I said, "I will watch my ways so that I will not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle as long as the wicked are present."
Psalm 39, 62, and 77, was one of a musical family entrusted with the conduct of the musical service in the time of David. The psalms having his name at the head were probably intended to be sung by his choir. It would thus seem that in the Hebrew service of sacred song the prayers and plaints of the individual believer were included, when set to music. If so, the "service of song in the house of the Lord" covered a much wider ground than is usually supposed, and was made to include not only direct address to God, whether of prayer or praise, but also the rehearsal of personal experience; and thus a holy fellowship of song would arise, anticipating long ages before, the expression of the apostle, "Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs;" only it should be noted that these would be musical utterances of an actual experience going on then and there. It does not follow that the like utterances would be suitable for the service of song now. Discretion and discrimination are needed in the use thereof. This is evidently an individual psalm; it is neither national, prophetic, nor Messianic; it is one of those which reflect the care and anxiety with which David was bowed down at one crisis of his life, though to which of his numerous crises it refers it is not easy to decide, Nor, indeed, is that of moment. It will profit us more to note the course taken by the psalmist at a time of crushing sorrow, and then to see how far the course which he took may be a guide for us under like circumstances.
I. LET US NOTE THE COURSE ADOPTED BY THE PSALMIST AT A TIME OF CRUSHING SORROW. There is a somewhat wide divergence among expositors in their estimate of this psalm, and of the mental revelations therein contained. But we feel bound to look at the psalmist's words tenderly rather than harshly, knowing as we do, how often, in agonies of soul, the best men may utter words which would not escape them in their calmer hours (cf. Psalm 116:11).
1. Here is a case of sore affliction. "Thy stroke" (ver. 10); "the blow of thine hand" (ver. 10). Whatever the sorrow may have been to which reference is made, it is regarded as coming directly from God. "Thou didst it" (ver. 9). It was so heavy that David was "consumed" thereby (ver. 10). And it was looked on by him as a chastisement for his transgressions (cf. vers. 8, 11).
2. It is, under such circumstances, very hard to be absolutely still. So the first verse implies. There is little indication that the disturbing trouble arose (as some suggest) from seeing the prosperity of the wicked; but evidently there is some distinctively personal trouble, probably sickness and weakness, which, with all the public demands made upon him, weighs heavily upon his soul, and he is tempted to complain and to seek sympathy from without. But:
3. He is in the midst of uncongenial souls. (Ver. 1.) "The wicked is before me." Note: Earthly men are poor companions in the distresses of spiritual men. To the natural man the sorrows of a spiritual man would be altogether unintelligible. And supposing that the troubles here referred to arose about the time of and in connection with Absalom's rebellion, the majority of those round about David would be men whose thoughts and aims moved entirely in the military or political sphere. Hence:
4. Here is a wise resolve. (Vers. 1, 2.) He will say nothing. There would be many reasons for this.
(1) No one would enter into his feelings.
(2) What he said would be misunderstood.
(3) He would consequently be misrepresented.
(4) The more he said, the worse matters would be. And
(5) if he told men what he thought and felt, he would be very likely to say something which he would afterwards regret. That I sin not with my tongue. Hence silence is his wisest course.
5. But suppressed grief consumes like a fire. (Ver. 3.) There is nothing which so wears out the soul, nor which so burns within, as woe to which no vent can be given; so David found it, and consequently:
6. The silence is broken. "Then spake I with my tongue." But, in breaking the silence, he speaks not to man, but to God. After the word "tongue," the Authorized Version has a comma, but the Revised Version a colon, indicating that what he said is about to follow. What an infinite mercy that when we cannot say a word to man, through fear of being misunderstood, we can speak to God, and tell him exactly what we feel, as we feel it, knowing that then we touch a heart infinitely tender, and address an intelligence infinitely wise!
7. In speaking to God he moans and groans. (Vers. 4-6.) Does David speak petulantly? Is he asking God to let him know how long he has to endure all this? Is he adducing the frailty and nothingness of man as an argument against his being allowed to suffer thus? So many think, and some, as Calvin, are very hard on David - very. But why? There is a vast difference between the fretfulness of an overburdened man and the waywardness of a rebellious man. And he who knows our frame, takes the difference into account. When Elijah pettishly said, "Now, O Lord, take away my life I" God did not rebuke him; he sent an angel to him, and said, "Arise and eat; the journey is too great for thee."
8. He declares that his expectation of relief is in God alone. (Ver. 7.) Just so. These are not the words of a rebellious, but of a trusting one. And from that point of view the whole psalm must be regarded (cf. Psalm 62.).
