Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
This little Psalter within the Psalter consists of fifteen brief songs. Why they are grouped together and what is meant by their generic name it would be hard to tell. The conjectures are very many, but they are mere suppositions. Out of them all the conjecture of Dr. Jebb best commends itself to my own mind, though it would be quite consistent with this suggestion to believe that the series of songs arranged by David became the Pilgrim Psalms of after ages and were chanted by the Lord's people as they went up to the temple. They are "Songs of the Goings Up," so some read the word. Those who delight to spiritualize everything find here Ascents of the Soul, or language fitted to describe the rising of the heart from the deepest grief to the highest delight. I have thought it well to indicate the methods by which learned men have tried to explain the term "Songs of Degrees," but the reader must select his own interpretation. (Charles Spurgeon)
In the thirteenth chapter of the First Book of Chronicles, it is related that David brought up the Ark from Kirjath-jearim to the house of Obed-edom. The word ( עלמה ) used in the seventh verse for "bringing up" the Ark is of the same etymology with and cognate to that which is translated "degrees." And upon this occasion the great event was celebrated by the accompaniment of sacred music. "And David and all Israel played before God with all their might, and with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cymbals, and with trumpets." Again, in the fifteenth chapter of the same book, in the fourteenth verse, the same term is employed for bringing up the Ark to Jerusalem; and the choral services of the Levites are mentioned in immediate connection. And in the fifth chapter of the Second Book of Chronicles (fifth verse), we are told that Solomon assembled the people at the dedication of the Temple, to bring up the Ark from Zion to the Temple of the Lord. (John Jebb)
I abide in the simple and plain sense as much as I may, and judge that these Psalms are called The Psalms of Degrees because the Levites or priests were wont to sing them upon the stairs or some high place; even as with us he who begins the Psalms or preaches stands in a place above the rest, that he may be the better seen and heard. For it seems not that these Psalms were sung of the multitude which were in the Temple or of the rest of the choir, but of certain which were appointed to sing them, or at least to begin them on the stairs to the rest, and so have their name. (Martin Luther)
If the traditional interpretation of the title "Song of Degrees" be accepted, that they were sung by devout pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to keep the great feasts of the Lord, we may suppose that companies toiling up this long ascent would relieve the tedium of the way by chanting some of them. From the customs of Orientals still prevalent, I think it highly probable that such an explanation of the title may be substantially correct. Nothing is more common than to hear individuals and parties of natives, traveling together through the open country and along mountain paths, especially during the night, break out into singing some of their favorite songs. Once, descending from the top of Sunnin above Beirut with a large company of natives, they spontaneously began to sing in concert. The moon was shining brightly in the clear sky, and they kept up their chanting for a long time. I shall not soon forget the impression made by that moonlight concert as we wound our way down the eastern side of Lebanon to the Buka'a on the way to Ba'albek. Through the still midnight air of that lofty region, the rough edge of their stentorian voices, softened into melody, rang out full and strong, waking the sleeping echoes far and wide down the rocky defiles of the mountain. Something like this may have often rendered vocal this dreary ascent to Jerusalem. It is common in this country to travel in the night during the summer, and we know that the Hebrew pilgrims journeyed in large companies. On his ascent along this road from Jericho to the Holy City, Jesus was attended not only by the twelve apostles but by others, both men and women; and it would be strange indeed if sometimes they did not seek relief from this oppressive solitude by singing the beautiful songs of Zion. (William M. Thomson, in "The Land and the Book," 1881)
Gesenius has the merit of having first discerned the true meaning of the questioned inscription, inasmuch as first in 1812, and frequently since that time, he has taught that the fifteen songs have their name from the step-like progressive rhythm of their thoughts, and that consequently the name, like the triolet (roundelay) in Western poetry, does not refer to the liturgical usage but to the technical structure. The correctness of this view has been duly appraised more particularly by DeWette, who adduces this rhythm of steps or degrees, too, among the more artificial rhythms. The songs are called Songs of Degrees or Gradual Psalms as being songs that move onward towards a climax, and that by means of πλοκή (έπιπλοκή), i.e., a taking up again of the immediately preceding word by way of giving intensity to the expression; and they are placed together on account of this common characteristic, just like the Michtammim, which bear that name from a similar characteristic. (Franz Delitzsch)
"In my distress." Slander occasions distress of the most grievous kind. Those who have felt the edge of a cruel tongue know assuredly that it is sharper than the sword. Calumny [slander/defamation] rouses our indignation by a sense of injustice, and yet we find ourselves helpless to fight with the evil or to act in our own defense. We could ward off the strokes of a cutlass, but we have no shield against a liar's tongue. We do not know who was the father of the falsehood, nor where it was born, nor where it has gone, nor how to follow it, nor how to stay its withering influence. We are perplexed and know not which way to turn. Like the plague of flies in Egypt, it baffles opposition; and few can stand before it. Detraction touches us in the tenderest point, cuts to the quick, and leaves a venom behind which it is difficult to extract. In all ways it is a sore distress to come under the power of "slander, the foulest whelp of sin." Even in such distress we need not hesitate to cry unto the Lord. Silence to man and prayer to God are the best cures for the evil of slander.
"I cried unto Jehovah." The wisest course that he could follow. It is of little use to appeal to our fellows on the matter of slander, for the more we stir in it the more it spreads. It is of no avail to appeal to the honor of the slanderers, for they have none; and the most piteous demands for justice will only increase their malignity and encourage them to fresh insult. As well plead with panthers and wolves as with black-hearted traducers [slanderers]. However, when cries to man would be our weakness, cries to God will be our strength. To whom should children cry but to their father? Does not some good come even out of that vile thing, falsehood, when it drives us to our knees and to our God?
