Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
A Psalm or Song at the dedication of the house of David." What house is referred to we have no means of knowing, nor is there any very manifest relation between the contents of the psalm and the dedication of any house whatsoever. We can scarcely read the psalm carefully without gathering therefrom that the writer had had a dangerous illness, from which he was not expecting to recover. But his life was mercifully spared; and we may venture to gather also (by comparing the title of the psalm with ver. 3) that his recovery, and the dedication referred to nearly coincided in point of time; and that he piously resolved to avail himself of such dedication service to return thanks for his recovery. This supposition is in itself reasonable, and, so far as we can find, it is not inconsistent with any of the expressions in the psalm itself. We find herein an interesting blending of the psalmist's inner thoughts and of his pleadings with God. We see from both, how the Old Testament saints were wont to think and pray concerning sickness and death; both in thought and prayer we find here a decided reflection of the incompleteness of revelation under the Mosaic economy, and therefore, as Christians, privileged with fuller light and larger truth, we shall be greatly to blame if we look at either affliction or death as gloomily as the psalmist did. At the same time, the varied stages of experience indicated here are so very frequently passed through, even now, that we may service-ably utilize this psalm for the purposes of studying the dealings of God with his saints in the olden time, and in the present time likewise. There are six stages of experience rehearsed at this dedication service.
I. FIRST STAGE: TRANQUILITY. (Ver. 6.) "In men tranquillitate" (Buxtorf and Calvin). There had been a time, prior to the experience of trouble here recorded, in which the writer had enjoyed comparative rest for a while. Some such interval of quiet is named in 2 Samuel 7:1 (see also 2 Samuel 13:14, 15). And while he was calm and prosperous, he began to reckon securely on the future. He said, "I shall never be moved." We have no reason to think this was a sinful self-security, as one expositor intimates; for in the text we are told that David attributed his ease to God's good grace and favour. But, not unnaturally, he took it for granted that such quiet would last. God had made his "mountain" of prosperity to stand so firmly that it did not then seem as if he would again be seriously disturbed. Note: There is not only a sinful self-security into which the saints may fall for a while, but there is also a thoughtless assumption which may fasten on us in times of ease, that things will remain calm and smooth. There is danger in this, however, if not sin. And it is more than likely that God will send us something to disturb our treacherous calm. Hence -
II. SECOND STAGE: TROUBLE. (Ver. 7, latter part.) The references in the psalm show us what this trouble was; we can scarcely question that it was some dangerous illness, in which his life was very seriously threatened (cf. vers. 2, 3, 8, 9). And he attributed this illness to, or at least he associated it with, the "hiding of God's face." There is no necessary connection between these two. If, indeed, spiritual pride and a careless walk have sullied our life, there will be a time of mental darkness and serious spiritual depression afterwards. And not only so; but there are some diseases in which equanimity is so perturbed that spiritual distress may attend on bodily weakness through unhingement of the nervous system; and, subjectively, the effect may be as if God's face were hidden. The connection of bodily suffering with mental gloom was not understood in David's time, nor indeed till very recently. In the lives of Brainerd and other saints of their day, it is clear that a morbid introspection led them to associate the depression caused by fluctuating bodily health with corresponding spiritual ill. But we ought now to understand better both the laws of health and the love of God. So far from bodily affliction being a sign of "the hiding of God's face," God himself is never nearer, and his love is never more tender, than in our times of suffering and distress. A dear friend who was seriously ill said to the writer one day, "Oh! I'm so weak, I cannot think, I cannot even pray!" We replied, "Your little Ada was very ill some time ago, was she not?" "Very." "Was she not too ill to speak to you?" "Yes." "Did you love her less because she could not speak to you?" "No! I think I loved her more, if there was any difference. Just so" was God's reply. "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." We must never associate trouble and sickness per se with "the hiding of God's face." But David's trouble, and his views thereof, led to the -
III. THIRD STAGE: PRAYER. And the prayer was woeful indeed. He thought he was going down to the grave - to Sheol (Hebrew), to Hades (LXX.), i.e. to the dim and drear underworld of the departed. There are three views of the state immediately after death, which is intended by the terms above named, which carry with them no moral significance, unless such moral significance is conveyed by the connection in which they stand. "Sheol" denotes the realm of departed souls, looked at as the all-demanding world. "Hades" denotes the realm of departed souls, looked at as the unknown region. To the pagan world, Hades was all dark, and no light beyond. To the Hebrews it was a dim, shadowy realm, with light awaiting the righteous in the morning (cf. Psalm 17:15; Psalm 49:14). To the Christian it is neither dark nor dim, but something "very far better" it is being" with Christ" Hence it follows that such a moan as that in ver. 9 would be utterly out of place now; "dying" to a believer is not "going down to the pits" and ought not to be thought of as such. The tenth verse can never be inappropriate. But note:
1. Times of anxiety and trouble often bring out agonizing prayer.
2. We may pour forth all our agonies before God. We speak to One who will never misunderstand, and who will do for us "above all that we ask or think." Hence we are not surprised to see the psalmist at a -
IV. FOURTH STAGE: RECOVERY. (Ver. 11; also ver. 1, "Thou hast lifted me up;" ver. 2, "Thou hast healed me.") The psalmist was restored, and permitted again to sing of recovering mercy. Note: Whatever means may be used in sickness, it is only by the blessing of God thereon that they are efficacious. Therefore he should be praised for his goodness and loving-kindness therein.
V. FIFTH STAGE: THANKSGIVING AND PRAMS. (Ver. 5.) When the trouble is over, what seemed so prolonged a period before dwindles in the review to" a moment." There is a beautiful antithesis, moreover, in the fifth verse, which our Revisers have too cautiously put in the margin, "His anger is but for a moment; his favour is for a lifetime." Bishop Perowne says, "חַיִּים seems here to be used of duration of life, though it would be difficult to support the usage." But even if the word may not be used of the duration of life, surely it is used of life in reference to its continuousness, as in Psalm 21:5 and Psalms 63:5; and so is in complete antithesis to "a moment." We should render the text, "For a moment in his anger, life in his favour." (Even here, however, we must beware of always associating sickness with the anger of God.) How gloriously true it is, "He will not always chide, neither will he keep his anger for ever" (Psalm 103:9, 10; Isaiah 57:16-18)! We may not only praise God that our joys vastly outnumber our sorrows, but also that ofttimes our sorrows become the greatest mercies of all. Thus we are brought in thought to the -
VI. SIXTH STAGE: VOW. (Ver. 12, "O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.") Many illustrations are to be found in the Word of God, of vows following on the reception of special mercies from him (Genesis 28:20-22; 1 Samuel 1:11; Psalm 116; Psalm 132:2). Note: At each instance of signal mercy in life, there should be as signal a repetition of our consecration vows. - C.
afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Hebrews 12:11). This psalm teaches how we may reap much good from the chastening of sickness.
I. The first thing is to ACKNOWLEDGE GOD'S HAND. The heathen may be in doubt; they may question whether it is "a chance' or the doing of God when great evil comes (1 Samuel 6:9); but it ought not to be so with us. Behind the things seen, and all the causes we can trace, we should see the hand of God. "Thou hast lifted me up." What a blessed change this thought effects! It is like light breaking in on the darkness, and the sense of a loving presence bringing hope to our hearts in trouble.
II. Again, we should CONFESS GOD'S MERCY. However bad our case may he, it might be worse. "Wherefore doth a living man complain - a man for the punishment of his sins?" (Lamentations 3:39; cf. Micah 7:9). Besides, there are alleviations. We meet with kindness and sympathy; we are cheered by the ministry of loving friends; we have the teaching and experiences of other sufferers open to us in books; above all, we have the consolations of our holy religion.
