Treasury of David
TITLE. A Song of Degrees. A joyful song indeed: let all pilgrims to the New Jerusalem sing it often. The degrees or ascents are very visible; the theme ascends step by step from "afflictions" to a "crown", from "remember David", to, "I will make the horn of David to bud." The latter half is like the over-arching sky bending above "the fields of the woods" which are found in the resolves and prayers of the former portion.
DIVISION. Our translators have rightly divided this Psalm. It contains:
a statement of David's anxious care to build a house for the Lord (verses 1-7);
a prayer at the removal of the Ark (verses 8-10);
and a pleading of the divine covenant and its promises (verses 11-18).
Verse 1. LORD, remember David and all his afflictions. With David the covenant was made, and therefore his name is pleaded on behalf of his descendants, and the people who would be blessed by his dynasty. Jehovah, who changes not, will never forget one of his servants, or fail to keep his covenant; yet for this thing he is to be entreated. That which we are assured the Lord will do must, nevertheless, be made a matter of prayer.
The request is that the Lord would remember, and this is a word full of meaning. We know that the Lord remembered Noah, and assuaged the flood; he remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of Sodom; he remembered Rachel, and Hannah, and gave them children; he remembered his mercy to the house of Israel, and delivered his people.
That is a choice song wherein we sing, "He remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endures for ever"; and this is a notable prayer, "Lord remember me."
The plea is urged with God that he would bless the family of David for the sake of their progenitor; how much stronger is our master argument in prayer that God would deal well with us for Jesus' sake! David had no personal merit; the plea is based upon the covenant graciously made with him: but Jesus has deserts which are his own, and of boundless merits these we may urge without hesitation.
When the Lord was angry with the reigning prince, the people cried, "Lord remember David"; and when they needed any special blessing, again they sang, "Lord, remember David." This was good pleading, but it was not so good as ours, which runs on this wise, "Lord, remember Jesus, and all his afflictions."
The afflictions of David here meant were those which came upon him as a godly man. His endeavors to maintain the worship of Jehovah, and to provide for its decent and suitable celebration. There was always an ungodly party in the nation, and these people were never slow to slander, hinder, and molest the servant of the Lord.
Whatever were David's faults, he kept true to the one, only, living, and true God; and for this he was a speckled bird among monarchs. Since he zealously delighted in the worship of Jehovah, his God, he was despised and ridiculed by those who could not understand his enthusiasm. God will never forget what his people suffer for his sake.
No doubt innumerable blessings descend upon families and nations through the godly lives and patient sufferings of the saints. We cannot be saved by the merits of others, but beyond all question we are benefitted by their virtues. Paul says, "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which you have showed toward his name." Under the New Testament dispensation, as well as under the Old, there is a full reward for the righteous. That reward frequently comes upon their descendants rather than upon themselves: they sow, and their successors reap. We may at this day pray—Lord, remember the martyrs and confessors of our race, who suffered for your name's sake, and bless our people and nation with gospel grace for our fathers' sakes.
Verse 2. How he swore unto the Lord, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob. Moved by intense devotion, David expressed his resolve in the form of a solemn vow, which was sealed with an oath. The fewer of such vows the better, under a dispensation whose great Representative has said, "swear not at all." Perhaps even in this case it had been wiser to have left the pious resolve in the hands of God in the form of a prayer; for the vow was not actually fulfilled as intended, since the Lord forbade David to build him a temple.
We had better not swear to do anything before we know the Lord's mind about it, and then we shall not need to swear. The instance of David's vows shows that vows are allowable, but it does not prove that they are desirable.
Probably David went too far in his words, and it is well that the Lord did not hold him to the letter of his bond, but accepted the will for the deed, and the meaning of his promise instead of the literal sense of it. David imitated Jacob, that great maker of vows at Bethel, and upon him rested the blessing pronounced on Jacob by Isaac, "God Almighty bless you" (Genesis 28:3), which was remembered by the patriarch on his death bed, when he spoke of "the mighty God of Jacob."