"And he heard me." Yes, Jehovah hears. He is the living God, and hence prayer to him is reasonable and profitable. The Psalmist remembered and recorded this instance of prayer-hearing, for it had evidently much affected him; and now he rehearses it for the glory of God and the good of his brethren. "The righteous cry and the Lord hears them." The ear of our God is not deaf, nor even heavy. He listens attentively, he catches the first accent of supplication. He makes each of his children confess, "He heard me." When we are slandered it is a joy that the Lord knows us and cannot be made to doubt our uprightness. He will not hear the lie against us, but he will hear our prayer against the lie. (Charles Spurgeon)
How shall you be visited? The law of retaliation can hardly meet the case since none can slander the slanderer. He is too black to be blackened. Neither would any of us blacken him if we could. Wretched being! He fights with weapons which true men cannot touch. Like the cuttlefish, he surrounds himself with an inky blackness into which honest men cannot penetrate. Like the foul skunk, he emits an odor of falsehood which cannot be endured by the true. And therefore he often escapes unchastised by those whom he has most injured. His crime, in a certain sense, becomes his shield. Men do not care to encounter so base a foe. But what will God do with lying tongues? He has uttered his most terrible threats against them, and he will terribly execute them in due time. (Charles Spurgeon)
There is something very striking in the assurance that the Lord will not suffer the foot even of the most faint and wearied one to be moved. The everlasting mountains stand fast, and we feel as if, like Mount Zion, they could not be removed forever. But the step of man--how feeble in itself, how liable to stumble or trip even against a pebble in the way! Yet that foot is as firm and immoveable in God's protection as the hills themselves. It is one of his own sweet promises, that he will give his angels charge over every child of his [so] that he comes to no harm by the way. But, oh, how immeasurably beyond even the untiring wings of angels is the love promised here! that love which engages to protect from every danger, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings. In the hours of occupation and hurry, in the conflicts and perils of the day, in the helplessness of sleep, in the glare and heat of the noonday, amid the damps and dews of night, that unslumbering eye is still over every child for his good. Man, indeed, goes forth to his work and to his labor till the evening. But alike as he goes forth in the morning and as he returns in the evening, the Lord still holds him up in all his goings forth and his comings in. No manner of evil shall befall him. (Barton Bouchier)
A poor woman, as the Eastern story has it, came to the Sultan one day and asked compensation for the loss of some property. "How did you lose it?" asked the monarch. "I fell asleep," was the reply, "and a robber entered my dwelling." "Why did you fall asleep?" "I fell asleep because I believed that you were awake." The Sultan was so much delighted with the answer of the woman that he ordered her loss to be made up. But what is true, only by a legal fiction, of human governments--that they never sleep--is true in the most absolute sense with reference to the divine government. We can sleep in safety because our God is ever awake. We are safe because he never slumbers. Jacob had a beautiful picture of the ceaseless care of Divine Providence on the night when he fled from his father's house. The lonely traveler slept on the ground with the stones for his pillow and the sky for his canopy. He had a wondrous vision of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven and on which angels were seen ascending and descending. And he heard Jehovah saying to him, "Behold, I am with you, and will keep you in all places whither you go." (N. McMichael)
A number of years ago Captain D. commanded a vessel sailing from Liverpool to New York, and on one voyage he had all his family with him on board the ship. One night, when all were quietly asleep, there arose a sudden squall of wind which came sweeping over the waters until it struck the vessel and instantly threw her on her side, tumbling and crashing everything that was moveable and awaking the passengers to a consciousness that they were in imminent peril. Everyone on board was alarmed and uneasy, and some sprang from their berths and began to dress that they might be ready for the worst. Captain D. had a little girl on board just eight years old, who, of course, awoke with the rest. "What's the matter?" asked the frightened child. They told her a squall had struck the ship. "Is father on deck?" said she. "Yes, father's on deck." The little thing dropped herself on her pillow again without a fear and in a few moments was sleeping sweetly in spite of winds or waves.
Fear not the windy tempests wild,
Thy bark they shall not wreck.
Lie down and sleep, O helpless child,
Thy Father's on the deck!
("The Biblical Treasury," 1873)
Two principal points are asserted in these previous words. (1) Jehovah [Yahweh], and Jehovah alone, the omnipotent and self-existent God, is the Keeper and Preserver of his people. (2) The people of God are kept, at all times and in all circumstances, by his mighty power unto everlasting salvation; they are preserved even "forevermore." In the first particular, the divinity of the great Keeper is declared; and in the second, the eternal security of his people through his omnipotence and faithfulness. This was the Psalmist's gospel. He preached it to others, and he felt it himself. He did not speculate upon what he did not understand; but he had a clear evidence and a sweet perception of these two glorious doctrines, which he delivered to the people. . . . This character, under the name of Jehovah, is the character of Christ. Just such a one is Jesus, the Shepherd of Israel. He says of himself to the Father, "Those whom you gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the Son of Perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled." . . . From what has been premised, it seems evident that the keeper of the faithful is no other than Jehovah. This the Psalmist has proved. It appears equally evident that Christ is their Keeper and Preserver. This he has declared himself; and his apostles have repeatedly declared it of him. It follows, therefore, that Christ is truly and essentially Jehovah. All the sophistry in the world cannot elude this conclusion, nor all the heretics in the world destroy the premises. And, if Christ be Jehovah, he is all that supreme, eternal, omnipotent being which Arians, Socinians and others deny him to be. (Ambrose Serle)
A promise made with allusion unto and application of that care which God had over his people when he brought them out of Egypt through the wilderness; when he guarded them from the heat of the sun by a cloud by day, and from the cold and moistness of the night and moon by a pillar of fire by night. (David Dickson)
Lawyers, when they are drawing up important documents, frequently conclude with some general terms to meet any emergency which may possibly occur. They do this on the principle that what is not in may be supposed to be intentionally left out. In order to guard against this inference, they are not content with inserting a number of particular cases; they conclude with a general statement which includes everything, whether expressed or not. A similar formula is inserted here. It is of great importance that the feet of travelers be kept from sliding as they pursue their journey. It is of great importance that they be preserved from heat by day and from cold by night. But other dangers await them from which they require protection, and lest the suspicion be entertained that no provision is made for these being surmounted, they are all introduced in the saving and comprehensive clause. No matter what may be their character, no matter from what quarter they may appear, no matter when they may come, and no matter how long they may continue, the declaration covers them all. Divine grace changes the nature of everything it handles and transforms everything it touches into gold. Afflictions are overruled for good; and the virtues of the Christian life are developed with unusual luster. "The LORD shall preserve you from all evil." (N. McMichael)
It is of importance to mark the reason why the prophet repeats so often what he had so briefly and in one word expressed with sufficient plainness. Such repetition seems at first sight superfluous; but when we consider how difficult it is to correct our distrust, it will be easily perceived that he does not improperly dwell upon the commendation of the divine providence. How few are to be found who yield to God the honor of being a "keeper" in order to their being thence assured of their safety and led to call upon him in the midst of their perils! On the contrary, even when we seem to have largely experienced what this protection of God implies, we yet instantly tremble at the noise of a leaf falling from a tree, as if God had quite forgotten us. Being then entangled in so many unholy misgivings, and so much inclined to distrust, we are taught from the passage that if a sentence couched in a few words does not suffice us, we should gather together whatever may be found throughout the whole Scriptures concerning the providence of God until this doctrine--"That God always keeps watch for us"--is deeply rooted in our hearts; so that, depending upon his guardianship alone, we may bid adieu to all the vain confidences of the world. (John Calvin)