9. He will not utter a word of complaint. (Ver. 9.) Render, "I am dumb; I open not my mouth, because thou hast done it" ('Variorum Bible'). "Thyself hast done it." On this fact faith fastens; and when this is the case, not a word of murmuring will escape the lips. The cry of a trusting soul is, "Here am I; let him do with me as seemeth him good" (2 Samuel 15:26).
10. Yet he supplicates. (Vers. 8, 10, 13.) First, he desires deliverance from sin, then a mitigation of the suffering; such is the order, and the order which only a saint would name. The last verse is, in our versions, obscure. The word "spare ' should not be read in the sense intended when we say, "If I am spared," etc., but in the sense of "O spare me this sorrow!" It is a repetition of ver. 10, "Remove this stroke away from me." It asks not for prolongation of life, but for mitigation of pain. The Revised Version margin gives a more correct translation of the phrase, "that I may recover strength;" rather, "that I may brighten up." No conclusion can be drawn from the end of the thirteenth verse, as to the psalmist's view of another life. The Prayer-book Version, "and be no more seen," gives the sense.
11. The supplication is accompanied by a tender plea. (Ver. 12.) "I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were." Archbishop Leighton beautifully expresses the force of this plea, "In this world, wherein thou hast appointed me to sojourn a few days, and I betake myself to thy protection in this strange country. I seek shelter under the shadow of thy wings, therefore have compassion upon me."
II. HOW FAR IS THE COURSE TAKEN BY DAVID, IN HIS AFFLICTION, A GUIDE FOR US?
1. In some respects we may well imitate him. In restraining our words before man, and in telling all our cares and woes to God exactly as we feel them, and in such a way as will best relieve an overburdened heart.
2. In other respects we should go far beyond him. Believers ought not to confine themselves now within the limits of such a prayer as this; they should always transcend it. We know more of God's Fatherly love; we know of our great High Priest; we know the fellowship of the Spirit; we know of "the unsearchable riches of Christ;" and hence our prayers should rise above those of David as much as the prayer of Ephesians 3:14-21 is above the level of this psalm. Note: The best preventive of sins of the tongue is the fuller and more frequent outpouring of the heart to God. - C.
Lord, all my desire is before Thee; and my groaning is not hid from Thee.I. We have here A FACT THAT IS WITHOUT EXCEPTION. The Lord knows all our desires. How great, then, must God be, and how near such knowledge brings us to God.
II. THE PERFORMANCE OF AS IMPORTANT DUTY. David was in the habit of prayer. He does not speak of his prayer as an unusual thing, or that should make men talk of him as eminently religious. Now, such habitual prayer is our duty. Do not restrain prayer, and remember, the groaning that is directed to God is very often effectual fervent prayer.
III. A STATE OF HALLOWED PRIVILEGE. If the text be true of us, then there is no need for anxiety. God will surely do what is best for me.
IV. A LARGE PROVISION OF REST FOR THE SOUL. How quiet a man may be, and ought to be, who can speak thus to God. It is the childlike converse of a man with his God.
V. A COMFORTABLE THOUGHT FOR SEASONS OF WEAKNESS and discouragement. What a comfort it is to feel that God knows all, that He will accept as real prayer the utterance of a mere groan.
VI. It is also A PLEA IS PRAYER. "I have told Thee all, now do as Thou hast said."
I. DESIRES TOWARDS GOD SHOULD BE MADE KNOWN TO HIM.
1. Because our whole life ought to be transparent before God. What secrets can there be between a soul convinced of sin and a pardoning God.? Tell Him your fears for the past, your anxieties for the present, and your dreads for the future; tell Him your suspicions of yourself, and your trembling lest you should be deceived. Make all your heart known unto God, and keep back nothing, for much benefit will come to you from being honest with your best Friend.
2. Because it is commanded of God that, we should make our desires known to him. He says that "men ought always to pray and not to faint"; and again, "in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God." Jesus said, "Watch and pray," and His apostle said, "I will that men pray everywhere." And what is this but to make your desires known to God?
3. It is a great benefit to a man to be able to express his desires, and this is an argument for making them known to God. A glance at some desires would seal their doom, for we should feel them to be unworthy to be presented before the Lord. ]Jut when it is a holy and pure desire, tell it, for it will relieve your heart, it will heighten your estimate of the blessing sought, it will bring you to think over the promises made to such desires, it will thereby strengthen your hope that your desire will be fulfilled, and enable you by faith to obtain it. The prayerful expression of one desire will often quicken further desires, and make a thousand of them where there was but one.
4. A gracious expression of desire before God will often be to you a proof that those desires are right. Thy desire must be a good thing, or thou wouldst not dare to make it known to God; and seeing that it is a good thing, take care thou nurture it well, and cause it to grow by expressing it with thy whole heart before God.
