Treasury of David
TITLE. A Song of degrees of David. Of course the superfine critics have pounced upon this title as inaccurate, but we are at liberty to believe as much or as little of their assertions as we may please. They declare that there are certain ornaments of language in this little ode which were unknown in the Davidic period. It may be so; but in their superlative wisdom they have ventured upon so many other questionable statements that we are not bound to receive this dictum. Assuredly the manner of the song is very like to David's, and we are unable to see why he should be excluded from the authorship. Whether it be his composition or not, it breathes the same spirit as that which animates the unchallenged songs of the royal composer.
DIVISION. This short Psalm contains an acknowledgment of favor received by way of special deliverance (1-5),
then a grateful act of worship in blessing Jehovah (6, 7),
and, lastly, a declaration of confidence in the Lord for all future time of trial. May our experience lead us to the same conclusion as the saints of David's time. From all confidence in man may we be rescued by a holy reliance upon our God.
Verse 1. If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, now may Israel say. The opening sentence is abrupt, and remains a fragment. By such a commencement attention was aroused as well as feeling expressed: and this is ever the way of poetic fire—to break forth in uncontrollable flame. The many words in italics in our authorized version will show the reader that the translators did their best to patch up the passage, which, perhaps, had better have been left in its broken grandeur, and it would then have run thus: "Had it not been Jehovah! He was for us, oh let Israel say! Had it not been Jehovah! He who was for us when men rose against us."
The glorious Lord became our ally; he took our part, and entered into treaty with us. If Jehovah were not our protector where would we be? Nothing but his power and wisdom could have guarded us from the cunning and malice of our adversaries; therefore, let all his people say so, and openly give him the honor of his preserving goodness.
Here are two "ifs," and yet there is no "if" in the matter. The Lord was on our side, and is still our defender, and will be so from henceforth, even forever. Let us with holy confidence exult in this joyful fact. We are far too slow in declaring our gratitude, hence the exclamation which should be rendered, "O let Israel say." We murmur without being stirred up to it, but our thanksgiving needs a spur, and it is well when some warm hearted friend bids us say what we feel. Imagine what would have happened if the Lord had left us, and then see what has happened because he has been faithful to us. Are not all the materials of a song spread before us? Let us sing unto the Lord.
Verse 2. If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us. When all men combined, and the whole race of men seemed set upon stamping out the house of Israel, what must have happened if the covenant Lord had not interposed? When they stirred themselves, and combined to make an assault upon our quietude and safety, what would we have done in their rising if the Lord had not also risen? No one who could or would help was near, but the bare arm of the Lord sufficed to preserve his own against all the leagued hosts of adversaries.
There is no doubt as to our deliverer, we cannot ascribe our salvation to any second cause, for it would not have been equal to the emergency; nothing less than omnipotence and omniscience could have wrought our rescue. We set every other claimant on one side, and rejoice because the Lord was on our side.
Verse 3. Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us. They were so eager for our destruction that they would have made only one morsel of us, and have swallowed us up alive and whole in a single instant. The fury of the enemies of the church is raised to the highest pitch, nothing will content them but the total annihilation of God's chosen. Their wrath is like a fire which is kindled, and has taken such firm hold upon the fuel that there is no quenching it.
Anger is never more fiery than when the people of God are its objects. Sparks become flames, and the furnace is heated seven times hotter when God's elect are to be thrust into the blaze. The cruel world would make a full end of the godly seed, were it not that Jehovah bars the way. When the Lord appears, the cruel throats cannot swallow, and the consuming fires cannot destroy.
Ah, if it were not Jehovah, if our help came from all the creatures united, there would be no way of escape for us: it is only because the Lord lives that his people are alive.
Verse 4. Then the waters had overwhelmed us. Rising irresistibly, like the Nile, the flood of opposition would soon have rolled over our heads. Across the mighty waste of waters we should have cast an anxious eye, but looked in vain for escape.
The motto of a royal house is, "Tossed about but not submerged." We should have needed an epitaph rather than an epigram, for we should have been driven by the torrent and sunken, never to rise again. The stream had gone over our soul. The rushing torrent would have drowned our soul, our hope, our life. The figures seem to be the steadily rising flood, and the hurriedly rushing stream. Who can stand against two such mighty powers? Everything is destroyed by these unconquerable forces, either by being submerged or swept away.
When the world's enmity obtains a vent it both rises and rushes, it rages and rolls along, and spares nothing. In the great water floods of persecution and affliction who can help but Jehovah? But for him where would we be at this very hour? We have experienced seasons in which the combined forces of earth and Hell must have made an end of us had not omnipotent grace interfered for our rescue.
Verse 5. Then the proud waters had gone over our soul. The figure represents the waves as proud, and so they seem to be when they overleap the bulwarks of a frail bark, and threaten every moment to sink her. The opposition of men is usually embittered by a haughty scorn which derides all our godly efforts as mere fanaticism or obstinate ignorance.