"From this time forth and even for evermore." He has not led me so tenderly thus far to forsake me at the very gate of heaven. (Adoniram Judson)
The city that was the scene of so immense assemblies had necessarily a peculiar character of its own. It existed for them, it lived by them. There were priests needed for the conduct of the worship, twenty-four courses of them and 20,000 men. There were Levites, their servants, in immense numbers, needed to watch, maintain, clean the temple--to do the menial and ministering work necessary to its elaborate service and stupendous acts of worship. There were scribes needed for the interpretation of the law, men skilled in the Scriptures and tradition, with names like Gamaliel, so famed for wisdom as to draw young men like Saul from distant Tarsus or Apollos from rich Alexandria. There were synagogues, 480 of them at least, where the rabbis read and the people heard the word which God had in past times spoken unto the fathers by the prophets. The city was indeed in a sense the religion of Israel, incorporated and localized, and the man who loved the one turned daily his face toward the other, saying, "My soul longs, yea, even faints for the courts of Yahweh." (A. M. Fairbairn)
You feel the greatness of the contrast these words imply. Earth and heaven, dust and deity; the poor, weeping, sinful children of mortality, the holy, ever-blessed, eternal God. How wide is the interval of separation between them! But over the awful chasm, broader than ocean though it be, love and wisdom in the person of Jesus Christ have thrown a passage by which the most sinful may repair unterrified to his presence, and the shame and the fears of guilt exchanged for the peace of forgiveness and the hope that is full of immortality. (Robert Nisbet)
In the first strophe [verse 1] the poet places himself before us as standing in the presence of the Majesty of Heaven with his eyes fixed on the hand of God, absorbed in watchful expectation of some sign or gesture, however slight, which may indicate the Divine will. He is like a slave standing silent but alert in the presence of the Oriental "lord," with hands folded on his breast and eyes fixed on his master, seeking to read and to anticipate, if possible, his every wish. He is like a maiden in attendance on her mistress, anxiously striving to see her mind in her looks, to discover and administer to her moods and wants. The grave, reserved Orientals, as we know, seldom speak to their attendants, at least on public occasions. They intimate their wishes and commands by a wave of the hand, by a glance of the eye, by slight movements and gestures which might escape notice were they not watched for with eager attention. Their slaves "hang upon their faces," they "fasten their eyes" on the eyes of their master. They watch and obey every turn of his hand, every movement of his finger. Thus the Psalmist conceives of himself as waiting on God, looking to him alone, watching for the faintest signal, bent on catching and obeying it. (Samuel Cox)
It is said of Mr. George Herbert, that divine poet, that to satisfy his independence upon all others and to quicken his diligence in God's service, he used in his ordinary speech, when he made mention of the blessed name of Jesus, to add, "my Master." And, without any doubt, if men were unfeignedly of his mind their respects would be more to Christ's command, to Christ's will, to Christ's pleasure. (From Spencer's "Things New and Old")
Had not the Lord, my soul may cry,
Had not the Lord been on my side,
Had he not brought deliverance nigh
Then must my helpless soul have died.
Had not the Lord been on my side,
My soul had been by Satan slain.
And Tophet, opening large and wide,
Would not have gaped for me in vain.
Lo, floods of wrath and floods of hell
In fierce impetuous torrents roll.
Had not the Lord defended well,
The waters had o'erwhelm'd my soul.
As when the fowler's snare is broke
The bird escapes on cheerful wings,
My soul, set free from Satan's yoke,
With joy bursts forth and mounts and sings.
She sings the Lord her Savior's praise,
Sings forth his praise with joy and mirth.
To him her song in heaven she'll raise,
To him who made both heaven and earth.
[A Song of Ascents. Of David] The title informs us that this sacred march was composed by king David; and we learn very clearly from the subject that the progression referred to was the triumphant return of the king and his loyal army to Jerusalem upon the overthrow of the dangerous rebellion to which the great mass of the people had been excited by Absalom and his powerful band of confederates. (John Mason Good)
In the year 1582 this Psalm was sung on a remarkable occasion in Edinburgh. An imprisoned minister, John Durie, had been set free and was met and welcomed on entering the town by two hundred of his friends. The number increased till he found himself in the midst of a company of two thousand, who began to sing as they moved up the long High Street, "Now Israel may say," etc. They sang in four parts with deep solemnity, all joining in the well-known tune and Psalm. They were much moved themselves, and so were all who heard. And one of the chief persecutors is said to have been more alarmed at this sight and song than at anything he had seen in Scotland. (Andrew A. Bonar, in "Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms," 1850).
This repetition is not in vain. For while we are in danger, our fear is without measure; but when it is once past, we imagine it to have been less than it was indeed. And this is the delusion of Satan, to diminish and obscure the grace of God. David therefore with this repetition stirs up the people to more thankfulness unto God for his gracious deliverance, and amplifies the dangers which they had passed. Whereby we are taught how to think of our troubles and afflictions past, lest the sense and feeling of God's grace vanish out of our minds. (Martin Luther)
First the "waters," then "the stream" or torrent, then "the proud [swollen] waters" lifting up their heads on high. First the waters overwhelm us; then the torrent goes over our soul; and then the proud waters go over our soul. What power can resist the rapid floods of waters when they overspread their boundaries and rush over a country? Onward they sweep with resistless force, and men and cattle, and crops and houses are destroyed. Let the impetuous waters break loose and in a few minutes the scene of life and industry and happiness is made a scene of desolation and woe. Perhaps there is an allusion here to the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. The floods fell upon them, the depths covered them; they sank into the bottom as a stone. Had God not stretched forth his hand to rescue the Israelites, their enemies would have overwhelmed them. Happy they who, in seasons of danger, have Jehovah for a hiding-place. (N. McMichael)
I am quite sure that there is not a day of our lives in which Satan does not lay some snare for our souls, the more perilous because unseen; and if seen, because perhaps unheeded and despised. And of this, too, I am equally sure, that if anyone brings home with him at night a conscience void of offense towards God and man, it is in no might nor strength of his own; and that if the Lord had not been his guide and preserver, he would have been given over, nay, he would have given himself over as a prey to the devourer's teeth. I believe there are few even of God's saints who have not had occasion in some season of sore temptation, when Satan has let loose all his malice and might and poured in suggestion upon suggestion and trial upon trial, as he did on Job, and they have been ready to faint if not to fall by the way--then, perhaps, in a moment when they looked not for it, Satan has departed, foiled and discomfited, and with his prey snatched out of his hands; and they, too, have had gratefully to own, "Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we are escaped." Yes! Depend upon it, our best and only hope "is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth." (Barton Bouchier)
It is not enough that we are compassed about with fiery walls, that is, with the sure custody, the continual watch and ward of the angels. But the Lord himself is our wall, so that every way we are defended by the Lord against all dangers. Above us is his heaven, on both sides he is as a wall, under us he is as a strong rock whereupon we stand. So are we everywhere sure and safe. Now if Satan through these munitions cast his darts at us, it must needs be that the Lord himself shall be hurt before we take harm. Great is our incredulity if we hear all these things in vain. (Martin Luther)
It is their rod, made for them. If God scourge his children a little with it, he does but borrow it from the immediate and natural use for which it was ordained; their rod, their judgment. So it is called their cup: "This is the portion" and portion "of their cup" (Ps. 11:6). (Thomas Adams)
No tyranny, although it appear firm and stable, is of long continuance, inasmuch as God does not relinquish the sceptre. This is manifest from the example of Pharaoh, of Saul, of Sennacherib, of Herod, and of others. Rightly, therefore, says Athanasius of Julian the Apostate, "That little cloud has quickly passed away." And how quickly beyond all human expectation the foundations of the ungodly are overthrown is fully declared in Psalm 37. (Solomon Gesner)
