Psalms 73 - 89 (Third Book)
The goodness of God to Israel; though for a time, in the holy ways of God, His people may be allowed to suffer while the wicked prosper.
The ways of God with Israel are presented through the experience of a godly man who, seeing the prosperity of the wicked, is tempted to say that godliness is in vain. These ways of God, at first so passing strange to the soul, become plain when the sanctuary is entered.
(v. 1) The great theme of the psalm is stated in the first verse, "Truly God is good to Israel"-the true Israel-"even to such as are of a clean heart." Circumstances may seem to deny this great truth, therefore the conviction is only reached through painful experience. The result of the exercise is stated before the soul conflict is described.
(vv. 2-3) Though God is good to His people, circumstances may arise which tempt the soul to question the goodness of God. The godly man is near to being stumbled in his spiritual life, for he finds that he is left to suffer while the wicked prosper (cp. Matt. 11: 2-6).
(vv. 4-12) The psalmist proceeds to describe the prosperity of the wicked. Apparently they are better off than the people of God. Death causes them "no pangs" (JND), and life has for them no plagues. Pride is counted by them as an ornament; and their violence, like a garment, is seen of all. Their eyes betoken their self-satisfaction and gratification of every wish. In heart they are corrupt; in words they speak with lofty contempt of others; in their arrogance they express their judgment on things "in the heavens" as well as things on earth. The mass of the people follow them, abandoning themselves to license, scornful of God, with whom, they say, there is no knowledge of the ways of men. Such are the ungodly, "who prosper in the world" and "increase in riches."
(vv. 13-14) Contrasting the outward prosperity of the wicked with the suffering of the godly, the soul is tempted to think that it is useless to have cleansed his heart and washed his hands. What benefit is there in having a pure heart and clean hands, if one is plagued all the day and chastened every morning, while those who are wicked prosper?
(vv. 15-16) The contemplation of the prosperity of the wicked may suggest these unbelieving thoughts; but at once they are resisted by the psalmist. "If," says he, "I will speak thus; behold I should offend against the generation of thy children." Nevertheless, to answer these unbelieving questions was a grievous task to the godly man.
(vv. 17-20) These painful doubts, even if resisted, remain unanswered until the psalmist enters the sanctuary. There, in the presence of God, all become plain. At once the outlook of the psalmist is entirely changed. He had looked at the outward prosperity of the wicked; now he sees their end. He had been thinking of what men say and do; now he sees what God is doing in relation to the wicked. They appeared to be prospering, but, says the psalmist, "thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction." Their desolation comes in a moment, and "they pass away, consumed with terrors" (JND). When the Lord awakes to judgment, He will despise their image even as a man in his waking moments thinks lightly of some horrible dream.
(vv. 21-23) The sanctuary has, moreover, other lessons for the psalmist. He has learned the truth about the wicked; now he learns other and more important truths about himself. He now sees that when his heart was "in a ferment" (JND), he was thinking foolishly like a mere brute that has no thought of God. Nevertheless, though he had forgotten God, he learns in the sanctuary that he had never been out of God's thoughts. In the midst of trials he was continually before God: and when his feet were almost gone, and his steps had well-nigh slipped, he now sees that God held him fast by the hand.
(vv. 24-26) With the confidence that God has sustained him through all his trials, he looks on with confidence to the future and says, "Thou wilt guide me by thy counsel, and after the glory, thou wilt receive me" (JND). When the glory of the Lord will be revealed the godly man will have his portion in the kingdom. If he sees the solemn end of the wicked in spite of their present prosperity, so he sees the glorious end of the godly notwithstanding their present suffering. Thus God Himself becomes the confidence of the soul. His flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of his heart.
(vv. 27-28) Those who live far from God will come under judgment; those who draw near to God will surely find that God is good to Israel (v. 1).
An appeal to God to act in judgment against the wicked, on behalf of His people and for His own glory.
(vv. 1-2) The psalm opens with the godly in Israel appealing to God in their distress. They recognize that they are suffering under the governmental anger of God; but they plead that, however much they may have failed, they are the sheep of His pasture, they are God's assembly, they are God's portion in the earth. Moreover God has purchased them, and dwelt in their midst on Mount Zion.
God has to deal with His people because of their sins; but can God forsake forever His sheep, His redeemed, and Zion that He had chosen?
(vv. 3-8) They spread out before God the work of the enemy. They say, "Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations." They appeal to God to look upon the ruin caused by the enemy-a ruin that is beyond repair. The enemy has destroyed everything in the place of God's assembly. In the house of God man has set up his signs in place of God's signs. Instead of setting forth God, the house of God becomes a place for the display of man. All that which speaks of the beauty of God's house-the carved work-is ruthlessly broken down with as little concern as one would feel in felling the trees of the wood. God's house is defiled, and the aim of the enemy is to destroy every meeting place of God's people throughout the land.
(v. 9) Moreover among God's people there are no signs of God's work. There is no prophet to recall the people to God, or any who can give hope of any limit to the evil. There are none who can say "how long" the trial will continue.
This leads to a fresh appeal to God. It is not now "how long" will God's people suffer, but "how long" will God allow the adversary to reproach and blaspheme His Name. If it is a question of God and the enemy, can God remain inactive? Will not God show His hand and act?
Thus the godly have pleaded that the enemy is attacking God's people (vv. 1-2); God's sanctuary (vv. 3-9); and God's name (v. 10).
(vv. 12-17) Having fully spread the trial out before God, the psalmist encourages himself in God. In spite of all failure amongst the people of God, and all the power of the enemy, God is King, and God is working salvation in the midst of the earth.
