed at all times; and yet the Lord continued to regard them as his people, to favor them with his oracles, and to forgive their sins. He speedily ceased from the chastisements which they so richly deserved, because he had favor towards them. He put his rod away the moment they repented, because his heart was full of compassion.
"His mercy endures forever" was Israel's national hymn, which, as a people, they had been called upon to sing upon many former occasions; and now their leader, who had at last gained the place for which Jehovah had destined him, calls upon the whole nation to join with him in extolling, in this particular instance of the divine goodness, the eternal mercy of the Lord. David's success was mercy to Israel, as well as mercy to himself. If Israel does not sing, who will? If Israel does not sing of mercy, who can? If Israel does not sing when the Son of David ascends the throne, the very stones will cry out.
Verse 3. Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endures forever. The sons of Aaron were specially set apart to come nearest to God, and it was only because of his mercy that they were enabled to live in the presence of the thrice holy Jehovah, who is a consuming fire. Every time the morning and evening lamb was sacrificed, the priests saw the continual mercy of the Lord, and in all the holy vessels of the sanctuary, and all its services from hour to hour, they had renewed witness of the goodness of the Most High. When the high priest went in unto the holy place and came forth accepted, he might, above all men, sing of the eternal mercy.
If this Psalm refers to David, the priests had special reason for thankfulness on his coming to the throne, for Saul had made a great slaughter among them, and had at various times interfered with their sacred office. A man had now come to the throne who for their Master's sake would esteem them, give them their dues, and preserve them safe from all harm. Our Lord Jesus, having made all his people priests unto God, may well call upon them in that capacity to magnify the everlasting mercy of the Most High. Can any one of the royal priesthood be silent?
Verse 4. Let those who now fear the LORD say, that his mercy endures forever. If there were any throughout the world who did not belong to Israel after the flesh—but nevertheless had a holy fear and lowly reverence of God, the Psalmist calls upon them to unite with him in his thanksgiving, and to do it especially on the occasion of his exaltation to the throne; and this is no more than they would cheerfully agree to do, since every godly man in the world is benefitted when a true servant of God is placed in a position of honor and influence. The prosperity of Israel through the reign of David was a blessing to all who feared Jehovah.
A truly God fearing man will have his eye much upon God's mercy, because he is deeply conscious of his need of it, and because that attribute excites in him a deep feeling of reverential awe. "There is forgiveness with you that you may be feared."
In the three exhortations, to Israel, to the house of Aaron, and to those who fear the Lord, there is a repetition of the exhortation to say, "that his mercy endures forever."
We are not only to believe—but to declare the goodness of God; truth is not to be hushed up—but proclaimed. God would have his people act as witnesses, and not stand silent in the day when his honor is impugned. Specially is it our joy to speak out to the honor and glory of God when we think of the exaltation of his dear Son. We should shout "Hosanna," and sing loud "Hallelujahs" when we behold the stone which the builders rejected lifted into its proper place.
In each of the three exhortations notice carefully the word "now." There is no time like time present for telling out the praises of God. The present exaltation of the Son of David now demands from all who are the subjects of his kingdom continual songs of thanksgiving to him who has set him on high in the midst of Zion.
Now with us should mean always. When would it be right to cease from praising God, whose mercy never ceases? The fourfold testimonies to the everlasting mercy of God which are now before us speak like four evangelists, each one declaring the very pith and marrow of the gospel; and they stand like four angels at the four corners of the earth holding the winds in their hands, restraining the plagues of the latter days that the mercy and long suffering of God may endure towards the sons of men. Here are four cords to bind the sacrifice to the four horns of the altar, and four trumpets with which to proclaim the year of jubilee to every quarter of the world. Let not the reader pass on to the consideration of the rest of the Psalm until he has with all his might lifted up both heart and voice to praise the Lord, "for his mercy endures forever!"
"Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord, for he is kind;
For his mercies shall endure
Ever faithful, ever sure."
Verse 5. I called upon the LORD in distress, or, "out of anguish I invoked Jah." Nothing was left him but prayer, his agony was too great for anything beside; but having the heart and the privilege to pray, he possessed all things. Prayers which come out of distress generally come out of the heart, and therefore they go to the heart of God. It is sweet to recollect our prayers, and often profitable to tell others of them after they are heard. Prayer may be bitter in the offering—but it will be sweet in the answering. The man of God had called upon the Lord when he was not in distress, and therefore he found it natural and easy to call upon him when he was in distress. He worshiped he praised, he prayed: for all this is included in calling upon God, even when he was in a straitened condition. Some read the original "a narrow gorge"; and therefore it was the more joy to him when he could say "The Lord answered me, and set me in a large place."
He passed out of the crag of distress into the well-watered plain of delight. He says, "Jah heard me in a wide place," for God is never shut up, or straitened. In God's case hearing means answering, hence the translators rightly put, "The Lord answered me," though the original word is "heard." The answer was appropriate to the prayer, for he brought him out of his narrow and confined condition into a place of liberty where he could walk at large, free from obstruction and oppression.
