Treasury of David
TITLE. A Psalm, Of David. Yes, David under suspicion, half afraid to speak lest he should speak unadvisedly while trying to clear himself; David slandered and beset by enemies; David censured even by saints, and taking it kindly; David deploring the condition of the godly party of whom he was the acknowledged head; David waiting upon God with confident expectation.
The Psalm is one of a group of four, and it bears a striking likeness to the other three. Its meaning lies so deep as to be in places exceedingly obscure—yet even upon its surface it has dust of gold.
In its commencement the psalm is lighted up with the evening glow as the incense rises to Heaven; then comes a night of language whose meaning we cannot see; and this gives place to morning light in which our eyes are unto the Lord.
DIVISION. The Psalmist cries for acceptance in prayer (Psalm 141:1-2); Then he begs to be kept as to his speech, preserved in heart and deed, and delivered from every sort of fellowship with the ungodly. He prefers to be rebuked by the gracious rather than to be flattered by the wicked, and consoles himself with the confident assurance that he will one day be understood by the godly party, and made to be a comfort to them (Psalm 141:3-6). In the last verses the slandered saint represents the condition of the persecuted church, looks away to God and pleads for rescue from his cruel enemies, and for the punishment of his oppressors.
Verse 1. Lord, I cry unto you. This is my last resort—prayer never fails me. My prayer is painful and feeble, and worthy only to be called a cry; but it is a cry unto Jehovah, and this ennobles it.
I have cried unto you, I still cry to you, and I always mean to cry to you. To whom else could I go? What else can I do? Others trust to themselves, but I cry unto you.
The weapon of all-prayer is one which the believer may always carry with him, and use in every time of need.
Make haste unto me. His case was urgent, and he pleaded that urgency. God's time is the best time, but when we are sorely pressed we may with holy importunity quicken the movements of mercy. In many cases, if help should come late, it would come too late; and we are permitted to pray against such a calamity.
Give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto you. See how a second time he talks of crying: prayer had become his frequent, yes, his constant exercise. Twice in a few words he says, "I cry; I cry." How he longs to be heard, and to be heard at once!
There is a voice to the great Father in every cry, and groan, and tear of his children. He can understand what they mean when they are quite unable to express it. It troubles the spirit of the saints when they fear that no favorable ear is turned to their doleful cries: they cannot rest unless their "unto you" is answered by an "unto me." When prayer is a man's only refuge, he is deeply distressed at the bare idea of his failing therein.
"That were a grief I could not bear,
Did You not hear and answer prayer;
But a prayer hearing, answering God
Supports me under every load."
Verse 2. Let my prayer be set forth before you as incense. As incense is carefully prepared, kindled with holy fire, and devoutly presented unto God, so let my prayer be. We are not to look upon prayer as easy work requiring no thought. It needs to be "set forth"; what is more, it must be set forth "before the Lord," by a sense of his presence and a holy reverence for his name. Neither may we regard all supplication as certain of divine acceptance, it needs to be set forth before the Lord "as incense, "concerning the offering of which there were rules to be observed, otherwise it would be rejected of God.
And the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Whatever form his prayer might take, his one desire was that it might be accepted of God. Prayer is sometimes presented without words by the very motions of our bodies: bent knees and lifted hands are the tokens of earnest, expectant prayer.
Certainly work, or the lifting up of the hands in labor, is prayer if it be done in dependence upon God and for his glory. There is a hand prayer as well as a heart prayer, and our desire is that this may be sweet unto the Lord as the sacrifice of eventide. Holy hope, the lifting up of hands that hang down, is also a kind of worship: may it ever be acceptable with God.
The Psalmist makes a bold request: he would have his humble cries and prayers to be as much regarded of the Lord as the appointed morning and evening sacrifices of the holy place. Yet the prayer is by no means too bold, for, after all, the spiritual is in the Lord's esteem higher than the ceremonial, and the calves of the lips are a truer sacrifice than the calves of the stall. So far we have a prayer about prayer: we have a distinct supplication in the two following verses.
Verse 3. Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth. That mouth had been used in prayer, it would be a pity it should ever be defiled with untruth, or pride, or wrath; yet so it will become unless carefully watched, for these intruders are ever lurking about the door. David feels that with all his own watchfulness he may be surprised into sin, and so he begs the Lord himself to keep him. When Jehovah sets the watch the city is well guarded: when the Lord becomes the guard of our mouth the whole man is well garrisoned.