He recalls what God has done in the past. He divided the sea, and destroyed the power of Pharaoh, figured by monsters (vv. 13-14). God brought water from the rock, and thus sustained His people in the wilderness; He dried up the Jordan, and brought them into the land (v. 15).
Then, passing from these miraculous interventions of God, the psalmist sees in creation the ever-present witness of God's mercy to man. The day and the night, the moon and the sun, the land and water, summer and winter, are a perpetual witness that God is not unmindful of His creatures.
(vv. 18-21) Having encouraged his soul by the remembrance of God's past interventions on behalf of His people, the psalmist now boldly appeals to God to remember that His Name is being reproached; and that His people are defenceless-like a turtle dove-and poor, oppressed, and needy. Moreover God cannot be unmindful of the covenant that He has made in regard to the blessing of His people.
(vv. 22-23) The soul makes a final appeal that God would "arise" and plead His own cause. It is not now "our cause," for God's Name is being reproached. For the third time in the course of this psalm, we have the plea that God is being reproached (vv. 10, 18, 22). In this final appeal there is no word about the people or the temple. The one plea is that it is God's cause. The voice that is raised comes from God's enemies; the tumult comes from those that rise up against God, and this tumult "increaseth continually."
The announcement that God's set time for intervention in judgment is near at hand. It is the answer to the appeal of the godly in Psalm 74, who ask, "How long" (Ps. 74: 9-10)?
(v. 1) The appeal of Psalm 74 opens with a cry of distress: this psalm opens with praise to God, for His wondrous works declare that the time is near when all that God is, as set forth in His Name, will be displayed in judgment.
(vv. 2-3) The verses that follow give the occasion which calls forth the praise of verse 1. It is the announcement by God Himself that, in His set time, God will judge uprightly. We are often impatient for God to deal with evil. God, however, has His set time-when evil is ripe, and His people have learned their lesson-for intervention in judgment. Then the earth and its inhabitants will be dissolved. The social fabric will be broken up (see Isa. 24: 19-20); but even so God has established its pillars. God maintains the earth, though the world system formed by man is broken up.
(vv. 4-5) In these verses the psalmist gives a warning rebuke to men, based upon the announcement that God is about to intervene in judgment. The boastfulness of man in himself and his doings, and his rebellion against God, will call down the judgment of God. Hence the psalmist warns man not to boast, and exalt himself in his own strength, symbolized by the figure of a horn (the fighting strength of an animal), nor rebel against God.
(vv. 6-8) Deliverance cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. "Promotion" is a poor and misleading translation. The word is 'lifting up,' and continues the thought of verses 4 and 5. It is not the idea of exalting a person to a place of prominence, but rather deliverance of the crushed by 'lifting them' up from the dust. The expression is found again in verse 10, where the word 'exalted' should be translated 'lifted up.' This thought of 'lifting up' is found in verses 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10. The north is not mentioned because, it has been suggested, the enemy that attacks the land of Israel comes from that quarter, and hence there would be no thought of help coming from the North. The people of God have to learn that help does not come from any quarter of the earth. It comes from God: God is the Judge; He puts down one and lifts up another.
In the hand of the Lord there is a cup of judgment. This cup is full of mixture, an allusion to the aromatic herbs mixed with wine to add to its intoxicating qualities. The wicked will be made to drink this cup to its dregs.
The judgment of the nations anticipated, and the results celebrated.
The previous psalm announced that in God's set time He will intervene in judgment on behalf of His people. This psalm anticipates this judgment and celebrates the result.
(vv. 1-3) The first three verses give the result of God's judgment upon His enemies. The verses that follow present the actual judgment. The first result is to make God "known;" and being known His Name becomes "great." The knowledge of God must lead to the exaltation of God. This knowledge and exaltation of God will come through God's dealing on behalf of His earthly people Judah and Israel. The long divided tribes will at last be brought together.
Moreover the knowledge of God will prepare the way for God to dwell in the midst of a scene of peace, brought about by sovereign grace. Salem, meaning "peace," is the ancient name for Jerusalem. Zion is the symbol of God's sovereign choice in grace (Ps. 78: 65-68).
The peace in which God will dwell will be the outcome of the righteousness of God that deals in judgment with His enemies. Thus these verses present the reign of peace, established in righteousness, in which God will be known and exalted.
(vv. 4-6) The verses that follow present God's actings in judgment by which the reign of peace is established. Jerusalem, that hitherto had been a prey to the nations, is alluded to under the expression "The mountains of prey." Upon these mountains, that so often had witnessed the defeat of Israel, their enemies will become a prey when God shines forth in His glory. Isaiah looks forward to the same great event when he utters Jehovah's prophecy, "I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot" (Isa. 14: 25). Then follows a description of this overwhelming judgment. God's enemies sleep the sleep of death. They are utterly powerless and bewildered, for "None of the men of might have found their hands." The God that entered into a covenant with Jacob to protect him from all his enemies now acts on behalf of His ancient people. At His rebuke all the might of man is destroyed.
(vv. 7-9) This destruction of the enemy not only delivers His people but makes God known. And God made known through this overwhelming judgment will lead to God being feared, for it becomes manifest that when God acts in judgment none can stand in His sight.
For long years God had been silent, but at length, by God's intervention in the affairs of men, it will be recognized that heaven is dealing in judgment with the evils of earth. God's voice will "be heard from heaven." In result the earth will fear and be still: all opposition to God will cease.