God is mighty to hear us, and to help us in performing our vow. We should be full of awe at the idea of making any promise to the Mighty God: to dare to trifle with him would be grievous indeed. It is observable that affliction led both David and Jacob into covenant dealings with the Lord: many vows are made in anguish of soul.
We may also remark that, if the votive obligations of David are to be remembered of the Lord, much more are the suretyship engagements of the Lord Jesus before the mind of the great Lord, to whom our soul turns in the hour of our distress.
Note, upon this verse, that Jehovah was the God of Jacob, the same God evermore; that he had this for his attribute, that he is mighty—mighty to support his Jacobs who put their trust in him, though their afflictions be many. He is, moreover, specially the Mighty One of his people; he is the God of Jacob in a sense in which he is not the God of unbelievers. So here we have three points concerning our God:
special relationship, "mighty God of Jacob."
He it is who is asked to remember David and his trials, and there is a plea for that blessing in each one of the three points.
Verse 3. Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed. Our translators give the meaning, though not the literal form, of David's vow, which ran thus, "If I go", "If I go up", etc. This was an elliptical form of imprecation, implying more than it expressed, and having therefore about it a mystery which made it all the more solemn.
David would not take his ease in his house, nor his rest in his bed, until he had determined upon a place for the worship of Jehovah. The ark had been neglected, the Tabernacle had fallen into disrespect. He would find the ark, and build for it a suitable house; he felt that he could not take pleasure in his own palace until this was done. David meant well, but he spoke more than he could carry out. His language was hyperbolic, and the Lord knew what he meant: zeal does not always measure its terms, for it is not thoughtful of the criticisms of men, but is carried away with love to the Lord, who reads the hearts of his people. David would not think himself housed until he had built a house for the Lord, nor would he reckon himself rested until he had said, "Arise, O Lord, into your rest!"
Alas, we have many around us who will never carry their care for the Lord's worship too far! No fear of their being indiscreet. They are housed and bedded, and as for the Lord, his people may meet in a barn, or never meet at all; it will be all the same to them. Observe that Jacob in his vow spoke of the stone being God's house, and David's vow also deals with a house for God.
Verse 4. I will not give sleep to my eyes, or slumber to my eyelids. He could not enjoy sleep until he had done his best to provide a place for the ark. It is a strong expression, and it is not to be coolly discussed by us. Remember that the man was all on fire, and he was writing poetry also, and therefore his language is not that which we should employ in cold blood. Everybody can see what he means, and how intensely he means it.
Oh, how many are seized with sleeplessness because the house of the Lord lies waste. They can slumber fast enough, and not even disturb themselves with a dream, though the cause of God should be brought to the lowest ebb by their covetousness. What is to become of those who have no care about divine things, and never give a thought to the claims of their God?
Verse 5. Until I find out a place for the Lord, a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob. He resolved to find a place where Jehovah would allow his worship to be celebrated, a house where God would fix the symbol of his presence, and commune with his people. At that time, in all David's land, there was no proper place for that ark whereon the Lord had placed the mercy seat, where prayer could be offered, and where the manifested glory shone forth. All things had fallen into decay, and the outward forms of public worship were too much disregarded; hence the King resolves to be first and foremost in establishing a better order of things.
Yet one cannot help remembering that the holy resolve of David gave to a place and a house much more importance than the Lord himself ever attached to such matters. This is indicated in Nathan's message from the Lord to the king, "Go and tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"'
Stephen in his inspired speech puts the matter plainly: "Solomon built him an house. Howbeit the Most High dwells not in temples made with hands." It is a striking fact that true religion never flourished more in Israel than before the temple was built; and that from the day of the erection of that magnificent house the spirit of godliness declined.
Godly men may have on their hearts matters which seem to them of chief importance, and it may be acceptable with God that they should seek to carry them out; and yet in his infinite wisdom he may judge it best to prevent their executing their designs.
