Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
against his enemies. On account of such petitions, much reproach has been cast on the Bible itself - as if all the sixty-six books of which the Scriptures are composed were to be held responsible for the prayers and petitions of every Old Testament saint! No such absurdity could have root-hold if the actual state of the case were clearly understood. And we deem it to be of no small importance that where readers of the Bible find special difficulty, expounders thereof should put forth special strength, and by no means pass lightly over such passages, or leave them unaccounted for. This psalm is a reflection of varied scenes which may be witnessed in the world - of the known laws of God's providence, of earnest desires which go up from the hearts of God's people in prayer, and of grateful songs which go forth from their lips in praise. There is no reason for attributing the psalm to any one else than to David. Nor do we know of any times in the ancient history which the psalm more clearly reflects than those of the shepherd-king. Nor is there any Old Testament character who would be so likely to speak and write and pray in the style of the psalm before us. In dealing with it as a unity (which method alone falls in with the plan of this section of the Commentary), we have four lines of thought to unfold.
I. HERE IS A TWOFOLD OUTLOOK. The writer of this psalm was the anointed of the Lord (ver. 8). He was Israel's king; and was withal encompassed by foes. Not only were there those who were the people of God, his inheritance (ver. 9), but there were also those who regarded not God, and who cared not for man (vers. 3, 5). And the time has not come when such a double outlook has ceased. The righteous, the wicked - tares and wheat - both are still on "the field of the world," growing together until the harvest.
II. HERE IS A TWOFOLD YEARNING OF THE PSALMIST.
1. For the righteous. (Ver. 9.) "Save thy people, and bless thine inheritance." Put the emphasis on "thy,' "thine;" herein lies the force of the praying one's tender pleading with God "Feed them;" i.e. tend them, rule them; let them find thee all that thou art as their Shepherd. "Lift them up," equivalent to "bear them up," carry them in thine arms (Isaiah 63:9; Isaiah 40:11; Deuteronomy 1:31; Deuteronomy 32:11; see Perowne hereon).
2. Against the wicked. (Ver. 4.) It is here that so many have found a difficulty. We acknowledge that there would be a difficulty if these were the words of God to man; but as they are the words of man to God, why should there be any difficulty at all? Is any one bound to defend every word that any saint ever offered in prayer? Surely not. It is, however, only fair to the writer to bear in mind:
(1) That he does not pray against the wicked with personal vindictiveness, but regards them as the enemies of God (ver. 5), and of society likewise (ver. 3).
(2) No saint's prayers ever could go beyond the limits of the inspiration and revelation which were granted to him. No one even now can pray beyond the limits of his own knowledge. In the Old Testament times the all-conquering love of God had not been revealed as it has been to us, and so could not yield fuel for prayer.
(3) That such a prayer as this is an historical representation of the petitions of saints in the psalmist's time, and is no absolute model for our time, with our larger and warmer light-beams from on high. At the same time, we are bound also to remember that we ought not to cherish the like feelings towards the wicked that we do towards the righteous. Yea, if we are righteous, we cannot. And while we plead with God to build up those who are pure and true, we ought to plead with him to frustrate the designs of unreasonable and wicked men, and to arise and vindicate the great cause of righteousness and truth. And this we may do, while leaving it absolutely with God to deal with wicked people as he sees fit. The Judge of all the earth will do right, and we surely can leave the matter there. "Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord." Job's words are better than any prayers for vengeance: " I know that my Vindicator liveth." There let us rest. For we have to recognize -
III. A TWOFOLD ACTION OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE. He builds up the righteous, but disconcerts the schemes of the wicked. So the experience of life shows us, and so this psalm indicates.
1. To the righteous. God is
(1) their Strength;
(2) their Shield;
(3) the Stronghold of salvation for them and for their anointed king.
2. To the wicked. (Ver. 5.) "He shall break them down, and not build them up" (cf. Psalm 18:25, 26; Psalm 37:35; Psalm 73:18-20). God will seem to men according to what they are. If they follow his commandments, peace will attend their steps. If they violate them, all nature will be full of detectives, whips, and stings.
IV. A TWOFOLD ACT TOWARDS GOD.
1. Prayer. "Hear... when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle;" i.e. towards the "mercy-seat" (ver. 2). Although he was not selfish enough to cramp his desires within the limits of his own personal need, yet he was not unnatural enough to leave himself out. In fact, God was so much to him that his very life seemed bound up in God and his loving-kindness; the lack of a message from God to his spirit would almost drive him to despair (vers. 1, 2). But, as is so often the case, the very psalms which begin with the deepest sighing end with the most joyous shouting. Hence, following on prayer, there is:
2. Praise. (Ver. 6.) The lower God takes us down in the valley of humiliation, the higher will he take us up on the mount of exultation (Isaiah 41:16). And those who spend most time with God in weeping and supplication will have the loudest and sweetest strains to raise over the wonders of delivering grace. "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." This is as true of prayer as it is of work. Note: Making all allowance for the difference of tone in the two dispensations, the Hebrew and the Christian, yet throughout both the same laws hold good.