Moreover, this intervention in judgment will be manifestly on behalf of His people-"to save all the meek of the earth." It will thus make manifest God's righteous judgment against evil, and His saving grace on behalf of His people.
(vv. 10-12) The leading thought in verses 7 to 9 is God known: the great thought in the closing verses is God exalted. Thus in the latter part of the psalm we have the two thoughts expressed in the first verse, "God known," and "His name is great."
All the fury of man will turn to the praise of God. All the concentrated power and might of man with his chariots and horses, arrayed against God in the mountains of Jerusalem, only serve to show by their overwhelming defeat that God is greater than all the power of man. All other opposition to God that will yet remain upon the earth will be restrained. All the nations of the earth are called to recognize Jehovah as their God, and to yield their allegiance to God by bringing gifts. If the great ones of the earth refuse they will be cut off, and find indeed that God is terrible to those who oppose His will.
Confidence in God in the day of distress.
(vv. 1-3) In deep distress as to the low condition of God's people, the psalmist cried to God. In the day of trouble the godly man still looked to God and stretched out his hand to the Lord in the night (JND). He remembered God, though for a time he found no rest for his soul, as apparently God was silent. Thus his spirit was overwhelmed.
(vv. 4-6) The following three verses reveal the cause of the pressure upon his spirit. He was seeking to find some solution for his exercise in the experience of others in the days of old. Then, passing from the experiences of others he made diligent examination of his own experiences; only to find that self-occupation brought no relief.
(vv. 7-9) At length the psalmist recognized that the low condition of God's people was the result of their own failure. He saw that they were undergoing the chastening of the Lord. But, he asks, will the Lord because of their failure, cast them off for ever? Can it be possible that God will be favourable no more? Has the failure of His people withered up the mercy of God? Will God fail to carry out His promises because His people have sinned? Can the breakdown of man alter the grace of God, or "shut up his tender mercies?" The psalmist raises these suggestions only to dismiss them as untenable.
(vv. 10-12) The realization that it is impossible for the sin of God's people to be greater than the grace of God comes as balm to the troubled soul of the psalmist. He sees that the suggestion that it is possible for God's people to be cast off arises from the weakness of his mind that has judged of God's ways towards His people by the way they have acted towards Him. Hence he arrests these thoughts and, instead of recalling his own experiences and the years of ancient times, he now remembers "the years of the right hand of the most High," "the works of the Lord," and His "wonders of old." He says, "I will meditate also upon all thy work, and talk of thy doings."
(vv. 13-15) Furthermore, he discovers that whatever affliction the people of God may be passing through on earth because of their failure, God has a way which can only be known in the sanctuary. When perplexed by the prosperity of the wicked, the soul found the answer to its difficulties in the sanctuary (Ps. 73: 17). So, when puzzled by God's apparent silence while His people are in trial, he again finds an answer to his exercises in the sanctuary. There he learns that God has a settled way that governs His acts; that God is great and does wonders. In accordance with His way God makes known His strength among the peoples in order to redeem His own.
(vv. 16-20) The closing verses present these actings of God on behalf of His people, proving the truth of the lessons learned in the sanctuary. God's ways at the Red Sea declared His strength among the peoples and showed how He redeemed His people from the power of the enemy, and led them through the wilderness like a flock.
Thus in spite of all the power of the enemy, and the trials of the wilderness, God has a "way" that He is taking with His own in this world in perfect accord with His "way" that is settled in the sanctuary. In the midst of all the confusion and scattering among the people of God, His people may not always be able to trace His footsteps, nonetheless faith knows that God has a way that He is taking for His own glory, and His people's blessing. Thus faith is encouraged to trust God in the darkest day as in the brightest.
The principles of the psalm can surely be applied with much comfort in any day of rush and confusion among the people of God. In the presence of much failure the devil might seek to tempt the believer to think that God is indifferent to the trials of His people, and has cast them off. Nevertheless faith knows that no amount of failure can thwart the purposes of God's grace. Moreover in the presence of God we learn that God has a way in accordance with which He is acting for His own glory and the blessing of His people. We are encouraged to know that however great the confusion, yet God has a way through it all-a path through the wilderness-by which to lead His flock. Good then for us to stretch out our hands to Him, even though at times we may have to do so in the dark.
The way of God in the midst of the failure of His people, securing His glory and their blessing.
In Psalm 77 the godly soul, though realizing the failure of Israel, is delivered from the terrible thought that God has cast off the nation for ever, and that His promises and grace have failed. He learns in the sanctuary that, in spite of the failure of Israel, God has a "way" by which He secures His own glory and the blessing of His people. Psalm 78 traces the failure of the nation from Egypt until the times of David, and discovers to us God's "way" of blessing.
(vv. 1-4) The psalmist speaks with the authority of one coming from God. He appeals to the people to listen to the testimony of the law. He is about to utter a parable: he gives us, in fact, history. While, however it is history that shows us the failure of the people of God, it is also a parable to teach the hidden way of God to those who incline their ear to hear (Ps. 77: 19). Such will discern behind the failure and weakness of the people the strength of the Lord, the "wonderful works that he hath done." Thus the history of the people will turn to "the praises of the Lord."
(vv. 5-11) God's testimony and how it was treated by the people. Before turning to the history of Israel, the psalmist reminds us that God had "established a testimony" to be rendered by the fathers to the children, and by the children to their children, in order that they might set their hope in God, walk in obedience, and not forget His works. Thus they would escape the stubbornness of former generations whose affections were not set upon God, and whose spirits were not steadfast with God.
