Treasury of David
TITLE. A Psalm of David. It is so much like other Davidic psalms, that we accept the title without a moment's hesitation. David's history illustrates it, and his spirit breathes in it. Why it has been set down as one of the seven Penitential Psalms we can hardly tell; for it is rather a vindication of his own integrity, and an indignant prayer against his slanderers, than a confession of fault.
It is true the second verse proves that he never dreamed of justifying himself before the Lord; but even in it there is scarcely the brokenness of penitence. It seems to us rather martial than penitential, rather a supplication for deliverance from trouble than a weeping acknowledgment of transgression. We suppose that seven penitentials were needed by ecclesiastical rabbis, and therefore this was impressed into the service.
In truth, it is a mingled strain, a box of ointment composed of divers ingredients, sweet and bitter, pungent and precious. It is the outcry of an overwhelmed spirit, unable to abide in the highest state of spiritual prayer, again and again descending to bewail its deep temporal distress; yet evermore struggling to rise to the best things. The singer moans at intervals; the petitioner for mercy cannot withhold his cries for vindication. His hands are outstretched to Heaven, but at his belt hangs a sharp sword, which rattles in its scabbard as he closes his psalm.
DIVISION. This psalm is divided by the Selah. We prefer to follow the natural cleavage, and therefore have made no other dissection of it. May the Holy Spirit lead us into its inner meaning.
Verse 1. Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications. In the preceding psalm he began by declaring that he had cried unto the Lord. Here he begs to be favorably regarded by Jehovah the living God, whose memorial is that he hears prayer. He knew that Jehovah heard prayer, and therefore he entreated him to hear his supplication, however feeble and broken it might be. In two forms he implores the one blessing of gracious audience: "hear" and "give ear."
Gracious men are so eager to be heard in prayer that they double their entreaties for that blessing. The Psalmist desires to be heard and to be considered; hence he cries, "hear", and then "give ear."
Our case is difficult, and we plead for special attention. Here it is probable that David wished his suit against his adversaries to be heard by the righteous Judge; confident that if he had a hearing in the matter whereof he was slanderously accused, he would be triumphantly acquitted. Yet while somewhat inclined thus to lay his case before the Court of King's Bench, he prefers rather to turn it all into a petition, and present it before the Court of Requests, hence he cries rather "hear my prayer" than "hear my suit."
Indeed David is specially earnest that he himself, and the whole of his life, may not become the subject of trial, for in that event he could not hope for acquittal.
Observe that he offered so much pleading that his life became one continual prayer; but that petitioning was so varied in form that it broke out in many supplications.
In your faithfulness answer me, and in your righteousness. Saints desire to be answered as well as heard. They long to find the Lord faithful to his promise and righteous in defending the cause of justice. It is a happy thing when we dare appeal even to righteousness for our deliverance; and this we can do upon gospel principles, for "if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins."
Even the sterner attributes of God are upon the side of the man who humbly trusts, and turns his trust into prayer. It is a sign of our safety when our interests and those of righteousness are blended. With God's faithfulness and righteousness upon our side, we are guarded on the right hand and on the left. These are active attributes, and fully equal to the answering of any prayer which it would be light to answer. Requests which do not appeal to either of these attributes, it would not be for the glory of God to hear, for they must contain desires for things not promised, and unrighteous.
Verse 2. And enter not into judgment with your servant. He had entreated for audience at the mercy seat, but he has no wish to appear before the judgment seat. Though clear before men, he could not claim innocence before God. Even though he knew himself to be the Lord's servant—yet he did not claim perfection, or plead merit; for even as a servant, he was unprofitable.
If such be the humble cry of a servant, what ought to be the pleading of a sinner?
For in your sight shall no man living be justified. None can stand before God upon the footing of the law. God's sight is piercing and discriminating; the slightest flaw is seen and judged; and therefore pretense and profession cannot avail where that glance reads all the secrets of the soul.
In this verse David told out the doctrine of universal condemnation by the law, long before Paul had taken his pen to write the same truth. To this day it stands true even to the same extent as in David's day: no man living even at this moment may dare to present himself for trial before the throne of the Great King on the footing of the law.
This foolish age has produced specimens of n pride so rank that men have dared to claim perfection in the flesh; but these vain glorious boasters are no exception to the rule here laid down—they are but men, and poor specimens of men. When their lives are examined they are frequently found to be more faulty than the humble penitents before whom they vaunt their superiority.
