Meditations In the Psalms

Taken from The Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon

Part VI: Psalms 76-90

The Psalms

"In Salem also is His tabernacle,
And His dwelling place in Zion.
There He broke the arrows of the bow,
The shield and sword of battle."
(Ps. 76:2,3)

The care of Salem, or Zion, lies at the bottom of all God's powerful actings and workings among the sons of men. Every mighty work of God throughout the world may be prefaced with these two verses. The whole course of affairs in the world is steered by Providence in reference to the good of Salem [Jerusalem]. (John Owen)


"When God arose to judgment,
To deliver all the oppressed of the earth."
(Ps. 76:9)

We see from this passage what care God takes of the afflicted. When he is angry with the ungodly, he is angry with them chiefly because they have oppressed the poor and the innocent. Although he detests all iniquity, yet he is most indignant with that which is committed against the needy and guiltless. So in Ps. 12: "For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD." So in this verse, when God arose to judgment to save all the meek of the earth. (Musculus)


"Surely the wrath of man shall praise You."
(Ps. 76:10)

God turns the wrath of man to the praise of his adorable sovereignty. Never have the Lord's people had such awful impressions of the sovereignty of God as when they have been in the furnace of man's wrath; then they became dumb with silence. When the Chaldean and Sabean robbers are let loose to plunder and spoil the substance of Job, he is made to view adorable sovereignty in it, saying, "The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." It is in such a case as this that God says to his own people, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the heathen."

What work of God about the church is advanced by the wrath of men? (1) His discovering work; for by the wind of man's wrath he separates between the precious and the vile, between the chaff and the wheat. In the day of the church's prosperity, when quiet hypocrites and true believers are mingled together like the chaff and wheat in the barn floor, the Lord, like the husbandman, opens the door of his barn and puts the wind of man's wrath through it, that the world may know which is which. . . . (2) God's purging work is advanced among his own children by the wrath of men. There is much of the dross of corruption cleaving to the Lord's people while in the wilderness. Now the Lord heats the furnace of man's wrath and casts his people into it, that when he has tried them he may bring them forth as gold. (3) God's uniting work is thereby advanced. In a time of peace and external tranquility the sheep of Christ scatter and divide among themselves. But God lets loose the dogs upon them, and then the flock runs together. Or, like pieces of metal cast into the fire, they run together in a lump. (4) God's enlarging work, or his work of spreading the gospel, is sometimes advanced by the wrath of man (Acts 8:1-5). (Ebenezer Erskine)


"I call to remembrance my song in the night."
(Ps. 77:6)

Either, (1) "I will now, in the present night of affliction, remember my former songs." "Though this is a time of distress, and my present circumstances are gloomy, yet I have known brighter days. He who lifted me up has cast me down, and he can raise me up again." Sometimes this reflection, indeed, adds a poignancy to our distress, as it did to David's trouble, Ps. 42:4. Yet it will bear a better improvement, which he seems to make of it; verse 11, and so Job, (2:10). "Shall we receive good of the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" And his case shows that after the most sweeping calamities the Lord can again give things a turn in favor of them who hope in him. Therefore, present troubles should not make us forget former comforts, especially as the former so much exceeded our deserts and the present affliction fall so short of our demerits. Or, (2) the text may mean, "I will remember how I have been enabled to sing in the former nights of affliction." And surely it is especially seasonable to remember supports and consolations granted under preceding distresses. Elihu complained (Job 35:10), "There is none who says, Where is God my maker, who gives songs in the night." David comforted himself with the thought, "Though deep calls unto deep, yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me" (Ps. 42:8). And the Lord promised by Isaiah (30:29), "Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept." No doubt Paul and Silas remembered their song in the night when imprisoned at Philippi, and it afforded them encouragement under subsequent trials. And cannot many of you, my brethren, in like manner remember the supports and consolations you have enjoyed in former difficulties, and how the Lord turned the shadow of death into morning? And ought you not to trust to him who has delivered, that he will yet deliver? He who has delivered in six troubles will not forsake you in seven. The "clouds may return after the rain," but not a drop can fall without the leave [permission] of him who rides on the heavens for your help, and in his excellency on the sky. Did you not forbode at first a very different termination of the former troubles? And did the Lord disappoint your fears and put a new song into your mouth? And will you not now begin to trust him and triumph in him? Surely you have found that the Lord can clear the darkest skies. "Light is sown for the righteous," and ere long you shall see an eternal day. If such songs are given to the pilgrims of the night, how shall they sing in that world where the sun shall set no more! There will be no night there. (John Ryland, 1753-1825).


"I meditate within my heart,
And my spirit makes diligent search."
(Ps. 77:6)

This duty requires diligence. External acts of religion are facile; to lift up the eye to heaven, to bow the knee, to read a prayer--this requires no more labor than for a papist to tell over his beads. But to examine a man's self, to take the heart all in pieces as a watch and see what is defective, this is not easy. Reflective acts are hardest. The eye can see everything but itself. It is easy to spy the faults of others, but hard to find out our own. (Thomas Watson)


"Give ear, O my people, to my law;
Incline your ears to the words of my mouth."
(Ps. 78:1)

Inclining the ears does not denote any ordinary sort of hearing, but such as a disciple renders to the words of his master, with submission and reverence of mind, silent and earnest, that whatever is enunciated for the purpose of instruction may be heard and properly understood, and nothing be allowed to escape. He is a hearer of a different stamp who hears carelessly, not for the purpose of learning or imitation, but to criticize, to make merry, to indulge animosity, or to kill time. (Musculus)


"They tempted God in their heart."
(Ps. 78:18)