Many of us can join with the Psalmist in the declarations of this verse; deep was our distress on account of sin, and we were shut up as in a prison under the law—but in answer to the prayer of faith we obtained the liberty of full justification with which Christ makes men free, and we are free indeed. It was the Lord who did it, and unto his name we ascribe all the glory; we had no merits, no strength, no wisdom—all we could do was to call upon him, and even that was his gift; but the mercy which is to eternity came to our rescue, we were brought out of bondage, and we were made to delight ourselves in the length and breadth of a boundless inheritance. What a large place is that in which the great God has placed us! All things are ours, all times are ours, all places are ours, for God himself is ours. We have earth to lodge in and Heaven to dwell in—what larger place can be imagined? We need all Israel, the whole house of Aaron, and all those who fear the Lord, to assist us in the expression of our gratitude; and when they have aided us to the utmost, and we ourselves have done our best, all will fall short of the praises that are due to our gracious Lord.
Verse 6. The LORD is on my side, or, he is "for me." Once his justice was against me—but now he is my reconciled God, and engaged on my behalf. The Psalmist naturally rejoiced in the divine help; all men turned against him—but God was his defender and advocate, accomplishing the divine purposes of his grace.
The expression may also be translated "to me," that is to say, Jehovah belongs to me, and is mine. What infinite wealth is here! If we do not magnify the Lord we are of all men most brutish.
I will not fear. He does not say that he should not suffer—but that he would not fear: the favor of God infinitely outweighed the hatred of men, therefore setting the one against the other he felt that he had no reason to be afraid. He was calm and confident, though surrounded with enemies, and so let all believers be, for thus they honor God.
What can man do unto me? He can do nothing more than God permits. At the very uttermost he can only kill the body—but he has no more that he can do. God having purposed to set his servant upon the throne, the whole race of mankind could do nothing to thwart the divine decree. The settled purpose of Jehovah's heart could not be turned aside, nor its accomplishment delayed, much less prevented, by the most rancorous hostility of the most powerful of men.
Saul sought to slay David—but David outlived Saul, and sat upon his throne. Scribe and Pharisee, priest and Herodian, united in opposing the Christ of God—but he is exalted on high none the less because of their enmity. The mightiest man is a puny thing when he stands in opposition to God, yes, he shrinks into utter nothingness. It were a pity to be afraid of such a pitiful, miserable, despicable object as a man opposed to the almighty God.
The Psalmist here speaks like a champion throwing down the gauntlet to all comers, defying the universe in arms; without fear and without reproach, he enjoys God's favor, and he defies every foe.
Verse 7. The LORD takes my part with those who help me. Jehovah condescended to be in alliance with the godly man and his comrades; his God was not content to look on—but he took part in the struggle. What a consolatory fact it is that the Lord takes our part, and that when he raises up friends for us he does not leave them to fight for us alone—but he himself as our chief defender deigns to come into the battle and wage war on our behalf.
David mentioned those who helped him, he was not unmindful of his followers; there is a long record of David's mighty men in the book of Chronicles, and this teaches us that we are not to disdain or think little of the generous friends who rally around us; but still our great dependence and our grand confidence must be fixed upon the Lord alone. Without him the strong helpers fail; indeed, apart from him, in the sons of men there is no help; but when our gracious Jehovah is pleased to support and strengthen those who aid us, they become substantial helpers to us.
Therefore shall I see my desire upon those who hate me. The words, "my desire," are added by the translators; the Psalmist said, "I shall look upon my haters: I shall look upon them in the face, I shall make them cease from their contempt, I shall myself look down upon them instead of their looking down upon me. I shall see their defeat, I shall see the end of them."
Our Lord Jesus does at this moment look down upon his adversaries, his enemies are his footstool; he shall look upon them at his second coming, and at the glance of his eyes they shall flee before him, not being able to endure that look with which he shall read them through and through.
Verse 8. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better in all ways, for first of all it is WISER: God is infinitely more able to help, and more likely to help, than man, and therefore prudence suggests that we put our confidence in him above all others.
It is also MORALLY better to do so, for it is the duty of the creature to trust in the Creator. God has a claim upon his creatures' faith, he deserves to be trusted; and to place our reliance upon another rather than upon himself, is a direct insult to his faithfulness.
It is better in the sense of SAFER, since we can never be sure of our ground if we rely upon mortal man—but we are always secure in the hands of our God.
It is better in its EFFECT upon ourselves: to trust in man tends to make us mean, crouching, dependent; but confidence in God elevates, produces a sacred quiet of spirit, and sanctifies the soul. It is, moreover, much better to trust in God, as far as the result is concerned; for in many cases the human object of our trust fails from lack of ability, from lack of generosity, from lack of affection, or from lack of memory; but the Lord, so far from falling, does for us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or even think. This verse is written out of the experience of many who have first of all found the broken reeds of the creature break under them, and have afterwards joyfully found the Lord to be a solid pillar sustaining all their weight.
Verse 9. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes. These should be the noblest of men, chivalrous in character, and true to the core. The royal word should be unquestionable. They are noblest in rank and mightiest in power, and yet as a rule princes are not one whit more reliable than the rest of mankind. A gilded vane turns with the wind as readily as a baser weathercock. Princes are but men, and the best of men are poor creatures.
In many troubles they cannot help us in the least degree: for instance, in sickness, bereavement, or death; neither can they assist us one jot in reference to our eternal state. In eternity a prince's smile goes for nothing; Heaven and Hell pay no homage to royalty. The favor of princes is proverbially fickle, the testimonies of worldlings to this effect are abundant.