III. Again, it is meet that we should SEEK TO KNOW GOD'S WILL. He does not act from passion or caprice. He has a purpose, and his purpose must be worthy of himself, as well as benign and gracious toward us. We know as a general truth that "the will of God is our sanctification" (1 Thessalonians 4:3). But we should inquire, besides, as to what special end God may have in view in the particular trial that has come to us. It may be he wishes to teach us the brevity of life. "Work, therefore, while it is called to-day" (John 9:4). Or his object may be to humble our hearts and to quicken our sympathies with others. "Look not, therefore, on your own things, but look also on the things of others" (Philippians 2:4). Or his purpose may be to loosen us from earthly things, and to bind us more closely to himself as our Saviour and our God. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). In any case, like Job, let us say, "That which I see not teach thou me: if I have done iniquity, I will do no more" (Job 34:32; cf. Joshua 7:6).
IV. Again, we should pray that we may be able to SURRENDER OURSELVES WHOLLY TO GOD. "The hardest, the severest, the last lesson which man has to learn upon this earth is submission to the will of God. It is the hardest lesson, because to our blinded eyesight it often seems a cruel will. It is the severest, because it can be only taught by the blighting of much that has been most dear; it is the last lesson, because when a man has learned that, he is fit to be transplanted from a world of wilfulness to a world in which one will alone is loved and done. All that saintly experience ever had to teach resolves itself into this - the lesson how to say affectionately, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt" (F. W. Robertson). When we have learned this lesson, then we are able to see with thankfulness and joy that God's holiness and love are one (ver. 4). Besides, we have reached a height which, looking before and after, we recognize the gracious dealings of God with us all through, and are able to say that it was good for us to have been afflicted (vers. 6-12). Perhaps, like the psalmist, we may have been falling into carnal security. We have said to ourselves, "I shall never be moved." Our presumption has brought upon us chastisement. We presumed upon our health, and God sent sickness; we presumed upon our friends and lovers, and God has put them far from us; we presumed upon our reputation and worldly comforts, and God has brought us low; we presumed upon our religious faith and privileges, and God has hid his face from us, and taught us that we must rely only on himself. Our trials have moved us to prayer (vers. 8-10); our prayer has brought us help and comfort from God (ver. 11), and now with renewed hope and joy we can sing God's praise (ver. 12). - W.F.
I. HE CELEBRATES WITH JOY THE MERCY OF GOD TO HIM.
1. His recovery had put an end to the malicious exultation of his foes. (Ver. 1.) Wicked men rejoice in the downfall and calamity of the good; they accept it as a sign of hypocrisy and of the approaching downfall of goodness and the good cause. And this was why the psalmist rejoiced that in his case they had been disappointed. We sympathize in the success of the cause that is dearest to our heart - the good with the good; the bad with the bad.
2. God had healed him of the sin which caused the chastisement. (Ver. 2.) What the instance of the sin was may be seen in the sixth verse - overweening presumption and pride, produced by prosperity. It was that which threatened his safety, his very life; and it imperils the safety of all who are guilty of it. "Pride goeth before destruction," etc. His faults nothing as compared to virtues. And in being healed of the sin he was restored and lifted back to life.
3. God had removed also the chastisement of his sin. (Ver. 3.) It would not have been good to remove the chastisement till it had wrought repentance and brought him humility and trust and watchfulness. God always removes the sin before he takes away the chastisement.
II. HE USES HIS OWN EXPERIENCE AS A LESSON OF TRUST TO OTHERS. (Vers. 4, 5.)
1. Sympathy with men and gratitude to God both teach us to do this. Others who were then suffering what he had suffered were encouraged to trust in the goodness of God. But the special ground for praise here insisted on is:
2. That the dark experiences of the righteous are transient, like the tears of a might; but their bright experiences as quickly return as the morning after the night. (Ver. 5.) Long-continued sorrow kills; joy is the life-giver which God sends when sorrow has brought us low The sorrow of the world worketh death, but godly sorrow life. - S.
I. GLORIOUSLY INDEPENDENT. The holiness of the creature is derived. It is not by will, or by effort, or by discipline as something that has been wrought out by himself; it is of God. But the holiness of Christ was his own; it was essential to his being; it was the outshining of the glory that he had from eternity (Isaiah 6:3; John 12:41).