All true excellence has its seat here. It is not the good action which makes the good man; it is the good man who does the good action. The merit of an action depends entirely upon the motives which have prompted its performance; and, tried by this simple test, how many deeds which have wrung from the world its admiration and its glory might well be described in old words as nothing better than splendid sins. When the heart is wrong, all is wrong. When the heart is right, all is right. (N. McMichael)
Sometimes God takes away a barren professor by permitting him to fall into open profaneness. There is one who has taken up a profession of the worthy name of the Lord Jesus Christ, but this profession is only a cloak. He secretly practices wickedness. He is a glutton, or a drunkard, or covetous, or unclean. Well, says God, I will loose the reins of this professor, I will give him up to his vile affections. I will loose the reins of his sins before him; he shall be entangled with the filthy lusts, he shall be overcome of ungodly company. Thus they who turn aside to their own crooked ways, "the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity." (John Bunyan)
I believe this Psalm is yet once more to be sung in still more joyous strain. Once more will the glad tidings of Israel's restoration break upon her scattered tribes, like the unreal shadow of a dream. Once more will the inhabitants of the various lands from among whom they come forth exclaim in adoring wonder, "The Lord has done great things for them," when they see Israelite after Israelite and Jew after Jew, as on that wondrous night of Egypt, with their loins girded, their shoes on their feet, and their staff in their hand, hasting to obey the summons that recalls them to their own loved land! (Barton Bouchier)
"We were like them that dream." The words should rather be translated, "We are like unto those that are restored to health." The Hebrew word signifies to recover, or, to be restored to health. And so the same word is translated in Isa. 38:16. When Hezekiah recovered, he made a Psalm of praise and said, "O Lord, by these things men live; and in all these things is the life of my spirit; so you will restore me and make me live." It is the same word that is used here. Thus Cajetan, Shindler, and others would have it translated here; and it suits best with the following words, "Then were our mouths filled with laughter and our tongues with praise." When a man is in a good dream his mouth is not filled with laughter nor his tongue with praise. If a man be in a bad dream his mouth is not filled with laughter nor his tongue with praise. But when a man is restored to health after a great sickness, it is so. (William Bridge)
This promise is conveyed under images borrowed from the instructive scenes of agriculture. In the sweat of his brow the husbandman tills his land and casts the seed into the ground, where for a time it lies dead and buried. A dark and dreary winter succeeds and all seems to be lost. But at the return of spring universal nature revives, and the once desolate fields are covered with corn which, when matured by the sun's heat, the cheerful reapers cut down, and it is brought home with triumphant shouts of joy. Here, O disciple of Jesus, behold an emblem of your present labor and your future reward! You "sow," perhaps, in "tears." You do your duty amidst persecution, and affliction, sickness, pain, and sorrow. You labor in the Church, and no account is made of your labors, no profit seems likely to arise from them. Nay, you must yourself drop into the dust of death, and all the storms of that winter must pass over you until your form shall be perished and you shall see corruption. Yet the day is coming when you shall "reap in joy," and plentiful shall be your harvest. For thus your blessed Master "went forth weeping," a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, "bearing precious seed" and sowing it around him till at length his own body was buried like a grain of wheat in the furrow of the grave. But he arose and is now in heaven, from whence he shall "doubtless come again with rejoicing," with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, "bringing his sheaves with him." Then shall every man receive the fruit of his works and have praise of God. (George Horne)
"He may go forth, he may go forth, and weep, bearing (his) load of seed. He shall come, he shall come with singing, bearing sheaves." The emphatic combination of the finite tense with the infinitive is altogether foreign from our idiom, and very imperfectly represented, in the ancient and some modern versions, by the active participle (venientes venient, coming they shall come), which conveys neither the peculiar form nor the precise sense of the Hebrew phrase. The best approximation to the force of the original is Luther's repetition of the finite tense, he shall come, he shall come, because in all such cases the infinitive is really defined or determined by the term which follows, and in sense, though not in form, assimilated to it. (Joseph Addison Alexander)
He does not say, Unless the Lord consents and is willing that the house should be built and the city kept, but [rather], "Unless the Lord build; unless he keep." Hence, in order that the building and keeping may be prosperous and successful, there is necessary not only the consent of God, but also his working is required; and that working without which nothing that may be attempted by man can be accomplished. He does not say, Unless the Lord help; but [rather], Unless the Lord build, unless he keep; i.e., unless he do all himself. He does not say, To little purpose he labors and watches; but [rather], To no purpose he labors, both the builder and the keeper. Therefore, all the efficacy of labors and cares is dependent on the operation and providence of God; and all human strength, care, and industry is in itself vain.
It should be noticed that he does not say, Because the Lord builds the house he labors in vain who builds it, and, Because the Lord keeps the city the watchman wakes in vain; but [rather], If the Lord does not build the house, if he does not keep the city, he labors in vain who builds the house, he wakes in vain who keeps the city. He is far from thinking that the care and human labor which is employed in the building of houses and keeping of cities is to be regarded as useless, because the Lord builds and keeps, since it is then the more especially useful and effectual when the Lord himself is the builder and keeper. The Holy Spirit is not the patron of lazy and inert men, but he directs the minds of those who labor to the providence and power of God. (Wolfgang Musculus)
In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for the Divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? or do we imagine we no longer need his assistance? I have lived for a long time [81 years]; and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that "Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall proceed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests. Our prospects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, or conquest. I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers, imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business; and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service. (Benjamin Franklin; Speech in Convention for forming a Constitution for the United States, 1787)
One important lesson which Madame Guyon learned from her temptations and follies was that of her entire dependence on Divine grace. "I became," she says, "deeply assured of what the prophet has said, 'Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain.' When I looked to you, O my Lord! you were my faithful keeper; you did continually defend my heart against all kinds of enemies. But, alas! when left to myself, I was all weakness. How easily did my enemies prevail over me! Let others ascribe their victories to their own fidelity. As for myself, I shall never attribute them to anything else than your paternal care. I have too often experienced, to my cost, what I should be without you, to presume in the least on any wisdom or efforts of my own. It is to you, O God, my Deliverer, that I owe everything! And it is a source of infinite satisfaction that I am thus indebted to you." (From the Life of Jeanne Bouvier de la Mothe Guyon)
"For so he gives his beloved sleep." The "for" is not in the original. "So" means "with just the same result" or "all the same," or "without more trouble." That is the signification of the Hebrew word as it occurs. "His beloved" may work and sleep; and what is needed will be provided just as certainly as if they labored unduly, with anxiety. It has been suggested that the translation should be "in sleep." While they are sleeping, the Heavenly Father is carrying forward his work for them. Or, while they wake and work the Lord gives to them, and so he does when they rest and sleep. (Charles F. Deems)
"So he gives his beloved sleep." The world would give its favorites power, wealth, distinction; God gives "sleep." Could he give anything better? To give sleep when the storm is raging; to give sleep when conscience is arraying a long catalog of sins; to give sleep when evil angels are trying to overturn our confidence in Christ; to give sleep when death is approaching, when judgment is at hand--oh! what gift could be more suitable? What more worthy of God? Or what more precious to the soul?
