Psalm 17:15
As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(15) I—emphatic. The satisfaction of worldly men is in their wealth and family honours, that of the poet in the sun of God’s presence and the vision of His righteousness. (Comp. Note, Psalm 11:7.)

Instead of “likeness,” render image, or appearance. But what does the poet mean by the hope of seeking God when he wakes? Some think of rising to peace after a perplexing trouble; others of health after suffering; others of the sunlight of the Divine grace breaking on the soul. But the literal reference to night in Psalm 17:3 seems to ask for the same reference here. Instead of waking to a worldling’s hope of a day of feasting and pleasure, the psalmist wakes to the higher and nobler thought that God—who in sleep (so like death, when nothing is visible), has been, as it were, absent—is now again, when he sees once more (LXX.), found at his right hand (comp. end of Psalms 16), a conscious presence to him, assuring him of justice and protection. But as in Psalms 16, so here, we feel that in spite of his subjection to the common notions about death the psalmist may have felt the stirrings of a better hope. Such “cries from the dark,” even if they do not prove the possession of a belief in immortality, show how the human heart was already groping its way, however blindly, towards it.

Psalms

THE TWO AWAKINGS

Psalm 17:15
. - Psalm 73:20.

Both of these Psalms are occupied with that standing puzzle to Old Testament worthies-the good fortune of bad men, and the bad fortune of good ones. The former recounts the personal calamities of David, its author. The latter gives us the picture of the perplexity of Asaph its writer, when he ‘saw the prosperity of the wicked.’

And as the problem in both is substantially the same, the solution also is the same. David and Asaph both point onwards to a period when this confusing distribution of earthly good shall have ceased, though the one regards that period chiefly in its bearing upon himself as the time when he shall see God and be at rest, while the other thinks of it rather with reference to the godless rich as the time of their destruction.

In the details of this common expectation, also, there is a remarkable parallelism. Both describe the future to which they look as an awaking, and both connect with it, though in different ways and using different words, the metaphor of an image or likeness. In the one case, the future is conceived as the Psalmist’s awaking, and losing all the vain show of this dreamland of life, while he is at rest in beholding the appearance, and perhaps in receiving the likeness, of the one enduring Substance, God. In the other, it is thought of as God’s awaking, and putting to shame the fleeting shadow of well-being with which godless men befool themselves.

What this period of twofold awaking may be is a question on which good men and thoughtful students of Scripture differ. Without entering on the wide subject of the Jewish knowledge of a future state, it may be enough for the present purpose to say that the language of both these Psalms seems much too emphatic and high-pitched, to be fully satisfied by a reference to anything in this life. It certainly looks as if the great awaking which David puts in immediate contrast with the death of ‘men of this world,’ and which solaced his heart with the confident expectation of beholding God, of full satisfaction of all his being, and possibly even of wearing the divine likeness, pointed onwards, however dimly, to that ‘within the veil.’ And as for the other psalm, though the awaking of God is, no doubt, a Scriptural phrase for His ending of any period of probation and indulgence by an act of judgment, yet the strong words in which the context describes this awaking, as the ‘destruction’ and the ‘end’ of the godless, make it most natural to take it as here referring to the final close of the probation of life. That conclusion appears to be strengthened by the contrast which in subsequent verses is drawn between this ‘end’ of the worldling, and the poet’s hopes for himself of divine guidance in life, and afterwards of being taken {the same word as is used in the account of Enoch’s translation} by God into His presence and glory-hopes whose exuberance it is hard to confine within the limits of any changes possible for earth.

The doctrine of a future state never assumed the same prominence, nor possessed the same clearness in Israel as with us. There are great tracts of the Old Testament where it does not appear at all. This very difficulty, about the strange disproportion between character and circumstances, shows that the belief had not the same place with them as with us. But it gradually emerged into comparative distinctness. Revelation is progressive, and the appropriation of revelation is progressive too. There is a history of God’s self-manifestation, and there is a history of man’s reception of the manifestation. It seems to me that in these two psalms, as in other places of Old Testament Scripture, we see inspired men in the very course of being taught by God, on occasion of their earthly sorrows, the clearer hopes which alone could sustain them. They stood not where we stand, to whom Christ has ‘brought life and immortality to light’; but to their devout and perplexed souls, the dim regions beyond were partially opened, and though they beheld there a great darkness, they also ‘saw a great light.’ They saw all this solid world fade and melt, and behind its vanishing splendours they saw the glory of the God whom they loved, in the midst of which they felt that there must be a place for them, where eternal realities should fill their vision, and a stable inheritance satisfy their hearts.

The period, then, to which both David and Asaph look, in these two verses, is the end of life. The words of both, taken in combination, open out a series of aspects of that period which carry weighty lessons, and to which we turn now.

I. The first of these is that to all men the end of Life is an awaking.

The representation of death most widely diffused among all nations is that it is a sleep. The reasons for that emblem are easily found. We always try to veil the terror and deformity of the ugly thing by the thin robe of language. As with reverential awe, so with fear and disgust, the tendency is to wrap their objects in the folds of metaphor. Men prefer not to name plainly their god or their dread, but find roundabout phrases for the one, and coaxing, flattering titles for the other. The furies and the fates of heathenism, the supernatural beings of modern superstition, must not be spoken of by their own appellations. The recoil of men’s hearts from the thing is testified by the aversion of their languages to the bald name-death. And the employment of this special euphemism of sleep is a wonderful witness to our weariness of life, and to its endless toil and trouble. Everywhere that has seemed to be a comforting and almost an attractive name, which has promised full rest from all the agitations of this changeful scene. The prosperous and the wretched alike have owned the fatigue of living, and been conscious of a soothing expectance which became almost a hope, as they thought of lying still at last with folded hands and shut eyes. The wearied workers have bent over their dead, and felt that they are blest in this at all events, that they rest from their labours; and as they saw them absolved from all their tasks, have sought to propitiate the power that had made this ease for them, as well as to express their sense of its merciful aspect, by calling it not death, but sleep.