We know that although "God cannot be tempted with evil," he may justly be said to be tempted whenever men, by being dissatisfied with his dealings, virtually ask that he will alter those dealings and proceed in a way more congenial with their feelings. If you reflect a little, you can hardly fail to perceive that in a very strict sense this and the like may be said to be a tempting of God. Suppose a man is discontented with the appointments of Providence. Suppose him to murmur and repine [complain] at what the Almighty allots him to do or to bear. Is he not to be charged with provoking God to change his purposes? And what is this if it be not "tempting" God--a striving to induce him to swerve from his plans though every one of those plans has been settled by infinite wisdom? Or, again, if any one of us, notwithstanding multiplied proofs of the Divine lovingkindness, doubt or question whether God does indeed love him, of what is he guilty if not of tempting the Lord, seeing that he solicits God to give additional evidence, as though there were deficiency, and challenges him to fresh demonstrations of what he has already abundantly displayed? This would be called "tempting" among men. If a child were to show by his actions that he doubted or disbelieved the affection of his parents, he would be considered as thereby striving to extort from them fresh proofs of that affection, though they had already done as much as either in justice or in wisdom they ought to have done. This would be a clear tempting of them, and that too in the ordinary sense of the term. In short, unbelief of every kind and degree may be said to be a tempting of God; for not to believe on the evidence which he has seen fit to give is to tempt him to give more than he has already given--offering our possible assent, if proof were increased, as an inducement to him to go beyond what his wisdom has prescribed. . . . You cannot distrust God and not accuse him of a lack either of power or of goodness. You cannot repine--no, not even in thought--without virtually telling him that his plans are not the best nor his dispensations the wisest, which might have been appointed in respect of yourselves. So that your fear, or your despondency, or your anxiety in circumstances of perplexity or of peril is nothing less than a call upon God to depart from his fixed course--a suspicion, or rather an assertion, that he might proceed in a manner more worthy of himself, and therefore a challenge to him to alter his dealings if he would prove that he possesses the attributes which he claims. You may not intend thus to accuse or provoke God whenever you murmur, but your murmuring does all this and cannot fail to do it. You cannot be dissatisfied without virtually saying that God might order things better. You cannot say that he might order things better without virtually demanding that he change his course of acting and give other proofs of his infinite perfections. And thus you tempt him, tempt him even as did the Israelites in the wilderness. (Henry Melvill)


"Behold, he struck the rock,
So that the waters gushed out,
And the streams overflowed.
Can he give bread also?
Can he provide meat for his people?"
(Ps. 78:20)

They admit what he had done, and yet, with superabundant folly and insolence, demand further proofs of his omnipotence. "Can he give bread also? Can he provide flesh for his people?" As if the manna were nothing, as if animal food alone was true nourishment for men. If they had argued, "Can he not give flesh?" the argument would have been reasonable. But they ran into insanity, when, having seen many marvels of omnipotence, they dared to insinuate that other things were beyond the divine power. Yet, in this also, we have imitated their senseless conduct. Each new difficulty has excited fresh incredulity. We are still fools and slow of heart to believe our God, and this is a fault to be bemoaned with deepest penitence. For this cause the Lord is often wroth with us and chastens us sorely; for unbelief has in it a degree of provocation of the highest kind. (Charles Spurgeon)


"He also rained meat on them like the dust,
Feathered fowl like the sand of the seas."
(Ps. 78:27)

If the cemetery on Sarbut-el-Khadem be, what all the antecedent evidences combine to indicate, the workmanship of the Israelites, (a chief burial-ground of their fatal encampment at Kibroth-Hattaavah), it may most reasonably be expected that its monuments shall contain symbolic representations of the miracle of the "feathered fowls" and of the awful plague which followed it. Now Niebuhr happily enables us to meet this just expectation by his copies of the hieroglyphics on three of those tombstones, published in the XLVth. and XLVIth. plates of his first volume, and prefaced plate XLIV. by a plan of the cemetery itself, which is of more value than any or all subsequent descriptions.

It was discovered by the present writer (as stated in a former work, ["The Voice of Israel"] on the evidence of no less than four Sinaitic inscriptions, that the birds of the miracle, named by Moses, generically, שׂלו , salu, and by the psalmist, still more generally, עוף כנף , "winged fowls," or more correctly "long-winged fowls," were not (as rendered by all our versions, ancient and modern) "quails," but a crane-like red bird resembling a goose, named in the Arabic nuham. The discovery received subsequently a singular and signal corroboration from the further discovery by Dean Stanley, and previously by Schubert, of immense flocks of these very nuhams on the reputed scene of the miracle at Kibroth-Hattaavah. With these antecedents in his mind, the reader will now turn to the three monuments copied by Niebuhr in the cemetery of Sarbut-el-Khadem. He will at once see that a crane-like bird resembling a goose, with slender body and long legs, is the leading hieroglyphic symbol in all the three tablets. No fewer than twenty-five of these symbolic birds occur in the first, ten in the second, and fifteen in the third tablet. The goose appears occasionally, but the principal specimens have the air of the goose but the form of the crane. In a word, they are the very species of birds seen by Dean Stanley both at this point of Sinai and at the first cataract of the Nile, and which constantly occur also in Egyptian monuments; as though the very food of Egypt, after which the Israelites lusted, was sent to be at once their prey and their plague. "And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots" (Exod. 16:3).