Yet a prince's smile has a strange bewitchery to many hearts, and that seeking after noblemen is the index of a weak mind. Principle has been forgotten and character has been sacrificed, to maintain position at court; yes, the manliness which the basest slave retains has been basely bartered for the stars and garters of a profligate monarch. He who puts his confidence in God, the great King, is thereby made mentally and spiritually stronger, and rises to the highest dignity of manhood; in fact, the more he trusts, the more is he free—but the fawning sycophant of greatness is meaner than the dirt he treads upon. For this reason and a thousand others it is infinitely better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.
Verse 10. All nations compassed me about. The hero of the Psalm, while he had no earthly friend upon whom he could thoroughly rely, was surrounded by innumerable enemies, who heartily hated him. He was hemmed in by his adversaries, and scarcely could find a loophole of escape from the bands which made a ring around him. As if by common consent all sorts of people set themselves against him, and yet he was more than a match for them all, because he was trusting in the name of the Lord.
Therefore does he joyfully accept the battle, and grasp the victory, crying—but in the name of the LORD will I destroy them, or "cut them in pieces." They thought to destroy him—but he was sure of destroying them. They meant to blot out his name—but he expected to render not only his own name but the name of the Lord his God more illustrious in the hearts of men. It takes grand faith to be calm in the day of actual battle, and especially when that battle waxes hot; but our hero was as calm as if no fight was raging.
Napoleon said that God was always on the side of the biggest battalions—but the Psalmist warrior found that the Lord Almighty was with the solitary champion, and that in his name the battalions were cut to pieces. There is a grand touch of the ego in the last sentence—but it is so overshadowed with the name of the Lord that there is none too much of it. He recognized his own individuality, and asserted it: he did not sit still supinely and leave the work to be done by God by some mysterious means; but he resolved with his own trusty sword to set about the enterprise, and so become in God's hand the instrument of his own deliverance. He did all in the name of the Lord—but he did not ignore his own responsibility, nor screen himself from personal conflict, for he cried, "I will destroy them."
Observe that he does not speak of merely escaping from them like a bird out of the snare of the fowler—but he vows that he will carry the war into his enemies' ranks, and overthrow them so thoroughly that there should be no fear of their rising up a second time.
Verse 11. They compassed me about; yes, they compassed me about. He had such a vivid recollection of his danger that his enemies seem to live again in his verses. We see their fierce array, and their cruel combination of forces. They made a double ring, they surrounded him in a circle of many ranks, they not only talked of doing so—but they actually shut him up and enclosed him as within a wall. His heart had vividly realized his position of peril at the time, and now he delights to call it again to mind in order that he may the more ardently adore the mercy which made him strong in the hour of conflict, so that he broke through a troop, yes, swept a army to destruction.
But in the name of the LORD will I destroy them. I will subdue them, get them under my feet, and break their power in pieces. He is as certain about the destruction of his enemies, as he was assured of their having compassed him about. They made the circle three and four times deep—but for all that, he felt confident of victory. It is grand to hear a man speak in this fashion when it is not boasting—but the calm declaration of his heartfelt trust in God.
Verse 12. They compassed me about like bees. They seemed to be everywhere, like a swarm of bees, attacking him at every point; nimbly flying from place to place, stinging him meanwhile, and inflicting grievous pain. They threatened at first to baffle him: what weapon could he use against them? They were so numerous, so inveterate; so contemptible—yet so audacious; so insignificant and yet so capable of inflicting agony, that to the eye of reason there appeared no possibility of doing anything with them. Like the swarm of flies Egypt, there was no standing against them; they threatened to sting a man to death with their incessant malice, their base insinuations, their dastardly falsehoods. He was in an evil case—but even there faith availed. All powerful faith adapts itself to all circumstances, it can cast out devils, and it can drive out bees. Surely, if it outlives the sting of death, it will not die from the sting of a bee.
They are quenched as the fire of thorns. Their fierce attacks soon came to an end, the bees lost their stings and the buzz of the swarm subsided; like thorns which blaze with fierce crackling and abundant flame—but die out in a handful of ashes very speedily—so did the nations which surrounded our hero soon cease their clamor and come to an inglorious end. They were soon hot and soon cold, their attack was as short as it was sharp. He had no need to crush the bees, for like crackling thorns they died out of themselves.
For a third time he adds, for in the name of the Lord will I destroy them, or "cut them down," as men cut down thorns with a scythe. What wonders have been wrought in the name of the Lord! It is the battle cry of faith, before which its adversaries fly apace. "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!" brings instant terror into the midst of the foe. The name of the Lord is the one weapon which never fails in the day of battle: he who knows how to use it may chase a thousand with his single arm.
Alas! we too often go to work and to conflict in our own name, and the enemy knows it not—but scornfully asks, "Who are you?" Let us take care never to venture into the presence of the foe without first of all arming ourselves with this impenetrable armor. If we knew this name better, and trusted it more, our life would be more fruitful and sublime.
"Jesus, the name high over all,
In Hell, or earth, or sky,
Angels and men before it fall,
And devils fear and fly."
Verse 13. You have thrust greatly at me, "Thrusting, you have thrust at me." It is a vigorous apostrophe, in which the enemy is described as concentrating all his thrusting power into the thrusts which he gave to the man of God. He thrust again and again with the keenest point, even as bees thrust their stings into their victim. The foe had exhibited intense exasperation, and fearful determination, nor had he been without a measure of success; wounds had been given and received, and these smarted much, and were exceeding sore.
