Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Psalm 42., 43., and some eight others. The late Dean Plumptre, in his 'Biblical Studies,' pp. 163-166, gives reasons for concluding that they all belong to the reign of Hezekiah, and were written by members of the Levitical family of Korah. One or more of them, it may be, hindered by the presence of the army of Sennacherib from going up to the temple, as they had been wont to do, pours out his grief in these psalms. It may have been so: we cannot certainly say. There have been two great interpretations of this psalm - that which reads in it -
I. THE LONGING OF THE SERVANT OF GOD AFTER THE WORSHIP OF THE SANCTUARY. This is the most general meaning found in it, as well as the most obvious. To this day the sparrows fly round the Mosque of Omar as they flew about the precincts of the temple which once stood on that same spot, as the writer of the psalm had often noticed. There was
"No jutting frieze.
1. Of the loveliness of God's house, in his esteem.
2. Of his intense desire for it. (Ver. 2.) His soul yearning told upon his body, that he was as one in pain, and cried out.
3. Of the birds, the common sparrow, the restless swallow, - even they seemed to him happier than himself, for they were where he would but could not be. They were not banished, as he was, from the courts of the Lord. They dwelt and had their home there, as he fain would.
4. Of the blessedness of his service. It was a life of praise, and there is no life so blessed as this. They are made strong by God; the joy of it brightened the long journeys, reached to the very roads, arid, bare, and terrible, as many of them were. Yet nevertheless, in their hearts were ever these "ways." The joy of the service to which they were going made the vale of weeping a place of joy, the sandy waste a place of fountains; yea, God did so bless them with his grace as with the soft autumnal rains the cornlands are blessed after the seed is sown. And the looked or gladness made their numbers swell and grow by additions that came in from all sides as the happy pilgrims went along, until every one of them appeared before God in Zion. Then follows:
5. The fervent prayer that these hallowed seasons may be again given; the names by which he appeals to God telling probably of the hosts of enemies arrayed against the people of God.
6. He declares the reason wherefore he thus importunes the Lord of hosts. It was because he counted the meanest service for God better than the best pleasures of sin. The worst of the Church is better than the best of the world. And because of what God himself was.
7. From all this learn - that the love of God's house is one sure mark of God's people; that true worship is a well of delight, which gladdens all our life; but that only they know it who have knowledge of God in their own personal experience as their Sun and Shield.
II. The other interpretation of this psalm reads it as telling of THE BLESSEDNESS OF LIFE IN GOD. Ver. 1 distinctly affirms this: the earthly tabernacle being the type of the soul in which God dwells. Ver. 2 declares that he cannot live without God. Ver. 3: he joyfully asserts that he lives in God; his soul, though mean as the sparrow, restless as the swallow, has yet found a rest, a dwelling place, a home in God - in God as seen in his altars, type of the sacrifice of Christ. Ver. 4: he celebrates the blessedness of such - their life is one continued song. Ver. 5: and of those whose strength - their confident trust - is in God, in whose heart are "ways" for God; he has full right of way in them, they belong to him (Isaiah 40:3, 4). Ver. 6: their sorrow is turned into joy. Ver. 7: their trust strengthens evermore; they see God as they worship. Vers. 8-11 are one fervent prayer that he who has told of this blessedness may know it for himself: "Hear my prayer." And all this is true: the life in God is blessed. - S.C.
Psalm 42., 44. They were a family of Levites whose inheritance lay on the eastern side of the Jordan. "Dwelling on the other side of Jordan, it was often impossible for them to reach Jerusalem. When the river swelled and rose with the melting snows of winter, or with the heavy tropical rains which fell on the northern hills and mountains, the fords of the Jordan became impassable; and the sons of Korah, even though their turn of duty had come round, were unable to go up to the house of the Lord. So, too, when the armies of Assyria, or some other foe, were encamped round the city, and no Hebrew was permitted to pass the line of siege, they were shut out from the worship of the temple through all the summer months. Many, if not most, of their psalms appear to have been composed at such times as these." The point suggested is that the spiritual condition of this writer can be tested by his feeling when deprived of religious privileges. Was he glad of the ease and relief? Or did he pine for restoration? So it may be shown that when Christians, through sickness or travelling, are separated from their usual worshipping associations, their spiritual state may be appraised by their feeling. Do they pine for them; regretfully remember them, and wish they had made better use of them?