The reader has here before him the irrefragable fact that the very birds, which by every kind of evidence stand identified with the salus, or long-legged and long-winged fowls of the miracle, are the very birds depicted on the tombstones of Sarbut-el-Khadem, both standing, flying, and apparently even trussed and cooked. . . . The inevitable inference is . . . that these tombstones record the miracle of the "feathered fowls" and stand over the graves of the gluttons who consumed them. (Charles Forster, in "Israel in the Wilderness," 1865)


"And limited the Holy One of Israel."
(Ps. 78:41)

A mistrust of God's power to effectuate all his grace, to do what is needed in any case for his people, and carry out his purposes for them. The moment I suppose anything cannot be for blessing, I limit God. This is a great sin--doubly, when we think of all he has done for us. The Holy Ghost ever reasons from God's revealed, infinite love to all its consequences. He reconciled; surely he will save to the end. He did not spare his Son; how shall he not give all things? (J. N. Darby)


"They did not remember his power."
(Ps. 78:42)

God hates forgetfulness of his blessings. First, because he has commanded that we should not forget them (Deut. 4:9; and 8:14). Secondly, because forgetfulness is a sign of contempt. Thirdly, it is the peculiarity of singular carelessness. Fourthly, it springs from unbelief. Fifthly, it is the greatest mark of ingratitude. (Thomas Le Blanc)


"Your holy temple they have defiled."
(Ps. 79:1)

This was not only the highest degree of the enemy's inhumanity and barbarity, . . . . but also a calamity to the people of God never to be sufficiently deplored. For by the overthrow of the temple the true worship of God, which had been instituted at that temple alone, appeared to be extinguished, and the knowledge of God to vanish from among mankind. No pious heart could ponder this without the greatest grief. (Mollerus)


"The dead bodies of your servants
They have given as food for the birds of the heavens."
(Ps. 79:2)

With what unconcern are we accustomed to view, on all sides of us, multitudes "dead in trespasses and sins," torn in pieces, and devoured by wild passions, filthy lusts, and infernal spirits, those dogs and vultures of the moral world! Yet, to a discerning eye and a thinking mind, the latter is by far the more melancholy sight of the two. (George Horne)


"Oh, do not remember former iniquities against us!"
(Ps. 79:8)

Sins accumulate against nations. Generations lay up stores of transgressions to be visited upon their successors; hence this urgent prayer. In Josiah's days the most earnest repentance was not able to avert the doom which former long years of idolatry had sealed against Judah. Every man has reason to ask for an act of oblivion for his past sins, and every nation should make this a continual prayer. "Let thy tender mercies come speedily to meet us, for we have been brought very low." Hasten to our rescue, for our nation is hurrying down to destruction; our numbers are diminished and our condition is deplorable. Observe how penitent sorrow seizes upon the sweeter attributes and draws her pleas from the "tender mercies" of God. See, too, how she pleads her own distress, and not her goodness, as a motive for the display of mercy. Let souls who are brought very low find an argument in their abject condition. What can so powerfully appeal to pity as dire affliction? The quaint prayer-book version is touchingly expressive: "O remember not our old sins, but have mercy upon us, and that soon; for we are come to great misery." This supplication befits a sinner's life. We have known seasons when this would have been as good a prayer for our burdened heart as any that human mind could compose. (Charles Spurgeon)


"Help us, O God of our salvation,
For the glory of your name;
And deliver us, and provide atonement for our sins,
For your name's sake!"
(Ps. 79:9)

When the Lord's people are brought very low, let them not look for a lifting up or relief except from God only; therefore say they here, "Help us, O Lord." Such as have laid hold on God for salvation promised in the covenant, may also look for particular deliveries out of particular troubles, as appendices of the main benefit of salvation; therefore, "Help us, O God of our salvation," say they. When men do ask anything, the granting whereof may glorify God, they may confidently expect to have it; . . . It is the glory of the Lord to forget sin, and when remission of sins is prayed for according to God's promise, the Lord's glory is engaged for the helping of faith to obtain it: "Purge away our sins, for thy name's sake." (David Dickson)


"The boar out of the woods uproots it."
(Ps. 80:13)

No image of a destructive enemy could be more appropriate than that which is used. We have read of the little foxes that spoil the vines, but the wild boar is a much more destructive enemy, breaking its way through fences, rooting up the ground, tearing down the vines themselves, and treading them under its feet. A single party of these animals will sometimes destroy an entire vineyard in a single night. We can well imagine the damage that would be done to a vineyard even by the domesticated swine, but the wild boar is infinitely more destructive. It is of very great size, often resembling a donkey rather than a boar, and is swift and active beyond conception. The wild boar is scarcely recognizable as the very near relation of the domestic species. It runs with such speed that a high-bred horse finds some difficulty in overtaking it, while an indifferent steed would be left hopelessly behind. Even on level ground the hunter has hard work to overtake it; and if it can get upon broken or hilly ground, no horse can catch it. The wild boar can leap to a considerable distance, and can wheel and turn when at full speed with an agility that makes it a singularly dangerous foe. Indeed, the inhabitants of countries where the wild boar flourishes would as soon face a lion as one of these animals, the stroke of whose razor-like tusks is made with lightning swiftness, and which is sufficient to rip up a horse and cut a dog nearly asunder. (J. G. Wood, in "Bible Animals," 1869)


"Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it."
(Ps. 81:10)

Surely this teaches us, that the greater and more valuable the blessings are which we implore from the divine beneficence, the more sure shall we be to receive them in answer to prayer. . . . But, though men are to be blamed in that they so seldom acknowledge God in anything, yet they are still more to be blamed in that they seek not from him the chief good. Men may, however, possibly cry to God for inferior things, and apply in vain. Even good men may ask for temporal blessings and not receive them, because the things we suppose good may not be good, or not good for us, or not good for us at present. But none shall seek God for the best of blessings in vain. If we ask enough, we shall have it. (John Ryland)

The custom is said still to exist in Persia that when the king wishes to do a visitor, an ambassador for instance, special honor, he desires him to open his mouth wide. And the king then crams it as full of sweetmeats as it will hold, and sometimes even with jewels. Curious as this custom is, it is doubtless referred to in Psalm 81:10: "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it;" not with baubles of jewels, but with far richer treasure. (John Gadsby)


"So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart,
To walk in their own counsels."
(Ps. 81:12)