But that emblem, true and sweet as it is, is but half the truth. Taken as the whole, as indeed men are ever tempted to take it, it is a cheerless lie. It is truth for the senses-’the foolish senses,’ who ‘crown’ Death, as ‘Omega,’ the last, ‘the Lord,’ because ‘they find no motion in the dead.’ Rest, cessation of consciousness of the outer world, and of action upon it, are set forth by the figure. But even the figure might teach us that the consciousness of life, and the vivid exercise of thought and feeling, are not denied by it. Death is sleep. Be it so. But does not that suggest the doubt-’in that sleep, what dreams may come?’ Do we not all know that, when the chains of slumber bind sense, and the disturbance of the outer world is hushed, there are faculties of our souls which work more strongly than in our waking hours? We are all poets, ‘makers’ in our sleep. Memory and imagination open their eyes when flesh closes it. We can live through years in the dreams of a night; so swiftly can spirit move when even partially freed from ‘this muddy vesture of decay.’ That very phrase, then, which at first sight seems the opposite of the representation of our text, in reality is preparatory to and confirmatory of it. That very representation which has lent itself to cheerless and heathenish thoughts of death as the cessation not only of toil but of activity, is the basis of the deeper and truer representation, the truth for the spirit, that death is an awaking. If, on the one hand, we have to say, as we anticipate the approaching end of life, ‘The night cometh, when no man can work’; on the other the converse is true, ‘The night is far spent; the day is at hand.’

We shall sleep. Yes; but we shall wake too. We shall wake just because we sleep. For flesh and all its weakness, and all its disturbing strength, and craving importunities-for the outer world, and all its dissipating garish shows, and all its sullen resistance to our hand-for weariness, and fevered activity and toil against the grain of our tastes, too great for our strength, disappointing in its results, the end is blessed, calm sleep. And precisely because it is so, therefore for our true selves, for heart and mind, for powers that lie dormant in the lowest, and are not stirred into full action in the highest, souls; for all that universe of realities which encompass us undisclosed, and known only by faint murmurs which pierce through the opiate sleep of life, the end shall be an awaking.

The truth which corresponds to this metaphor, and which David felt when he said, ‘I shall be satisfied when I awake,’ is that the spirit, because emancipated from the body, shall spring into greater intensity of action, shall put forth powers that have been held down here and shall come into contact with an order of things which here it has but indirectly known. To our true selves and to God we shall wake. Here we are like men asleep in some chamber that looks towards the eastern sky. Morning by morning comes the sunrise, with the tender glory of its rosy light and blushing heavens, and the heavy eyes are closed to it all. Here and there some lighter sleeper, with thinner eyelids or face turned to the sun, is half conscious of a vague brightness, and feels the light, though he sees not the colours of the sky nor the forms of the filmy clouds. Such souls are our saints and prophets, but most of us sleep on unconscious. To us all the moment comes when we shall wake and see for ourselves the bright and terrible world which we have so often forgotten, and so often been tempted to think was itself a dream. Brethren, see to it that that awaking be for you the beholding of what you have loved, the finding, in the sober certainty of waking bliss, of all the objects which have been your visions of delight in the sleep of earth.

This life of ours hides more than it reveals. The day shows the sky as solitary but for wandering clouds that cover its blue emptiness. But the night peoples its waste places with stars, and fills all its abysses with blazing glories. ‘If light so much conceals, wherefore not life?’ Let us hold fast by a deeper wisdom than is born of sense; and though men, nowadays, seem to be willing to go back to the ‘eternal sleep’ of the most unspiritual heathenism, and to cast away all that Christ has brought us concerning that world where He has been and whence He has returned, because positive science and the anatomist’s scalpel preach no gospel of a future, let us try to feel as well as to believe that it is life, with all its stunted capacities and idle occupation with baseless fabrics, which is the sleep, and that for us all the end of it is-to awake.

II. The second principle contained in our text is that death is to some men the awaking of God.

‘When Thou awakest, Thou shalt despise their image.’ Closely rendered, the former clause would read simply ‘in awaking,’ without any specifying of the person, which is left to be gathered from the succeeding words. But there is no doubt that the English version fills the blank correctly by referring the awaking to God.

The metaphor is not infrequent in the Old Testament, and, like many others applying to the divine nature, is saved from any possibility of misapprehension by the very boldness of its materialism. It has a well-marked and uniform meaning. God ‘awakes’ when He ends an epoch of probation and long-suffering mercy by an act or period of judgment. So far, then, as the mere expression is concerned, there may be nothing more meant here than the termination by a judicial act in this life, of the transient ‘prosperity of the wicked.’ Any divinely-sent catastrophe which casts the worldly rich man down from his slippery eminence would satisfy the words. But the emphatic context seems, as already pointed out, to require that they should be referred to that final crash which irrevocably separates him who has ‘his portion in this life,’ from all which he calls his ‘goods.’

If so, then the whole period of earthly existence is regarded as the time of God’s gracious forbearance and mercy; and the time of death is set forth as the instant when sterner elements of the divine dealings start into greater prominence. Life here is predominantly, though not exclusively, the field for the manifestation of patient love, not willing that any should perish. To the godless soul, immersed in material things, and blind to the light of God’s wooing love, the transition to that other form of existence is likewise the transition to the field for the manifestation of the retributive energy of God’s righteousness. Here and now His judgment on the whole slumbers. The consequences of our deeds are inherited, indeed, in many a merciful sorrow, in many a paternal chastisement, in many a partial exemplification of the wages of sin as death. But the harvest is not fully grown nor ripened yet; it is not reaped in all its extent; the bitter bread is not baked and eaten as it will have to be. Nor are men’s consciences so awakened that they connect the retribution, which does befall them, with its causes in their own actions, as closely as they will do when they are removed from the excitement of life and the deceit of its dreams. ‘Sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily.’ For the long years of our stay here, God’s seeking love lingers round every one of us, yearning over us, besetting us behind and before, courting us with kindnesses, lavishing on us its treasures, seeking to win our poor love. It is sometimes said that this is a state of probation. But that phrase suggests far too cold an idea. God does not set us here as on a knife edge, with abysses on either side ready to swallow us if we stumble, while He stands apart watching for our halting, and unhelpful to our tottering feebleness. He compasses us with His love and its gifts, He draws us to Himself, and desires that we should stand. He offers all the help of His angels to hold us up. ‘He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; He that keepeth thee will not slumber.’ The judgment sleeps; the loving forbearance, the gracious aid wake. Shall we not yield to His perpetual pleadings, and, moved by the mercies of God, let His conquering love thaw our cold hearts into streams of thankfulness and self-devotion?