God does not measure his people's actions by their wisdom, or lack of wisdom, but by the sincere desire for his glory which has led up to them. David's resolution, though he was not allowed to fulfill it, brought a blessing upon him: the Lord promised to build the house of David, because he had desired to build the house of the Lord. Moreover, the King was allowed to prepare the treasure for the erection of the glorious edifice which was built by his son and successor. The Lord shows the acceptance of what we desire to do, by permitting us to do something else which his infinite mind judges to be fitter for us, and more honorable to himself.
Verse 6. Meanwhile, where was the habitation of God among men? God was accustomed to shine forth from between the cherubim, but where was the ark? It was like a hidden thing, a stranger in its own land. Rumors came that it was somewhere in the land of Ephraim, in a temporary lodging; rather an object of dread than of delight. Is it not astonishing that so renowned a symbol of the presence of the Lord should be lingering in neglect—a neglect so great that it was remarkable that we should have heard of its whereabouts at all?
When a man begins to think upon God and his service it is comforting that the gospel is heard of. Considering the opposition which it has encountered, it is marvelous that it should be heard of, and heard of in a place remote from the central city; but yet we are sorrowful that it is only in connection with some poor despised place that we do hear of it. What is Ephratah? Who at this time knows where it was? How could the ark have remained there so long?
David instituted a search for the ark. It had to be hunted for high and low; and at last at Kirjath-jearim, the forest city, he came upon it.
How often do souls find Christ and his salvation in out of the way places! What matters where we meet with him, so long as we do behold him, and find life in him? That is a blessed Eureka which is embedded in our text, "We found it!" The matter began with hearing, led on to a search, and concluded in a joyful find. "We found it in the fields of the wood."
Alas that there should be no room for the Lord in the palaces of kings, so that he must needs take to the woods. If Christ be in forest he will yet be found of those who seek for him. He is as near in the rustic home, embowered among the trees, as in the open streets of the city. Yes, he will answer prayer offered from the heart of the black forest where the lone traveler seems out of all hope of hearing.
The text presents us with an instance of one whose heart was set upon finding the place where God would meet with him; this made him quick of hearing, and so the cheering news soon reached him. The tidings renewed his ardor, and led him to stick at no difficulties in his search; and so it came to pass that, where he could hardly have expected it, he lighted upon the treasure which he so much prized!
Verse 7. We will go into his tabernacles. Having found the place where he dwells, we will hasten thereto. He has many dwellings in one in the various courts of his house, and each of these shall receive the reverence due: in each the priest shall offer for us the appointed service; and our hearts shall go where our bodies may not enter.
David is not alone, he is represented as having sought for the ark with others, for so the word "we" implies; and now they are glad to attend him in his pilgrimage to the chosen shrine, saying, "We found it, we will go!" Because these are the Lord's courts we will resort to them. We will worship at his footstool.
The best ordered earthly house can be no more than the footstool of so great a King. His ark can only reveal the glories of his feet, according to his promise that he will make the place of his feet glorious: yet thither will we hasten with joy, in glad companionship, and there will we adorn him. Where Jehovah is, there shall he be worshiped. It is well not only to go to the Lord's house, but to worship there. We do but profane his tabernacles if we enter them for any other purpose. Before leaving this verse let us note the ascent of this Psalm of degrees, "We heard...we found...we will go...we will worship."
Verse 11. Here we come to a grand covenant pleading of the kind which is always prevalent with the Lord. The LORD has sworn in truth unto David. We cannot urge anything with God which is equal to his own word and oath. Jehovah swears that our faith may have strong confidence in it: he cannot forswear himself. He swears in truth, for he means every word that he utters; men may be perjured, but none will be so profane as to imagine this of the God of truth.
By Nathan this covenant of Jehovah was conveyed to David, and there was no delusion in it. He will not turn from it. Jehovah is not a changeable being. He never turns from his purpose, much less from his promise solemnly ratified by oath. He turns never. He is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent.
What a rock they stand upon who have an immutable oath of God for their foundation! We know that this covenant was really made with Christ, the spiritual seed of David, for Peter quotes it at Pentecost, saying, "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before, spoke of the resurrection of Christ."