"So I gave them up." The word give up suggests the idea of a divorce, whereby a husband sends away a capricious wife, and commands her to live by herself. . . . Transferred to God, it teaches us nothing else than that God withdraws his protecting and guiding hand from the people, and leaves them to themselves; so that he ceases to chasten and defend them, but, on the other hand, suffers [allows] them to become hardened and to perish. (Venema)

God calls upon Israel to hear and obey him; they will not: "But my people would not heed my voice; and Israel would have none of me." What was the result of their refusal? "So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust; and they walked in their own counsels." God does not testify his anger for their contempt of him by sending plague, or flames, or wild beasts among them. He does not say, Well, since they thus slight my authority, I will be avenged on them to purpose; I will give them up to the sword, or famine, or racking diseases, or greedy devouring lions, which would have been sad and grievous. But he executes on them a far more sad and grievous judgment when he says, "So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust; and they walked in their own counsels." God's leaving one soul to one lust is far worse than leaving him to all the lions in the world. Alas, it will tear the soul worse than a lion can do the body, and rend it in pieces when there is none to deliver it. God's giving them up to their own wills, that they walked in their own counsels, is in effect a giving them up to eternal wrath and woe. (George Swinnock)


"God stands in the congregation of the mighty;
He judges among the gods."
(Ps. 82:1)

"God stands." He is said to stand because of his immutability, his power, his abiding presence, and also because of his promptness in act to decide for the right and to help the poor, as he did S. Stephen. But one commentator draws a yet deeper lesson from the word stand. He reminds us that it is for the judge to sit and for the litigants or accused to stand. As it is written, "Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood by Moses from the morning until the evening" (Ex. 18:13). It is then a solemn warning for judges to remember, that whatever cause is before them is God's cause, since right and wrong are at stake in it, and that by acquitting the guilty or condemning the innocent they pass sentence against God himself. (Albertus Magnus, Le Blanc, and Agellius, quoted by Neale and Littledale)


"Do not keep silent, O God!"
(Ps. 83:1)

In Scripture there are three reasons why the Lord keeps silence when his people are in danger and sits still when there is most need to give help and assistance. One is, the Lord does it to try their faith, as we see clearly in Matthew 8:24 where it is said that our Lord Christ was asleep: "There arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves; but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us; we perish." . . . Truly, the Lord will not suffer his people to be overwhelmed, that is certain. But he will suffer them to come very near, that the waves cover them and fear and horror shall cover their souls, and all to try their faith. . . .

I find another reason in Isaiah 59, and that is, the Lord does keep silence in the midst of the troubles of his people to try men's uprightness and discover who will stick to God and his cause, and his people, out of uprightness of heart. For if God should always appear for his cause, God and his cause should have many favorites and friends. But sometimes God leaves his cause, and leaves his people, and leaves his gospel and his ordinances to the wide world to see who will plead for it and stick to it. . . .

There is a third reason. God, as it were, keeps silence in the midst of the greatest troubles that he may, as it were, gather the wicked into one fagot, into one bundle, that they may be destroyed together. There is a great deal of ado to "gather the saints" in this world; and truly there is some ado to gather the wicked. . . . And so in Genesis, God stirs up the nations against Abraham and his posterity, and there are ten nations that God promised to cut off before Abraham at once, the Perizzites, the Jebuzites, the Canaanites, etc. So God heaps them together and burns them like stubble. (Walter Cradock)


"They became as dung for the earth."
(Ps. 83:10)

In the year 1830, it is estimated that more than a million bushels of "human and inhuman bones" were imported from the continent of Europe into the port of Hull. The neighborhood of Leipsic, Austerlitz, Waterloo, etc., where the principal battles were fought some fifteen or twenty years before, were swept alike of the bones of the hero, and the horse which he rode. Thus collected from every quarter, they were shipped to Hull and thence forwarded to the Yorkshire bone-grinders, who, by steam engines and powerful machinery, reduced them to a granulary state. In this condition they were sent chiefly to Doncaster, one of the largest agricultural markets of the country, and were there sold to the farmers to manure their lands. The oily substance gradually evolving as the bone calcines--particularly human bones--makes better manure than almost any other substance. (K. Arvine)


"O my God, make them like a wheel."
(Ps. 83:13)

"A wheel." What sort of vegetable is this whose stems our muleteers are cutting up and chewing with so much relish? It is a wild artichoke. We can amuse ourselves with it and its behavior for a while, and may possibly extract something more valuable than the insipid juice of which our men are so fond. You observe that in growing, it throws out numerous branches of equal size and length in all directions, forming a sort of sphere or globe a foot or more in diameter. When ripe and dry in autumn, these branches become rigid and light as a feather, the parent stem breaks off at the ground, and the wind carries these vegetable globes whithersoever it pleases. At the proper season thousands of them come scudding over the plain, rolling, leaping, bounding with vast racket, to the dismay both of the horse and his rider. Once, on the plain north of Hamath, my horse became quite unmanageable among them. They charged down upon us on the wings of the wind, which broke them from their moorings, and set them careening over the desert in countless numbers. Our excellent native itinerant had a similar encounter with them on the eastern desert, beyond the Hauran, and suspected that this wild artichoke is the gulgal, which, in Psalm 83:13 is rendered "wheel" and in Isaiah 17:13 "a rolling thing." Evidently our translators knew not what to call it. The first passage reads thus: "O my God, make them like a wheel--gulgal--as the stubble before the wind," and the second, "Rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing--gulgal--before the whirlwind." Now, from the nature of the parallelism, the gulgal cannot be a wheel but something corresponding to chaff. It must also be something that does not fly like the chaff but in a striking manner rolls before the wind. The signification of gulgal in Hebrew and its equivalent in other Semitic dialects requires this, and this rolling artichoke meets the case most emphatically, and especially when it rolls before the whirlwind. In the encounter referred to north of Hamath, my eyes were half blinded with the stubble and chaff which filled the air. But it was the extraordinary behavior of this "rolling thing" that riveted my attention. Hundreds of these globes, all bounding like gazelles in one direction over the desert, would suddenly wheel short round at the bidding of a counter-blast, and dash away with equal speed on their new course. . . . If this is not the "wheel" of David and the "rolling thing" of Isaiah, from which they also borrowed their imprecations upon the wicked, I have seen nothing in the country to suggest the comparison. (W. M. Thomson)