Ephraim, as a representative tribe, shows how completely the people failed to answer to this testimony. Though well equipped for conflict they turned back in the day of battle, disobeyed God, and forgot His works, and His wonders.
The history that follows shows that the children were like their fathers. The flesh learns nothing from its own failure, or the failure of past generations; it never changes.
(vv. 12-20) God's wonders and how they were treated by the people. The Palmist now passes from the testimony of God to speak of the wonders of God. In rapid review he brings before us God's wonders in Egypt; His wonders at the Red Sea; His wonders in the desert-the cloud, the pillar of fire, and the water that gushed from the rock.
The people had not profited by God's testimony; how did they act in the presence of these wonders? Alas! they sinned yet more and more. They profited neither by a testimony rendered to them by their fathers, nor by miracles wrought before their eyes. They tempted God by speaking against Him. In a miraculous way God had provided the streams to quench their thirst; nevertheless their unbelief said, "Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?" They own, indeed, that God had wrought miraculously on their behalf, but they said, as it were, "He has given us water, can He give us bread?" Men speak against God when there are no miracles, and ask "Why does He not intervene?" They forget that when God wrought miracles before the eyes of men, they spake against God. Miracles and signs do not change the heart of man. Miracles or no miracles, the natural man is unbelieving.
(vv. 21-32) God's governmental dealings in chastening His people, and the result. The people refused the testimony of God, and scoffed in the presence of the miracles of God; now God will test them by chastening. Governmental wrath came upon them because they believed not in God, and trusted not in His salvation. He had opened heaven and rained down manna, thus giving them the bread of the mighty. The people, however, turned from the manna and desired flesh (v. 20). God sends them the flesh in greater abundance than the manna. It comes upon them "as dust," and like "the sand of the sea." It could be gathered without labour, for "He let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations." Instead, however, of this wonderful manifestation of God's power leading them to condemn their murmuring, they used it as an occasion for their lust, and thus brought upon themselves the governmental consequences of their own folly. The chosen men of Israel were smitten down. Alas! the only result of this chastening was that "they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works."
(vv. 33-42) God's way with the people tempered by mercy. God had tested the people in the wilderness, only to bring out their utter failure. Now verses 33 to 42 present God's ways with His people in the days of the Judges. In those days God's governmental ways with His people were tempered with mercy. Captivity after captivity was followed by repeated deliverance, for God is full of compassion. He remembered the weakness of His people; that "they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away; and cometh not again." The result was that, as in the wilderness, they had provoked and grieved God, so in the land, "they turned again and tempted God, and grieved the Holy One of Israel. They remembered not his hand, the day when he delivered them from the oppressor" (JND).
(vv. 43-45) God's ways that are carried out in spite of man's failure. These varied testings had proved the utter evil of the flesh. Nevertheless the psalmist shows that God carried out His purposes for the glory of His Name and for the blessing of His people. Thus, for the second time in the psalm, we are taken over the history of God's people from Egypt to the land. In this second account, however, nothing is said of the failure of the people. From beginning to end it is an account of what God has done to maintain His glory in dealing with all His enemies and delivering His people; bringing them forth like sheep; guiding them through the wilderness like a flock; leading them safely, and bringing them to the border of His sanctuary; casting out the heathen before them, and dividing the land amongst the tribes of Israel.
(vv. 46-64) God breaks all outward links with the people who have forsaken Him. The fact that God had thus carried out His purposes in spite of all the unbelief and rebellion of His people should surely have led them to yield obedience to the Lord, and worship Him only. Alas! as they had tempted God in the wilderness, and kept not His testimonies, so now they forsook the sanctuary-God's centre-and set up high places, and turned from God to graven images.
The solemn result was that God broke all outward links with the people. He greatly abhorred Israel; He forsook His tabernacle; He allows the ark to pass into captivity, and His people are given over to the sword.
(vv. 65-72) Blessing secured for ruined man on the ground of sovereign grace. Man has been fully tested by the testimony of God, the mighty works of God, the governmental dealings of God, and the mercy of God; but all in vain. Man utterly ruins himself and forfeits every claim to blessing on the ground of carrying out his responsibilities. It is therefore made abundantly plain that if man is to be blessed, all must depend upon God. Man's complete ruin makes way for the manifestation of God's love and power on behalf of His people. If, however, God intervenes on behalf of a people who have hopelessly ruined themselves, it cannot be on the ground of what they are for God, but wholly because of what God is for the people. Thus, in the closing section of the psalm, the Lord is presented as acting from Himself in sovereign grace.
The Lord awakens as one out of sleep. The figure of a mighty man is used to express the energy with which the Lord deals with all His enemies. Moreover He refuses Ephraim and strength of nature, and acts according to His sovereign choice. In sovereignty He "chose" the tribe of Judah, the Mount Zion for His sanctuary, and David to feed His people. Zion thus becomes the symbol of grace, and David the type of Christ, the One through whom all the grace is ministered. Thus the people are at last brought into blessing on the ground of grace, according to the integrity of God's heart and the skillfulness of His hands. God's way in the sanctuary is thus made plain by His ways in the world (cp. Ps. 77: 13, 19).
The confession by the godly of the sin and utter helplessness of God's people, with an appeal to God to act on their behalf on the ground of his tender mercies, and for the glory of His great Name.
Psalm 78 had set forth the utter ruin of God's people, and that their only hope lies in the sovereign grace of God. This psalm is the proper response of the godly. They own their sin and cast themselves upon God and His mercy.