I. DO WE LONG FOR GOD'S WORSHIP? It may be actually a possible thing for a man to live a religious life without ever taking part in any public services. He is a rara avis indeed who succeeds in accomplishing it. Most men not only yield to Divine command and invitation, by sharing in sanctuary services, but they feel also the positive necessity for such services, in the culture of their religious life, and the satisfaction of their religious wants. When souls are alive unto God, they are sure to desire to worship and praise him along with others. This is the natural religious instinct. But it should be pointed out that the interest in God's worship may cease to be spiritual; it may become aesthetic; it may even sink down to be a merely "formal habit."
II. IS OUR LONGING FOR GOD'S HOUSE AND WORSHIP REALLY ALONGING FOR THE SENSE OF HIS NEARNESS? The expression in ver. 2, "for the living God," suggests the deep spirituality of the writer. It was not the ritual he longed for, or the songs; it was the conscious presence of God, as the living Helper, Guide, and Comforter. Compare the Christian yearning for the close and conscious presence of the living Christ as Saviour and Sanctifier. - R.T.
I. HELPS US TO REALIZE OUR NEARNESS TO GOD. (Ver. 1.) "How lovely are thy dwellings!" or "the house where thou dwellest."
II. IT IS THE EXPRESSION OF THE DEEPEST LONGING OF THE HEART AND SOUL. (Ver. 2.)
III. IT GIVES THE SENSE OF BEING AT HOME WITH GOD. (Ver. 3.) He is at a distance from the sanctuary; and the birds of the air seem nearer God than he is.
IV. IT INTENSIFIES THE SPIRIT OF GRATITUDE AND PRAISE. (Ver. 4.)
V. WE BECOME CONSCIOUS OF A STRENGTH DERIVED FROM GOD. (Ver. 5.)
VI. IT CREATES SPRINGS OF REFRESHMENT IN THE WILDERNESS. In the weeping vale (ver. 6). "The early rain cometh in with blessings."
VII. IT CONSTANTLY RENEWS AND INCREASES OUR SPIRITUAL STRENGTH. (Ver. 7.) VIII. IT WILL BRING US AT LENGTH TO THE VISION OF GOD IN HEAVEN. (Ver. 7.) - S.
Psalm 42:2. "In the New Testament the name 'living God' is found in St. Matthew's and St. John's Gospels, in the speech of Paul and Barnabas in the Acts (Acts 14:14), in several of St. Paul's Epistles, four times in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and once in the Revelation." It is difficult to treat this subject as a universal experience, because our hearts are so full of the risen and living Christ, God manifest in the flesh, God manifest in the spirit. He is God, the living God, ever with us, as Helper, Inspirer, Comforter, and Sanctifier; but we may helpfully try to take the position of a "son of Korah," and begin by considering what the "living God" was to him.
I. GOD THOUGHT OF IN MAN'S MEDITATIONS. Why did it not suffice this writer to read his Bible, study and think about God, in the land beyond the Jordan? A man can have feast times, times of spiritual refreshing, in the privacy of his home, and in the midst of God's handiwork in nature. And every man ought to have such thoughts of God; nourish and cherish them. But here is the fact of human experience - God thought has never wholly sufficed and satisfied any human being yet, because man is a composite being. He is not all thought. He has a body. And this very thinking is dependent on the help that symbols - relative to the body - can bring. Devotees may strive to become all thought. They do not thus transcend human nature, they degrade it. We must have more concerning our God than mere thinking about him; and therefore this Korahite longs for his revealed Presence in the temple.
II. GOD REALIZED THROUGH APPOINTED SYMBOLS. Pious souls have always recognized a sense in which God is specially present in his sanctuaries, and in his sacraments. God taught this to all the ages by the manifestation of his Presence in Jewish tabernacle and temple, by the brooding cloud and the Shechinah light. What the psalmist dwells on is, that he used to realize God's nearness when he looked on his dwelling place, shared in his worship, and heard his priests. Urge that only at spiritual peril can men neglect the symbols of the presence and working of the living God.
III. GOD FELT IN MAN'S HEART AND LIFE. This is the full realization of God as the Living One, living and working in us. Show this is an advance on sentiment, or mere thought of God, and on formalism, or mere outward worship of God. It is God in us, the inspiration of all good. It is "Christ our Life." - R.T.