"I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God,
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness."
(Ps. 84:10)

Instead of "I had rather be a doorkeeper," the margin has, according to the Hebrew, "I would choose rather to sit at the threshold." Ainsworth's translation is: "I have chosen to sit at the threshold, in the house of my God." Dr. Boothroyd's is: "Abide, or sit, at the threshold." See 2 Kings 12:9; 22:4; 25:18; 1 Chr. 9:19; 2 Chr. 23:4; Esther 2:21; 6:2. In all these passages the marginal reading is threshold. I think the word doorkeeper does not convey the proper meaning of the words "to sit at the threshold," because the preference of the Psalmist was evidently given to a very humble position; whereas that of a doorkeeper, in Eastern estimation, is truly respectable and confidential. The marginal reading "to sit at the threshold," however, at once strikes an Eastern mind as a situation of deep humility. (Joseph Roberts)


"No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly."
(Ps. 84:11)

But how is this true when God oftentimes withholds riches and honors, and health of body from men, though they walk ever so uprightly? [Answer:] We may therefore know that honors and riches and bodily strength are none of God's good things. They are of the number of things indifferent which God bestows promiscuously upon the just and unjust, as the rain to fall and the sun to shine. The good things of God are chiefly peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Ghost in this life, fruition of God's presence, and vision of the blessed face in the next. And these good things God never bestows upon the wicked. never withholds from the godly, and they are all cast up in one sum where it is said, "Blessed are the pure of heart (and such are only they that walk uprightly), for they shall see God." (Sir Richard Baker)


Psalm 85

This Psalm may be thus divided: verses 1, 2, and 3 express the thanks of the people for their return from captivity. Verses 4, 5, 6, their prayer for their own reformation. In verse 7, they pray for the coming of the Messiah. Verse 8 contains the words of the High Priest, with God's gracious answer; which answer is followed by the grateful acclamations of the people, to the end of the Psalm.

To prepare for this interpretation, let us observe how very strangely the words are expressed at present--"I will hear what God the Lord will say: FOR he shall speak peace unto his people." But surely, God could not be consulted, because it was unnecessary. Nor could the High Priest possibly say that he would ask of God, because he knew what God would answer; especially, as we have now a question to God proposed, and yet no answer from God given at all. Under these difficulties we are happily relieved, since it appears, on satisfactory authorities, that instead of the particle rendered "for," the word here originally signified in or by me, which slight variation removes the obscurity and restores that very light which has long been wanted.

The people having prayed for the speedy arrival of their great salvation, the High Priest says (as it should be here expressed), "I will hear what the Almighty says. Jehovah BY ME says, PEACE unto his people, even unto his saints; but let them not turn again to folly." Whereupon, as the Jews understood peace to comprehend every blessing, and of course their greatest blessing, they at once acknowledged the certainty of this salvation, the glory of their land--they proclaim it as nigh at hand--and then, in rapture truly prophetical, they see this glory as actually arrived, as already dwelling in Judea--they behold God in fulfilling most strictly what he had promised most graciously--they see therefore the mercy of God and the truth of God met together--they see that scheme perfected in which the righteousness (i.e., the justice) of God harmonizes with the peace (i.e., the happiness) of man; so that righteousness and peace salute each other with the tenderest affection. In short, they see truth flourishing out of the earth; i.e., they see him who is the way, the truth, and the life, born here on earth. And they even see the righteousness, or justice of God, looking down from heaven as being well pleased.

The 12th verse is at present translated so unhappily that it is quite despoiled of all its genuine glory. For could the prophet, after all the rapturous things said before, coldly say here that God would give what was good, and that Judea should have a plentiful harvest? No. Consistency and good sense forbid it, and truth confirms their protest against it. The words here express the reasons of all the preceding energies, and properly signify--Yea, Jehovah grants THE BLESSING; and our land grants HER OFFSPRING. And what can be the blessing--what, amidst these sublime images, can be Judea's offspring--but HE, and HE only, who was the blessing of all lands in general, and the glory of Judea in particular? And what says the verse following? "Righteousness goes before HIM--certainly not before the fruits of the earth--but certainly before that illustrious person, even the MESSIAH." "Righteousness goes before HIM, and directs his goings in the way."

As to the word rendered the blessing and applied to the redemption, the same word is so used by Jeremiah: "Behold, the days come, that I will perform that good thing (the blessing) which I have promised . . . at that time will I cause to grow up unto David the Branch of righteousness" (ch. 33:14,15). And as to the Messiah being here described partly as springing up from the earth, so says Isaiah: "In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious; and the fruits of the earth shall be excellent and comely." But this evangelical prophet, in another place [Isa. 45:8] has the very same complication of images with that found in the Psalm before us. For Isaiah also has the heavens with their righteousness and the earth with its salvation: "Drop down, ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation." But, "let them bring forth"--who, or what can be here meant by them but the heavens and the earth? It is heaven and earth which are here represented as bringing forth and introducing the Savior of the world. For what else can be here meant as brought forth by them? What, but HE alone; who, deriving his divine nature from heaven and his human from the earth was (what no other being ever was) both GOD and MAN. (Benjamin Kennicott)


"For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive."
(Ps. 86:5)