Keep the door of my lips. God has made our lips the door of the mouth, but we cannot keep that door of ourselves, therefore do we entreat the Lord to take the rule of it. O that the Lord would both open and shut our lips, for we can do neither the one nor the other aright if left to ourselves.
In times of persecution by ungodly men we are peculiarly liable to speak hastily, or evasively, and therefore we should be specially anxious to be preserved in that direction from every form of sin.
How condescending is the Lord! We are ennobled by being door keepers for him, and yet he deigns to be a door keeper for us.
Incline not my heart to any evil thing. It is equivalent to the petition, "Lead us not into temptation." O that nothing may arise in providence which would excite our desires in a sinful direction. The Psalmist is here careful of his heart. He who holds the heart, is lord of the man: but if the tongue and the heart are under God's care, all is safe. Let us pray that he may never leave us to our own inclinations, or we shall soon decline from the right.
To practice wicked works with men that work iniquity. The way the heart inclines, the life soon tends. Evil things desired, bring forth wicked things practiced. Unless the fountain of life is kept pure, the streams of life will soon be polluted.
Alas, there is great power in company: even godly men are apt to be swayed by association; hence the fear that we may practice wicked works when we are with wicked workers. We must endeavor not to be with them lest we sin with them.
It is bad when the heart goes the wrong way alone, worse when the life runs in the evil road alone; but it is apt to increase unto a high degree of ungodliness when the backslider runs the downward path with a whole horde of sinners around him.
Our practice will be our perdition if it be evil. It is an aggravation of sin rather than an excuse for it, to say that it is our custom and our habit. It is God's practice to punish all who make a practice of iniquity.
Godly men are horrified at the thought of sinning as others do; the fear of it drives them to their knees. Iniquity, which, being interpreted, is a lack of equity, is a thing to be shunned as we would avoid an infectious disease.
And let me not eat of their dainties. If we work with them we shall soon eat with them. They will bring out their sweet morsels, and delicate dishes, in the hope of binding us to their service by the means of our palates. The trap is baited with delicious meats that we may be captured and become meat for their malice. If we would not sin with men, we had better not sit with them; and if we would not share their wickedness, we must not share their wantonness.
Verse 5. Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness. He prefers the bitters of gracious company, to the dainties of the ungodly. He would rather be smitten by the righteous, than feasted by the wicked. He gives a permit to faithful admonition, he even invites it, "let the righteous smite me."
When the ungodly smile upon us, their flattery is cruel.
When the righteous smite us, their faithfulness is kind.
Sometimes godly men rap hard; they do not merely hint at evil, but hammer at it; and even then we are to receive the blows in love, and be thankful to the hand which smites so heavily.
Fools resent reproof; wise men endeavor to profit by it.
And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head. Oil breaks no heads, and rebuke does no man any harm; rather, as oil refreshes and perfumes, so does reproof when fitly taken, sweeten and renew the heart. My friend must love me well, if he will tell me of my faults. There is an unction about him, if he is honest enough to point out my errors.
Many a man has had his head broken at the feasts of the wicked, but none at the table of a true-hearted reprover.
The oil of flattery is not excellent; the oil so lavishly used at the banquet of the reveler is not excellent; head-breaking and heart-breaking attend the anointings of the riotous; but it is otherwise with the severest censures of the godly. They are not always sweet, but they are always excellent. They may for the moment bruise the heart, but they never break either it or the head.
For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities. Gracious men never grow wrathful with candid friends so as to harbor an ill feeling against them. If so, when they saw them in affliction, they would turn round upon them and taunt them with their rebukes. Far from it; these wisely grateful souls are greatly concerned to see their instructors in trouble, and they bring forth their best prayers for their assistance. They do not merely pray for them, but they so closely and heartily sympathize that their prayers are "in their calamities," down in the dungeon with them.
So true is Christian brotherhood that we are with our friends in sickness or persecution, suffering their griefs; so that our heart's prayer is in their sorrows. When we can give godly men nothing more, let us give them our prayers, and let us do this doubly to those who have given us their rebukes.
Verse 6. This is a verse of which the meaning seems far to seek. Does it refer to the righteous among the Israelites? We think so. David surely means that when their leaders fell never to rise again, they would then turn to him and take delight in listening to his voice.
When their judges are overthrown in stony places, they shall hear my words; for they are sweet. And so they did: the death of Saul made all the best of the nation look to the son of Jesse as the Lord's anointed; his words became sweet to them. Many of those godly men who had spoken severely of David's leaving his country, and going over to the Philistines, were nevertheless dear to his heart for their fidelity, and to them he returned nothing but good will, loving prayers, and sweet speeches, knowing that by and by they would overlook his faults, and select him to be their leader.
