Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
the whole psalm in all its bearings while we may not feel called on to justify every expression therein, we shall feel bound to regard fairly those circumstances of extreme hardship by which such expressions were called forth. We may have the case before us, if we "open up' the contents of the psalm in the following threefold order.
I. THE CASE SHOULD BE ADEQUATELY STUDIED. Beyond all question, it is a hard one, almost more than flesh and blood could bear. We will look at it:
1. As between David and his enemies. A bare enumeration of its main features (of which there are seven) will suffice. He was waylaid without cause (ver. 7). False witnesses spake maliciously against him (ver. 11). They actually rewarded evil for good (ver. 12). In their trouble David had behaved himself as their friend or brother (vers. 13, 14). In his trouble the enemies manifested a malicious joy (vers. 15, 16). Their malice was not against him only, but against others also (ver. 20). And not only so, but against the entire cause of righteousness of which David was the representative, their rage and hatred were directed (ver. 22). Now let us look at the case:
2. As between David and his God. How does he plead with Jehovah? He prays that God himself would interpose, and come into conflict with those who thus afflicted him (vers. 1, 2, 3, 17, 22, 23); that God would manifest himself as David's Deliverer (ver 3); that the wicked might be thoroughly put to shame; that their way might be dark and slippery, etc. (vers. 4, 5, 6, 8, 26); that God would reveal his delivering grace (ver. 10); that David and those who favoured his righteous cause might rejoice in God's salvation (ver. 9); that God would execute righteousness and judgment (ver. 24); that he would not permit the malicious joy of the enemy to continue (vers. 19, 25); that the righteous might yet shout for joy at the triumph of their cause (ver. 27); and that with their joy David himself might blend his own (ver. 28). Now, when we thus set the whole psalm before us, and note how grievous is the case which was thus laid before God, and how varied are the forms of petition in which that is done, we cannot but feel amazed at the harsh estimate of David in which some of his critics have indulged. If David was too harsh in speaking of the wicked, his critics are afortiori far too harsh in their treatment of him. Let us therefore note
II. THE CASE SHOULD BE FAIRLY ESTIMATED. Let us look at it:
(1) The words of this psalm are not the words of God to man, but words of man to God: this is an all-important distinction to make in dealing with the Psalms.
(2) No man can, no man ever could, pray beyond the level of his own spiritual attainment.
(3) Hence it is not necessary that we should attempt to justify every word in the ending of an Old Testament saint, any more than we should attempt to do so in the prayers of God's people now. But it may be said, "David was a prophet." True, and when he professed to give out God's word to him, we accept such word implicitly. But that is not the case here. He is not praying as a prophet, but as a troubled saint.
(4) This prayer, with the imprecations it contains, is by no means illustrative of the spirit of the Mosaic dispensation, but only of the degree to which a man who could pray like this, actually fell below the spirit of the dispensation under which he lived. Here we are compelled to differ sharply from Bishop Perowne and others who regard this psalm as indicative of the contrast between the morality of the Old Testament and New Testament dispensations. Though in the Scriptures, revelation is progressive, yet the morality enjoined in the Old Testament is precisely the same as that enjoined in the New. So our Lord teaches (Matthew 22:36-40; Matthew 5:17, 18). In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord tears off the wrappings with which "they of old time" had concealed the teachings of the Mosaic Law, and restores that Law to its pristine integrity and glory, on his own authority. But in the psalm before us we have not Old Testament morality as given by God, but Old Testament morality as far as attained by the writer. Many a modern representative of religion would sanction the cutting down of Zulus by the thousand in war. What should we say if any one declared that to be New Testament morality, when it was only that individual presenting his own view of it? So with this and other imprecatory psalms; they give us, not God's precept, but man's defective prayers. At the same time, while we do not justify these maledictions of David, we are bound in all fairness also to put the matter:
(1) Here is a case of extreme provocation.
(2) David was a king.
(3) As such, he was not a merely private individual, but the representative of God's cause.
(4) Hence his petitions are not those of personal vindictiveness; they are the passionate cries of one who yearns for God's vindication of the right. For we see at once the reason why, and the limit within which, he prays for vengeance on his enemies.