The mercy of God is a ready mercy, and his pardons are ready for his people. His pardons and mercies are not to seek; he has them at hand. He is "good and ready to forgive." Most men, though they will forgive, yet they are not ready to forgive. They are hardly brought to it, though they do it at last. But God is "ready to forgive." He has, as it were, pardons ready drawn. . . . There is nothing to do but to put in the date and the name. Yea indeed, the date and the name are put in from all eternity. Thus the Scripture speaks to show how forward God is to do good. He needs not set his heart to it; his heart is ever in the exactest fitness. (Joseph Caryl)


"I will walk in your truth."
(Ps. 86:11)

Walking, in the Scripture, takes in the whole of our conversation or conduct; and to walk in anything intends a fulness of it. For a man to walk in pride is something more than to be proud. It says that pride is his way, his element; that he is wholly under the influence of it. (William Jay)


"For great is your mercy toward me,
And you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol."
(Ps. 86:13)

Personal experience is ever the master singer. Whatever You are to others, to me your mercy is most notable. The Psalmist claims to sing among the loudest, because his debt to divine mercy is among the greatest. "And thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell." From the direst death and the deepest dishonor David had been kept by God, for his enemies would have done more than send him to hell had they been able. His sense of sin also made him feel as if the most overwhelming destruction would have been his portion had not grace prevented, therefore does he speak of deliverance from the nethermost abode of lost spirits. There are some alive now who can use this language unfeignedly, and he who pens these lines most humbly confesses that he is one. Left to myself to indulge my passions, to rush onward with my natural vehemence, and defy the Lord with recklessness of levity, what a candidate for the lowest abyss should I have made myself by this time. For me, there was but one alternative, great mercy, or the lowest hell. With my whole heart do I sing, "Great is thy mercy towards me, and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell." (Charles Spurgeon)


"Oh, turn to me, and have mercy on me!"
(Ps. 86:16)

There is no stronger argument of God's infallible readiness to grant our requests than the experience of his former concessions. So David reasons, "The Lord who delivered me out of the paw of the lion and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine" (1 Sam. 17:37). This is the argument a priori, the voice of a strong faith which persuades the conscience that God will be gracious to him because he has been gracious. The prophet thus often comforted his soul: "You have enlarged me when I was in distress;" therefore, "have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer" (Ps. 4:1). . . . Thus Paul grounded his assurance: "Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom" (2 Tim. 4:17,18). (Thomas Adams)


"I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to those that know me;
Behold, O Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia:
' This man was born there.'
And of Zion it will be said,
' This man and that man were born in her;
And the Most High Himself shall establish her. '
Yahweh will record, when he registers the people:
' This man was born there. ' "
(Ps. 87:4-6)

"This man." It is well to observe that the word for "man" used here is not אָדָם adam, the common name for man, but אִישׁ ish, which is usually employed when a name is introduced to be designated with distinction and honor. There are in Hebrew, in fact, three words to designate man, with varied signification-- אָדָם adam, the common name; אִישׁ ish, the name of excellency and honor; and אֱנוֹשׁ enosh, man in his weak and inferior character, as liable to misfortune, misery, and death. The illustrative discrimination with which these words are respectively employed gives to many passages of the Hebrew Scripture a force and significance which cannot be preserved in translation into a language which has but one word to represent all these meanings--or indeed has no word for man but the one answering to Adam, unless indeed our "male," in a sense of dignity and strength, answers in some measure to ish. (John Kitto, in "The Pictorial Bible")

The main thought is that contained in ver. 4-7, the glorifying of Zion by the reception of the heathen into the number of its citizens; and a well-defined form and arrangement of this thought forms the proper kernel of the Psalm, viz., "Zion, the birth-place of the nations," which occurs in every one of the three verses (4-6), which are bounded by a Selah behind and before. (E. W. Hengstenberg)

The Psalmist here describes the peculiar regard of God to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and figuratively represents him as keeping a register of all the nations of the earth, and marking, as it were, in that register every one that was a citizen of Jerusalem as thereby entitled to his distinguishing favor and protection. (Samuel Chandler)


Psalm 88
"A Contemplation of Heman the Ezrahite"

What trouble of wounded spirit some of God's children have felt in former times, others dear to God may find the like in after ages. And all men ought to prepare for the like and should not think the exercise strange when it comes, but must comfort themselves in this--that other saints whose names are recorded in Scripture have been under like affliction; for the Psalm is appointed "to give instruction". (David Dickson)

This Psalm stands alone in all the Psalter for the unrelieved gloom, the hopeless sorrow of its tone. Even the very saddest of the others, and the Lamentations themselves, admit some variations of key, some strains of hopefulness. Here only all is darkness to the close. (Neale and Littledale)

The prophecy in the foregoing Psalm of the conversion of all nations is followed by this Passion-Psalm, in order that it may never be forgotten that God has purchased to himself a universal church by the precious blood of his dear Son. (Christopher Wordsworth)


"I am counted with those who go down to the pit.
I am like a man who has no strength."
(Ps. 88:4)

Next to the troubles of Christ's soul are mentioned the disgrace and ignominy to which he submitted. He who was the fountain of immortality, from whom no one could take his life, who could in a moment have commanded twelve legions of angels to his aid or have caused heaven and earth at a word speaking to fly away before him, was counted among them that go down into the pit. He died, to all appearance, like the rest of mankind. Nay, he was forcibly put to death as a malefactor and seemed, in the hands of his executioners, as a man that had no strength, no power or might to help and save himself. His strength went from him. He became weak, and like another man. The people shook their heads at him, saying, "He saved others, himself he cannot save." (Samuel Burder)


"I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth."
(Ps. 88:15)

We found the heat more oppressive this day than we had yet experienced it. The hillocks of sand between which we were slowly moving at the usual camel's pace, reflected the sun's rays upon us till our faces were glowing as if we had been by the side of a furnace. . . . Perhaps it was through this part of the desert of Shur that Hagar wandered, intending to go back to her native country. And it may have been by this way that Joseph carried the young child Jesus when they fled into the land of Egypt. Even in tender infancy the sufferings of the Redeemer began, and he complains, "I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up." Perhaps these scorching beams beat upon his infant brow, and this sand-laden breeze dried up his infant lips, while the heat of the curse of God began to melt his heart within. Even in the desert we see the suretyship of Jesus. (R. M. McCheyne's "Narrative of a Mission of Inquiry to the Jews.")


