Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE MOCKING QUESTION OF THE HEATHEN, "Where is now," etc.? This, no doubt, was often asked. They had heard of the ancient glories of Israel, and the wonderful works God had done for them; but what a contrast was now presented - the abject condition into which Israel had fallen! And the character of the people also, as a whole, won scant respect. It was but a remnant, an elect few, that cherished the sacred memories of the past, and who were prepared, when opportunity came, to go back to their own land. But to the faithful few the question was full of pain. And here, in this psalm, we see -
II. THE EFFECT OF IT UPON THE MINDS OF THE FAITHFUL.
1. It humbled them before God. Ver. 1 is a confession of their own unworthiness, that no glory was due to them. And today, when the world mocks and scorns as it does, the people of God may well make like confession and similar disclaimer of all merit. Had the Church been different, the world would not have mocked as it does.
2. It led them to God to seek his aid, that this mockery on the part of the heathen should cease (ver. 2). They desired that God would manifest his glory, and so silence the heathen scorn. And this is the need of the Church today. Let God be seen in our midst, and the taunt of the world will sink into silence.
3. Submission to God's will. (Ver. 3.) They knew that God was in the heavens, possessed of all power, wisdom, holiness; and whatever he pleased could only be right. It was not for them to dictate, but only to submit. They could trust him, that in due time he would interpose.
4. Scorn of idols and those who worshipped them. (Vers. 4-8.) The very brightness of their conception of God showed up all the more the darkness of ignorance in which the heathen lived. And the psalm pours out its sacred scorn of these mere dolls before which the heathen bowed down. Hence the scathing sarcasm and concentrated con tempt of these memorable verses. But has the day passed when men's "idols are silver and gold"? Is not that the exact description of ourselves as a nation? Do not we worship silver and gold? Would that we could but catch the contagion of the contempt which pervades these verses for our idols of today! We need to, and shall have to; and if we will not learn by gentle means, God will have to purge us of our idolatry by methods sharp and terrible, like as those by which Israel was brought to a better mind.
5. Earnest endeavor to arouse one another to trust only and altogether in God. (Vers. 12-15.) Would that the world's contempt of Christians today led them thus earnestly to stir one another up to a more completely God-surrendered life!
6. Renewed assurance of the grace and goodness of the Lord in his faithful people. (Vers. 12-15.) This follows on - it always does - earnest endeavor to deepen the hold of God on the hearts of others. Our own hearts come to be filled with deep and blessed sense of God's love, and the witness of the Spirit is beard full and clear within.
7. Fresh consecration to God. This seems to be the force of the concluding verses of the psalm (vers. 16-18). The Lord in the heavens is sure to do his part; but we are here to do ours. Our time, however, is but short, for we are hastening to the grave where the dead are, and where none can praise God; therefore let us use our time well; and, God helping us, we will (ver. 18).
III. LESSONS FOR OURSELVES.
1. How completely was the heart of Israel turned round! Their besetting sin before the Exile had been idolatry and departure from God. But now! God knows how to turn our hearts altogether to himself.
2. The contrast of the Christian's faith as to the life after this with the faith of Israel. Theirs is dark, ours is bright. - S.C.
I. PUTTING OUR HONOR ASIDE. "Not unto us... give glory." It is a universal experience that when God is really apprehended, self goes into the second place. It must be so. God can be in no place but the first. In the sphere of morals it is true that the most miserable of men is he who is anxious about his own dignity. He will turn everything into offence. In the sphere of religion it is true that the first sign of regeneration is the humility that claims nothing for self. "Not by works of righteousness which we had done;" "Not of works, lest any man should boast."
II. SEEKING GOD'S HONOR. "Unto thy Name give the praise." Dr. Chalmers spoke of "the expulsive power of a new affection." It is fully true of the soul's affection for God. It expels self and everything else, and compels a man to set God's honor first, to live for God (compare St. Paul's exclamation, "To me to live is Christ"). God's honor is sought by being good and by doing good; in relations, worship, and work. This aim glorifies all forms of life.
III. FINDING THAT WE GAIN OUR HONOR IN SEEKING GOD'S. In two ways.
1. The very effort to seek God's honor cultures us in the character that wins for us honor.
2. And God makes the honor of men come to us as his benediction. on our loyalty. - R.T.
I. GOD IS WORTHY OF THE HIGHEST HONOR. In contrast to heathen idols.
1. Because of his loving-kindness or mercy. (Ver. 1.)
2. Because of his truth or faith fullness. (Ver. 1.) Emphatically "truth and grace came by Jesus Christ."
3. Though invisible, he reigns and rules from the exalted heaven. (Ver. 3.) The idols are earthly things, and have no power.
