Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry for help; do not be deaf to my weeping. For I am a foreigner dwelling with You, a sojourner like all my fathers.
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.
I. WHENCE IS IT THAT GOOD MEN CONSIDER THEMSELVES AS STRANGERS AND SOJOURNERS ON EARTH?
Hold not Thy peace at my tears.
1. God's rebukes for sins. Therefore repent.
2. The reign of temptation. Seek God's strength.
3. The difficulties in our work for Christ.
4. The condition of society.:But the worst may be reclaimed Blessed is it to make the endeavour.
5. Bereavement. In the Royal Academy there was a small but pathetic picture. It is a coastguardsman's cottage. His beloved wife is dead. There is the table spread for his meal; the young daughter in a black dress is cutting a loaf of bread; his little boy — boy like — is eating away at his dinner; the heart-broken man eats not, but stretches out his hand to touch a little child in a cradle beside him. Here is sorrow, hers is sadness. And there are thousands of such homes. But there are no tears in heaven.
(G. W. McCree.)
I am a stranger with Thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.I. THE PSALMIST'S EXPERIENCE INCLUDES A DEEP AND HABITUAL SENSE OF THE TRANSITORY AND UNSATISFYING NATURE OF ALL EARTHLY THINGS.
II. To BE A STRANGER WITH GOD, AND A SOJOURNER, INCLUDES REALIZING ANTICIPATIONS OF ANOTHER AND ENDURING WORLD.
III. THE PSALMIST'S EXPERIENCE COMPREHENDS AN EARNEST AND ASSIDUOUS CULTIVATION OF ALL CHRISTIAN GRACES AND VIRTUES. The character of a stranger and a sojourner is made up of many bright lineaments of excellence, harmoniously blended as are rays of different hues in the solar orb. Certain features of his experience may, at first view, appear to be hardly consistent with others; as, for example, undaunted firmness with a meek and lowly spirit; the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove; inflexible opposition to all sin, with profound compassion towards all sinners.
IV. To BE A STRANGER WITH GOD, AND A SOJOURNER, INCLUDES A FAITHFUL IMPROVEMENT OF THE ORDINANCES OF GRACE AND THE DISPENSATIONS OF PROVIDENCE.
(J, Smyth, D. D.)
1. Every man is a stranger who is not a native of the place where he resides; but a sojourner is one who makes only a passing visit to the place, with a resolution to leave it again and proceed on his journey. This last is a distinguishing character of the saints (2 Corinthians 5:1, 2). They are strangers in affection as well as condition; their hearts are elsewhere.
2. The saints justly count themselves strangers because they are regenerated, born from above, distant from their native country.
II. WHAT MANNER OF BEHAVIOUR IS MOST EXPRESSIVE OF THIS TEMPER, AND BEST SUITED TO THE CONDITION OF STRANGERS?
1. If we look on this earth as a strange country, through which we are only passing to our native home, it certainly ought to be our care that we receive as little hurt as possible in our passage. The greatest hurt the world can do us is to make us forget the place of our destination, and loiter in the way. Its smiles more to be dreaded than its frowns.
3. It becomes strangers to endure with patience and fortitude any hardships and inconveniences (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9.)
5. If we consider ourselves as strangers, we ought to behave like those who belong to a better country. They who love their country will be jealous of its credit.
6. If we have turned our back on the world, let us help one another on in our way, and take as many as possible with us; do all we can to strengthen the weak, advise the doubtful, animate the discouraged.
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