Christ therefore sits on a sure throne forever and ever, seeing that he has kept the covenant, and through him the blessing comes upon Zion, whose poor are blessed in him. Of the fruit of your body will I set upon your throne. Jesus sprang from the race of David, as the evangelists are careful to record; he was "of the house and lineage of David": at this day he is the King of the Jews, and the Lord has also given him the heathen for his inheritance. He must reign, and of his kingdom there shall be no end. God himself has set him on the throne, and no rebellion of men or devils can shake his dominion. The honor of Jehovah is concerned in his reign, and therefore it is never in danger; for the Lord will not allow his oath to be dishonored.
Verse 12. If your children will keep my covenant and my testimony that I shall teach them. There is a condition to the covenant so far as it concerned kings of David's line before the coming of the true Seed; but he has fulfilled that condition, and made the covenant indefeasible henceforth and forever as to himself and the spiritual seed in him. Considered as it related to temporal things, it was no small blessing for David's dynasty to be secured the throne upon good behavior.
These monarchs held their crowns from God upon the terms of loyalty to their superior Sovereign, the Lord who had elevated them to their high position. They were to be faithful to the covenant by obedience to the divine law, and by belief of divine truth, they were to accept Jehovah as their Lord and their Teacher, regarding him in both relations as in covenant with them.
What a condescension on God's part to be their teacher! How gladly ought they to render intelligent obedience! What a proper, righteous, and needful stipulation for God to make that they should be true to him when the reward was the promise: Their children shall also sit upon your throne for evermore. If they will sit at his feet, God will make them sit on a throne; if they will keep the covenant, they shall keep the crown from generation to generation.
The kingdom of Judah might have stood to this day had its kings been faithful to the Lord. No internal revolt or external attack could have overthrown the royal house of David: it fell by its own sin, and by nothing else. The Lord was continually provoked, but he was amazingly long-suffering, for long after seceding Israel had gone into captivity, Judah still remained. Miracles of mercy were shown to her. Divine patience exceeded all limits, for the Lord's regard for David was exceeding great.
The princes of David's house seemed set on ruining themselves, and nothing could save them; justice waited long, but it was bound at last to unsheathe the sword and strike! Still, if in the letter man's breach of promise caused the covenant to fail—yet in spirit and essence the Lord has been true to it, for Jesus reigns, and holds the throne forever! David's seed is still royal, for he was the progenitor according to the flesh of him who is King of kings and Lord of lords.
This verse shows us the need of family piety. Parents must see to it that their children know the fear of the Lord, and they must beg the Lord himself to teach them his truth. We have no hereditary right to the divine favor. The Lord keeps up his friendship to families from generation to generation, for he is hesitant to leave the descendants of his servants, and never does so except under grievous and long continued provocation.
As believers, we are all in a measure under some such covenant as that of David. Certain of us can look backward for four generations of saintly ancestors, and we are now glad to look forward and to see our children, and our children's children, walking in the truth. Yet we know that grace does not run in the blood, and we are filled with holy fear lest in any of our seed there should be an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.
Verse 13. For the LORD has chosen Zion. It was no more than any other Canaanite town until God chose it, David captured it, Solomon built it, and the Lord dwelt in it.
Just so was the church a mere Jebusite stronghold until grace chose it, conquered it, rebuilt it, and dwelt in it! Jehovah has chosen his people, and hence they are his people. He has chosen the church, and hence it is what it is. Thus in the covenant David and Zion, Christ and his people go together.
David is for Zion, and Zion for David: the interests of Christ and his people are mutual.
He has desired it for his habitation. David's question is answered. The Lord has spoken, the site of the temple is fixed, the place of the divine manifestation is determined. Indwelling follows upon election, and arises out of it. Zion is chosen, chosen for a habitation of God.
The desire of God to dwell among the people whom he has chosen for himself is very gracious and yet very natural: his love will not rest apart from those upon whom he has placed it. God desires to abide with those whom he has loved with an everlasting love; and we do not wonder that it should be so, for we also desire the company of our beloved ones. It is a double marvel, that the Lord should choose and desire such poor creatures as we are. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers is a wonder of grace parallel to the incarnation of the Son of God. God in the church is the wonder of Heaven, the miracle of eternity, the glory of infinite love!