II. ABSOLUTELY PERFECT. Thank God, there have been, and there are, good men upon earth; but none of them is perfect. None is good from the first; none is wholly and always good. The holiness of the best is not only derived, but imperfect. This is the confession of every one that is godly when coming before God. But the holiness of Christ was perfect. Nothing could be added to it - nothing higher could be conceived. In this respect be stands alone, the first, and the last, and the only one, in human likeness, who had kept the Law perfectly, and who could say, in the face of enemies and of friends, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" (John 8:46).
III. INVIOLABLY PURE. Some may seem pure because they have not been tried. But Christ was subjected to the severest trials and temptations; yet his holy soul was never stained by sin. He was born without sin (Luke 1:35); he lived in an evil world without sin (1 John 3:5); he died without sin (Hebrews 9:14). "Such an High Priest became us:" (Hebrews 7:26).
IV. ETERNALLY BEAUTIFUL. We read of "the beauty of holiness," and it is the supreme and perfect beauty of character.
1. Challenges our admiration.
2. Inspires our confidence.
3. Commands our love.
Christ's holiness is not against us, but for us. It does not repel, but attract; it shows us what we ought to be, and thus humbles us under a sense of our sins; it shows us what we may become, and thus raises our hopes to heaven. It is because of his holiness he is fitted to be our Saviour. He not only perfectly represents God to man, but also man to God. Never was it more needful than in our day to remember Christ's holiness. Men are ready enough to speak of Christ's truth, Christ's goodness, Christ's self-sacrifice, and so forth; but few speak of his holiness. But in the Old Testament and the New holiness has a first place. Our Lord addressed God as "Holy Father" (John 17:11). He has taught us that without holiness no one shall see God; and he, and he alone, reveals to us the way whereby we who are sinners may cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in God's fear. It is as we become holy that we grow up into Christ, to the stature of the perfect man. It is as we are holy that we can best serve Christ here, and sing his praise for ever (1 Peter 1:15; 1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 4:8; Revelation 14:3). - W.F.
I. THE CHANGES OF LIFE. Health may give place to sickness, prosperity to adversity, joy to sorrow. To-day we may be lifted up and rejoicing in God's favour, to-morrow we may be cast down and in trouble because God is hiding his face from us. There are two things to be guarded against. First, presumption (ver. 6); next, despair. Come what will, we must cling to God (vers. 9, 10).
II. THE CONSOLATIONS OF LIFE.
1. All changes are under the control of God.
2. That God's help is always available. Nothing can really prevent us from enjoying God's presence, but our own sin.
3. That the end of the Lord is merciful. The blessing will surely come to those who wait for it. "Anger" will give place to "favour;" the. pain. of the "moment" will be forgotten in the joy of renewed "life" and the ushering m of the glad eternal "day." The end is "praise." - W.F.
I. WORLDLY PROSPERITY A SECURITY. "In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved."
1. We say this in youth. All our castles in the air, we think, are built upon mountains. We think we can become anything and achieve anything we please.
2. We say this before we know our sinfulness. The ways of the world harden our hearts about our sins. Success in life and the means we employ to reach it will often harden the conscience. Money, luxury, praise, are dreadful things to blind men to their real character and state before God.
II. THE SENSE OF DANGER AND TROUBLE.
1. God hides his face. We, in our vain confidence, think it is God that has made our mountain to stand strong - till he hides his face, till a great black cloud (our sins) comes between us and God. This phrase, though often misapplied, expresses a very real fact. It is the blackness of darkness to many a terror-stricken sinner.
2. The terrors of death. Of death, natural and spiritual, get hold of us. The terror of death, natural and spiritual, is to be forsaken of God in it. This dreadful moment has come to nearly all good men. Some men never get beyond this second stage of life.
III. RESTORATION TO REAL PROSPERITY AND SECURITY.
1. The prosperity of the believer is real prosperity. It is the prosperity of the soul; it is prosperity from God, and not from man; it is lasting, secure prosperity.
2. God is the Author of the second and third stages of a good man's life. "Thou didst hide thy face;... thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing," etc. - S.