(5) Whoever, owing to an inadequate study of the psalm, cherishes sympathy with David's enemies rather than with him, is grievously unjust. But we can not only free the case from being any stumbling-block to faith, we may even turn it to good account. Form
III. THE CASE MAY BE HELPFULLY UTILIZED. We gather from it:
1. How great is the mercy that wronged saints can look up to God as the Avenger of their cause (Luke 18:1-8)!
2. There is a very great difference between a private feeling of vindictiveness, and the indignation felt at a great public wrong. It would be wicked of us to cherish the first; it would be wicked of us not to cherish the second.
3. Whatever the case of wrong we have to lay before God, we may tell it to him just as we feel it. He is a loving Friend to whom we may unburden everything without any danger of being misunderstood.
4. If in our putting of the case before God, we say anything wrong or wrongly, God will forgive what is wrong in our prayers, and will answer them in his own way, often doing "exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think."
5. Hence we may leave the method of vindicating the right and of shaming the wrong, entirely in the hands of God. Such expressions as those in Vers. 4, 5, 6, 8 would ill become us (cf. Romans 12:19, 20).
6. Nevertheless, it is perfectly true that severity to evil-doers is sometimes the greatest mercy to the Church of God (Acts 5:1-11).
8. If we do not so far sympathize with the spirit of this and other imprecatory psalms as to yearn to see righteousness triumphant and wickedness put to shame, we are fearfully guilty before God, and are sinking immeasurably below the morality and public spirit of those very psalms which are so unfairly criticized and so thoughtlessly condemned. To plead for the victory of righteousness and for the crushing and shaming of iniquity is a necessity of a good man's nature. He cannot help it. Yea, one petition in the Lord's Prayer involves the whole, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." And more than this, no one understands the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, who looks at it as providing only for the present forgiveness of individual souls: it is a grand and glorious plan for the inbringing of universal and everlasting righteousness; and when the Saviour's blood moistened earth's soil, it guaranteed that earth should be rescued from the destroyer, that the hosts of ill should be exposed and put to shame, and that Christ should wear the everlasting crown. - C.
I. First it agrees best with THE METHOD OF INSPIRATION. The object of inspiration is truth. It is not necessary that what is perfect should alone be recorded, but it is that the record itself should be perfect. Besides, there is undoubtedly an advance in the New Testament from the Old, both as respects the spirit of the prophets, and the greatness of the truths revealed.
II. Further, this view agrees best with THE ANALOGY OF HOLY SCRIPTURE. In Job and Ecclesiastes and elsewhere there are different speakers, and they do not all speak the same thing. There is diversity of opinion, and high debate. We have to walk circumspectly. We have to discriminate, lest we should take the devil's lie or the counsel of fallible men for the eternal truth of God (Job 2:4; Job 42:7). So of the Psalms. The record is true, but all that is recorded is not truth. There ate various phases of thought and feeling, of character and life. Even the same speaker does not ways keep the same level; at one time he may cry, "I was as a beast before thee." and almost with the same breath, "Whom have I in heaven but thee?" (Psalm 73:22, 25).