(vv. 1-4) The godly spread out their sad condition before God. Apparently the enemy has completely triumphed over God's people, leaving them utterly helpless; in reproach and derision before the world. They plead, however, that the enemy is attacking God's inheritance, God's holy temple, God's servants, and God's saints.
(vv. 5-7) The godly rightly feel that an attack against God, and His possessions, must have a limit. God cannot allow it to go on for ever. Thus they ask, "How long, Lord?" furthermore they own they are suffering under the chastening anger and jealousy of the Lord. They plead, however, that the instruments of His chastening are simply expressing their hatred against God. They have not known God or called upon His Name.
(vv. 8-10) They acknowledge their sins and that they are brought very low: but they plead God's tender mercies, the glory of His Name, and the reproach of the enemies who say, "Where is their God?" Outwardly it might appear to the world that God was indifferent to the sufferings of His people.
(vv. 11-13) Finally they plead their own utter weakness and God's great power. "Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee," is followed by the prayer that the greatness of God's power might preserve His people who, apparently, were at the point of death. Then they plead that those who reproach the Lord may be dealt with in judgment and thus eternal praises would arise from those who, in spite of all their failure, are still the sheep of His pasture.
A threefold appeal to God to restore and save His people from their enemies (vv. 3, 7, 19)
(vv. 1-3) The last psalm closed with the plea that the people of Israel, however low they may have fallen, are still the Lord's people, and the sheep of His pasture. In this psalm the godly, while still confessing the sin of the people, rise higher in their appeal. If Israel are the Lord's sheep, it follows the Lord is the Shepherd of Israel, the One to whom the sheep should look. Thus the cry goes up to the Shepherd of Israel who once led His people like a flock, and dwelt in their midst between the cherubim, to once again shine forth before the tribes; to come in His strength to deliver them from their enemies, and cause His face to shine in favour upon them.
(vv. 4-7) They confess that their present low condition is the result of their sins and the consequent chastisement of the Lord. As in the previous psalm they ask, "How long?" Faith realizes that there must be a limit to God's chastenings. Can God be deaf to the prayers of His people: indifferent to their tears, or unmoved by their sufferings at the hands of men, to whom they are a bone of contention and an object of derision?
Again they appeal to the God of hosts to restore them, show His favour, and save them.
(vv. 8-16) Furthermore they plead they are God's vine, brought out of Egypt, separated from the world, and planted in the land. Why, then, if Israel is God's vine, has God broken down the hedges and allowed the nations to trample them underfoot? They beseech God to look down from heaven and visit His vine-the vine that God had planted and the branch that God made strong for Himself. In the branch may there not be an allusion to David and his family, of whom according to the flesh, Christ came? They admit all this sorrow has come upon them at the rebuking of the Lord, involving a confession of their own sin that called for rebuke.
(vv. 17-19) Here they make their highest appeal. "Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou makest strong for thyself." This surely is an allusion to Christ, the One who is the resource of God, available for the need of man and the maintenance of the glory of God.
When brought into blessing through Christ, the people will not go back from Jehovah. Thus for the third time they repeat the refrain, "Restore us, O Jehovah, God of hosts; cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved." Their first plea is that God is the Shepherd of Israel; their second plea, God cannot be indifferent to their sufferings; the last plea is Christ, the Man of God's right hand.
Restored Israel brought into the light of God's favour, learns from Jehovah the way He has taken to bring them into blessing.
(vv. 1-5) In the 80th Psalm there is the thrice repeated appeal of Jehovah to cause His face to shine upon Israel. This psalm anticipates the answer to these appeals. "The new moon," it has been said, "was the symbol of the reappearance of Israel in the sun's light." The blowing of trumpets, on the first day of the seventh month, celebrated the first of the three set times in that month which spoke of Israel's blessing (Lev. 23: 24, 27, 34). The psalm, therefore, looks on to the time when Israel will again come into blessing as a nation in the recognized favour of God. Then Israel will sing aloud and praise God according to the desire of God from the beginning of their history.
(vv. 6-10) From verse 6 to the end of the psalm, the Lord's voice alone is heard. The Lord reminds His people of the way that He had taken with them. In Egypt He had delivered them from their burdens, their slavery and distress.
In the wilderness He had proved them. Would they "hearken" unto the Lord, walk in devotedness to the Lord, serving no other gods? Would they confide in Him, and wait upon Him to meet their needs-opening their mouths wide, for the Lord to fill?
(vv. 11-12) What was the result of these dealings with the people? Alas! It proved that they would not hearken to the voice of the Lord. They turned aside to strange gods-"they would none" of Jehovah. Hence Jehovah gave them up to their own heart's stubbornness (JND) and they were allowed to walk in their own counsels. Here then is the answer to that question raised by the godly in the last psalm, when they ask, "Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her?"
(vv. 13-16) The psalm closes with Jehovah's touching appeal to Israel-the answer to their appeal to Jehovah in Psalm 80. "Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways" (cp. Luke 19: 41-44). Then, indeed, their enemies would have been subdued, and God's people would have been fed and satisfied.
Thus Jehovah discloses His way with His people and His love for His people.
The condemnation of the unjust rulers of God's people-those who have been set in authority to represent God.
(v. 1) God is presented as standing in the midst of the congregation of His people. He judges among the judges. The Lord, in the New Testament days, tells us that these judges, or "gods," are those "unto whom the word of God came" giving them authority to act in judgment as His representatives, and therefore referred to as "gods" (John 10: 35).
(vv. 2-4) Alas! these leaders of God's people are condemned for acting unjustly. They had failed in righteousness, the essential quality in a judge. Instead of truly representing God and judging according to truth, without respect of persons, they delivered false judgment in order to maintain the favour of man. Furthermore they showed no regard for the poor, the fatherless, the afflicted and the needy; they neither exercised righteousness nor mercy.