Verse 3. For the enemy has persecuted my soul. He has followed me with malicious perseverance, and has worried me as often as I have been within his reach. The attack was upon the soul or life of the Psalmist.
Our adversaries mean us the worst possible evil, their attacks are no child's play, they hunt for the precious life.
He has smitten my life down to the ground. The existence of David was made bitter by the cruelty of his enemy; he was as one who was hurled down and made to lie upon the ground, where he could be trampled on by his assailant.
Slander has a very depressing effect upon the spirits; it is a blow which overthrows the mind as though it were knocked down with the fist.
He has made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead. The enemy was not content with felling his life to the ground—he would lay him lower still, even in the grave; and lower than that, if possible, for the enemy would shut up the saint in the darkness of Hell if he could.
David was driven by Saul's animosity to haunt caverns and holes; like an unquiet spirit, he wandered out by night, and lay hid by day like an uneasy spirit which had long been denied the repose of the grave.
Godly men began to forget him, as though he had been long dead; and bad men made ridicule of his rueful visage as though it belonged not to a living man, but was dark with the shadow of the sepulcher. Poor David! He was qualified to bless the house of the living, but he was driven to consort with the dead!
Such may be our case, and yet we may be very dear to the Lord. One thing is certain, the Lord who permits us to dwell in darkness among the dead, will surely bring us into light, and cause us to dwell with those who enjoy life eternal.
Verse 4. Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate. David was no stoic: he felt his banishment, and smarted under the cruel assaults which were made upon his character. He felt perplexed and overturned, lonely and afflicted. He was a man of thought and feeling, and suffered both in spirit and in heart from the undeserved and unprovoked hostility of his persecutors.
Moreover, he labored under the sense of fearful loneliness; he was for a while forsaken by his God, and his soul was exceeding heavy, even unto death. Such words our Lord Jesus might have used—in this the Head is like the members, and the members are as the Head.
Verse 5. I remember the days of old. When we see nothing new which can cheer us, let us think upon old things. We once had merry days, days of deliverance, and joy and thanksgiving; why not again? Jehovah rescued his people in the ages centuries ago; why should he not do the like again? We ourselves have a rich past to look back upon; we have sunny memories, sacred memories, satisfactory memories, and these are as flowers for the bees of faith to visit, from whence they may make honey for present use.
I meditate on all your works. When my own works reproach me, your works refresh me. If at the first view the deeds of the Lord do not encourage us, let us think them over again, ruminating and considering the histories of divine providence. We ought to take a wide and large view of all God's works; for as a whole they work together for good, and in each part they are worthy of reverent study.
I muse on the work of your hands. This he had done in former days, even in his most trying hours. Creation had been the book in which he read of the wisdom and goodness of the Lord. He repeats his perusal of the page of nature, and counts it a balm for his wounds, a cordial for his cares, to see what the Lord has made by his skillful hands. When the work of our own hand grieves us, let us look to the work of God's hands.
Memory, meditation, and musing are here set together as the three graces, ministering grace to a mind depressed and likely to be diseased. As David with his harp played away the evil spirit from Saul, so does he here chase away gloom from his own soul by holy communion with God.
Verse 6. I stretch forth my hands unto you. He was eager for his God. His thoughts of God kindled in him burning desires, and these led to energetic expressions of his inward longings. As a prisoner whose feet are bound extends his hands in supplication when there is hope of liberty, so does David.
My soul thirsts after you, as a thirsty land. As the soil cracks, and yawns, and thus opens its mouth in silent pleadings—so did the Psalmist's soul break with longings. No heavenly shower had refreshed him from the sanctuary: banished from the means of grace, his soul felt parched and dry, and he cried out, "My soul thirsts for you"; nothing would content him but the presence of his God. Not alone did he extend his hands, but his heart was stretched out towards the Lord. He was athirst for the Lord. If he could but feel the presence of his God he would no longer be overwhelmed or dwell in darkness; nay, everything would turn to peace and joy.
Selah. It was time to pause, for the supplication had risen to agony point. Both harp strings and heart strings were strained, and needed a little rest to get them right again for the second half of the song.