III. Again, this view accords best with THE FACTS OF DAVID'S LIFE. He was not a perfect man; and who so ready to confess this as himself? Look at the historical parts of Scripture, and you find him saying and doing things far from righteousness. Why should he be judged differently when he speaks in poetry than when he speaks in prose? Is it not reasonable to take what he says, in the one case as in the other, as the honest expression of his heart, and to judge it by the same standard? No doubt the Psalms are to be regarded as spoken in moments of highest religious consecration; but if David is to be held as always speaking in the Psalms as a perfect man, it will be hard to bring the facts into harmony with the other facts of his life, and, moreover, the effect would be to remove the psalms from the sphere of ordinary experience, and to empty them of much of their sweetness and virtue. Delitzsch has said that "this whole psalm is as it were the lyrical amplification of that which David says when face to face with Saul in 1 Samuel 24:16." Looking at it in this light, it seems the story of a soul's conflict - the struggle of the spirit against the flesh - painful and severe, with risings and failings, till at last peace is attained. It begins with a passionate cry to God for justice, and the language, full of fire and impetuosity, is such as would naturally rise to the lips of a man of war. His imagination works in the line of his desires, and pictures an overthrow of his enemies, quick and terrible. Their destruction would be his "salvation," and for this he would rejoice and give God thanks vers. 9, 10). In the second part of the psalm he reverts W the cruel treatment he had received, but speaks of it with more calmness - more in sorrow than in anger. He remembers how he had tried to be patient, how he had restrained himself, and returned good for evil. But it had been in vain. Brooding upon this, his heart again rises in wrath (ver. 17). But as he comes nearer to God, and feels more intensely the sweetness of God's love, he recovers more quietness. Once more the surges of passion rise, and he is in danger of being overwhelmed; but again he turns to God, his only Refuge, and casting himself upon his care, and committing things wholly to his hand, he enters into the rest of faith and hope and love. The portrait may be said to be true to life. We have not only the good, but the bad; not only love to man, but the struggle to keep that love; not only faith in God, but the difficulty of gaining the height of that faith, and of holding it when it had been won. Thus we have a record which harmonizes with the experience of God's saints of all ages from Abraham to Paul, and that is rich in instruction and comfort. Who is there who tries to follow Christ, but knows how hard it is to be patient under injustice, to forgive our enemies, and to pray for them who despitefully use us and persecute us? It is some comfort for us, as with Christian when sorely tried in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, to hear the voice of a brother, and to be able to say, each one to his soul, "that some who feared God were in this valley as well as himself." - W.F.
I. EVERY MAN HAS A SPIRITUAL BATTLE TO FIGHT, We have to contend against:
1. Enemies that threaten the destruction of the soul. (Ver. 4.) Our temptations, from within and from without, are our dangerous foes, who will conquer and destroy us if we do not conquer and destroy them. We know what unresisted sin leads to.
2. They are crafty and insidious foes. (Vers. 7, 8.) They use smiles and sophistries to conceal their real nature and designs. Evil men lay plots to ensnare the young and unwary. Hence the need of watchfulness and circumspection.
3. They are cruel, unrelenting foes. (Ver. 4.) They devise our hurt and follow us continually. There can be no compromise with them.
II. WE MUST SEEK THE HELP OF GOD TO GIVE US THE VICTORY IN THIS BATTLE.
1. We must fight with Divine weapons. The sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and the helmet of salvation, etc.
2. Under the Divine inspiration. Filled with the trust, and love, and courage, and hope of those who catch their inspiration from Christ. Christ is the Captain of our salvation. The true soldier will follow the great General everywhere.
3. God helping us, we are stronger than all our foes, and are sure of victory at last.
III. WHEN THE BATTLE HAS BEEN FINALLY WON WE SHALL BE FILLED WITH GRATITUDE TO GOD. (Vers. 9, 10.) For all the grace and help we have received in every stage of the conflict. And for the eternal value of the victory we have gained. This cannot be fully known here. - S.
baseness of the wicked nature, and the generous sympathies of the good.
I. THE BASENESS OF THE WICKED. Their general characteristics are:
1. They often bring false malicious charges against good men. (Ver. 11.) "They demand satisfaction at my hands for injuries of which I have never even heard."
2. They return evil for good. (Ver. 12.) They had been former friends: this was the sting of their ingratitude and injustice. Former favours sour the minds of the ungrateful, and intensify their hatred.
3. They exult over the calamities of the good, and insult and injure them. (Ver. 15.) "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel," and cruelty always embrutes the bad mind.
4. They incite the senseless rabble to persecute good men. (Ver. 16.) The multitude ever ready without reason to join in a hue and cry, and, without thinking, are ready to become the instruments of bad men.
II. THE NOBILITY OF THE GOOD.
1. Broken friendships fill them with a sense of bereavement. (Ver. 12.) The good hunger for love, as well as give it; and, when denied it, are afflicted with a sense of loneliness.
2. They are deeply sympathetic with the afflictions of others. (Vers. 13, 14.) They fast and pray in token of the sincerity and depth of their sympathy.
3. In the calamities and sorrows of life the good turn to God for help and deliverance. (Ver. 17.) Especially the more they feel deserted by former friends.
4. They are constrained to give thanks to God for his mercies. (Ver. 18.) They are not ungrateful, like the wicked. Gratitude is a joy to the generous and religious mind. - S.