But remember, that that predominantly merciful and long-suffering character of God’s present dealing affords no guarantee that there will not come a time when His slumbering judgment will stir to waking. The same chapter which tells us that ‘He is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,’ goes on immediately to repel the inference that therefore a period of which retribution shall be the characteristic is impossible, by the solemn declaration, ‘But the day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night.’ His character remains ever the same, the principles of His government are unalterable, but there may be variations in the prominence given in His acts, to the several principles of the one, and the various though harmonious phases of the other. The method may be changed, the purpose may remain unchanged. And the Bible, which is our only source of knowledge on the subject, tells us that the method is changed, in so far as to intensify the vigour of the operation of retributive justice after death, so that men who have been compassed with ‘the loving-kindness of the Lord,’ and who die leaving worldly things, and keeping worldly hearts, will have to confront ‘the terror of the Lord.’

The alternation of epochs of tolerance and destruction is in accordance with the workings of God’s providence here and now. For though the characteristic of that providence as we see it is merciful forbearance, yet we are not left without many a premonition of the mighty final ‘day of the Lord.’ For long years or centuries a nation or an institution goes on slowly departing from truth, forgetting the principles on which it rests, or the purposes for which it exists. Patiently God pleads with the evil-doers, lavishes gifts and warnings upon them. He holds back the inevitable avenging as long as restoration is yet possible-and His eye and heart see it to be possible long after men conclude that the corruption is hopeless. But at last comes a period when He says, ‘I have long still holden My peace, and refrained Myself, now will I destroy’; and with a crash one more hoary iniquity disappears from the earth which it has burdened so long. For sixty times sixty slow, throbbing seconds, the silent hand creeps unnoticed round the dial and then, with whirr and clang, the bell rings out, and another hour of the world’s secular day is gone. The billows of the thunder-cloud slowly gather into vague form, and slowly deepen in lurid tints, and slowly roll across the fainting blue; they touch-and then the fierce flash, like the swift hand on the palace-wall of Babylon, writes its message of destruction over all the heaven at once. We know enough from the history of men and nations since Sodom till to-day, to recognise it as God’s plan to alternate long patience and ‘sudden destruction’:-

‘The mills of God grind slowly,

But they grind exceeding small’;


and every such instance confirms the expectation of the coming of that great and terrible day of the Lord, whereof all epochs of convulsion and ruin, all falls of Jerusalem, and Roman empires, Reformations, and French Revolutions, and American wars, all private and personal calamities which come from private wrong-doing, are but feeble precursors. ‘When Thou awakest, Thou wilt despise their image.’

Brethren, do we use aright this goodness of God which is the characteristic of the present? Are we ready for that judgment which is the mark of the future?

III. Death is the annihilation of the vain show of worldly life.

The word rendered image is properly shadow, and hence copy or likeness, and hence image. Here, however, the simpler meaning is the better. ‘Thou shalt despise their shadow.’ The men are shadows, and all their goods are not what they are called, their ‘substance,’ but their shadow, a mere appearance, not a reality. That show of good which seems but is not, is withered up by the light of the awaking God. What He despises cannot live.

So there are the two old commonplaces of moralists set forth in these grand words-the unsatisfying character of all merely external delights and possessions, and also their transitory character. They are non-substantial and non-permanent.

Nothing that is without a man can make him rich or restful. The treasures which are kept in coffers are not real, but only those which are kept in the soul. Nothing which cannot enter into the substance of the life and character can satisfy us. That which we are makes us rich or poor, that which we own is a trifle.

There is no congruity between any outward thing and man’s soul, of such a kind as that satisfaction can come from its possession. ‘Cisterns that can hold no water,’ ‘that which is not bread,’ ‘husks that the swine did eat’-these are not exaggerated phrases for the good gifts which God gives for our delight, and which become profitless and delusive by our exclusive attachment to them. There is no need for exaggeration. These worldly possessions have a good in them, they contribute to ease and grace in life, they save from carking cares and mean anxieties, they add many a comfort and many a source of culture. But, after all, a true, lofty life may be lived with a very small modicum. There is no proportion between wealth and happiness, nor between wealth and nobleness. The fairest life that ever lived on earth was that of a poor Man, and with all its beauty it moved within the limits of narrow resources. The loveliest blossoms do not grow on plants that plunge their greedy roots into the fattest soil. A little light earth in the crack of a hard rock will do. We need enough for the physical being to root itself in; we need no more.

Young men! especially you who are plunged into the busy life of our great commercial centres, and are tempted by everything you see, and by most that you hear, to believe that a prosperous trade and hard cash are the realities, and all else mist and dreams, fix this in your mind to begin life with-God is the reality, all else is shadow. Do not make it your ambition to get on, but to get up. ‘Having food and raiment, let us be content.’ Seek for your life’s delight and treasure in thought, in truth, in pure affections, in moderate desires, in a spirit set on God. These are the realities of our possessions. As for all the rest, it is sham and show.