Now, this is true of many a tried child of God who has been wounded by Satan, by the world, by temptation, by affliction; the sword has entered into his bones, and left its mark.
That I might fall. This was the object of the thrusting: to throw him down, to wound him in such a way that he would no longer be able to keep his place, to make him depart from his integrity, and lose his confidence in God. If our adversaries can do this they will have succeeded to their heart's content: if we fall into grievous sin they will be better pleased than even if they had sent the bullet of the assassin into our heart, for a moral death is worse than a physical one. If they can dishonor us, and God in us, their victory will be complete. They fill us with their venom, that they may fill us with their sin.
But the Lord helped me; a blessed "but." This is the saving clause. Other helpers were unable to chase away the angry nations, much less to destroy all the noxious swarms; but when the Lord came to the rescue the hero's single arm was strong enough to vanquish all his adversaries.
How sweetly can many of us repeat in the retrospect of our past tribulations this delightful sentence, "But the Lord helped me." I was assailed by innumerable doubts and fears—but the Lord helped me. My natural unbelief was terribly inflamed by the insinuations of Satan—but the Lord helped me. Multiplied trial were rendered more intense by the cruel assaults of men, and I knew not what to do—but the Lord helped me. Doubtless, when we land on the hither shore of Jordan, this will be one of our songs, "Flesh and heart were failing me, and the adversaries of my soul surrounded me in the swellings of Jordan—but the Lord helped me. Glory be unto his name."
Verse 14. The LORD my strength and song, my strength while I was in the conflict, my song now that it is ended; my strength against the strong, and my song over their defeat. He is far from boasting of his own valor; he ascribes his victory to its real source, he has no song concerning his own exploits—but all his paeans are unto Jehovah Victor, the Lord whose right hand and holy arm had given him the victory.
And has become my salvation. The poet-warrior knew that he was saved, and he not only ascribed that salvation unto God—but he declared God himself to be his salvation. It is an all comprehending expression, signifying that from beginning to end, in the whole and in the details of it, he owed his deliverance entirely to the Lord. Thus can all the Lord's redeemed say, "Salvation is of the Lord."
We cannot endure any doctrine which puts the crown upon the wrong head and defrauds the glorious King of his revenue of praise. Jehovah has done it all; yes, in Christ Jesus he is all, and therefore in our praises let him alone be extolled. It is a happy circumstance for us when we can praise God as alike our strength, song, and salvation; for God sometimes gives a secret strength to his people, and yet they question their own salvation, and cannot, therefore, sing of it.
Many are, no doubt, truly saved—but at times they have so little strength, that they are ready to faint, and therefore they cannot sing: when strength is imparted and salvation is realized then the song is clear and full.
Verse 15. The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous. They sympathized in the delight of their leader and they abode in their tents in peace, rejoicing that one had been raised up who, in the name of the Lord, would protect them from their adversaries.
The families of believers are happy, and they should take pains to give their happiness a voice by their family devotion. The dwelling place of saved men should be the temple of praise; it is but righteous that the righteous should praise the righteous God, who is their righteousness.
The struggling hero knew that the voice of woe and lamentation was heard in the tents of his adversaries, for they had suffered severe defeat at his hands; but he was delighted by the remembrance that the nation for whom he had struggled would rejoice from one end of the land to the other at the deliverance which God had wrought by his means. That hero of heroes, the conquering Savior, gives to all the families of his people abundant reasons for incessant song now that he has led captivity captive and ascended up on high. Let none of us be silent in our households: if we have salvation let us have joy, and if we have joy let us give it a tongue with which it may magnify the Lord.
If we hearken carefully to the music which comes from Israel's tents, we shall catch a stanza to this effect, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly: Jehovah has manifested his strength, given victory to his chosen champion, and overthrown all the armies of the foe. "The Lord is a man of war, the Lord is his name." When he comes to blows, woe to his mightiest opponent.
Verse 16. The right hand of the LORD is exalted, lifted up to smite the enemy, or extolled and magnified in the eyes of his people. It is the Lord's right hand, the hand of his skill, the hand of his greatest power, the hand which is accustomed to defend his saints. When that is lifted up, it lifts up all who trust in him, and it casts down all who resist him.
The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. The Psalmist speaks in triplets, for he is praising the triune God, his heart is warm and he loves to dwell upon the note; he is not content with the praise he has rendered, he endeavors to utter it each time more fervently and more jubilantly than before. He had dwelt upon the sentence, "they compassed me about," for his peril from encircling armies was fully realized; and now he dwells upon the valor of Jehovah's right hand, for he has as vivid a sense of the presence and majesty of the Lord. How seldom is this the case: the Lord's mercy is forgotten and only the trial is remembered.
Verse 17. I shall not die—but live. His enemies hoped that he would die, and perhaps he himself feared he would perish at their hand. The news of his death may have been spread among his people, for the tongue of rumor is ever ready with ill news, the false news would naturally cause great sorrow and despondency—but he proclaims himself as yet alive and as confident that he shall not fall by the hand of the destroyer. He is cheerfully assured that no arrow could carry death between the joints of his harness, and no weapon of any sort could end his career. His time had not yet come, he felt immortality beating within his bosom.