I. HE PRAYS THAT THE CAUSE OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS MAY NOT TRIUMPH.
1. The enmity of his enemies was without just cause. (Ver. 19.) To be unjustly accused wounds a good man very deeply.
2. He was the champion of public order and peace: and therefore they opposed him. (Ver. 20.) Employed deceitful words and schemes to disturb and overthrow the public peace. Bad men therefore.
3. God himself was the witness of their injustice and wickedness. (Ver. 21.) And cannot but interpose of his own righteous will.
4. He appeals to God on the ground of his personal righteousness. (Vers. 23, 24.) Not on the ground of his perfection; but he appeals to his upright aim and just purpose and general rectitude. The righteous God must therefore overthrow his enemies. God's righteousness, and his own could not both be defeated. Their just retribution was to be clothed with confusion and dishonour. The psalmist is so sure that his prayer will be answered and his enemies punished, that we have next. -
II. A GRATEFUL ANTICIPATION OF THE VICTORY.
1. He calls upon all who love righteousness to magnify the work of God. (Ver. 27, "who have pleasure in my justification, or righteousness.") The victory of the psalmist over his wicked enemies.
2. He himself will sing of the righteousness of God for ever. (Ver. 28, "all the day long.") We should praise God for ever as the Author of all our moral and spiritual victories. "Not unto us, but unto thy Name, O Lord," etc. - S.
Ecclesiastes 3:7). So it is with man, and with reverence it may be said, so it is with God. There is a sense in which God is never silent. In manifold ways his voice is ever sounding in our ears. But there are times when God may be said to be silent, even with regard to his own people. There is speech on the one side, but no answer on the other. This silence may be prolonged till it becomes distressingly painful. There is the sense of loss; there is the feeling of desertion; there is the dread of worse things to come-of the going down to the pit of darkness and despair (Psalm 23:4). Luther said, in his strong way, "O my God, punish me rather with pestilence, with all the terrible sicknesses on earth, with war, with anything, rather than thou be silent to me!" But though this silence is to be deprecated, yet it is ordained of God for good. It may come as -
I. JUST RETRIBUTION. The wicked do not seek after God. It is no wonder, therefore, if God should deal with them after their own ways (Proverbs 1:24 28; John 13:9). But even good men may become negligent - they may fall into sin and forget God. Therefore it may be necessary to let them see and learn the evil of departing from the living God (Psalm 94:10; Psalm 125:5; Jeremiah 2:19).
II. MERCIFUL WARNING. We must not judge of God by ourselves. We must not think that he is arbitrary or cold. If he is silent, it is for just cause. Remember how it was with Saul (1 Samuel 28:6). Well would it have been for him, if he had regarded the doings of God, and turned to him in repentance. But he hardened his heart. God warns us also. His silence should bring our sins to our remembrance. "Your sins," saith the prophet, "have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:2; cf Hosea 5:15).
III. GRACIOUS DISCIPLINE. The end of the Lord is merciful. If he is silent, it may be:
1. To try our faith, Remember the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:21-28).
2. To quicken our sense of dependence. God is Sovereign. He is under no obligation to us. If he hears, it is in mercy. We are too ready to think we have a claim upon him, and to resent his silence. We need to learn humility. "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:8).
3. To enhance the value if the blessings we lack. The worth is known by the want. Memory of past joys makes us the more eager in seeking renewed tokens of love and good will. The light is sweet to the eyes, but it is sweeter if for a while withdrawn. Friendship is dear, but absence makes the heart grow fender. The love of God is the joy of the heart; but if clouds and darkness gather between us and God, the more earnestly do we cry for the restoration of his favour (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
4. To prepare us for higher manifestations God's love. We need to be brought low in order to be raised up. We need to be emptied of pride and self-righteousness to be filled with the fulness of God. If we ask and receive not, it is because we ask amiss. This we have to learn. We are led, therefore, to self-examination, to penitence, to confession. God has something better than we thought of in store for us. It may he something to do or to suffer for him. There is a "needs be" we should be made ready. Let us therefore trust, and not be afraid (Isaiah 54:7, 8). - W.F.