They smote him when he erred, but they recognized his excellencies. He, on his part, bore no resentment, but loved them for their honesty. He would pray for them when their land lay bleeding at the feet of their foreign enemies; he would come to their rescue when their former leaders were slain; and his words of courageous hopefulness would be sweet in their ears.
This seems to me to be a good sense, consistent with the context.
Verse 7. David's case seemed hopeless—the cause of God in Israel was as a dead thing, even as a skeleton broken, and rotten, and shoveled out of the grave, to return as dust to its dust.
Our bones are scattered at the grave's mouth. There seemed to be no life, no cohesion, no form, order, or headship among the godly party in Israel. Saul had demolished it, and scattered all its parts, so that it did not exist as an organized whole.
David himself was like one of these dried bones, and the rest of the godly were in much the same condition. There seemed to be no vitality or union among the holy seed; but their cause lay at death's door.
As when one cuts and cleaves wood upon the earth. They were like wood divided and thrown apart: not as one piece of timber, nor even as a bundle, but all cut to pieces, and thoroughly divided. Leaving out the word "wood", which is supplied by the translators, the figure relates to cleaving upon the earth, which probably means ploughing, but may signify any other form of chopping and splitting, such as felling a forest, tearing up bushes, or otherwise causing confusion and division.
How often have godly men thought thus of the cause of God! Wherever they have looked—death, division, and destruction have stared them in the face. Cut and cloven, hopelessly sundered! Scattered, yes, scattered at the grave's mouth! Split up and split for the fire! Such the cause of God and truth has seemed to be. "Upon the earth" the prospect was wretched; the field of the church was ploughed, burrowed, and scarified—it had become like a wood chopper's yard, where everything was doomed to be broken up. We have seen churches in such a state, and have been heart-broken.
What a mercy that there is always a place above the earth to which we can look! There lives One who will give a resurrection to his cause, and a reunion to his divided people.
He will bring up the dead bones from the grave's mouth, and make the dried faggots live again. Let us imitate the Psalmist in the next verse, and look up to the living God.
Verse 8. But my eyes are unto you, O GOD the Lord. David looked upward and kept his eyes fixed there. He regarded duty more than circumstances; he considered the promise rather than the external providence; and he expected from God rather than from men. He did not shut his eyes in indifference or despair, neither did he turn them to the creature in vain confidence, but he gave his eyes to his God, and saw nothing to fear. Jehovah his Lord is also his hope.
Thomas called Jesus Lord and God, and David here speaks of his God and Lord.
Saints delight to dwell upon the divine names when they are adoring or appealing.
In you is my trust. Not alone in your attributes or in your promises, but in yourself. Others might confide where they chose, but David kept to his God. In him he trusted always, only, confidently, and unreservedly.
Leave not my soul destitute; as it would be if the Lord did not remember and fulfill his promise. To be destitute in circumstances is bad, but to be destitute in soul is far worse. To be left of friends is a calamity, but to be left of God would be destruction. Destitute of God is destitution with a vengeance. The comfort is that God has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Verse 9. Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me. He had before asked, in verse 3, that the door of his mouth might be kept; but his prayer now grows into "Keep me." He seems more in trouble about covert temptation, than concerning open attacks.
Brave men do not dread battle, but they hate secret plots. We cannot endure to be entrapped like unsuspecting animals; therefore we cry to the God of wisdom for protection.
And the traps of the workers of iniquity. These evil workers sought to catch David in his speech or acts. This was in itself a piece of in equity, and so in accord with the rest of their conduct. They were bad themselves, and they wished either to make him like themselves, or to cause him to seem so. If they could not catch the godly man in one way, they would try another. Snares and traps would be multiplied, for they were determined to work his ruin.
Nobody could preserve David but the Omniscient and Omnipotent One—he also will preserve us.
It is hard to keep out of snares which you cannot see, and to escape traps which you cannot discover. Well might the much hunted Psalmist cry, "Keep me!"
Verse 10. Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while that I escape. It may not be a Christian prayer, but it is a very just one, and it takes a great deal of grace to refrain from crying Amen to it. In fact, grace does not work towards making us wish otherwise concerning the enemies of holy men. Do we not all wish the innocent to be delivered, and the guilty to reap the result of their own malice? Of course we do, if we are just men. There can be no wrong in desiring that to happen in our own case, which we wish for all godly men. Yet is there a more excellent way.