Perhaps he had been sick, and brought to death's door—but he had a presentiment that the sickness was not unto death—but to the glory of God. At any rate, he knew that he would not so die as to give victory to the enemies of God; for the honor of God and the good of his people were both wrapped up in his continued success. Feeling that he would live he devoted himself to the noblest of purposes: he resolved to bear witness to the divine faithfulness, and declare the works of the LORD.
He determined to recount the works of Jah; and he does so in this Psalm, wherein he dwells with love and admiration upon the splendor of Jehovah's prowess in the midst of the fight. While there is a testimony for God to be borne by us to anyone, it is certain that we shall not be hurried from the land of the living. The Lord's prophets shall live on in the midst of famine, and war, and plague, and persecution, until they have uttered all the words of their prophecy; his priests shall stand at the altar unharmed until their last sacrifice has been presented before him. No bullet will find its home in our hearts until we have finished our allotted period of activity,
"Plagues and deaths around me fly,
Until he please I cannot die!
Not a single shaft can hit,
Until the God of love sees fit!"
Verse 18. The LORD has chastened me sore. This is faith's version of the former passage, "You have thrust sore at me;" for the attacks of the enemy are chastisements from the hand of God. The devil tormented Job for his own purposes—but in reality the sorrows of the patriarch were chastisements from the Lord.
"Chastening, Jah has chastened me," says our poet: as much as to say that the Lord had smitten him very severely, and made him sorrowfully to know the full weight of his rod. The Lord frequently appears to save his heaviest blows for his best beloved ones. If any one affliction is more painful than another, it falls to the lot of those whom he most distinguishes in his service. The gardener prunes his best roses with most care. Chastisement is sent to keep successful saints humble, to make them tender towards others, and to enable them to bear the high honors which their heavenly Friend puts upon them.
But he has not given me over unto death. This verse, like the thirteenth, concludes with a blessed "but," which constitutes a saving clause. The Psalmist felt as if he had been beaten within an inch of his life—but yet death did not actually ensue. There is always a merciful limit to the scourging of the sons of God. Forty stripes minus one, were all that an Israelite might receive, and the Lord will never allow that one, that killing stroke, to fall upon his children. They are "chastened—but not killed"; their pains are for their instruction, not for their destruction. By these things the ungodly die—but gracious Hezekiah could say, "By these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit."
No, blessed be the name of God, he may chastise us—but he will not condemn us. We must feel the smarting rod—but we shall not feel the killing sword. He does not give us over unto death at any time, and we may be quite sure that he has not done so while he condescends to chasten us, for if he intended our final rejection he would not take the pains to place us under his fatherly discipline.
It may seem hard to be under the afflicting rod—but it would be a far more dreadful thing if the Lord were to say, "He is given unto idols, let him alone." Even from our griefs we may distill consolation, and gather sweet flowers from the garden in which the Lord has planted beneficial wormwood. It is a cheering fact that if we endure chastening, God deals with us as with sons. We may well be satisfied with the common lot of his beloved family.
The hero, restored to health, and rescued from the dangers of battle, now lifts up his own song unto the Lord, and asks all Israel, led on by the goodly fellowship of the priests, to assist him in chanting joyful praises.
Verse 19. Open to me the gates of righteousness. The grateful champion having reached the entrance of the temple, asks for admission in set form, as if he felt that he could only approach the hallowed shrine by divine permission, and wished only to enter in the appointed manner.
The temple of God was meant for the righteous to enter and offer the sacrifices of righteousness, hence the gates are called the gates of righteousness. Righteous deeds were done within its walls and righteous teachings sounded forth from its courts. The phrase "the gate is sometimes used to signify power or empire"; as, for instance, "the Sublime Porte" signifies the seat of empire of Turkey; the entrance to the temple was the true Sublime Porte, and what is better, it was the porta justitiae—the gate of righteousness, the palace of the great King, who is in all things just.
I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord. Only let the gate be opened, and the willing worshiper will enter; and he will enter in the right spirit, and for the best of purposes, that he may render homage unto the Most High.
Alas, there are multitudes who do not care whether the gates of God's house are opened or not; and although they know that they are opened wide, they never care to enter, neither does the thought of praising God so much as cross their minds.
The time will come for them when they shall find the gates of Heaven shut against them, for those gates are peculiarly the gates of righteousness through which there shall by no means enter anything that defiles.
Our champion might have praised the Lord in secret, and doubtless he did so; but he was not content without going up to the assembly, there to register his thanksgivings. Those who neglect public worship generally neglect all worship; those who praise God within their own gates are among the readiest to praise him within his temple gates.
Our hero had also in all probability been sore sick, and therefore like Hezekiah he says, "The Lord was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of my life in the house of the Lord." Public praise for public mercies is every way most appropriate, most acceptable to God, and most profitable to others.
Verse 20. This gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter. Psalmist loves the house of God so well that he admires the very gate thereof, and pauses beneath its arch to express his affection for it. He loved it because it was the gate of the Lord, he loved it because it was the gate of righteousness, because so many godly people had already entered it, and because in all future ages such people will continue to pass through its portals.
If the gate of the Lord's house on earth is so pleasant to us, how greatly shall we rejoice when we pass that gate of pearl, to which none but the righteous shall ever approach—but through which all the just shall in due time enter to eternal felicity. The Lord Jesus has passed that way, and not only set the gate wide open—but secured an entrance for all those who are made righteous in his righteousness: all the righteous must and shall enter there, whoever may oppose them.