Verse 7. Hear me speedily, O LORD; for my spirit fails. If long delayed, the deliverance would come too late. The afflicted suppliant faints, and is ready to die. His life is ebbing out; each moment is of importance; it will soon be all over with him. No argument for speed can be more powerful than this. Who will not run to help a suppliant when his life is in jeopardy? Mercy adds wings to its heels when misery is in extremity. God will not fail when our spirit fails, but the rather he will hasten his course and come to us on the wings of the wind.
Hide not your face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit. Communion with God is so dear to a true heart, that the withdrawal of it makes the man feel as though he were ready to die and perish utterly. God's withdrawals reduce the heart to despair, and take away all strength from the mind. Moreover, his absence enables adversaries to work their will without restraint; and thus, in a second way, the persecuted one is like to perish. If we have God's countenance we live, but if he turns his back upon us we die. When the Lord looks with favor upon our efforts we prosper, but if he refuses to countenance them we labor in vain.
Verse 8. Cause me to hear your loving-kindness in the morning; for in you do I trust. Lord, my sorrow makes me deaf—cause me to hear. There is but one voice that can cheer me—cause me to hear your loving-kindness. That music I would gladly enjoy at once—cause me to hear it in the morning, at the first dawning hour.
A sense of divine love is to the soul both dawn and dew—the end of the night of weeping, the beginning of the morning of joy. Only God can take away from our weary ears the din of our care, and charm them with the sweet notes of his love. Our plea with the Lord is our faith: if we are relying upon him, he cannot disappoint us: "In you do I trust" is a sound and solid argument with God. He who made the ear will cause us to hear. He who is love itself will have the kindness to bring his loving-kindness before our minds.
Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto you. The Great First Cause must cause us to hear and to know. Spiritual senses are dependent upon God, and heavenly knowledge comes from him alone. To know the way we ought to take is exceedingly needful, for how can we be exact in obedience to a law with which we are not acquainted? Or how can there be an ignorant holiness? If we know not the way, how shall we keep in it? If we know not wherein we should walk, how shall we be likely to follow the right path?
The Psalmist lifts up his soul: faith is good at a dead lift. The soul that trusts, will rise. We will not allow our hope to sink, but we will strive to get up and rise out of our daily griefs. This is wise. When David was in any difficulty as to his way, he lifted his soul towards God himself, and then he knew that he could not go very far wrong. If the soul will not rise of itself, we must lift it—lift it up unto God. This is good argument in prayer: surely the God to whom we endeavor to lift up our soul will condescend to show us what he would have us to do. Let us attend to David's example, and when our heart is low, let us heartily endeavor to lift it up, not so much to comfort, as to the Lord himself.
Verse 9. Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies. Many foes beset us, we cannot overcome them, we cannot even escape from them; but Jehovah can and will rescue us if we pray to him. The weapon of all-prayer will stand us in better stead than sword and shield.
I flee unto you to hide me. This was a good result from his persecutions. That which makes us flee to our God may be an ill wind, but it blows us good. There is no cowardice in such flight, but much holy courage.
God can hide us out of reach of harm, and even out of sight of it. He is our hiding place. Jesus has made himself the refuge of his people. The sooner, and the more entirely we flee to him the better for us. Beneath the crimson canopy of our Lord's atonement believers are completely hidden; let us abide there and be at rest.
In the seventh verse our poet cried, "Hide not your face", and here he prays, "Hide me." Note also how often he uses the words "unto you"; he is after his God. He must travel in that direction by some means, even though he may seem to be beating a retreat; his whole being longs to be near the Lord. Is it possible that such thirsting for God will be left unsupplied? Never, while the Lord is love.
Verse 12. And in your mercy cut off my enemies, and destroy all those who afflict my soul. He believes that it will be so, and thus prophesies the event; for the words may be read as a declaration, and it is better so to understand them.
We could not pray just so with our Christian light; but under Old Testament arrangements, the spirit of it was congruous to the law. It is a petition which justice sanctions, but the spirit of love is not at home in presenting it. We, as Christians, turn the petition to spiritual use only. Yet David was of so generous a mind, and dealt so tenderly with Saul, that he could hardly have meant all that his words are made in our version to say.
For I am your servant. Therefore I hope that my Master will protect me in his service, and grant me victory while I fight his battles. It is a warrior's prayer, and smells of the dust and smoke of battle. It was heard, and therefore it was not asking amiss. Still there is a more excellent way.