4. God is omnipotent, able to execute his own will. (Ver. 3.) The idols are dead things, with no will; and their worshippers become as dead as they are.
II. GOD IS WORTHY OF TRUST. (Vers. 9-14.)
1. Because he is the Helper and Defender of those who trust in him. (Vers. 9-11.)
2. Because his past goodness is the pledge for future blessing. (Vers. 12-14.) He will bless and multiply both the great and the small together.
III. GOD IS WORTHY OF PRAISE AND WORSHIP. (Vers. 15-18.)
1. As the Creator of heaven and earth. (Ver. 15.) And the heavens are for the dwelling-place of Jehovah.
2. Because he hath given the earth to men for their possession.
3. God must be praised now and forever - before we go down into the silence of Hades. (Vers. 17, 18.) "The Old Testament," says Delitzsch, "knows nothing of a heavenly exclusion that praises God without intermission, consisting not merely of angels, but also of the spirits of all men who die in the faith" (but see Psalm 103:20-22). - S.
Psalm 42:3). The expression is to be understood by the help of the associations of the psalm. It is always trying to be despised; always hard to work on faithfully under jeers and taunts. The neighbors of the restored exiles did not dare actually to interfere with them, because they were under the protection of the Persian authority; but they could taunt them and laugh at them. And it must be admitted that there was apparent occasion. The exiles were poor and few. They had been stopped in building their temple, and there were nothing but foundations to be seen. It might be said - If your God can do anything, he surely can get his own temple built. They dare not attempt to raise the walls and fix new gates and enclose the city; for every attempt would be checked. It might be said - If your God really cared for you, he would help you to defend yourselves. The pious souls were deeply hurt by this reproach cast on their God, and could only find rest in assuring themselves that if his will was a sovereign will, it was influenced by covenant promises. We can always turn from our doubtings as to what God does, and find our satisfaction in what God is.
I. THE STRAIN INVOLVED IN INCOMPLETENESS. We start out with a distinct life aim and purpose; but the years pass by, and all we have, as the result of labor and waiting, is an unfinished building, like some of the cathedrals. Then we are apt to lose hope, and to say - Not done now, it will never be done. So the years had passed for the exiles, and the new nation was still in a most incomplete state. No walls, no temple, no real freedom, no independent native government. It was a big strain on faith to see the nation's hope ever realized.
II. THE INTENSIFYING OF THE STRAIN THROUGH MISCONCEPTIONS, It was hard to see and to feel the incompleteness; but it was harder still to be told about it, to have it pointed out, and to be taunted with it. Those enthusiastic Jews who came out from Babylon expecting at once to accomplish great things, could see well enough the mere foundations of the temple, and the heaps of the ruined walls; but it was bitter ness indeed to have some one come up as they were looking, and whisper in their ear, "Where is now thy God?"
III. THE RELIEF OF THE STRAIN BY CHERISHING TRUSTFUL THOUGHTS OF GOD. (Ver. 3.) The check on our work God puts. Incompleteness is his permission. Failure is his discipline. If God is in them, and their state pleases him, then our incomplete things are blessings in disguise. - R.T.
Isaiah 44:9-20. In treating of idols it should be borne in mind that they are differently regarded by their intelligent and unintelligent worshippers. The mystical Hindu will tell us that his idols are to him nothing more than are to us the pictures of absent or dead friends. They are helps to memory and imagination. But to the great mass of heathen the idol-figure is the actual god worshipped, the embodiment of the god, the shrine of the god. So Scripture is justified in its scorn of the idol-deities. The point presented here is the helplessness of idols, in that they have organs of sense, but no sensibility. There is an argument in the simple statement that they are "the work of men's hands."
I. MAN'S HANDIWORK IS INFERIOR TO HIS BEST THOUGHT. No man ever yet reached with his hands what he had conceived in his mind. The artist's idea is better than his picture. It is inferior to the artist himself. The sculptor's figure is better than the model he produces. The literary man never writes as good a book as he intends to write. It is the universal fact that a man is always greater than anything he creates, or anything he accomplishes. And this must be true when a man attempts to mould with his hands the figure of his thought of God. He cannot imprison in gold, or silver, or clay, or wood, his whole thought. And he himself remains a nobler being than the god he creates; and so the god should worship him, and not he the god.