Under another aspect our Lord is himself that gate, and through him, as the new and living Way, all the righteous delight to approach unto the Lord. Whenever we draw near to praise the Lord we must come by this gate; acceptable praise never climbs over the wall, or enters by any other way—but comes to God in Christ Jesus; as it is written, "no man comes unto the Father but by me." Blessed, forever blessed, be this wondrous gate of the person of our Lord.
Verse 21. Having entered, the champion exclaims, I will praise you, not "I will praise the Lord," for now he vividly realizes the divine presence, and addresses himself directly to Jehovah, whom his faith sensibly discerns. How well it is in all our songs of praise to let the heart have direct and distinct communion with God himself!
The Psalmist's song was personal praise too: "I will praise you". Resolute praise, for he firmly resolved to offer it; spontaneous praise, for he voluntarily and cheerfully rendered it, and continuous praise, for he did not intend soon to have done with it. It was a life-long vow to which there would never come a close, "I will praise you."
For you have heard me, and have become my salvation. He praises God by mentioning his favors, weaving his song out of the divine goodness which he had experienced. In these words he gives the reason for his praise—his answered prayer, and the deliverance which he had received in consequence.
How fondly he dwells upon the personal interposition of God! "You have heard me."
How heartily he ascribes the whole of his victory over his enemies to God; nay, he sees God himself to be the whole of it: "You have become my salvation."
It is well to go directly to God himself, and not to stay even in his mercy, or in the acts of his grace. Answered prayers bring God very near to us. Realized salvation enables us to realize the immediate presence of God. Considering the extreme distress through which the worshiper had passed, it is not at all astonishing that he should feel his heart full of gratitude at the great salvation which God had wrought for him, and should at his first entrance into the temple lift up his voice in thankful praise for personal favors so great, so needful, so perfect.
This passage (verses 22-27) will appear to be a mixture of the expressions of the people and of the hero himself.
Verse 22. The stone which the builders refused has become the chief cornerstone. Here the people magnify God for bringing his chosen servant into the honorable office, which had been allotted to him by divine decree. A wise king and valiant leader is a stone by which the national fabric is built up. David had been rejected by those in authority—but God had placed him in a position of the highest honor and the greatest usefulness, making him the chief cornerstone of the nation. In the case of many others whose early life has been spent in conflict, the Lord has been pleased to accomplish his divine purposes in like manner.
But to none is this text so applicable as to the Lord Jesus himself: he is the living stone, the tried stone, elect, precious, which God himself appointed from of old. The Jewish builders, scribe, priest, Pharisee, and Herodian, rejected him with disdain. They could see no excellence in him that they should build upon him; he could not be made to fit in with their ideal of a national church, he was a stone of another quarry from themselves, and not after their mind nor according to their taste; therefore they cast him away and poured contempt upon him, even as Peter said, "He is the stone which you builders rejected." They reckoned him to be worthless, though he is Lord of all.
In raising him from the dead the Lord God exalted him to be the head of his church, the very pinnacle of her glory and beauty. Since then he has become the confidence of the Gentiles, even of them that are afar off upon the sea, and thus he has joined the two walls of Jew and Gentile into one stately temple, and is seen to be the binding cornerstone, making both one.
This is a delightful subject for contemplation. Jesus in all things has the preeminence, he is the principal stone of the whole house of God. We are accustomed to lay one stone of a public building with solemn ceremony, and to deposit in it any precious things which may have been selected as a memorial of the occasion: henceforth that cornerstone is looked upon as peculiarly honorable, and joyful memories are associated with it.
All this is in a very emphatic sense true of our blessed Lord, "The Shepherd, the Stone of Israel." God himself laid him where he is, and hid within him all the precious things of the eternal covenant; and there he shall forever remain the foundation of all our hopes, the glory of all our joys, the united bond of all our fellowship. He is "the head over all things to the church," and by him the church is fitly framed together, and grows unto a holy temple in the Lord.
Still do the builders refuse him! Even to this day the professional teachers of religion are far too apt to fly to any and every new philosophy sooner than maintain the simple gospel, which is the essence of Christ. Nevertheless, he holds his true position among his people, and the foolish builders shall see to their utter confusion that his truth shall be exalted over all. Those who reject the chosen stone will stumble against him to their own hurt, and before long will come his second advent, when he will fall upon them from the heights of Heaven, and grind them to powder.
Verse 23. This is the LORD'S doing. The exalted position of Christ in his church is not the work of man, and does not depend for its continuation upon any builders or ministers; God himself has wrought the exaltation of our Lord Jesus. Considering the opposition which comes from the wisdom, the power, and the authority of this world, it is manifest that if the kingdom of Christ be indeed set up and maintained in the world, it must be by supernatural power. Indeed, it is so even in the smallest detail. Every grain of true faith in this world is a divine creation, and every hour in which the true church exists is a prolonged miracle. It is not the goodness of human nature, nor the force of reasoning, which exalts Christ, and builds up the church—but a power from above. This staggers the adversary, for he cannot understand what it is which baffles him—of the Holy Spirit He knows nothing.
