Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Psalm 42. It is "a song upon Alamoth," which, according to Furst, is the proper name of a musical choir. As the word "Alamoth" means "virgins," it is supposed that the song was for soprano voices. We have, however, to deal with the contents of the song itself. It has long been a favourite with the people of God. "This is my psalm," said Luther. To this we owe his "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," and many other songs of the sanctuary. It would seem to have been suggested by some one of the many deliverances which the Hebrews had from the onsets of their foes; but to which of those it specially refers, is and must be left an open question. There are phrases in it which remind us of the redemption from Egypt (cf. ver. 5 with Exodus 14:27, Hebrew). There are others which recall the deliverance for which Jehoshaphat prayed (cf. vers. 10, 11 with 2 Chronicles 20:17, 22, 23). Other words vividly set forth the boasting of Sennacherib and the destruction of his army (cf. vers. 3, 6 with 2 Kings 18:29-35; 2 Kings 19:6, 7, 15-19, 28, 35). At each of these crises the four points of this psalm would be
(1) a raging storm;
(2) a commanding voice;
(3) a humbled foe;
(4) a jubilant song.
And how many times this song has been sung by individuals, by families, by Churches, by nations, the closest students of history best can tell. And in setting forth this song for homiletic use, we might show that it records the repeated experience of the Church; that it becomes the grateful song of the family; that it fits the lips of the believer in recounting providential mercy; that it is the constant song of the saints in rehearsing redemption's story. To deal with all these lines of thought would far exceed our space. We will confine ourselves to the last-named use of the words before us, showing that this forty-sixth psalm means far more on the lips of the Christian than it did on the lips of Old Testament believers. It is not the song itself that is our chief joy, but that revelation of God which has made such a song possible for believers - first under the Old Testament, and specially, in Christ, under the New Testament.
I. THE SAINTS NOW HAVE A CLEARER VIEW OF GOD. (Hebrews 1:1, 2.) Of old, God spake through prophets; now he speaks in his Son. And when we hear our Lord say, "He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father," we know at once to whom to turn for the interpretation of that greatest of all words, "God." To the Hebrews, their covenant God was revealed in words (Exodus 34:6, 7); but to us he is revealed in the living Word, in the Person of the incarnate Son of God. "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."
II. THE SAINTS NOW CAN RECORD A GREATER DELIVERANCE than Israel of old could boast - an infinitely greater one. Not only was there all the difference between rescues that were local, temporary, national, and one that is for the race for all time, but also the difference between a deliverance from Egypt, Ammon, Moab, and Assyria, and one that is from Satan and from sin; from the curse of a broken Law, and from the wrath to come. The song of Miriam is infinitely outdone by the new song, even the song of Moses and the Lamb.
III. THE SAINTS CAN NOW REJOICE IN A BETTER COVENANT. At the back, so to speak, of the psalm before us there was a recognized covenant between God and the people (Exodus 19:5, 6; Psalm 46:7, 11). In the later days of David "the everlasting covenant" was the aged monarch's hope and rest. But now, in Christ, we have the "better covenant," "the everlasting covenant," sealed and ratified with blood (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 13:20; Matthew 26:28). This covenant assures to the penitent, forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified. It includes all that Christ is and has, as made over to those who rely on him, for ever and for ever. It is not dependent on the accidents of time or sense. No duration can weaken it; no ill designs can mar it; not all the force of earth or hell can touch these who look to "the sure mercies of David."
IV. THE SAINTS NOW MAKE UP A MORE PRIVILEGED CITY. (Ver. 4.) While nations were proudly and angrily raging like the wild waves of the tossing sea, there was a calm, peaceful river, whose branches peacefully flowed through the city of God. Thus beautifully does the psalmist indicate the calm which took possession of believers then, while the nations roared around them. And in "the new Jerusalem," the present "city of God," which Divine love founded, and which Divine power is building up, there still flows the deep, still, calm river of Divine peace and joy and love. Or, if it be preferred, let Dr. Watts tell " That sacred stream, thine Holy Word, That all our raging fear controls; Sweet peace thy promises afford, And give new strength to fainting souls." Through the new city of God, the Holy Catholic Church, made up of all believers, this peaceful stream ever runs, refreshing and fertilizing wherever it flows. No frost congeals it; no heat can dry it up; it will eternally make glad the city of God. Hence -
V. THE SAINTS NOW PEAL FORTH A MORE JUBILANT SONG, We can sing this psalm, especially its first verse, with wider intelligence, larger meaning, deeper peace, and more expansive joy, than were possible to the Hebrews of old. As revelation has advanced, the believer's joy in God has grown likewise. Faith becomes larger as faith's Object becomes clearer. And no Hebrew could sing of the deliverance of his fathers so joyously as we can sing of the redemption of a world - a redemption in which we can rejoice, not only in our days of sadness, but in our days of gladness too. And as the psalmist could think of God as the Lord of hosts, and yet the God of Jacob; as the Leader of the armies of heaven, and yet the Helper of the lonely, wayworn traveller; so the believer, in thinking of the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, can say, "He died for all," and also, "He loved me, and gave himself for me."