(v. 5) Thus these leaders of God's people prove themselves to be without heart or understanding. Solemn, indeed, is the condition of leaders who are so ignorant of God that it can be said of them, "they walk on in darkness." By such the moral foundations of God's people-righteousness and mercy-are undermined.
(vv. 6-7) God is not indifferent to this unrighteousness. Those who pervert judgment will themselves come under judgment. The high position that God had given them, as His representatives, will not secure them against His just judgment. They will fall even as any earthly prince who rules without fear of God.
(v. 8) The failure of God's representatives only proves that the earth waits for God, Himself, to rule in righteousness. Thus the psalm closes with an appeal to God to "arise" and "judge the earth" as the One who inherits, not only Israel, but "all nations."
The judgment of the nations confederated against God and His people Israel.
Psalm 82 deals with the corrupt leaders within the circle of God's people. Psalm 83 deals in judgment with the confederated enemies of God's people who oppose them from without.
(v. 1) The psalm opens with an appeal to God that He would no longer keep silence, and refrain from acting in the presence of His enemies.
The silence of God and His non-intervention in the presence of the wickedness of men and the sufferings of His people, is a great test for faith. Nevertheless, faith knows that, in God's due time, when evil is ripe, God must intervene. Hence the appeal that God would no longer keep silence.
(vv. 2-4) The godly soul, looking on to the last great confederacy of the nations against God and His people, sees that wickedness calls for judgment. The enemies of God, taking occasion by His long suffering and silence, raise their voice against God and exalt themselves. This hatred of God is expressed against God's people-His hidden ones whom God has secretly sheltered, even if for a time He does not publicly intervene on their behalf (cp. Ps. 31: 20).
The intention of the enemy is to cut off Israel as a nation from the face of the earth, with the desire that their very memory may perish.
(vv. 5-8) In seeking to achieve this end the nations confer together, forming themselves into a confederacy against God. The nations immediately surrounding the land of Israel are enumerated. They are aided by the Assyrian from the north.
(vv. 9-17) The psalmist encouraged by the former interventions of God on behalf of His people, appeals to God to act against His enemies as in the days of old. He prays that they may be like the chaff before the wind; that the fire of judgment may consume them, and the storm of judgment fill them with terror. Thus may the enemies of the Lord be filled with shame and come to destruction.
(v. 18) The psalmist anticipates the result of God's intervention in judgment. The end will be that men will know that Jehovah-the God of Israel-is the Most High over all the earth.
The path of suffering trodden by the people of God on the way to their blessing.
In its strict interpretation this beautiful psalm refers to God's earthly people who will reach their future millennial blessings through a path of suffering. Nevertheless, the principles of the psalm have a deeply instructive application to the Christian.
The three divisions of the psalm present, first, the house of God that awaits believers at the end of their journey (vv. 1-4); secondly, the path that leads to God's house (vv. 5-7); thirdly, the prayer of the man who takes this journey in dependence upon the Lord (vv. 4, 5, 12).
(vv. 1-4) The psalm opens with an expression of delight in the house of God, and of the longing of the soul to reach the courts of the Lord, and the living God. It is realized that the One who finds a home for the worthless bird, and a rest for the restless bird, has most surely a home and a resting place for His people, secured to them through the altar, or the great sacrifice of which the altar speaks. The psalmist sees before him the blessedness of God's house where God will dwell in the midst of the everlasting praises of His people.
(vv. 5-7) The verses that follow describe the blessedness of the one who is treading the path that leads to Zion. He may have to pass through trial, set forth by the valley of Baca-or "weeping" as the word signifies; but, even so, he will find that the "early rain covereth it with blessing" (JND). God uses the trials by the way for the blessing of His people. Thus they grow in grace, and increase in spiritual strength, until at last they appear before God in Zion.
(vv. 8-12) The prayer of the godly soul as he treads the path of trial. His confidence in looking to God, and his one plea, is that Christ-God's Anointed-is ever before God. On the ground of all that Christ is, the soul can count upon God to be his sun and shield-the One who will supply his needs and protect from harm, who will give grace along the way and glory at the end.
Assured of "grace" and "glory" and every "good thing," the soul may well conclude, "Blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee."
Thus the psalm presents the blessedness of the man that dwells in God's house (v. 4); the blessedness of the man who is treading the path that leads to God's house (v. 5); and the blessedness of the man who trusts in the Lord while treading the path that ends in glory (v. 12).
An anticipation of the deliverance of Israel from captivity, and their restoration through the mercy of God acting in righteousness.
(vv. 1-3) In the opening verses the restoration of Israel is anticipated by the godly. The nation is viewed as brought back from captivity into the favour of Jehovah, their sins forgiven, and God's wrath taken away. These verses present the final blessing of the nation; the remainder of the psalm, how that blessing is reached.
(vv. 4-7) The restoration of Israel awaits the moment when they will own that God has been dealing with them in governmental anger because of their long history of failure, and that their recovery wholly depends upon God, and not upon their own efforts. Therefore they say, "Bring us back" (JND). Of old Naomi had to say, after her wanderings in Moab, "I went out...and the Lord hath brought me home again" (Ruth 1: 21). We, alas! can wander; it is only the Lord who can bring us back again. In like spirit the nation of Israel will be brought to own that all their own efforts, or the efforts of others, to bring them back to the land of their blessing, will be in vain. They will at last confess the Lord alone can "bring us back." Thus they plead with the Lord to cause His people to rejoice, to shew them mercy, and grant them salvation from all their enemies.