It is marvelous in our eyes. We actually see it; it is not in our thoughts and hopes and prayers alone—but the astonishing work is actually before our eyes. Jesus reigns, his power is felt, and we perceive that it is so. The eye of faith sees our great Master, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world—but also in that which is to come; she sees and marvels. It never ceases to astonish us, as we see, even here below, God by means of weakness defeating power, by the simplicity of his word baffling the craft of men, and by the invisible influence of his Spirit exalting his Son in human hearts in the teeth of open and determined opposition. It is indeed "marvelous in our eyes," as all God's works must be if men care to study them.
In the Hebrew the passage reads, "It is wonderfully done": not only is the exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth itself wonderful—but the way in which it is brought about is marvelous: it is wonderfully done. The more we study the history of Christ and his church the more fully shall we agree with this declaration.
Verse 24. This is the day which the LORD has made. A new era has commenced. The day of David's enthronement was the beginning of better times for Israel; and in a far higher sense the day of our Lord's resurrection is a new day of God's own making, for it is the dawn of a blessed dispensation. No doubt the Israelitish nation celebrated the victory of its champion with a day of feasting, music and song; and surely it is but fit that we should reverently keep the feast of the triumph of the Son of David. We observe the Lord's day as henceforth our true Sabbath, a day made and ordained of God, for the perpetual remembrance of the achievements of our Redeemer. Whenever the soft Sabbath light of the first day of the week breaks upon the earth, let us sing,
"This is the day the Lord has made,
He calls the hours his own;
Let Heaven rejoice, let earth be glad,
And praise surround the throne."
We by no means wish to confine the reference of the passage to the Sabbath, for the whole gospel day is the day of God's making, and its blessings come to us through our Lord's being placed as the head of the corner.
We will rejoice and be glad in it. What else can we do? Having obtained so great a deliverance through our illustrious leader, and having seen the eternal mercy of God so brilliantly displayed—it would ill befit us to mourn and murmur. Rather will we exhibit a double joy, rejoice in heart and be glad in face, rejoice in secret and be glad in public, for we have more than a double reason for being glad in the Lord. We ought to be specially joyous on the Christian Sabbath: it is the queen of days, and its hours should be clad in royal apparel of delight. George Herbert says of it:
"You are a day of mirth,
And where the weekdays trail on ground,
Your flight is higher as your birth."
Entering into the midst of the church of God, and beholding the Lord Jesus as all in all in the assemblies of his people, we are bound to overflow with joy. Is it not written, "then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord"? When the King makes the house of prayer to be a banqueting house, and we have grace to enjoy fellowship with him, both in his sufferings and in his triumphs, we feel an intense delight, and we are glad to express it with the rest of his people.
Verse 25. Save now, I beseech you, O LORD. Hosanna! God save our king! Let David reign! Or as we who live in these latter days interpret it—Let the Son of David live forever, let his saving help go forth throughout all nations.
This was the peculiar shout of the feast of tabernacles; and so long as we dwell here below in these tabernacles of clay we cannot do better than use the same cry. Perpetually let us pray that our glorious King may work salvation in the midst of the earth. We plead also for ourselves that the Lord would save us, deliver us, and continue to sanctify us. This we ask with great earnestness, beseeching it of Jehovah. Prayer should always be an entreating and beseeching.
O LORD, I beseech you, send now prosperity. Let the church be built up; through the salvation of sinners may the number of the saints be increased; through the preservation of saints may the church be strengthened, continued, beautified, perfected. Our Lord Jesus himself pleads for the salvation and the prosperity of his chosen people; as our Intercessor before the throne, he asks that the heavenly Father would save and keep those who were of old committed to his charge, and cause them to be one through the indwelling Spirit.
Strange though it may seem, he who cries for salvation, is already in a measure saved. None can so truly cry, "Save, I beseech you," as those who have already participated in salvation; and the most prosperous church is that which most imploringly seeks prosperity. It may seem strange that, returning from victory, flushed with triumph, the hero should still ask for salvation; but so it is, and it could not be otherwise. When all our Savior's work and warfare were ended, his intercession became even more prominently a feature of his life; after he had conquered all his foes he made intercession for the transgressors. What is true of him is true of his church also, for whenever she obtains the largest measure of spiritual blessing she is then most inclined to plead for more. She never pants so eagerly for prosperity as when she sees the Lord's doings in her midst, and marvels at them. Then, encouraged by the gracious visitation, she sets apart her solemn days of prayer, and cries with passionate desire, "Save now," and "Send now prosperity." She would gladly take the tide at the flood, and make the most of the day of which the Lord has already made so much.
Verse 26. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. The champion had done everything "in the name of the Lord"—in that name he had routed all his adversaries, and had risen to the throne, and in that name he had now entered the temple to pay his vows.
We know who it is that comes in the name of the Lord beyond all others. In the Psalmist's days he was The Coming One, and he is still The Coming One, though he has already come. We are ready with our hosannas both for his first and second advent; our inmost souls thankfully adore and bless him and upon his head unspeakable joys.
For his sake everybody is blessed to us who comes in the name of the Lord, we welcome all such to our hearts and our homes; but chiefly, and beyond all others, we welcome himself when he deigns to enter in and sup with us and we with him. O sacred bliss, fit foretaste of Heaven! Perhaps this sentence is intended to be the blessing of the priests upon the valiant servant of the Lord, and if so, it is appropriately added, We have blessed you out of the house of the LORD.
The priests whose business it was to bless the people, in a sevenfold degree blessed the people's deliverer, the one chosen out of the people whom the Lord had exalted. All those whose high privilege it is to dwell in the house of the Lord forever, because they are made priests unto God in Christ Jesus, can truly say that they bless the Christ who has made them what they are, and placed them where they are.