But we do not mean to enlarge upon the various senses which might thus be assigned to the gift. You will see for yourselves that sleep, as denoting repose and refreshment, may be regarded as symbolizing "the rest which remains for the righteous," which is the gift of God to his chosen. "Surely he gives his beloved sleep" may be taken as parallel to what is promised in Isaiah--"Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee." Whatever you can understand by the "peace" in the one case you may also understand by the "sleep" in the other. But throughout the Old and New Testaments, and especially the latter, sleep, as you know, is often put for death. "He slept with his fathers" is a common expression in the Jewish Scriptures. To "sleep in Jesus" is a common way of speaking of those who die in the faith of the Redeemer.
Suppose, then, we take the "sleep" in our text as denoting death and confine our discourse to an illustration of the passage under this one point of view. "Surely he gives his beloved sleep." What an aspect will this confer on death--to regard it as God's gift--a gift which he vouchsafes [graciously grants] to those whom he loves!
It is not "he sends his beloved sleep," which might be true while God himself remained at a distance; it is "he gives his beloved sleep," as though God himself brought the sleep and laid it on the eyes of the weary Christian warrior. And if God himself has to do with the dissolution, can we not trust him that he will loosen gently the silver cord and use all kindness and tenderness in "taking down the earthly house of this tabernacle"? I know not more comforting words than those of our text, whether for the being uttered in the sickroom of the righteous or breathed over their graves. They might almost take the pain from disease, as they certainly do the dishonor from death. What is bestowed by God as a "gift on his beloved" will assuredly occupy his care, his watchfulness, his solicitude. And I conclude, therefore, that he is present in some special and extraordinary sense when the righteous lie dying.; aye, and that he sets his seal and plants his guardianship where the righteous lie dead. "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?" Let the saint be but constant in the profession of godliness, and his last hours shall be those in which Deity himself shall stand almost visibly at his side and his last resting place that which he shall shadow with his wings. Sickness may be protracted and distressing. "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust" may be plaintively breathed over the unconscious dead. But nothing in all this lengthened struggle, nothing in all this apparent defeat can harm the righteous man--nay, nothing can be other than for his present good and his eternal glory, seeing that death with all its accompaniments is but joy--God's gift to his beloved.
Dry your tears, you that stand around the bed of the dying believer. The parting moment is almost at hand--a cold damp is on the forehead, the eye is fixed, the pulse too feeble to be felt. Are you staggered at such a spectacle? Nay, let faith do its part! The chamber is crowded with glorious forms--angels are waiting there to take charge of the disembodied soul, a hand gentler than any human is closing those eyes, and a voice sweeter than any human is whispering, "Surely the Lord gives his beloved sleep." (Henry Melvill, 1798-1871, in a sermon entitled, "Death the Gift of God")
He gives children, not as a penalty nor as a burden, but as a favor. They are a token for good if men know how to receive them and educate them. They are "doubtful blessings" only because we are doubtful persons. Where society is rightly ordered children are regarded, not as an incumbrance, but as an inheritance; and they are received, not with regret, but as a reward. (Charles Spurgeon)
The Hebrew seems to imply that children are a heritage belonging to the Lord, and not a heritage given by the Lord, as most English readers appear to take it. The Targum likewise bears this out. (H. T. Armfield)
If the right interpretation is commonly given to this phrase, this Psalm greatly encourages early marriages. It is a growing evil of modern times that marriages are so often deferred till it is highly improbable that in the course of nature the father can live to mold his offspring to habits of honor and virtue. (William Swan Plumer)
There is a fear of the Lord which has terror in it and not blessedness. The apprehension with which a warring rebel regards his triumphant and offended sovereign, or the feelings of a fraudulent bankrupt towards a stern creditor or a conscience-stricken criminal to a righteous judge, are frequently types of men's feelings in regard to God. This evidently cannot be the fear which the "blessed" of this Psalm feel. Nor can theirs, on the other hand, be the tormenting fear of self-reproach.
Their fear is that which the believed revelations given of him in his Word produce. It is the fear which a child feels towards an honored parent--a fear to offend. It is that which they who have been rescued from destruction feel to the benefactor who nobly and at the vastest sacrifice interposed for their safety--a fear to act unworthily of his kindness. It is that which fills the breast of a pardoned and grateful rebel in the presence of a venerated sovereign at whose throne he is permitted to stand in honor--a fear lest he should ever forget his goodness, and give him cause to regret it. Such is the fear of the Christian now--a fear which reverence for majesty, gratitude for mercies, dread of displeasure, desire of approval, and longing for the fellowship of heaven inspire; the fear of angels and the blessed Son; the fear not of sorrow but of love, which shrinks with instinctive recoil from doing anything whatever that would tend to grieve, or from denying anything whatever that would tend to honor. Religion is the grand and the only wisdom; and since the beginning, the middle, and the end of it is the fear of the Lord, blessed is every man that is swayed by it. (Robert Nisbet)
Although the world is carried away by irregular desires after various objects, between which it is perpetually fluctuating in its choice, God gives us in this Psalm a description of what he considers to be a blessing beyond all riches, and therefore we ought to hold it in high estimation. If a man has a wife of amiable manners as the companion of his life, let him set no less value upon this blessing than Solomon did, who, in Prov. 19:14, affirms that it is God alone who gives a good wife. In like manner, if a man be a father of a numerous offspring, let him receive that goodly boon with a thankful heart. (John Calvin)
Follow me into the grove and I will show you what may have suggested the comparison. Here we have hit upon a beautiful illustration. This aged and decayed tree is surrounded, as you see, by several young and thrifty shoots, which spring from the root of the venerable parent. They seem to uphold, protect, and embrace it. We may even fancy that they now bear that load of fruit which would otherwise be demanded of the feeble parent. Thus do good and affectionate children gather round the table of the righteous. Each contributes something to the common wealth and welfare of the whole--a beautiful sight, with which may God refresh the eyes of every friend of mine. (W. M. Thomson)
What so frequently and effectually shows the necessity of piety as the sharp teachings of affliction? They show what moralists and preachers never could--that riches profit not in the day of death, that pleasures most fully enjoyed bring no soothing to the terrors which nearness to eternity presents, and that friends, however affectionate, cannot plead for and save us at the bar of God. "Miserable comforters are they all," and it is for the very purpose of inspiring this conviction, along with a belief that it is Jesus alone who can comfort in the hour of need, that affliction is sent to God's children. (Robert Nisbet)