And while thus all without is unreal, it is also fleeting as the shadows of the flying clouds; and when God awakes, it disappears as they before the noonlight that clears the heavens. All things that are, are on condition of perpetual flux and change. The cloud-rack has the likeness of bastions and towers, but they are mist, not granite, and the wind is every moment sweeping away their outlines, till the phantom fortress topples into red ruin while we gaze. The tiniest stream eats out its little valley and rounds the pebble in its widening bed, rain washes down the soil, and frost cracks the cliffs above. So silently and yet mightily does the law of change work that to a meditative eye the solid earth seems almost molten and fluid, and the everlasting mountains tremble to decay.

‘Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not?’ Are we going to be such fools as to fix our hopes and efforts upon this fleeting order of things, which can give no delight more lasting than itself? Even whilst we are in it, it continueth not in one stay, and we are in it for such a little while! Then comes what our text calls God’s awaking, and where is it all then? Gone like a ghost at cockcrow. Why! a drop of blood on your brain or a crumb of bread in your windpipe, and as far as you are concerned the outward heavens and earth ‘pass away with a great’ silence, as the impalpable shadows that sweep over some lone hillside.

‘The glories of our birth and state

Are shadows, not substantial things;

There is no armour against fate,

Death lays his icy hand on kings.’

What an awaking to a worldly man that awaking of God will be! ‘As when a hungry man dreameth, and behold he eateth, but he awaketh and his soul is empty.’ He has thought he fed full, and was rich and safe, but in one moment he is dragged from it all, and finds himself a starving pauper, in an order of things for which he has made no provision. ‘When he dieth, he shall carry nothing away.’ Let us see to it that not in utter nakedness do we go hence, but clothed with that immortal robe, and rich in those possessions that cannot be taken away from us, which they have who have lived on earth as heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Let us pierce, for the foundation of our life’s house, beneath the shifting sands of time down to the Rock of Ages, and build there.

IV. Finally, death is for some men the annihilation of the vain shows in order to reveal the great reality.

‘I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.’

‘Likeness’ is properly ‘form,’ and is the same word which is employed in reference to Moses, who saw ‘the similitude of the Lord.’ If there be, as is most probable, an allusion to that ancient vision in these words, then the ‘likeness’ is not that conformity to the divine character which it is the goal of our hopes to possess, but the beholding of His self-manifestation. The parallelism of the verse also points to such an interpretation.

If so, then, we have here the blessed confidence that when all the baseless fabric of the dream of life has faded from our opening eyes, we shall see the face of our ever-loving God. Here the distracting whirl of earthly things obscures Him from even the devoutest souls, and His own mighty works which reveal do also conceal. In them is the hiding as well as the showing of His power. But there the veil which draped the perfect likeness, and gave but dim hints through its heavy swathings of the outline of immortal beauty that lay beneath, shall fall away. No longer befooled by shadows, we shall possess the true substance; no longer bedazzled by shows, we shall behold the reality.

And seeing God we shall be satisfied. With all lesser joys the eye is not satisfied with seeing, but to look on Him will be enough. Enough for mind and heart, wearied and perplexed with partial knowledge and imperfect love; enough for eager desires, which thirst, after all draughts from other streams; enough for will, chafing against lower lords and yet longing for authoritative control; enough for all my being-to see God. Here we can rest after all wanderings, and say, ‘I travel no further; here will I dwell for ever-I shall be satisfied.’

And may these dim hopes not suggest to us too some presentiment of the full Christian truth of assimilation dependent on vision, and of vision reciprocally dependent on likeness? ‘We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is,’-words which reach a height that David but partially discerned through the mist. This much he knew, that he should in some transcendent sense behold the manifested God; and this much more, that it must be ‘in righteousness’ that he should gaze upon that face. The condition of beholding the Holy One was holiness. We know that the condition of holiness is trust in Christ. And as we reckon up the rich treasure of our immortal hopes, our faith grows bold, and pauses not even at the lofty certainty of God without us, known directly and adequately, but climbs to the higher assurance of God within us, flooding our darkness with His great light, and changing us into the perfect copies of His express Image, His only-begotten Son. ‘I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness,’ cries the prophet Psalmist. ‘It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master,’ responds the Christian hope.

Brethren! take heed that the process of dissipating the vain shows of earth be begun betimes in your souls. It must either be done by Faith, whose rod disenchants them into their native nothingness, and then it is blessed; or it must be done by death, whose mace smites them to dust, and then it is pure, irrevocable loss and woe. Look away from, or rather look through, things that are seen to the King eternal, invisible. Let your hearts seek Christ, and your souls cleave to Him. Then death will take away nothing from you that you would care to keep, but will bring you your true joy. It will but trample to fragments the ‘dome of many-coloured glass’ that ‘stains the white radiance of eternity.’ Looking forward calmly to that supreme hour, you will be able to say, ‘I will both lay me down in peace and sleep, for Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.’ Looking back upon it from beyond, and wondering to find how brief it was, and how close to Him whom you love it has brought you, your now immortal lips touched by the rising Sun of the heavenly morning will thankfully exclaim, ‘When I awake, I am still with Thee.’