Whenever we feel ourselves at home with God, and feel the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, "Abba Father," the first thought of our hearts should be to bless the elder Brother, through whom the privilege of sonship has descended to such unworthy ones. In looking back upon our past lives we can remember many delightful occasions in which with joy unutterable we have in the fullness of our heart blessed our Savior and our King; and all these memorable seasons are so many foretastes and pledges of the time when in the house of our great Father above we shall forever sing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain," and with rapture bless the Redeemer's name.
Verse 27. God is the LORD, who has showed us light, or "God is Jehovah," the only living and true God. There is none other God but he. The words may also be rendered, "Mighty is Jehovah." Only the power of God could have brought us such light and joy as spring from the work of our Champion and King. We have received light, by which we have known the rejected stone to be the head of the corner, and this light has led us to enlist beneath the banner of the once despised Nazarene, who is now the Prince of the kings of the earth. With the light of knowledge has come the light of joy; for we are delivered from the powers of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son.
Our knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ came not by the light of nature, nor by reason, nor did it arise from the sparks which we ourselves had kindled, nor did we receive it of men; but the mighty God alone has showed it to us. He made a day on purpose that he might shine upon us like the sun, and he made our faces to shine in the light of that day, according to the declaration of the twenty-fourth verse. Therefore, unto him be all the honor of our enlightenment. Let us do our best to magnify the great Father of lights from whom our present blessedness has descended.
Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar. Some think that by this we are taught that the king offered so many sacrifices that the whole area of the court was filled, and the sacrifices were bound even up to the altar; but we are inclined to keep to our own version, and to believe that sometimes restive bullocks were bound to the altar before they were slain.
The word rendered "cords" carries with it the idea of wreaths and boughs, so that it was not a cord of hard, rough rope—but a decorated band; even as in our case, though we are bound to the altar of God, it is with the cords of love and the bands of a man, and not by a compulsion which destroys the freedom of the will.
The sacrifice which we would present in honor of the victories of our Lord Jesus Christ is the living sacrifice of our spirit, soul, and body. We bring ourselves to his altar, and desire to offer him all that we have and are. There remains a tendency in our nature to start aside from this; it is not fond of the sacrificial knife. In the warmth of our love we come willingly to the altar—but we need constraining power to keep us there in the entirety of our being throughout the whole of life.
Happily there is a cord which, twisted around the atonement, or, better still, around the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our only Altar, can hold us, and does hold us: "For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then all died; and that he died for all, that they that live should not henceforth live unto themselves—but unto him which died for them, and rose again."
We are bound to the doctrine of atonement; we are bound to Christ himself, who is both altar and sacrifice; we desire to be more bound to him than ever, our soul finds her liberty in being tethered fast to the altar of the Lord.
The American Board of Missions has for its seal an ox, with an altar on one side and a plough on the other, and the motto "Ready for either"—ready to live and labor, or ready to suffer and die.
We would gladly spend ourselves for the Lord actively, or be spent by him passively, whichever may be his will; but since we know the rebellion of our corrupt nature we earnestly pray that we may be kept in this consecrated mind, and that we may never, under discouragements, or through the temptations of the world, be permitted to leave the altar, to which it is our intense desire to be forever fastened.
Such consecration as this, and such desires for its perpetuity, well befit that day of gladness which the Lord has made so bright by the glorious triumph of his Son, our covenant head, our well beloved. Now comes the closing song of the champion, and of each one of his admirers.
Verse 28. You are my God, and I will praise you. You are my mighty God who has done this mighty and marvelous thing. You shall be mine, and all the praise my soul is capable of shall be poured forth at your feet.
You are my God, I will exalt you. You have exalted me, and as far as my praises can do it, I will exalt your name. Jesus is magnified, and he magnifies the Father according to his prayer, "Father, the hour is come; glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you."
God has given us grace, and has promised us glory. We are constrained to ascribe all grace to him, and all the glory of it also. The repetition indicates a double determination, and sets forth the firmness of the resolution, the heartiness of the affection, the intensity of the gratitude. Our Lord Jesus himself says, "I will praise you"; and well may each one of us, humbly and with confidence in divine grace, add, on his own account, the same declaration, "I will praise you." However others may blaspheme you, I will exalt you. However dull and cold I may sometimes feel myself—yet will I rouse up my nature, and determine that as long as I have any being that being shall be spent to your praise. Forever you are my God, and forever I will give you thanks.
Verse 29. O give thanks unto the LORD for he is good; for his mercy endures forever. The Psalm concludes as it began, making a complete circle of joyful adoration. We can well suppose that the notes at the close of the loud hallelujah were more swift, more sweet, more loud than at the beginning. To the sound of trumpet and harp, Israel, the house of Aaron, and all those who feared the Lord, forgetting their distinctions, joined in one common hymn, testifying again to their deep gratitude to the Lord's goodness, and to the mercy which is unto eternity.
What better close could there be to this right royal song? The Psalmist would have risen to something higher, so as to end with a climax—but nothing loftier remained. He had reached the height of his grandest argument, and there he paused. The music ceased, the song was suspended, the great hallel was all chanted, and the people went every one to his own home, quietly and happily musing upon the goodness of the Lord, whose mercy fills eternity.