The Christian Church may adopt the language of the Hebrew Church. What afflictions were endured by the Christian Church from her youth up! How feeble was that youth! How small the number of the apostles to whom our Lord gave his gospel in charge! How destitute were they of human learning, of worldly influence, of secular power! To effect their destruction and to frustrate their object--the glory of God and the salvation of men--the dungeon and the mine, the rack and the gibbet were all successively employed. The plowers plowed their back and made long their furrows. Their property was confiscated; their persons were imprisoned; their civil rights were taken from them; their heads rolled on the scaffold; their bodies were consumed at the burning pile; they were thrown, amidst the ringing shouts of the multitude, to the wild beasts of the amphitheater. Despite, however, of every opposition, our holy religion took root and grew upward. Not all the fury of ten persecutions could exterminate it from the earth. The teeth of wild beasts could not grind it to powder; the fire could not burn it; the waters could not drown it; the dungeon could not confine it. Truth is eternal, like the great God from whose bosom it springs, and therefore it cannot be destroyed. And because Christianity is the truth and no lie, her enemies have never prevailed against her. (N. McMichael)
Note that he does not say, All who hate me; but "all who hate Zion." Thus the saints are not led to this from the desire of revenge, but from zeal for the people of God, so that they pray for the confusion and repression of the ungodly. (Wolfgang Musculus)
If this be an imprecation, let it stand, for our heart says "Amen" to it. It is but justice that those who hate, harass, and hurt the good should be brought to naught. Those who confound right and wrong ought to be confounded, and those who turn back from God ought to be turned back. Loyal subjects wish ill to those who plot against their king. "Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks," is but a proper wish and contains within it no trace of personal ill-will. We desire their welfare as men, their downfall as traitors. Let their conspiracies be confounded, their policies be turned back. How can we wish prosperity to those who would destroy that which is dearest to our hearts? This present age is so flippant that if a man loves the Savior he is styled a fanatic, and if he hates the powers of evil he is named a bigot. As for ourselves, despite all objectors, we join heartily in this commination [threat of punishment]; and would revive in our heart the old practice of Ebal and Gerizim, where those were blessed who bless God and those were cursed who made themselves a curse to the righteous. . . . Study a chapter from the "Book of Martyrs" and see if you do not feel inclined to read an imprecatory Psalm over Bishop Bonner and Bloody Mary. It may be that some wretched nineteenth century sentimentalist will blame you. If so, read another over him. (Charles Spurgeon)
By the deep places (as all the ancients consent) is meant the deep places of afflictions, and the deep places of the heart troubled for sin. Afflictions are compared to deep waters. "He drew me out of many waters" (Ps. 18:16). "Save me, O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul" (Ps. 69:1). And surely God's children are often cast into very desperate cases and plunged into deep miseries, to the end that they may send out of a contrite and feeling heart such prayers as may mount aloft and pierce the heavens. When we are in prosperity our prayers come from our lips; and therefore the Lord is forced to cast us down that our prayers may come from our hearts, and that our senses may be wakened from the security in which they are lying. Albeit the throne of God be most high, yet he delights to hear the petition of hearts that are most low, that are most cast down by the sight of sin. There is no affliction, neither any place so low (yea, if as low as the belly of the whale wherein Jonah lay) which can separate us from the love of the Lord or stay our prayers from coming before him. Those who are farthest cast down are not farthest from God, but are nearest unto him. God is near to a contrite heart, and it is the proper seat where his Spirit dwells (Isa. 66:2). And thus God deals with us as men do with such houses that they are minded to build sumptuously and on high; for then they dig deep grounds for the foundation. Thus God, purposing to make a fair show of Daniel and the three children in Babel, of Joseph in Egypt, of David in Israel, first threw them into the deep waters of afflictions. Daniel is cast into the den of lions, the three children are thrown into the fiery furnace, Joseph is imprisoned, David exiled. Yet all those he exalted and made glorious temples to himself. Mark hereby the dullness of our nature, that God is forced to use sharp remedies to awaken us. Jonah lay sleeping in the ship when the tempest of God's wrath was pursuing him. God therefore threw him into the belly of the whale, and the bottom of the deep, that from those deep places he might cry to him.
When, therefore, we are troubled by heavy sickness, or poverty, or oppressed by the tyranny of men, let us make profit and use thereof, considering that God has cast his best children into such dangers for their profit; and that it is better to be in deep dangers praying than on high mountains of vanity playing. (Archibald Symson)
There are many kinds and degrees of prayer in the world; from the coldest form to the intensest agony. Everyone prays, but very few "cry." But of those who do "cry to God," the majority would say, "I owe it to the depths. I learned it there. I often prayed before, but never--till I was carried down very deep--did I cry." It is well worthwhile to go down into any "depth" to be taught to "cry." (James Vaughan)
Every prayer should have its reverent invocation, as every temple its porch. The two greatest prayers in the Old Testament--Solomon's prayer and Daniel's prayer--both have it very emphatically. And it is a very distinct part of our own perfect model: "Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." On our part it is deferential and puts the mind into its proper form, while it places the great God, whom it addresses, where he ought to be--in the awe of his glory, in the magnitude of his power, in the infinitude of his wisdom and love. Never think little of that part of your prayer. Never omit, never hurry over the opening address. Do not go into his presence without a pause or some devout ascription. "Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications." True, he is always listening and waiting for his children's "cry"--far more prepared to answer than we are to ask. And the very fact that we are praying is a proof of his attention; for who but he put it into our hearts to make that prayer? Nevertheless, it becomes us and honors him to establish at the outset the right relationship between a creature and his Creator, between a child and his father. (James Vaughan)
The word rendered to mark notes, first, to watch, or to observe with strictest diligence, and is therefore in the noun rendered a watch-tower, upon which a man is placed to take observation of all things that are done and of all persons that pass by or approach and come near. A watchman placed upon a high tower is bound industriously and critically to observe all passengers and passages, all that his eye can reach. So says the text, If you should mark as a watchman and eye with rigor everything that passes from us, "who will stand?"--that is, make good his cause in the day of his judgment and trial before you?