Psalm 17:15. As for me — I do not envy their felicity, but my hopes and happiness are of another nature. I will (or, shall) behold thy face — I do not place my portion in earthly and temporal pleasures, as they do, but in beholding God’s face: that is, in the enjoyment of God’s presence and favour; which is, indeed, enjoyed in part in this life, but not fully, and to entire satisfaction, of which David here speaks, as appears from the last clause of this verse; the sight of God, and of his face, being frequently spoken of, both in the Old and the New Testament, as a privilege denied even to the saints in this life, and peculiar to the next life: in righteousness — In holiness, internal as well as external, without which no man shall see the Lord, Hebrews 12.; only the pure in heart being admitted to this high honour and unspeakable happiness, Matthew 5:8. He therefore that has this hope in him, must purify himself as he is pure, 1 John 3:3. But the meaning probably is rather, through righteousness, for, grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life. That Isaiah , 1 st, Through righteousness imputed, or justification, Romans 4:2-8. This was experienced by David, as he testifies, Psalm 32:5; Psalm 103:3; and he sets forth the blessedness of it in the beginning of the former of these Psalms, as well as in many other places. Hereby he was entitled to this happiness, for, being justified by grace, and acquitted from condemnation, he was made an heir of it, Titus 3:7. 2d, Through righteousness implanted in him, or through the regeneration and sanctification of his nature, or the Spirit of God, and his various graces dwelling in his soul, and especially shedding abroad in his heart the love of God and all mankind. Hereby he had a meetness for the enjoyment of this felicity, Colossians 1:12. And 3d, Through practical righteousness, flowing from both the former, Titus 3:8; Ephesians 2:10; Luke 1:6. To the absolute necessity of which, our Lord, St. John, and all the apostles bear continual testimony. See Matthew 7:21; 1 John 3:4-8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. In this way he was led to that vision of God to which he had a title, through his justification, and for which he was prepared by his sanctification. Remember, reader, it is only by faith in him who is the Lord our righteousness that thou canst be made a partaker of righteousness in these three absolutely necessary and closely connected branches of it. O seek this without delay, and with thy whole heart! I shall be satisfied — However distressed and exercised with trials and troubles I may be now, the time is coming when I shall be abundantly satisfied, namely, with beholding God’s face and enjoying his glorious presence, which to me is more desirable, and will be infinitely more satisfactory, and full of consolation, than all the possessions of this world. When I awake with thy likeness — When I arise from the dead, receive a body conformed to Christ’s glorious body; and as I have borne the image of the earthly Adam, shall also bear that of the heavenly; when the image of God shall be completely and indelibly stamped on my glorified soul; and I shall be made fully like him, and therefore shall see him as he is, Php 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:49; Revelation 22:4; 1 John 3:2.

17:8-15 Being compassed with enemies, David prays to God to keep him in safety. This prayer is a prediction that Christ would be preserved, through all the hardships and difficulties of his humiliation, to the glories and joys of his exalted state, and is a pattern to Christians to commit the keeping of their souls to God, trusting him to preserve them to his heavenly kingdom. Those are our worst enemies, that are enemies to our souls. They are God's sword, which cannot move without him, and which he will sheathe when he has done his work with it. They are his hand, by which he chastises his people. There is no fleeing from God's hand, but by fleeing to it. It is very comfortable, when we are in fear of the power of man, to see it dependent upon, and in subjection to the power of God. Most men look on the things of this world as the best things; and they look no further, nor show any care to provide for another life. The things of this world are called treasures, they are so accounted; but to the soul, and when compared with eternal blessings, they are trash. The most afflicted Christian need not envy the most prosperous men of the world, who have their portion in this life. Clothed with Christ's righteousness, having through his grace a good heart and a good life, may we by faith behold God's face, and set him always before us. When we awake every morning, may we be satisfied with his likeness set before us in his word, and with his likeness stamped upon us by his renewing grace. Happiness in the other world is prepared only for those that are justified and sanctified: they shall be put in possession of it when the soul awakes, at death, out of its slumber in the body, and when the body awakes, at the resurrection, out of its slumber in the grave. There is no satisfaction for a soul but in God, and in his good will towards us, and his good work in us; yet that satisfaction will not be perfect till we come to heaven.As for me - In strong contrast with the aims, the desires, and the condition of worldly individuals. "They" seek their portion in this life, and are satisfied; "I" cherish no such desires, and have no such prosperity. I look to another world as my home, and shall be satisfied only in the everlasting favor and friendship of God.

I will behold thy face - I shall see thee. Compare Matthew 5:8; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2. This refers naturally, as the closing part of the verse more fully shows, to the future world, and is such language as would be employed by those who believe in a future state, and by no others. This is the highest object before the mind of a truly religious man. The bliss of heaven consists mainly, in his apprehension, in the privilege of seeing God his Saviour; and the hope of being permitted to do this is of infinitely more value to him than would be all the wealth of this world.

In righteousness - Being myself righteous; being delivered from the power, the pollution, the dominion of sin. It is this which makes heavyen so desirable; without this, in the apprehension of a truly good man, no place would be heaven.

I shall be satisfied - While they are satisfied with this world, I shall be satisfied only when I awake in the likeness of my God. Nothing can meet the wants of my nature; nothing can satisfy the aspirings of my soul, until that occurs.

When I awake - This is language which would be employed only by one who believed in the resurrection of the dead, and who was accustomed to speak of death as a "sleep" - a calm repose in the hope of awaking to a new life. Compare the notes at Psalm 16:9-11. Some have understood this as meaning "when I awake tomorrow;" and they thence infer that this was an evening song (compare Psalm 4:8); others have supposed that it had a more general sense - meaning "whenever I awake;" that is, while men of the world rejoice in their worldly possessions, and while this is the first thought which they have on awaking in the morning, my joy when I awake is in God; in the evidence of his favor and friendship; in the consciousness that I resemble him. I am surprised to find that Prof. Alexander favors this view. Even DeWette admits that it refers to the resurrection of the dead, and that the psalm can be interpreted only on the supposition that it has this reference, and hence, he argues that it could not have been composed by David, but that it must have been written in the time of the exile, when that doctrine had obtained currency among the Hebrews. The interpretation above suggested seems to me to be altogether too low a view to be taken of the sense of the passage.