"While I suffer thy terrors I am distracted."
(Ps. 88:15)

The Psalm has this striking peculiarity in it, namely, that it not only has reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, and him alone, but that he himself is the sole speaker from the beginning to the end. . . . The soul-agonies of Christ even from the moment of his incarnation to his death may be contemplated, or read, from the sacred records of Scripture, but cannot come within the province of any created power to conceive, much less unfold. It is remarkable that whatever the Lord meant to convey by the phrase "I am distracted," this is the only place in the whole Bible where the word "distracted" is used. Indeed, the inspired writers have varied their terms of expression when speaking of Christ's sufferings, as if unable to convey any full idea. Matthew renders it that the Lord Jesus said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death!" Mark describes him as "being sore amazed, and very heavy!" And Luke, his "being in an agony!" But here we must rest in point of apprehension, for we can proceed no further. (Robert Hawker)


"You rule the raging of the sea;
When its waves rise, you still them."
(Ps. 89:9)

Here under a figure taken from God's providential government, we have an exhibition of the power of God in defeating the efforts of the enemies of his Church. An instance of this, in the literal sense, we have in the appeasing of the storm by our Lord. "And he arose and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm." Here we see that God reigns over the sea immediately, and alters or modifies the arrangements of nature according to his sovereign pleasure. That which Jesus did on one occasion is constantly done by the God of providence. He has not left the ocean to be disturbed at random by the winds, nor to be kept in peace by the laws of nature. He rules the raging of the sea. He raises the waves, and he stills them. This exhibits a continually working providence. And what he does in providence he does also in his kingdom of grace. He suffers the fury of the enemy to swell against his cause, but he stills it at his pleasure. (Alexander Carson)


"They walk, O Yahweh, in the light of your countenance."
(Ps. 89:15)

They are totally mistaken who suppose that "the light of God's countenance," and the privileges of the gospel, and the comforts of the Spirit conduce to make us indolent and inactive in the way of duty. The text cuts up this surmise by the roots. For it does not say they shall sit down in the light of thy countenance, or they shall lie down in the light of thy countenance, but they shall WALK in the light of thy countenance. What is walking? It is a progressive motion from one point of space to another. And what is that holy walking which God's Spirit enables all his people to observe? It is a continued, progressive motion from sin to holiness; from all that is evil to every good word and work. And the self-same "light of God's countenance" in which you, O believer, are enabled to walk, and which at first gave you spiritual feet wherewith to walk, will keep you in a walking and in a working state to the end of your warfare. (Augustus Montague Toplady)


"He shall cry to me, 'You are my father.' "
(Ps. 89:26)

When did David call God his Father? It is striking that we do not find anywhere in the Old Testament that the patriarchs or prophets called God their Father. You do not find them addressing him as Father; they did not know him as such. This verse is unintelligible in reference to David; but in regard to the True David it is exactly what he did say--"My Father, and your Father; my God, and your God." Never until Christ uttered these words, never until he appeared on earth in humanity as the Son of God, did any man or any child of humanity address God in this endearing character. It was after Christ said, "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father," that believers were enabled to look up to God and to say, "Abba, Father." Here you see distinctly that this applies to Christ. He was the first to say this; David did not say it. If there were no other proof in the whole Psalm, that one clause would be a demonstration to me that no other man than the Lord Jesus Christ can be here spoken of. (Capel Molyneux)


"If his sons forsake my law and do not walk in my judgments,
If they break my statutes and do not keep my commandments,
Then I will punish their transgression with the rod,
And their iniquity with stripes."
(Ps. 89:30-32)

How astonished many would be if they knew what the real case was of those perhaps whom they admire and think highly advanced and exalted in the Divine life; if they were to know the falls, the wretched falls, falls in heart, in work and in practice; if they were to know the deep distress that the children of God, who are far advanced as they suppose in the Divine life, are continually suffering from the effect of such transgression! That is exactly what God says. He comes and contemplates such a case, and he says, "If they break my statutes and keep not my commandment, then"--what? What will God do? Some people say, "Then God will leave them." Those who object to the doctrine of final perseverance say this: "It is true he will preserve the believer from the toils of the Devil and the temptations of the world, but not from the breaking forth of his own natural evil. He may be betrayed by that, and finally lost." God exactly meets that case. He contemplates the worst case--actual transgression. He says, "If a child of mine breaks my law." He does not say anything about the Devil or the outward temptations of the world, but he says, "If they forsake my law and break my statutes." Let us be instructed by God. He does not say he will leave them and forsake them. Mark what he will do! He says, "I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes." That is the provision which God has made in his covenant; and it is delightful to see how God has contemplated our case to the uttermost. There is nothing in our history that God has not met in the covenant with Christ. If you are in union with Christ and a partaker of the covenant, your case is met in every conceivable emergency. Nothing can befall you which is not contemplated--nothing which God has not provided for. Even if you fall, God has provided for it. But take heed. The provision involves much that will be terrible and desperately painful to your mind. There is nothing to encourage sin about it. There is nothing to give us license, nothing to lead a man to boast, "I am safe at last." Be it so: but safe how? How will God secure their safety? "I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes." (Capel Molyneux)


"Nevertheless my lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him."
(Ps. 89:33)