II. MAN'S BEST THOUGHT MUST BE INFERIOR TO DEITY. This is true of the best man's best thought. But what guarantee can we have that the idol-maker is a best man, and that best man at his best? Grant that the primary creations of Baal or Vishnu were the best conceptions of best men, still we face the fact, that, necessarily, the conception was short of the reality. No man by searching can find out God; and no man by imagining can find him out so as to represent him. Then this follows: God himself must give to men the earth-pattern of himself. He has done it. But the earth-pattern is no thing, no likeness of any thing in heaven and earth and sea. It is the living Being, the "Man Christ Jesus," "express Image of his Person." - R.T.
I. Let men make their own gods like themselves, and THEY WILL NEVER MAKE THE GODS LIKE THEMSELVES AT THEIR REST. Whatever may be thought about the formulated doctrine of original sin, the fact of universal moral deterioration is bound to be generally accepted. And the sign of it is that man is not interested in his best; perhaps not even able to set before himself the image of himself at his best possible. So there never yet was an idol-god made that even represented its maker at his noblest.
II. Let men make their own gods like themselves, and THEY WILL BE SURE TO MAKE THE GODS LIKE THEMSELVES AT THEIR WORST. This can be effectually illustrated by the Kali, Sarasvati, Juggernaut, of India; the Baal and Ashtaroth of Phoenicians; the Moloch of Amorites; and even the refined and artistic creations of Grecian genius; for these represent man sensual, which really is man at his lowest. And this fact, that if man makes his own gods he makes them like himself at his worst, may be shown to be equally true of those immaterial, mental, figures of God which men now make as the idols of an intellectual age. They are no more worthy of God than the hideous figures of India, and this is the serious feature of the case. Let man make his god after the pattern of himself at his worst, and the god he makes and worships will inevitably debase him lower and lower. - R.T.
might have had a serious influence on Jehovah's servants. It might have taken all heart out of them. Probably many of the weaker ones did flag under the discouragements, and so there was a real need of this pleading of the psalmist for full and even rejoicing trust in God. The confidence felt by one man will often inspire the confidence of others. When one man can see God plainly working as Helper and Defender, he, in a very wonderful way, opens the eyes of others to see the same signs of Divine presence and power. Our trust in God passes from one to another, even as does an epidemic disease. And it may also be shown how often psalm and song help us to fetch back imperiled trust. Treating the case of the restored exiles as illustrative, we may see how our trust in God may now be imperiled -
I. BY GOD'S UNFULFILLED PROMISES. Some of God's promises really belong to our future, and we have no right to look for their present fulfillment; but such is the restlessness of man, that he persists in thinking he ought to have everything now. And as he cannot, he readily regards some of God's promises as unfulfilled. So through long ages men expected the promised Messiah, and often lost their faith and dimmed their hope because he did not come. But God's promises never are unfulfilled. It is only this - he has our whole lives to work in, he has all the ages to work in. Compare our Lord's saying, "My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready." Trust should make a treasure of the promises.
II. BY GOD'S INCOMPLETELY FULFILLED PROMISES. It is harder to keep trust when a promise has begun to be fulfilled, and has been checked in the fulfillment, than when it is altogether delayed. It was harder for the exiles to look on the new foundations of the temple than on the old ruins. There is no feature of Divine discipline that so severely tries our power to keep on trusting, as this checking of blessings that have begun to be bestowed; this asking us to accept of incomplete fulfillments.
III. BY GOD'S MISUNDERSTOOD PROMISES. So often we take God to promise what we wish him to promise, rather than what he does promise. Then we raise unreason able expectations, and get unreasonably depressed when they are not fulfilled. God may test and try our trust, but he never puts it in peril; we do that when we cannot wait, and persist in misunderstanding. - R.T.
I. LET US LOOK BACK ALONG THE COURSE OF THE OLD YEAR.
1. We affirm our conviction that we all should make thankful confession of the Lord's mindfulness of us.
2. But many will look back in far other ways.
(1) Some in self-congratulating spirit, but with no thankfulness to God. They will say to themselves, that what good they have won has been all their own doing. But for their own mindfulness of them selves, there would have been but little to be glad about.
(2) Others will deny that the Lord hath been mindful of them; it seems to them that he has forgotten them, if he has not turned against them. They point to their lessened, much lessened, resources. They were ever so much better off at the beginning of the year than they are now. Or here is a widow mourning bitterly the loss of her husband and the father of her now helpless children. Or a husband, whose home is darkened by bereavement of his beloved wife. Or others, who are kept prisoners on beds of weak ness, hopeless disease, or pain. "What!" say these, "hath the Lord been mindful of us? It does not at all seem like it."