Verse 14. This is my rest forever. Oh, glorious words! It is God himself who here speaks. Think of rest for God! A Sabbath for the Eternal, and a place of abiding for the Infinite.
He calls Zion my rest. Here his love remains and displays itself with delight. "He shall rest in his love"—and this forever. He will not seek another place of repose, nor grow weary of his saints. In Christ the heart of Deity is filled with contentment, and for his sake he is satisfied with his people, and will be so world without end.
These august words declare a distinctive choice—this and no other; a certain choice—this which is well known to me; a present choice—this which is here at this moment.
God has made his election of old, he has not changed it, and he never will repent of it—his church was his rest and is his rest still. As he will not turn from his oath, so he will never turn from his choice.
Oh, that we may enter into his rest, may be part and parcel of his church, and yield by our loving faith a delight to the mind of him who takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his mercy. Here will I dwell, for I have desired it.
Again are we filled with wonder that he who fills all things should dwell in Zion—should dwell in his church. God does not unwillingly visit his chosen people; he desires to dwell with them; he desires them. He is already in Zion, for he says here, as one upon the spot. Not only will he occasionally come to his church, but he will dwell in it as his fixed abode. He cared not for the magnificence of Solomon's temple, but he determined that at the mercy-seat he would be found by suppliants, and that thence he would shine forth in brightness of grace among the favored nation.
All this, however, was but a type of the spiritual house of which Jesus is foundation and cornerstone, upon which all the living stones are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.
Oh, the sweetness of the thought that God desires to dwell in his people and rest among them! Surely if it be his desire he will cause it to be so. If the desire of the righteous shall be granted, much more shall the desire of the righteous God be accomplished. This is the joy of our souls, for surely we shall rest in God, and certainly our desire is to dwell in him. This also is the end of our fears for the church of God; for if the Lord dwells in her, she shall not be moved; if the Lord desires her, the devil cannot destroy her.
Verse 15. I will abundantly bless her provision. It must be so. How can we be without a blessing when the Lord is among us? We live upon his word, we are clothed by his charity, we are armed by his power—all sorts of provision are in him, and how can they be otherwise than blessed? The provision is to be abundantly blessed; then it will be abundant and blessed. Daily provision, royal provision, satisfying provision, overflowingly joyful provision—the church shall receive. The divine blessing shall cause us . . .
to receive it with faith,
to feed upon it by experience,
to grow upon it by sanctification,
to be strengthened by it to labor,
to be cheered by it to patience, and
to be built up by it to perfection.
I will satisfy her poor with bread. The citizens of Zion are poor in themselves, poor in spirit, and often poor in pocket, but their hearts and souls shall dwell in such abundance that they shall neither need more nor desire more.
Satisfaction is the crown of experience. Where God rests, his people shall be satisfied. They are to be satisfied with what the Lord himself calls "bread", and we may be sure that he knows what is really bread for souls. He will not give us a stone. The Lord's poor shall "have food convenient for them"—that which will suit their palate, remove their hunger, fill their desire, build up their frame, and perfect their growth.
The breadth of earth is "the bread that perishes", but the bread of God endures to life eternal. In the church where God rests his people shall not starve; the Lord would never rest if they did. He did not take rest for six days until he had prepared the world for the first man to live in; he would not stay his hand until all things were ready; therefore, we may be sure if the Lord rests it is because "it is finished", and the Lord has prepared of his goodness for the poor. Where God finds his desire, his people shall find theirs; if he is satisfied, they shall be.
Taking the two clauses together, we see that nothing but an abundant blessing in the church will satisfy the Lord's poor people: they are naked and miserable until that comes. All the provision that Solomon himself could make would not have satisfied the saints of his day—they looked higher, and longed for the Lord's own boundless blessing, and hungered for the bread which came down from Heaven. Blessed be the Lord, they had in this verse two of the "I wills" of God to rest upon, and nothing could be a better support to their faith.