VI. THE SONG IS GRANDEST WHERE TROUBLE HAS BEEN THE GREATEST. "He has been found a Help in trouble exceedingly " - the adverb expressive of intensity may refer to the greatness of the trouble. But however this may be, certain it is that it is in the troubles of life that the believer finds out all that God is to him. And the man who can sing this psalm most jubilantly is the one who has been weighted with care most heavily. This is the glory of our great redeeming God. He is a Friend for life's dark days, as well as for the bright ones. Note:
1. The troubles of life often bring out to us our need of God. It is easy to be serene when trouble is far from us, and to spin fine philosophic webs; but let trouble come upon us, - that will make all the difference. The late beloved Princess Alice was almost led to the dark negations of Straussianism; but when she lost her child, her trouble led her to feel her need of a Refuge, and then she sought and found the Lord. Ellen Watson, the accomplished mathematician, revelled in exact science, and "wanted nothing more," till the death of a friend broke in on her exact science, rent her heart, opened her eyes, and was the means of leading her to Jesus. The experience of a young civil engineer, whom the writer visited in his last illness, was precisely the same.
2. Those who can give us no comfort or rest in the troubles of life are of little use in such a world as this. In a letter of an aged Unitarian minister to a friend of the writer, the expression is used, "I am just battling with the inevitable." "Battling with the inevitable!" So it must be, if men turn away from our God as the Redeemer from sin, the Saviour of the lost.
3. It is the glory of Christ as our Refuge that he can hide us securely in the fiercest troubles of life.
"Should storms of sevenfold thunder roll, And shake the globe from pole to pole No flaming bolt shall daunt my face For Jesus is my Hiding-place." ? C.
I. HELP IN TROUBLE. It may be some storm of outward or of inward trial comes, or both may be combined. Enemies may rage without, and sin may rouse tumults and fears within. But "God is our Refuge;" he is always near, always sufficient. The manslayer might fail to reach the place of safety; but God is at our right hand, and it needs but a cry from our hearts to secure his help. The Israelite might perish, though he had his hand on the horn of the altar (1 Kings 2:25); but if we "flee for refuge to lay held upon the hope set before us," we are safe (Hebrews 6:18). It is this faith in God that gives true fearlessness. Trusting in God and doing good, who can harm us (1 Peter 3:13)?
II. COMFORT IN TROUBLE. (Vers. 4, 5.) There is an advance here to what is more inward and spiritual - to the Divine consolations of the good. The "river," with its several "streams," typifies those consolations as they are to be found in the Word and ordinances of the gospel and the love of God in Christ Jesus. They are free, affluent, abiding. Other waters may fail (Isaiah 19:5), but they "go on for ever." Like the waters from the rock that followed Israel through all their wanderings, so they are ever beside us and open to us, so that whosoever will may drink and be refreshed. "God is in the midst of her." This is the secret of the whole.
III. DELIVERANCE FROM TROUBLE. Trials are needful; they have their purpose, and when it is accomplished they cease. As with the wars that desolate the earth, they arc under the control of God. It is for us to be patient and trust. God's time is the best time. It may be dark now, but the dawn of a brighter day is near (ver. 5). There may be conflict and strife now, and as good soldiers of Jesus Christ we must endure hardness; but victory is sure. We are not only to learn patience from what we 6, behold" of the works of the Lord, but from what we "know" in the secrets of our own experience (vers. 8-10); besides, we have the sure word of prophecy and of promise. "The Lord of hosts is with us;" and if so, greater is he that is for us than all they that can be against us. "The God of Jacob is our Refuge; "and if so, we may be confident that God will keep us in all places whither we go, and will not only sanctify unto us all our trials, but bring us in the end into the land of everlasting peace. - W.F.
I. GOD'S RELATION TO US.
1. A relation of strength. (Vers. 6, 7, 9.)
2. Of intimate nearness. (Vers. 5, 7.) "In the midst of her." "With us." Immanuel. How near God is to us in Christ!
3. Of parental tenderness. "The God of Jacob is our Refuge." Christ calls us "little children," denoting how God feels toward us.
II. WHAT WE SHOULD BE IN CONSEQUENCE OF SUCH A RELATION.
1. Fearless amid the greatest changes. (Vers. 2, 3.) But evil men have much to fear from God.
2. Glad or joyful. (Ver. 4.) God will help "right early," or "in the morning."
3. Obedient to the omnipotent God. "Be still" is equivalent to "know what I am, and cease from wars against my people." "He breaketh the bow of the strongest, and cutteth the spear in sunder; be burneth the chariot in the fire." - S.