3. Well, we reply, if he has not, then it is very unlike him.
(1) For his mindfulness of us is certainly not a recent thing; he says to his people that the kingdom has been prepared for them from before the foundation of the world.
(2) And all around us are proofs of his loving forethought. See in the history of creation how all our needs were thought of before man was placed on the earth. You cannot do so simple a thing as put some coal on the fire without being reminded of this. Where did that coal come from? Was it not got ready for our use long ere we could need it?
(3) And in the kingdom of his grace this mindfulness of us is conspicuously seen. Christ was the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world. God was not taken by surprise when sin entered our world and began to do its deadly work. God had reckoned with it, and had determined that where sin did abound, grace should much more abound. The two arms of Christ's cross embrace - one, all the sinners of the past; the other, all that shall be to the end of time. "The mischief is more than met by the remedy, the malady by the medicine, and the plaster is as wide as the wound" (M. Henry).
(4) And it is true also in God's personal dealings with us. Reckon up your mercies - spiritual, temporal, personal, relative - and set them over against your sorrows, and see which are most numerous.
(5) And think, too, of what our deservings have been. Then see if you can deny any more that God has been mindful of you.
II. LET US LOOK ON THROUGH THE NEW YEAR, AND BE ASSURED THAT GOD WILL HELP US.
1. It is an argument drawn from what has gone before - and it is valid. We reckon, in regard to men, that what has been will be. The law of habit ensures this. And we may reverently say that God himself conforms to this law. Hence we may reason from what he hath done to what he will do.
2. Furthermore, he has known all along what reasons there are why he should not bless us. No one can tell God anything worse of us than he already knows.
3. And we are in Christ by faith in him. Therefore we are accepted in Christ. Shall not, then, God with him freely give us all things?
1. We will believe that he will bless us.
2. Inasmuch as his blessing is given into the hands outstretched in prayer and faith, and that move in obedience to him, so shall our hands be, and thus will we confidently expect his blessing.
3. And we will tell others of this. - S.C.
has been taken." God in our past always teaches us much, seeing that we have no very definite aim in working for ourselves, and he has a very definite aim in working for us.
I. GOD HAS BLESSED US. How true this is seen to be in a review of the history of God's people Israel! Especially if we take, as the chief idea of God's blessing, over ruling for God. The more clearly we understand our own lives, the more fully we shall realize that as our best idea of God's blessing. Certainly it is what would most come home to the restored exiles.
II. GOD IS BLESSING US. This is a fact of observation; a conviction of feeling; and an argument from the nature of God. We cannot conceive of him as beginning to do a good, and leaving it off; and the blessing we need is blessing that we continuously need.
III. GOD WILL BLESS US. Since we are well assured that our conditions, relations, and needs will remain much the same, and call still for his merciful overrulings and blessings. - R.T.
Psalm 118:17). Hezekiah expresses but the universal sentiment of the good men of his day when he says, "The grave cannot praise thee; death cannot celebrate thee; they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day; the father to the children shall make known thy truth" (Isaiah 38:18, 19). But if we have life, we must take it with all its responsibilities, and the first of these is that we acknowledge the God who made us, on whom we are wholly dependent, and who lays his righteous claims upon us. One of those claims is indicated by the psalmist. God calls for praise. All his works praise him in their order and fitness, in the precise fulfillment of the end for which they were designed. But God seeks that higher praise which can be offered by intelligent and free-willed beings. And the time in which they can offer the praise is the time of their lives amid terrestrial things. It is the praise of the living that God wants. It is praise while living that man can alone render.
I. PRAISE-TIME IS THE PRESENT TIME. It is never a mere duty that has been done; a demand that has been met. The praise that is God's due can never be paid, so that we can get a receipt in full for all our obligations. It is never a duty that can be put off to some by-and-by, something that we can promise to do some day. It is the duty of the hour. It is immediate response to God's present blessings.
II. PRAISE-TIME IS A LIMITED TIME. It is limited to life, and life is always short and always uncertain, so that a man's call to praise is a call of the moment. For praise "now is the accepted time." No man has any to-morrow until God gives it to him, and then he must call it today. Only by doing just the duty of the hour can any man meet his human obligations.
III. THE OCCASIONS OF PRAISE BELONG TO THE PRESENT TIME. It is true that there is call to praise for God's past dealings with us; and call to praise in view of the promises on which we are permitted to hope; but we can always find, if we will, calls to praise in the things actually around us; God's good hand is ever on us for good. - R.T.