In all the persecutions of the church a cruel contempt has largely mingled with the oppression, and this is overpowering to the soul. Had not God been with us our disdainful enemies would have made nothing of us, and dashed over us as a mountain torrent sweeps down the side of a hill, driving everything before it. Not only would our goods and possessions have been carried off, but our soul, our courage, our hope would have been borne away by the impetuous assault, and buried beneath the insults of our antagonists.
Let us pause here, and as we see what might have been, let us adore the guardian power which has kept us in the flood, and yet above the flood. In our hours of dire peril, we must have perished had not our Preserver prevailed for our safe keeping.
Verse 6. Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as a prey to their teeth. Leaving the metaphor of a boiling flood, he compares the adversaries of Israel to wild beasts who desired to make the godly their prey. Their teeth are prepared to tear, and they regard the godly as their victims. The Lord is heartily praised for not permitting his servants to be devoured when they were between the jaws of the raging ones. It implies that none can harm us until the Lord permits: we cannot be their prey unless the Lord gives us up to them, and that our loving Lord will never do. Hitherto he has refused permission to any foe to destroy us, blessed be his name. The more imminent the danger the more eminent the mercy which would not permit the soul to perish in it. God be blessed forever for keeping us from the curse. Jehovah be praised for checking the fury of the foe, and saving his own. The verse reads like a merely negative blessing, but no blessing can be more positively precious. He has given us to his Son Jesus, and he will never give us to our enemies.
Verse 7. Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers. Our soul is like a bird for many reasons; but in this case the point of likeness is weakness, folly, and the ease with which it is enticed into the snare. Fowlers have many methods of taking small birds, and Satan has many methods of entrapping souls. Some are decoyed by evil companions, others are enticed by the love of dainties; hunger drives many into the trap, and fright impels numbers to fly into the net. Fowlers know their birds, and how to capture them; but the birds see not the snare so as to avoid it, and they cannot break it so as to escape from it.
Happy is the bird that has a deliverer strong, and mighty, and ready in the moment of peril: happier still is the soul over which the Lord watches day and night to pluck its feet out of the net. What joy there is in this song, "our soul is escaped." How the emancipated one sings and soars, and soars and sings again.
Blessed be God, many of us can make joyous music with these notes, "our soul is escaped." Escaped from our natural slavery; escaped from the guilt, the degradation, the habit, the dominion of sin; escaped from the vain deceits and fascinations of Satan; escaped from all that can destroy—we do indeed experience delight. What a wonder of grace it is! What a miraculous escape that we who are so easily misled should not have been permitted to die by the dread fowler's hand. The Lord has heard the prayer which he taught us to pray, and he has delivered us from evil.
The snare is broken, and we are escaped! The song is worth repeating; it is well to dwell upon so great a mercy. The snare may be false doctrine, pride, lust, or a temptation to indulge in worldliness, or to despair, or to presume; what a high favor it is to have it broken before our eyes, so that it has no more power over us. We see not the mercy while we are in the snare; perhaps we are so foolish as to deplore the breaking of the Satanic charm; the gratitude comes when the escape is seen, and when we perceive what we have escaped from, and by what hand we have been set free. Then our Lord has a song from our mouths and hearts as we make Heaven and earth ring with the notes, "the snare is broken, and we are escaped."
We have been tempted, but not taken; cast down, but not destroyed; perplexed, but not in despair; in deaths oft, but still alive—blessed be Jehovah! This song might well have suited our whole nation at the time of the Spanish Armada, the church in the days of the Jesuits, and each believer among us in seasons of strong personal temptation.
Verse 8. Our help, our hope for the future, our ground of confidence in all trials present and to come.
Is in the name of the Lord. Jehovah's revealed character is our foundation of confidence, his person is our sure fountain of strength.
Who made Heaven and earth. Our Creator is our preserver. He is immensely great in his creating work; he has not fashioned a few little things alone, but all Heaven and the whole round earth are the works of his hands.
When we worship the Creator let us increase our trust in our Comforter. Did he create all that we see, and can he not preserve us from evils which we cannot see? Blessed be his name, he who has fashioned us will watch over us; yes, he has done so, and rendered us help in the moment of jeopardy. He is our help and our shield, even he alone. He will to the end break every snare. He made Heaven for us, and he will keep us for Heaven; he made the earth, and he will support us ripen it until the hour comes for our departure.
Every work of his hand preaches to us the duty and the delight of reposing upon him only. All nature cries, "Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah there is everlasting strength." "Therefore comfort one another with these words."
Had not the Lord, my soul may cry,
Had not the Lord been on my bide;
Had he not brought deliverance near,
Then must my helpless soul have died.
Had not the Lord been on my side,
My soul had been by Satan slain;
And Tophet, opening large and wide,
Would not have gaped for me in vain.
Lo, floods of wrath, and floods of Hell,
In fierce impetuous torrents roll;
Had not the Lord defended well,
The waters had o'erwhelmed my soul.
As when the fowler's snare is broke,
The bird escapes on cheerful wings;
My soul, set free from Satan's yoke,
With joy bursts forth, and mounts, and sings.
She sings the Lord her Savior's praise;
Sings forth his praise with joy and mirth;
To him her song in Heaven she'll raise,
To him that made both Heaven and earth!