(vv. 8-13) The closing verses give the answer to this appeal to Jehovah. Very blessedly the godly man says, "I will hear what God, Jehovah, will speak" (JND). He finds that Jehovah gives an answer of peace. They had asked for salvation to be granted (v. 7); they hear that salvation is nigh them that fear Him. They had asked for mercy (v. 7); they hear that mercy and truth are met together-that God will show mercy while maintaining truth, and that righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Peace is brought to Israel, but not at the expense of righteousness. They had asked to be "revived" (v. 6); they hear that truth shall spring out of the earth, once marked by corruption; and righteousness will rule from heaven bringing forth goodness and plenty, where there had been only evil and want.
Righteousness will be the basis of the restored kingdom, and "shall set his footsteps on the way" that leads to the kingdom (JND).
The appeal of a godly soul to Jehovah to listen to his cry - (v. 1): attend to his supplication (v. 6): to be taught in the Lord's way (v. 11): and to be saved from evil men (v. 16).
In this psalm the title Lord, or "Adonai," occurs seven times. It indicates the Lordship of Christ over all, and supposes that the one speaking takes the place of a servant who looks to his Lord (vv. 2, 4, 16).
(vv. 1-5) The psalm opens with a cry to Jehovah to listen to the cry of a suppliant who is conscious of his need, and can plead that he is "pious," or holy-that is, he fears God, and trusts in God.
The godly man feels his need of daily mercy, and forgiveness, and realizes that the Lord is plenteous in mercy to all that call upon Him.
(vv. 6-10) In the verses that follow the suppliant prays that Jehovah would do more than hear his cry. He desires that Jehovah would "attend" to his supplication, and "answer" his call. He feels that in the day of trouble God must answer His people. Here the godly man pleads the greatness and the power of the Lord, as before he had pleaded the mercy of the Lord. There is none like the Lord; there are no works like His works. He has made the nations for His own glory. He is great and doest wondrous things. He alone is God.
(vv. 11-13) Further, the psalmist not only seeks an answer to his cry in the day of trouble, but he desires to be taught the way of Jehovah, that he may walk in the truth, and glorify the One who in mercy has saved his soul from the lowest Sheol.
(vv. 14-17) Lastly the godly man cries to God concerning his enemies. He is surrounded by the proud who have risen up against him; by the violent who oppose him; and lawless men who live without fear of God.
Nevertheless, if the wicked are against the psalmist, God is for him. And the God who is for him is full of compassion, gracious, long-suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth. Therefore he pleads, though men turn against him, that God would turn towards him (JND), strengthen him, and save him from his enemies. Thus the manifest favour of the Lord, would put to shame those that hate him, and all would see that he had been helped and comforted by Jehovah.
The glory of Zion established as the city of God.
(vv. 1-3) The psalm opens with celebrating the glory of Zion. Men may found other cities; but Zion is the city of Jehovah's foundation. Not only is it thus firmly established, but its foundations are secure because built on "the mountains of holiness." It is established on a righteous foundation. Being holy Jehovah "loveth" its gates-the place of concourse and government, and therefore the symbol of the active life of the city. Glorious things are spoken of this city. It is not simply a place where great events have happened, but a city of which a glorious future is foretold. In contrast to all other cities it is the "city of God."
God is its builder; God has given it a firm foundation; God has established it in holiness; God delights in Zion; God has spoken glorious things of Zion; it is the city of God.
(vv. 4-5) Jehovah appears to be the speaker in verses 4 and 5. Amongst them that know Him, He calls attention to the great cities of earth, and the nations that had surrounded Israel. Rahab (or "Egypt" Ps. 89: 10; Isa. 51: 9), Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Ethiopia, had their great men in whom they boasted. But the fame of Jehovah's people would be that they belong to Zion, the city established by the Most High.
(v. 6) The godly, responding to Jehovah, say, "Jehovah will count, when he inscribeth the peoples, This man was born there" (JND). The godly realize that, in the day to come, those connected by grace with Zion will have a place of pre-eminence above all the peoples.
(v. 7) The closing verse indicates that all earthly joy will have its centre and spring in Zion.
The soul exercises of a godly man, in learning the reality and horror of God's wrath against sin.
The unrelieved distress of soul, of which this psalm is the deep expression, arises neither from the opposition of enemies nor from trial of circumstances. The distress is not from the surrounding difficulties of the path, but from the inward exercises of the soul.
The psalm depicts the deep distress of a godly soul who is learning in his conscience the reality and horror of God's wrath against sin, and a broken law. God is known and appealed to as Jehovah. Thus there is the knowledge that there is loving-kindness with God, and the soul has confidence to look to God. Nevertheless, in order to have the full enjoyment of this loving-kindness, the horror of God's wrath against sin must be learned.
(vv. 1-7) The godly man realizes that salvation is alone found with God. Thus he addresses Jehovah as the God of his salvation. Nevertheless, the soul is in deep distress that leads it to cry to God day and night. In prayer he owns before God that this soul is full of troubles. He is made to feel that the effect of sin is to separate the soul from God; that it brings into death; that it leaves man without strength, and brings to the grave where the soul is utterly forsaken by God-remembered no more, and cast off from God, where there is only darkness, with God's wrath abiding on the soul.
What a terrible picture of the effect of sin! The soul filled with trouble (v. 3); the life forfeited, drawing near to the grave (v. 3); no strength against sin (v. 4); brought into death (v. 5); forsaken by God (v. 5); left in darkness (v. 6); and under judgment (v. 7).