II. DESIRES TOWARDS GOD ARE GRACIOUS THINGS. Intense groaning desires towards God are in themselves works of grace.
1. For certainly they are associated with other graces. When a man can say, "All my desire is towards God, and my heart groans after Him, and yet I find little in myself but these desires," I think we can point to some other good things which are in his heart. Surely humility is apparent enough. Thou takes, a right view of thyself, O man of desires! A lowly esteem hast thou of thyself, and this is well. Aye, and there is faith in thee, for no man heartily desires to believe unless he doth in some measure already believe. There is a measure of believing in every true desire after believing. And thou hast love, too; I am sure of it. Did ever a man desire to love that which he did not love already? Thou hast already some drawings of thy heart Christwards, or else thou wouldst not cry to be more filled with it. He who loves most is the very man who most passionately desires to love more. I am sure, also, that thou hast some hope; for a man does not continue to groan out before his God, and to make his desire known, unless he has some hope that his desire will be satisfied, and that his grief will be assuaged. David lets out the secret of his own hope, for he says in the fifteenth verse, "In Thee, O Lord, do I hope." You do not hope anywhere else, do you?
2. Another proof that they are gracious is that they come from God. Now, as God can say of all that He creates, "It is very good," I come to the conclusion that these groaning desires after God are very good. They are not great, nor strong, but they are gracious. There is water in a drop as well as in the sea, there is life in a gnat as well as in an elephant, there is light in a beam as well as in the sun, and so is there grace in a desire as truly as in complete sanctification.
3. Holy desires are a great test of character: a test of eminent value. You inquire, "Can you judge a man's character by his desires?" 1 answer, yes. I will give you the other side of the question that you may see our own side all the more clearly. You may certainly judge a bad man by his desires. Here is a man who desires to be a thief. Well, he is a thief in heart and spirit. Who would trust him in his house now that he knows that he groans to rob and steal? Let us, then, measure out justice in our own case by the rule which we allow towards others. If you have an earnest, agonizing desire towards that which is right, even though through the infirmity of the flesh and the corruption of your nature you do not reach to the height of your desire, yet that desire is a test of your character. The main set of the current determines its direction: the main bent of the desire is the test of the life.
III. DESIRES TOWARDS GOD ARE CAREFULLY OBSERVED BY HIM. God has a quick eye to spy out anything that is good in His people; if there is but one speck of soundness, if there is a single mark of grace, if there is any remaining token of spiritual life, though it be only a faint desire, though it be only a dolorous groan, the Father sees it, and records it, casting the evil behind His back, and refusing to behold it.
IV. EARNEST DESIRES TOWARDS, GOD WILL BE FULFILLED.
1. These desires are of God's creation, and you cannot imagine that God would create desires in us which He will not satisfy. Why, look even in nature, if He gives the beast hunger and thirst He provides for it the grass upon the mountains and the streams that flow among the valleys. If, then, He Himself has put in you a desire after Himself, He will give you Himself. If He has made you long after pardon, purity, eternal salvation, He means to give you these.
2. Remember, O desiring man, that already you have a blessing. When our Divine Master was on the mountain-side the benedictions which He pronounced were no word blessings, but they were full of weight and meaning, and among the rest of them is this — "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness." Blessed while they hunger, blessed while they thirst. Yes, they are already blessed, and there is this at the back of it, "for they shall be filled."
3. And we may be sure that God will hear the desires which He has Himself created, because He loves to gratify right desires. It is said of Him in nature, "Thou openest Thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing." Doth God care for sparrows in the bush, for minnows in the brook, for midges in the air, for tiny things in a drop of stagnant water, and will He fail to satisfy the longings of His own children?
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER.
1. It cleans and purifies the desires. The effort to utter them before God in prayer is a purification. Many a mixed desire which lies confusedly in the mind, filling it with distress, gets purified by the effort. The bringing it into God's presence is like bringing a mass of rank vegetation into the sunlight. Leave it there awhile. The pure fire of God's presence kills all that is noxious in the desire, all that is born of worldliness and lust.
II. The second clause opens a yet deeper depth. There are groanings which cannot become prayers, and "MY GROANING IS NOT HID FROM THEY." Would that I could pray! is the language, in moments of deep religious feeling, of many a vain, selfish, worldly, or lustful heart; I should feel then that the battle was really gained. There are times when the effort to pray seems almost impious. A kind of dull despair weighs on the spirit, and crushes down all its energies. "When I would do good, evil is present with me," "O miserable man that I am." What help can there be, what hope, for such an one as I? "Brethren, the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." But there is a mightier thing still; something that lodges a more resistless appeal in the very heart of the Divine compassion: it is the pain that cannot tell its misery in a prayer. It is a blessed thing for me that God heareth and answereth prayer; more blessed still, that "My groaning is not hid from Thee."
(J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
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