Secondly, the word signifies to keep in mind, to lay up, to have, as it were, a store and stock, a memorial or record of such and such things by us. In that sense it is said, "Joseph's brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying" (Gen. 37:11). He marked what Joseph spoke about his dreams; he laid it up and did not let it pass away as a dream or as a vision of the night. Thus, by "If the Lord should mark iniquity" we understand, If he should treasure up our sins in his memory and keep them by him, "who were able to stand when accounted with?" The Lord, in a way of grace, sees as if he saw not and winks at us oftentimes when we do amiss. (Joseph Caryl)
If you should inquire and scrutinize, and then should retain and impute (for the Hebrew word imports both), if you should inquire you would find something of iniquity in the most righteous of mankind. And when you have found it, if you should retain it and call him to an account for it, he could by no means free himself of the charge or expiate the crime. Inquiring, you would easily find iniquity; but the sinner by the most diligent inquiry will not be able to discover a ransom, and therefore will be unable to stand, will have no place on which to rest his foot, but will fall by the irresistible judgments of your law and the sentence of your justice. (Robert Leighton)
As I was thus in musing and in my studies, considering how to love the Lord and to express my love to him, that saying came in upon me: "If thou, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou may be feared." These were good words to me, especially the latter part thereof; to wit, that there is forgiveness with thee that thou may be feared. That is, as then I understood it, that he might be loved and had in reverence. For it was thus made out to me that the great God did set so high an esteem upon the love of his poor creatures, that rather than he would go without their love he would pardon their transgressions. (John Bunyan)
"Forgiveness," Hebrew, selichah, a word used only here and by Daniel once (9:9) and by Nehemiah (9:17). (Christopher Wordsworth)
"There is a propitiation with thee," so some read it. Jesus Christ is the great propitiation, the ransom which God has found. He is ever with him as advocate for us, and through him we hope to obtain forgiveness. (Matthew Henry)
Waiting is a great part of life's discipline, and therefore God often exercises the grace of waiting. Waiting has four purposes. It practices the patience of faith. It gives time for preparation for the coming gift. It makes the blessing the sweeter when it arrives. And it shows the sovereignty of God--to give just when and just as he pleases. (James Vaughan)
A proud look the Lord hates, and in this all men are agreed with him. Yea, even the proud themselves hate haughtiness in the gestures of others. Lofty eyes are so generally hateful that haughty men have been known to avoid the manners natural to the proud in order to escape the ill-will of their fellows. The pride which apes humility always takes care to cast its eyes downward, since every man's consciousness tells him that contemptuous glances are the sure ensigns of a boastful spirit. . . . Let us take care that we do not use the language of this Psalm unless, indeed, it be true as to ourselves; for there is no worse pride than that which claims humility when it does not possess it.
"Neither do I exercise myself in great matters." As a private man he [David] did not usurp the power of the king or devise plots against him; he minded his own business and left others to mind theirs. As a thoughtful man he did not pry into things unrevealed; he was not speculative, self-conceited or opinionated. As a secular person he did not thrust himself into the priesthood, as Saul had done before him and as Uzziah did after him. It is well so to exercise ourselves unto godliness that we know our true sphere, and diligently keep to it. Many through wishing to be great have failed to be good. They were not content to adorn the lowly stations which the Lord appointed them, and so they have rushed at grandeur and power, and found destruction where they looked for honor. "Or in things too high for me." High things may suit others who are of greater stature, and yet they may be quite unfit for us. A man does well to know his own size. Ascertaining his own capacity, he will be foolish if he aims at that which is beyond his reach, straining himself and thus injuring himself. Such is the vanity of many men that if a work be within their range they despise it and think it beneath them. The only service which they are willing to undertake is that to which they have never been called, and for which they are by no means qualified. What a haughty heart must he have who will not serve God at all unless he may be trusted with five talents at the least! His looks are indeed lofty who disdains to be a light among his poor friends and neighbors here below, but demands to be created a star of the first magnitude to shine among the upper ranks and to be admired by gazing crowds. It is just on God's part that those who wish to be everything should end in being nothing. It is a righteous retribution from God when every matter turns out to be too great for the man who would only handle great matters, and every thing proves to be too high for the man who exercised himself in things too high for him. Lord, make us lowly, keep us lowly, fix us forever in lowliness. (Charles Spurgeon)
It has always been my aim, and it is my prayer, to have no plan as regards myself; well assured as I am that the place where the Savior sees meet to place me must ever be the best place for me. (Robert Murray M'Cheyne)
Though David could himself wait patiently and quietly for the crown designed him, yet perhaps Israel, the people whose darling he was, would be ready to attempt something in favor of him before the time. He therefore endeavors to quiet them too, and bids them "hope in the LORD" that they should see a happy change of the face of affairs in due time. Thus "it is good to hope, and quietly to wait for the salvation of the Lord." (Matthew Henry)
The history does not record the time nor the occasion of this vow, but history does record how it was ever in David's thoughts and on David's heart. David, indeed, in the first verse, asks of God to remember his afflictions, and then records his vow; and you may, perhaps, think that the vow was the consequence of his afflictions, and that he made it contingent on his deliverance. . . . It is far more consistent with the character of David to look upon the affliction to which he alludes as resulting from the Lord's not permitting him to carry out his purpose of erecting an earthly habitation for the God of heaven, inasmuch as he had shed blood abundantly. And if, as is more than probable, amid that blood which he had shed David's conscience recalled the blood of Uriah as swelling the measure, he could not but be deeply afflicted, even while he acknowledged the righteousness of the sentence.
But though not permitted of God to execute his purpose, we cannot but feel and own that it was a noble resolution which David here makes. And though recorded in all the amplification of Oriental imagery, it expresses the holy determination of the Psalmist to forgo every occupation and pursuit, and not to allow a single day to elapse till he had at least fixed on the site of the future temple. (Barton Bouchier)
This is commonly understood of Bethlehem, as that place had this name. But the ark never was at Bethlehem; at least we read of no such thing. There was a district called by this name, or one closely resembling it, where Elkanah, Samuel's father, lived, and whence Jeroboam came, both of whom are called Ephrathites (1 Sam. 1:1; 1 Kings 11:26). This was in the tribe of Ephraim, and is probably the place meant by the Psalmist. Now the ark had been for a long series of years at Shiloh, which is in Ephraim, when it was taken to be present at the battle with the Philistines, in which Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were slain, and when thirty thousand of the Israelites lost their lives, together with the capture of the ark. The frightful report of this calamity was brought to Eli and occasioned his instant death. This appears to be the event referred to in the words, "We heard of it at Ephratah"; and a grievous report it was, not likely to be soon forgotten.