"From him." The words, "Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him," are worthy of consideration; for the question being about those who are chastised, it would appear that he should have written from them and not from him. But the prophet has thus worded it because, being the children and members of his Christ, the favors which God bestows upon us belong to him in some manner. And it seems that the Psalmist wishes to show us hereby that it is in Jesus Christ, and for love of him alone, that God bestows favors on us. And that which follows, in the 34th verse, agrees herewith: "My covenant will I not break." For it is properly to Jesus Christ, on account of his admirable obedience, that God the Father has promised to be merciful to our iniquities, and never to leave one of those to perish who are in covenant with him. (Jean Daille)


"You have also turned back the edge of his sword,
And have not made him to stand in the battle."
(Ps. 89:43)

At the present the church has few swords of true Jerusalem metal. Her sons are pliable, her ministers yield to pressure. We need men whose edge cannot be turned, firm for truth, keen against error, sharp towards sin, cutting their way into men's hearts. Courage and decision are more needed now than ever, for charity towards heresy is the fashionable vice, and indifference to all truth, under the name of liberal-mindedness, is the crowning virtue of the age. The Lord send us men of the school of Elijah, or, at least, of Luther and Knox. (Charles Spurgeon)


"You turn man to destruction,
And say, 'Return, O children of men.' "
(Ps. 90:3)

The prophet conceives of God as a potter, that having of dust tempered a mass, and framed it into a vessel, and dried it, does presently, within a minute or an hour after, dash it again in pieces, and beat it to dust, in passion as it were speaking unto it, "Get thee to dust again." The word here translated "destruction" signifies a beating, or grinding, or pounding of a thing to powder. And the prophet seems to allude to the third of Genesis, where God speaks of Adam, "Dust you are, and to dust you shall return;" as if he should say, O Lord, you who have made and framed man of the dust of the earth, you beat him to dust again; and as you made him by your word alone, so with your word you suddenly turn and beat him again to dust; as a man who makes a thing and presently mars it again. . . . He does it with a word against which is no resistance, when that word is once come out of his mouth. It is not all the diet, physic, and help, and prayers in the world that can save the life. And this he can do suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye. And therefore we should, as we love our lives, fear him, and take heed how we offend and displease him who can with a word turn the strongest man into dust. (William Bradshaw)


"You have set our iniquities before you,
Our secret sins in the light of your countenance."
(Ps. 90:8)

It is a well known fact that the appearance of objects and the ideas which we form of them are very much affected by the situation in which they are placed in respect to us and by the light in which they are seen. Objects seen at a distance, for example, appear much smaller than they really are. The same object, viewed through different mediums, will often exhibit different appearances. A lighted candle or a star appears bright during the absence of the sun, but when that luminary returns their brightness is eclipsed. Since the appearance of objects, and the ideas which we form of them, are thus affected by extraneous circumstances, it follows that no two persons will form precisely the same ideas of any object unless they view it in the same light or are placed with respect to it in the same situation.

Apply these remarks to the case before us. The Psalmist, addressing God, says, "You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance." That is, our iniquities (or open transgressions) and our secret sins (the sins of our hearts) are placed as it were full before God's face, immediately under his eye; and he sees them in the pure, clear, all-disclosing light of his own holiness and glory. Now if we would see our sins as they appear to him (that is, as they really are), if we would see their number, blackness and criminality, and the malignity and desert of every sin, we must place ourselves, as nearly as is possible, in his situation and look at sin, as it were, through his eyes. We must place ourselves and our sins in the center of that circle which is irradiated by the light of his countenance, where all his infinite perfections are clearly displayed, where his awful majesty is seen, where his concentrated glories blaze and burn and dazzle with insufferable brightness. And in order to [do] this we must in thought leave our dark and sinful world where God is unseen and almost forgotten-- and where consequently the evil of sinning against him cannot be fully perceived--and mount up to heaven, the peculiar habitation of his holiness and glory, where he does not, as here, conceal himself behind the veil of his works and of second causes, but shines forth the unveiled God and is seen as he is.

My hearers, if you are willing to see your sins in their true colors, if you would rightly estimate their number, magnitude and criminality, bring them into the hallowed place where nothing is seen but the brightness of unsullied purity and the splendors of uncreated glory, where the sun itself would appear only as a dark spot. And there, in the midst of this circle of seraphic intelligences, with the infinite God pouring all the light of his countenance round you, review your lives, contemplate your offenses, and see how they appear. Recollect that the God in whose presence you are is the Being who forbids sin, the Being of whose eternal law sin is the transgression, and against whom every sin is committed. (Edward Payson)


"The days of our lives are seventy years."
(Ps. 90:10)

It may at first seem surprising that Moses should describe the days of man as "threescore years and ten." But when it is remembered that in the second year of the pilgrimage in the wilderness, as related in Numbers 14, God declared that all those who had been recently numbered at Sinai should die in the wilderness before the expiration of forty years, the lamentation of Moses on the brevity of human life becomes very intelligible and appropriate. And the Psalm itself acquires a solemn and affecting interest as a penitential confession of the sins which had entailed such melancholy consequences on the Hebrew nation, and as a humble deprecation of God's wrath, and as a funeral dirge upon those whose death had been pre-announced by the awful voice of God. (Christopher Wordsworth)


"So teach us to number our days."
(Ps. 90:12)

"To number our days" is not simply to take the reckoning and measurement of human life. This has been done already in Holy Scripture, where it is said, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." Nor yet is it, in the world's phrase, to calculate the chances of survivorship, which any man may do in the instance of the aggregate, but which no man can do in the case of the individual. But it is to take the measure of our days as compared with the work to be performed, with the provision to be laid up for eternity, with the preparation to be made for death, with the precaution to be taken against judgment. It is to estimate human life by the purposes to which it should be applied, by the eternity to which it must conduct, and in which it shall at last be absorbed. (Thomas Dale)


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