(vv. 8-9) Moreover there is the consciousness that sin not only separates from God, but that sin makes the person an object of loathing to his acquaintance. That it shuts the soul up in an awful loneliness from which he cannot come forth. Nevertheless, in its misery, the soul is not allowed to be abandoned to despair: thus the hands are stretched out to God.
(vv. 10-12) However, turning to God only makes the distressed soul more conscious that, while there are wonders with God (v. 10), loving-kindness, faithfulness (v. 11), and righteousness, yet the effect of sin, if allowed to work out to its full result, is to bring the soul into death and the land of forgetfulness, where God in all these blessed attributes is unknown.
(vv. 13-14) Nevertheless, the soul in its distress, clings to Jehovah, even though it feels, by reason of its sin, God has cast off the soul and hidden His face.
(vv. 15-18) Thus, under the sense that God has hidden His face, the soul is afflicted and ready to die. Instead of enjoying God's wonders, and loving-kindness, and faithfulness, it is only conscious of God's terrors, God's wrath, and God's forsaking.
The psalm closes in distress with the godly man compassed about by terrors, forsaken by friends, and left in darkness. The relief can only be found in the mercies and faithfulness of God that form the theme of the succeeding psalm.
The mercies of Jehovah, secured by Israel by the faithfulness of God.
In Psalm 88 the godly man, representing the nation of Israel, learns in the presence of Jehovah that sin and a broken law bring the soul under the judgment of Jehovah, from which there is no salvation apart from Jehovah to whom faith looks.
In Psalm 89, the godly remnant look for salvation in the mercy of God, and the faithfulness of God to His covenant with David, by which blessing is secured, even though for a time the nation is cast off.
(vv. 1-2) The opening verses present the great theme of the psalm-the mercies and faithfulness of God, instead of the sin and failure of the nation, as in Psalm 88, moreover the psalm presents the great fact that, not only are there mercies and faithfulness with God, but, these blessed qualities cannot be affected by anything that man can do. They are beyond the reach of man's corrupting hand. Mercy is built up for ever; and faithfulness is established in the very heavens.
(vv. 3-4) The two verses that follow recite the covenant of mercy with David, which is made sure by the faithfulness of Jehovah (2 Sam. 23: 5; Acts 13: 34).
(vv. 5-8) The psalmist then celebrates the glory of Jehovah-the One who has made the covenant with David. The heavens declare His wonders; the saints His faithfulness. No creature can be compared with Jehovah. In His supreme glory as God there can be none likened to Him. In the assembly of His saints He is the object of reverent fear. Supreme in strength, as the Lord God of hosts, He acts in faithfulness on every side.
(vv. 9-10) The godly recall the exercise of Jehovah's power, when at the Red Sea He broke the power of Egypt ("Rahab"), and scattered His enemies with His strong arm.
(vv. 11-14) Moreover, Jehovah is the possessor of heaven and earth by His rights as Creator, and, if He overthrows the power of the world, as represented by Egypt, it is that He, by His mighty arm, may establish His own throne, marked by justice and judgment, mercy and truth.
(vv. 15-18) Furthermore, His throne is established in order that He may dwell in the midst of a praising people, who rejoice in His favour, and are exalted in righteousness. A people of whom Jehovah is their glory, their strength, their defence, and their King.
(vv. 19-28) The verses that follow present in detail the covenant made with David, and the assurance of God's faithfulness to His covenant. God had spoken in vision to Nathan (2 Sam. 7: 4-17) of David, the one who is chosen from the people and exalted; anointed as the servant of the Lord (v. 20); triumphant over all his enemies (vv. 21-23); established by God's faithfulness and mercy, to reign over the full extent of the land as given to Abraham, from the sea (the Mediterranean) to the rivers (the Euphrates and the Nile). The one appointed to rule in dependence upon God as his might and his salvation (v. 26); and thus pre-eminent over the kings of the earth (v. 27). For him God's mercy will be kept for evermore; and "with him" God's covenant will stand fast (v. 28).
In this fine description of the glories of David we are surely intended to see Christ the true Anointed King of Israel, of whom David was but a type.
(vv. 29-37) The following verses present the seed of David. With the seed there is the possibility of failure and the governmental consequences that follow (vv. 30-32). Nevertheless, God will not utterly take from them His loving-kindness, nor suffer His faithfulness to fail. God will not break His covenant, nor alter the word that has gone out of His lips (vv. 33-34). The holiness of God is a witness that God cannot alter His word by which blessing is secured to David and his seed.
(vv. 38-45) Alas! the seed of David entirely broke down. They forsook the law, and walked not in God's judgments; they broke His statutes and kept not His commandments (vv. 30-31). Thus the threatened rod (v. 32) has fallen upon the nation. They are cast off and, apparently, the covenant is made void. Their land is ruined, they themselves in reproach; their enemies exalted over them; their glory passed away; their throne brought down; they are covered with shame.
(vv. 46-52) Nevertheless, in the midst of their shame the faith of the remnant shines forth. They realize that there will be a limit to the chastening of the Lord. Hence they ask, "How long, Jehovah?" They ask God to remember the frailty of man (vv. 47-48). They plead the former lovingkindnesses which God had shown unto David. They plead the reproach of their enemies. However great their failure, they say, we are "thy servants," and their enemies are "thine enemies," and they have put to shame "thine Anointed."
They wait for an answer, but, knowing it must come, for God's faithfulness cannot fail, they say "Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen, and Amen."