"We found it in the fields of Jaar." After the ark had been for some time in the land of the Philistines, they sent it away and it came to Bethshemesh in the tribe of Judah (1 Sam. 6:12). In the immediate vicinity of this place was also Kirjath-jearim, i.e., the city of Jaar, to which the ark was removed; for the Bethshemites were afraid to retain it, as many thousands of them had lost their lives for the violation of the sanctity of the ark, by looking into it. As this slaughter took place close by, if not in the fields of Jaar, the Psalmist, with reference to it, says, "We found it in the fields of Jaar." Having glanced at these two afflictive and memorable events, he goes on with the direct design of encouraging the people to perform due honor to the ark and to the temple by contrasting with the sad occurrences to which he had adverted their present joy and prosperity. (William Walford)
Having prepared a sumptuous tabernacle, or tent, for the ark on Mount Zion in the "City of David," a great national assembly was summoned at which all the tribes were invited to attend its removal to this new sanctuary. The excitement spread over all Israel. "We heard men say at Ephratah [Bethlehem], in the south of the land, and we found them repeat it in the woody Lebanon," sings the writer of the 132nd Psalm, according to Ewald's rendering. "Let us go into his tabernacle; let us worship at his footstool." The very words of the summons were fitted to rouse the deepest feelings of the nation, for they were to gather at Baalah of Judah, another name for Kirjath-jearim, to "bring up thence" to the mountain capital "the Ark of God, called by the name, the name of Jehovah of Hosts who dwells between the cherubim" (2 Sam. 6:2). (Cunningham Geikie)
"Tabernacles" are spoken of in the plural number, and this it may be (though we may doubt whether the Psalmist had such minute distinctions in his eye) because there was in the Temple an inner sanctuary, a middle apartment, and then the court. It is of more importance to attend to the epithet which follows, where the Psalmist calls the Ark of the Covenant God's footstool, to intimate that the sanctuary could never contain the immensity of God's essence, as men were apt absurdly to imagine. The mere outward Temple with all its majesty being no more than his footstool, his people were called upon to look upwards to the heavens and fix their contemplations with due reverence upon God himself. (John Calvin)
The Lord's "footstool" here mentioned was either the Ark of the Testimony itself or the place at least where it stood, called Debir, or the Holy of Holies, towards which the Jews in their temple used to worship. The very next words argue so much: "Arise, O LORD, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength"; and it is plain [evident] out of 1 Chr. 28:2, where David says concerning his purpose to have built God a house, "I had in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and for the footstool of our God," where the conjunction and is exegetical and the same with that is. According to this expression the prophet Jeremiah also, in the beginning of the second of his Lamentations, bewails that "the Lord had cast down the beauty of Israel" (that is, his glorious Temple), "and remembered not his footstool" (that is, the Ark of the Covenant,) in the day of his wrath. (Joseph Mede)
If the very names given by God's prophets to his people are such as saints, gracious ones, merciful ones, surely his professed people ought to see to it that they are not cruel, untender, or unholy. (William Swan Plumer)
The word translated "dwell" means originally to "sit," and especially to sit enthroned, so that this idea would be necessarily suggested with the other to a Hebrew reader. (Joseph Addison Alexander)
This image of a horn is frequent in the Old Testament. . . . the figure is taken from the horns of the bull, in which the power of this animal resides. It is a natural image among an agricultural people. . . . Just as the strength of the animal is concentrated in its horn, so all the delivering power granted to the family of David for the advantage of the people will be concentrated in the Messiah. (F. Godet)
"Make the horn to bud." In the beginning of the month of March the common stag, or red deer, is lurking in the sequestered spots of his forest home, harmless as his mate and as timorous. Soon a pair of prominences make their appearance on his forehead, covered with a velvety skin. In a few days these little prominences have attained some length, and give the first indication of their true form. Grasp one of these in the hand and it will be found burning hot to the touch, for the blood runs fiercely through the velvety skin, depositing at every touch a minute portion of bony matter. More and more rapidly grow the horns, the carotid arteries enlarging in order to supply a sufficiency of nourishment, and in the short period of ten weeks the enormous mass of bony matter has been completed. Such a process is almost, if not entirely, without parallel in the history of the animal kingdom. (J. G. Wood, in "The Illustrated Natural History," 1861)
"I have ordained a lamp for my anointed." This clause contains an allusion to the law, which cannot be preserved in any version. The word translated "lamp" is used to designate the several burners of the golden candlesticks (Ex. 25:37; 35:14; 37:23; 39:37), and the verb here joined with it is the one applied to the ordering or tending of the sacred lights by the priests (Ex. 27:21; Lev. 27:3). The meaning of the whole verse is, that the promise of old made to David and to Zion should be yet fulfilled, however dark and inauspicious present appearances. (Joseph Addison Alexander)
If there be but one God, as God is one, so let them who serve him be one. This is what Christ prayed so heartily for: "That they may be one" (John 17:21). Christians should be one in judgment. The apostle exhorts us to be all of one mind (1 Cor. 1:10). How sad is it to see religion wearing a coat of divers [various] colors, to see Christians of so many opinions and going so many different ways! It is Satan who has sown these tares of division (Matt. 13:39). He first divided men from God and then one man from another. Christians should be one in affection. They should have one heart: "The multitude of them who believed were of one heart and of one soul" (Acts 4:32). As in music, though there are several strings of a viol yet all make one sweet harmony, so though there are several Christians, yet there should be one sweet harmony of affection among them. There is but one God, and they who serve him should be one. There is nothing that would render the true religion more lovely or make more proselytes to it than to see the professors of it tied together with the heart-strings of love. If God be one, let all who profess him be of one mind, and one heart, and thus fulfill Christ's prayer, "that they all may be one." (Thomas Watson)
The last cloud of smoke from the evening sacrifice has mixed with the blue sky, the last note of the evening hymn has died away on the ear. The watch is being set for the night. The twenty-four Levites, the three priests, and the captain of the guard, whose duty it was to keep ward from sunset to sunrise over the hallowed precincts, are already at their several posts, and the multitude are retiring through the gates, which will soon be shut, to many of them to open no more. But they cannot depart without one last expression of the piety that fills their hearts; and turning to the watchers on tower and battlement, they address them in holy song, in what was at once a brotherly admonition and a touching prayer: "Behold, bless ye the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and bless the LORD." The pious guards are not unprepared for the appeal, and from their lofty heights, in words that float over the peopled city and down into the quiet valley of the Kedron, like the melody of angels, they respond to each worshipper who thus addressed them with a benedictory farewell: "The LORD bless thee out of Zion, even he who made heaven and earth." (Robert Nisbet)
The tabernacle and temple were served by priests during the night as well as the day. Those priests renewed the altar fire, fed the lamps, and guarded the sacred structure from intrusion and from plunder. The Psalm before us was prepared for the priests who served the sacred place by night. They were in danger of slumbering, and they were in danger of idle reverie. Oh, how much time is wasted in mere reverie--in letting thought wander, and wander, and wander. (Samuel Martin)
The Targum explains the first verse of the Temple watch. "The custom in the Second Temple appears to have been this. After midnight the chief of the doorkeepers took the key of the inner Temple and went with some of the priests through the small postern of the Fire Gate. In the inner court this watch divided itself into two companies, each carrying a burning torch. One company turned west, the other east, and so they compassed the court to see whether all were in readiness for the Temple service on the following morning. In the bakehouse, where the Mincha ('meat-offering') of the High Priest was baked, they met with the cry, 'All well.' Meanwhile the rest of the priests arose, bathed themselves, and put on their garments. They then went into the stone chamber (one half of which was the hall of session of the Sanhedrim), and there, under the superintendence of the officer who gave the watchword, and one of the Sanhedrim, surrounded by the priests clad in their robes of office, their several duties for the coming day were assigned to each of the priests by lot. Luke 1:9." (J. J. Stewart Perowne)
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