It does not meet the state of mind described in the psalm. It does not correspond with the deep anxieties which the psalmist expressed as springing from the troubles which surrounded him. He sought repose from those troubles; he looked for consolation when surrounded by bitter and unrelenting enemies. He was oppressed and crushed with these many sorrows. Now it would do little to meet that state of mind, and to impart to him the consolation which he needed, to reflect that he could lie down in the night and awake in the morning with the consciousness that he enjoyed the friendship of God, for he had that already; and besides this, so far as this source of consolation was concerned, he would awake to a renewal of the same troubles tomorrow which he had met on the previous day. He needed some higher, some more enduring and efficient consolation; something which would meet "all" the circumstances of the case; some source of peace, composure, and rest, which was beyond all this; something which would have an existence where there was no trouble or anxiety; and this could be found only in a future world. The obvious interpretation of the passage, therefore, so far as its sense can be determined from the connection, is to refer it to the awaking in the morning of the resurrection; and there is nothing in the language itself, or in the known sentiments of the psalmist, to forbid this interpretation. The word rendered "awake" - קוץ qûts - used only in Hiphil, "means to awake;" to awake from sleep, Psalm 3:5; Psalm 139:18; or from death, 2 Kings 4:31; Jeremiah 51:39; Isaiah 26:19; Job 14:12; Daniel 12:2.

With thy likeness - Or, in thy likeness; that is, resembling thee. The resemblance doubtless is in the moral character, for the highest hope of a good man is that he may be, and will be, like God. Compare the notes at 1 John 3:2. I regard this passage, therefore, as one of the incidental proofs scattered through the Old Testament which show that the sacred writers under that dispensation believed in the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead; that their language was often based on the knowledge and the belief of that doctrine, even when they did not expressly affirm it; and that in times of trouble, and under the consciousness of sin, they sought their highest consolation, as the people of God do now, from the hope and the expectation that the righteous dead will rise again, and that in a world free from trouble, from sin, and from death, they would live forever in the presence of God, and find their supreme happiness in being made wholly like him.

14. men … world—all men of this present time. They appear, by fulness of bread and large families, to be prosperous; but (Ps 17:15) he implies this will be transient, contrasting his better portion in a joyful union with God hereafter. 15 As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness. I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.

"As for me." "I neither envy nor covet these men's happiness, but partly have and partly hope for a far better." To behold God's face and to be changed by that vision into his image, so as to partake in his righteousness, this is my noble ambition; and in the prospect of this I cheerfully waive all my present enjoyments. My satisfaction is to come; I do not look for it as yet. I shall sleep awhile, but I shall wake at the sound of the trumpet; wake to everlasting joy, because I arise in thy likeness, O my God and King! Glimpses of glory good men have here below to stay their sacred hunger, but the full feast awaits them in the upper skies. Compared with this deep, ineffable, eternal fulness of delight, the joys of the worldling are as a glowworm to the sun, or the drop of a bucket to the ocean.

I do not envy this their felicity, but my hopes and happiness are of another nature. I do not place my portion in earthly and temporal treasures, as they do, but in beholding God’s face, i.e. in the enjoyment of God’s presence and favour; which is indeed enjoyed in part in this life, but not fully and to satisfaction, or which David here speaks, as appears from the last clause of this verse; the sight of God and of his face being frequently spoken of, both the Old and New Testament, as a privilege denied even to the saints in this life, and peculiar to the next life, as is manifest from Exodus 33:20 Judges 13:22 Matthew 5:8 1 Corinthians 13:12 2 Corinthians 3:18 1Jo 3:2.

In righteousness; with the comfort of a good conscience, bearing me witness that, notwithstanding all the calumnies and censures of mine enemies, I have been and am upright and righteous in the course of my life, both towards thee and towards all men; which testimony will enable me to look God in the face with boldness, when mine enemies, being conscious to themselves of gross and manifold unrighteousness towards thee, and me, and others, will be afraid to appear in thy presence.

I shall be satisfied: I am now greatly distressed and dissatisfied, and mine enemies are filled and satisfied with good things; but my turn will come, the time is coming wherein I shall be abundantly satisfied, to wit, with beholding thy face, which is to me more comfortable and satisfactory than all the possessions of this world.

When I awake; either,

1. When I shall be delivered from my present distresses and calamities. But these never are in Scripture, nor indeed can fitly be, called by the name of sleep, which is every where spoken of as a state of rest and quietness; as Psalm 127:2 John 11:12,13; and consequently deliverance from them cannot be compared to awaking. Or rather,

2. When I shall arise from the dead; for death is very frequently called sleep, both in Scripture, as 1 Kings 1:21 Isaiah 26:19 Jeremiah 51:39,57 Da 12:2 John 11:11,13, and in other authors; and consequently resurrection from the dead is justly and fitly called an awaking, as it is Job 14:12 Daniel 12:2 John 11:11. And since the doctrine of the resurrection of the just to a blessed and endless life was not unknown to the holy men of God in the Old Testament, as it were very easy to prove, nor to David in particular, as appears from Psalm 16:10,11, and from divers other passages, it cannot be imagined but David would support and comfort himself in his greatest agonies with the consideration thereof, this being incomparably the most weighty and effectual argument and ground of comfort which he could possibly use. And this also bests suits with the context; for David is here opposing his hopes and portion to that of his enemies; and having noted, not without a secret reflection and reproach upon them for it, that their portion was in this life, Psalm 17:14, it was most consonant to the place and to the thing itself, that he should seek and have his happiness in the future life.

With thy likeness, or image; by which may be understood either,

1. Christ, the Son of God, who was known to David and other prophets, as is evident, and that under the name of the Son of God, Psalm 2:7,12 Pr 30:4 Hosea 11:1, compared with Matthew 2:15, who being exactly like to his Father, might most fitly be called his likeness or image, as he is, Hebrews 1:3. Or,

2. The image of God stamped upon his glorified soul; which must needs afford him infinite delight and satisfaction. Or,

3. God himself, or the face of God mentioned in the former clause, and explained, here by another phrase, as is very usual in these writings. And this interpretation may receive strength from Numbers 12:8, where beholding the similitude of the Lord is evidently the same thing which is elsewhere called seeing his face; and from Hebrews 10:1, where the image doth not note the likeness or representation, but the truth and existence of the thing.