1. That prayer is one of the forces by means of which God sways the world.
2. That his people have for thousands of years been praying to him to bring in righteousness and to put down wrong of every kind.
3. That it is more certain these prayers will be answered than that the sun will rise to-morrow.
4. And, consequently, it is for men to decide whether to their life there shall attach the privilege of being borne upon the hearts of all God's saints in prayer, or the peril of being surrounded with petitions that they may ultimately be put to shame. - C.
I. MAN'S CRY TO GOD. (Vers. 1-5.) Prayer is an instinct of the heart. Man cries to man. There is a bond of brotherhood between all men. The simple fact that a brother is in need gives him a claim to help. Friend cries to friend. The nearer our relationships, the deeper our obligations. The child cries to its lather. Whatever may be the conduct of others, we are sure that parents will do what they can for their children. With how much more reason and confidence may we cry to God! He is ever near. He is always pitiful. He will surely help all those who cry to him. It is true we may be tried, sorely tried. Distresses may multiply. Our fears may magnify our danger. We may tremble as on the verge of the gulf. But let us not despair. Bartimaeus was not answered at the first, but he cried again. The Syro-Phoenician woman seemed at first to be met with repulse and refusal, but she pleaded the more earnestly. The sisters of Bethany were left for three whole days in their woe; but the Saviour came in his good time, brining light and joy. So let us learn to pray and wait. Daniel took comfort by looking toward Jerusalem; let us look above, to Jesus, "the Author and Finisher of our faith."
II. GOD'S RESPONSE TO MAN'S CRY. (Vers. 6-9.) In the deepest sense, God's response to man's cry is Christ. In him God has come to us in human form, brining salvation. Through him God is ever with us, to hear the prayer of the sinner and to satisfy the desires of his saints. When we pray it may be that the answer is delayed. As Joseph spoke roughly to his brethren, though love and kindness were in his heart all the time, so God may seem for a while to close his ear, and suffer us to struggle and cry in vain; but we are sure that his love does not change. He is not like Baal (1 Kings 18:27) or the god of Ekron (2 Kings 1:2). If he delays it is because this is needful. It is part of his discipline; it is necessary for the full accomplishment of his purposes. It may be also that God will answer our prayers in a way different from what we expected. We are weak and ignorant. Our minds are clouded, our hearts are confused. We are harassed and distressed by the things which press most closely upon us. We are not fit judges as to what is best. Let us confide in God. He knows what we are and what we need. His way is always the best way. Paul, hard pressed by the thorn in the flesh, besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from him. But he erred. It had been sent as a preventative, "lest he should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations;" and it had not yet served its full purpose. God did not cause it to depart, but he did what was far better. He said, "My grace is sufficient for thee." And Paul, now better taught, cries, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Baxter's rule is good, "As thou wilt, when thou wilt, and where thou wilt." But many times God is pleased to answer the prayers of his people by granting their requests. We ask light, and he gives light. We seek pardon, and he says, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." We crave help in trouble, and he sends forth his angels for our comfort and deliverance. God's response to our cry calls for thanksgiving. Thus prayer ends in praise (vers. 6, 7). There is gratitude for deliverance. Faith is strengthened, hope is revived, and love breaks forth into joyful songs of victory.
"I'll praise my Maker with my breath,
there it is the oppressed individual righteous man that speaks; here it is the oppressed righteous king speaking for himself and his people.
I. THE PRAYER FOR DELIVERANCE. (Vers. 1-3.) Arguments of the psalmist why God should answer him.
1. The certain, firm faithfulness of God. "God was his Rock." God and he were friends, and he could not but listen to the cry of a friend for help. Besides, God has promised to deliver the righteous out of his troubles. We have this assurance in the gospel. "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins."
2. If God did not answer him, he would soon be past deliverance. "Like them that go down to the dead." No human help could avail him; no operation of mere natural law. God's arm must interpose for him. All real answers to prayer are supernatural - something above nature - from the realm of spirit.
3. He lifted his hands to the place where God speaks with his people. (See Exodus 25:22.) That is, he puts himself into the divinely appointed way of being heard - praying towards the mercy-seat between the cherubim. Did all he knew and could do for being answered. Have we done that?
4. God was too just to involve him in a common fate with wicked and deceitful men. (Ver. 3.) "Draw me not away," etc. That would not be just. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
II. A PRAYER THAT THE WICKED MAY NOT GO UNPUNISHED. (Vers. 4, 5.) Particularly his enemies. The prayer might not have been prompted by malignity. For:
1. Their frustration might have been necessary to his deliverance. If so, he was only crying for justice, such as we often invoke upon those guilty of injustice. "Give them according to their deeds," and let them not continue in their unrighteous courses.
2. The prayer is followed by a prophecy of their assured doom. Because they do not study God's righteous judgments, they fall into increasing wickedness, and make sure of being destroyed.
III. PRAYER ANSWERED IS FOLLOWED BY CONFIDENCE AND THANKSGIVING.
1. The struggles of his soul have brought victory, praise, and joy. (Vers. 6-8.)
2. The psalmist prays that the Lord would do eternally that which he had now done. (Ver. 9.) Would continue to do for ever the same as he had now done for him and his people. - S.