Verse 16. More is promised than was prayed for. See how the ninth verse asks for the priests to be clad in righteousness, and the answer is: I will also clothe her priests with salvation. God is accustomed to do exceeding abundantly, above all that we ask or even think.
Righteousness is but one feature of blessing, salvation is the whole of it. What cloth of gold is this! What more than regal array! Garments of salvation! We know who has woven them, who has dyed them, and who has given them to his people. These are the best robes for priests and preachers, for princes and people; there is none like them; give them to me.
Not every priest shall be thus clothed, but only her priests, those who truly belong to Zion by faith which is in Christ Jesus who has made them priests unto God. These, are clothed by the Lord himself, and none can clothe as he does. It even the grass of the field is so clothed by the Creator as to out do Solomon in all his glory, then how must his own children be clad? Truly he shall be admired in his saints; the liveries of his servants shall be the wonder of Heaven.
And her saints shall shout aloud for joy. Again we have a golden answer to a silver prayer. The Psalmist would have the "saints shout for joy." "That they shall do", says the Lord, "and aloud too"; they shall be exceedingly full of delight; their songs and shouts shall be so hearty that they shall sound as the noise of many waters, and as great thunders. These joyful ones are not, however, the mimic saints of superstition, but her saints, saints of the Most High, "sanctified in Christ Jesus."
These shall be so abundantly blessed and so satisfied, and so appareled that they can do no otherwise than shout to show their astonishment, their triumph, their gratitude, their exultation, their enthusiasm, their joy in the Lord.
Zion has no dumb saints. The sight of God at rest among his chosen ones, is enough to make the most silent shout. If the morning stars sang together when the earth and heavens were made, much more will all the sons of God shout for joy when the new heavens and the new earth are finished, and the New Jerusalem comes down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride for her husband. Meanwhile, even now the dwelling of the Lord among us is a perennial fountain of sparkling delight to all holy minds.
This shouting for joy is guaranteed to Zion's holy ones: God says they shall shout aloud, and depend upon it they will—who shall stop them of this glorying? The Lord has said by his Spirit, "let them shout aloud"—who is he who shall make them hold their peace? The Bridegroom is with them, and shall the children of the bride chamber fast? Nay, truly, we rejoice, yes and will rejoice.
Verse 17. There will I make the horn of David to bud. In Zion David's dynasty shall develop power and glory. As the stag is made noble and strong by the development of his horns, so the house of David shall advance from strength to strength. This was to be by the work of the Lord, "there will I make", and therefore it would be sure and solid growth. When God makes us to bud none can cause us to fade.
When David's descendants left the Lord and the worship of his house, they declined in all respects, for it was only through the Lord, and in connection with his worship that their horn would bud.
I have ordained a lamp for my anointed. David's name was to be illustrious, and brilliant as a lamp; it was to continue shining like a lamp in the sanctuary; it was thus to be a comfort to the people, and an enlightenment to the nations. God would not allow the light of David to go out by the extinction of his race—his holy ordinances had decreed that the house of his servant should remain in the midst of Israel.
What a lamp is our Lord Jesus! A light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel. As the anointed—the true Christ, he shall be the light of Heaven itself. Oh for grace to receive our illumination and our consolation from Jesus Christ alone.
Verse 18. His enemies will I clothe with shame. They shall be utterly defeated, they shall loathe their evil design, they shall be despised for having hated the Ever Blessed One. Their shame they will be unable to hide, it shall cover them. God will array them in it forever, and it shall be their convict dress to all eternity.
But upon himself shall his crown flourish. Green shall be his laurels of victory. He shall win and wear the crown of honor, and his inherited diadem shall increase in splendor. Is it not so to this hour with Jesus? His kingdom cannot fail, his imperial glories cannot fade. It is himself that we delight to honor; it is to himself that the honor comes, and upon himself that it flourishes. If others snatch at his crown their traitorous aims are defeated; but he in his own person reigns with ever growing splendor.