As for me,.... I do not desire to be in their place and stead, with all their plenty and prosperity; I am content with my present condition and situation: for

I will, or "shall"

behold thy face in righteousness; that is, appear before God in public worship, where was the ark, the symbol of the face of God; enjoy his gracious presence, have the discoveries of his love, and see his face and favour; than which nothing was more desirable by him and delightful to him. Or God himself may be meant by "his face"; and especially God as he is to be beheld in the face of Christ, the Angel of his presence; and who is to be beheld by faith in the present state of things, though as through a glass, darkly; and in the future state perfectly, and as he is, both with the eyes of the understanding, and, after the resurrection, with the eyes of the body; see Job 19:26; and to this state the psalmist seems more especially to have respect, as Jarchi interprets it: and the beatific vision of God in Christ will be very glorious and exceeding delightful; it will be assimilating and appropriating; it will be free from all darkness and interruption, and will continue for ever. And this shall be seen "in righteousness"; the psalmist believing that he should then appear as an innocent person clear of all the false charges brought against him; and so this may be understood of the righteousness of his cause, in which he should stand before God, and enjoy communion with him:, or this may design that perfect holiness and purity of heart, without which no man shall see the Lord; and which, though now imperfect, shall in the other state be without spot or blemish: or rather, the righteousness of Christ, which fits believers for, and in which they are brought into and stand in, the King's presence;

I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness; which will be in the resurrection morn: or, as Jarchi expresses it, when the dead shall awake from their sleep; for this is not to be understood of awaking from natural sleep in the morning; when it is a satisfaction to a believer to be with God, and to have God with him, Psalm 139:18; nor of awaking from a sleepy drowsy frame of spirit, which sometimes attends the saints; but of rising from the dead: for as death is oftentimes expressed by sleep in Scripture, so the resurrection by an awaking out of it, Isaiah 26:19; at which time the saints will arise with the image of the heavenly One upon them: they will be like to Christ both in soul and body; in soul, in perfect knowledge and complete holiness: in body, in incorruption and immortality, in power, glory, and spirituality; in this will lie their happiness and satisfaction. Or the meaning is, that he should be satisfied with the likeness of God, with Christ the image of God, when he should arise from the dead; seeing he should then appear with him in glory, see him as he is, and be like him, and be for ever in his presence; which will yield endless pleasure and unspeakable satisfaction. For the words may be interpreted, not of David's awaking, but of the glory of God awaking or appearing; which would afford an infinitely greater satisfaction than worldly men have in worldly things (p), to which this is opposed, Psalm 17:10; so the Septuagint and Vulgate Latin versions read, I shall be satisfied when thy glory appears, or is seen; and so the Ethiopic and Arabic versions.

(p) Vid. Castel. Lexic. Heptaglott. col. 2014.

As for me, I will behold thy face {n} in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I {o} awake, with thy likeness.

(n) This is the full happiness, comforting against all assaults to have the face of God and favourable countenance opened to us.

(o) And am delivered out of my great troubles.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
15. As for me, in righteousness let me behold thy face:

Let me be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.

With the low desires of worldly men the Psalmist contrasts his own spiritual aspirations. He does not complain of their prosperity; it does not present itself to him as a trial of patience and a moral enigma, as it does to the authors of Psalms 37, 73. Their blessings are not for an instant to be compared with his. ‘To behold Jehovah’s face’ is to enjoy communion with Him and all the blessings that flow from it; it is the inward reality which corresponds to ‘appearing before Him’ in the sanctuary. Cp. Psalm 16:11. ‘Righteousness’ is the condition of that ‘beholding’; for it is sin that separates from God. Cp. Psalm 11:7 note; Psalm 15:1 ff.; Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14.

He concludes with a yet bolder prayer, that he may be admitted to that highest degree of privilege which Moses enjoyed, and be satisfied with the likeness or form of Jehovah. See Numbers 12:6-8. Worldly men are satisfied if they see themselves reflected in their sons: nothing less than the sight of the form of God will satisfy the Psalmist. Cp. Psalm 16:11. See Driver on Deuteronomy 4:12.

But what is meant by when I awake? Not ‘when the night of calamity is at an end’; a sense which the word will not bear. What he desires is (1) the daily renewal of this communion (cp. Psalm 139:18; Proverbs 6:22); and (2) as the passage in Numbers suggests, a waking sight of God, as distinguished from a dream or vision.

The words are commonly explained of awaking from the sleep of death to behold the face of God in the world beyond, and to be transfigured into His likeness. Death is no doubt spoken of as sleep (Psalm 13:3), and resurrection as awakening (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2). But elsewhere the context makes the meaning unambiguous. Here, however, this reference is excluded by the context. The Psalmist does not anticipate death, but prays to be delivered from it (Psalm 17:8 ff.). The contrast present to his mind is not between ‘this world’ and ‘another world,’ the ‘present life’ and the ‘future life,’ but between the false life and the true life in this present world, between ‘the flesh’ and ‘the spirit,’ between the ‘natural man’ with his sensuous desires, and the ‘spiritual man’ with his God ward desires. Here, as in Psalm 16:9-11, death fades from the Psalmist’s view. He is absorbed with the thought of the blessedness of fellowship with God[9].

[9] Comp. Delitzsch: “The contrast is not so much here and hereafter, as world (life) and God. We see here into the inmost nature of the O.T. belief. All the blessedness and glory of the future life which the N.T. unfolds is for the O.T. faith contained in Jehovah. Jehovah is its highest good; in the possession of Him it is raised above heaven and earth, life and death; to surrender itself blindly to Him, without any explicit knowledge of a future life of blessedness, to be satisfied with Him, to rest in Him, to take refuge in Him in view of death, is characteristic of the O.T. faith.” The Psalms, p. 181.

But the doctrine of life eternal is implicitly contained in the words. For it is inconceivable that communion with God thus begun and daily renewed should be abruptly terminated by death. It is possible that the Psalmist and those for whom he sung may have had some glimmering of this larger hope, though how or when it was to be realised was not yet revealed. But whether they drew the inference must remain doubtful. In the economy of revelation “heaven is first a temper and then a place.”

It is indeed impossible for us to read the words now without thinking of their ‘fulfilment’ in the light of the Gospel: of the more profound revelation of righteousness (Romans 1:17); of the sight of the Father in the Incarnate Son (John 14:9); of the hope of transfiguration into His likeness here and hereafter, and of the Beatific Vision (2 Corinthians 3:18; Php 3:21; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:4).

It may be remarked that none of the ancient versions render as though they definitely referred the passage to the Resurrection. Targ., Aq., Symm., Jer., all give a literal version. The LXX, I shall be satisfied when Thy glory appears: Syr., when Thy faithfulness appears: Theod., when Thy right hand appears: seem to have had a different text. Thy glory is substituted for thy form in LXX as in Num. 12:18.

Verse 15. - As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; i.e. "As for me, I do not envy the wicked man's prosperity. I set against it the blessedness of which I am quite sure. I in my righteousness shall behold the face of God, have the light of his countenance shine upon me, and thus be raised to a condition of perfect happiness." Moreover, I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness. David had already spoken of death as a "sleep" (Psalm 13:3). Now he speaks of "awaking." What awaking can this be but an awaking from the sleep of death? When he so awakes, he says, he will he "satisfied with God's likeness." The word used is the same as that employed in Numbers 12:8, of the manifestation of the Divine glory to Moses - viz. temunah. David therefore expects to see, on awaking, a similar manifestation, he will have the enjoyment of the "beatific vision," if not in the Christian sense, at any rate in a true and real sense, and one that will wholly "satisfy" him.



Psalm 17:15With אני he contrasts his incomparably greater prosperity with that of his enemies. He, the despised and persecuted of men, will behold God's face בּצדק, in righteousness, which will then find its reward (Matthew 5:8, Hebrews 12:14), and will, when this hope is realised by him, thoroughly refresh himself with the form of God. It is not sufficient to explain the vision of the divine countenance here as meaning the experience of the gracious influences which proceed from the divine countenance again unveiled and turned towards him. The parallel of the next clause requires an actual vision, as in Numbers 12:8, according to which Jahve appeared to Moses in the true form of His being, without the intervention of any self-manifestation of an accommodative and visionary kind; but at the same time, as in Exodus 33:20, where the vision of the divine countenance is denied to Moses, according to which, consequently, the self-manifestation of Jahve in His intercourse with Moses is not to be thought of without some veiling of Himself which might render the vision tolerable to him. Here, however, where David gives expression to a hope which is the final goal and the very climax of all his hopes, one has no right in any way to limit the vision of God, who in love permits him to behold Him (vid., on Psalm 11:7), and to limit the being satisfied with His תּמוּנה (lxx τὴν δόξαν σου, vid., Psychol. S. 49; transl. p. 61). If this is correct, then בּהקיץ cannot mean "when I wake up from this night's sleep" as Ewald, Hupfeld and others explain it; for supposing the Psalm were composed just before falling asleep what would be the meaning of the postponement of so transcendent a hope to the end of his natural sleep? Nor can the meaning be to "awake to a new life of blessedness and peace through the sunlight of divine favour which again arises after the night of darkness and distress in which the poet is now to be found" (Kurtz); for to awake from a night of affliction is an unsuitable idea and for this very reason cannot be supported. The only remaining explanation, therefore, is the waking up from the sleep of death (cf. Bttcher, De inferis 365-367). The fact that all who are now in their graves shall one day hear the voice of Him that wakes the dead, as it is taught in the age after the Exile (Daniel 12:2), was surely not known to David, for it was not yet revealed to him. But why may not this truth of revelation, towards which prophecy advances with such giant strides (Isaiah 26:19. Ezekiel 37:1-14), be already heard even in the Psalms of David as a bold demand of faith and as a hope that has struggled forth to freedom out of the comfortless conception of Shel possessed in that age, just as it is heard a few decades later in the master-work of a contemporary of Solomon, the Book of Job? The morning in Psalm 49:15 is also not any morning whatever following upon the night, but that final morning which brings deliverance to the upright and inaugurates their dominion. A sure knowledge of the fact of the resurrection such as, according to Hofmann (Schriftbeweis ii. 2, 490), has existed in the Old Testament from the beginning, is not expressed in such passages. For laments like Psalm 6:6; Psalm 30:10; Psalm 88:11-13, show that no such certain knowledge as then in existence; and when the Old Testament literature which we now possess allows us elsewhere an insight into the history of the perception of redemption, it does not warrant us in concluding anything more than that the perception of the future resurrection of the dead did not pass from the prophetic word into the believing mind of Israel until about the time of the Exile, and that up to that period faith made bold to hope for a redemption from death, but only by means of an inference drawn from that which was conceived and existed within itself, without having an express word of promise in its favour.

(Note: To this Hofmann, loc. cit. S. 496, replies as follows: "We do not find that faith indulges in such boldness elsewhere, or that the believing ones cherish hopes which are based on such insecure grounds." But the word of God is surely no insecure ground, and to draw bold conclusions from that which is intimated only from afar, was indeed, even in many other respects (for instance, respecting the incarnation, and respecting the abrogation of the ceremonial law), the province of the Old Testament faith.)

Thus it is here also. David certainly gives full expression to the hope of a vision of God, which, as righteous before God, will be vouchsafed to him; and vouchsafed to him, even though he should fall asleep in death in the present extremity (Psalm 13:4), as one again awakened from the sleep of death, and, therefore (although this idea does not directly coincide with the former), as one raised from the dead. But this hope is not a believing appropriation of a "certain knowledge," but a view that, by reason of the already existing revelation of God, lights up out of his consciousness of fellowship with Him.

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