Psalm 11.). Note -
I. SOME OF THEIR CHARACTERISTICS.
1. Such as are negative. They are not distinguished, like the eagle and many others, but of a very humble and lowly sort; nor powerful and strong; nor beautiful; nor valuable - "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?" - nor numerous, that is, in comparison with the vast multitude of birds generally; nor, in themselves, attractive and beloved, like the dove. But neither are they cruel like the eagle, nor "foul like the vulture, nor greedy as the cormorant, nor bloodthirsty as the hawk, nor hardhearted as the ostrich, nor depending upon men for support as the fowls of the farmyard, nor loving darkness like the owl" (Spurgeon). All these negative qualities suggest the opposite ones in those who delight in God. But there are also:
2. Such as are positive. They are the lowly ones, restless till they find their home; seekers, - they "find" the rest they desire; true to their homes; trustful, - in what strange places their nests are often found, under the eaves of cottages, and in all manner of accessible places, where any one could reach them, but they seem to trust that no one will harm them! Are not these characteristics like those of the souls of whom these birds are the types?
II. THEIR ENCOURAGEMENTS.
1. There are the altars of God for them; they have not to provide such home.
2. When they come they are never driven away.
III. THEIR DISCOVERIES. They find:
1. A habitation, strong, comfortable, abiding.
2. A home. The Church is a home for the soul.
IV. THEIR YOUNG. Their home is in the courts of the Lord. So will the faithful servants of God seek that their offspring shall find their home in the Church of God. "Children should be housed in the house of God. The sanctuary of God should be the nursery of the young." Happy those children whose parents seek for this above all else! - S.C.
I. THE PSALMIST ENVIES THE BIRDS THEIR SECURITY. Probably he wrote when the land was in a disturbed state, and there was no restfulness or safety for any one anywhere. And he must have felt this even more in the open and exposed districts beyond the Jordan. Illustrate from the idea of "sanctuary," which was, in old times, attached to the temples. Once within them, no foe could assail. Dr. Turner tells us that in Samoa, the manslayer flies to the house of the chief of the village; and in nine cases out of ten he is perfectly safe, if only he remains there. See how jealously Jews guarded their temple from the intrusion of strangers. In London of the olden time, Whitefriars, Westminster, and the Savoy were sanctuaries for all criminals except traitors. This feeling of security the Christian gains out of his daily apprehension of the Divine presence and defence. Round about him are the everlasting arms. He lives within the overshadowing spiritual temple. "What can harm us, if we be followers of that which is good," and have God upon our side?
II. THE PSALMIST ENVIES THE BIRDS THEIR PEACE. Illustrate by dwelling fully on that strange, yet delightful quietness, restfulness, solemnity, which come upon us when we enter a cathedral. We feel as we feel nowhere else in the world. Our feeling answers to that of the Jew when entering his temple. Show how nourishing to all the finest elements of soul life that atmosphere of peace is. - R.T.
actual journey towards Zion is represented as accompanied with ideal blessings of peace and refreshment. The poet has thought of the blessedness of those who dwell constantly in God's house. Now he thinks of the blessedness of those who are permitted to go there, and to tarry there for a while. And this leads him to recall what happy times he had known, even in the journeys to Jerusalem. Perowne says of the pilgrims to Zion, "Every spot of the familiar read, every station at which they have rested, lives in their heart. The path may be dry and dusty, through a lonely and sorrowful valley, but nevertheless they love it. The pilgrim band, rich in hope, forget the trials and difficulties of the way; hope changes the rugged and stony waste into living fountains." The valley of Baca was the valley which led up from Jordan toward Jerusalem, and whose famous balsam trees wept balms. The thought for our consideration is this - the hearts that are truly set on God, and filled with desire to join in God's worship, will cheerfully bear, and successfully master, all the difficulties that may be in their way. They make the very "valley of Baca" refreshing as a spring.
I. THE CHRISTIAN PILGRIM FINDS HIS WAY LIES THROUGH VALLEYS OF BACA. Two explanations of this valley are given. Some say it means "wet, marshy places;" others say, "dry, sandy places." Clearly it means something trying and difficult for pilgrims. We know well that there are difficulties in the way of our effort to live the godly life; valleys of Baca in our pilgrim route to the eternal temple of the holy.
1. There are valleys of weeping; sorrows, both outward and inward (valleys of balsam, or weeping).
2. Valleys of unrelieved want; desert places. Illustrate the ever-varied, ever-unquenchable thirst of the spiritual life.
II. A BRAVE, EARNEST SPIRIT WILL MAKE A WAY THROUGH THESE VALLEYS OF BACA. Times of trouble we must have, but everything depends on the spirit in which we approach them, and deal with them. The true heart is helped to triumph over the difficulties of the way, by keeping ever in mind the end it has in view. Lead on to show how the heaven of established holiness, and near communion with God, becomes the inspiration to overcoming the difficulties of the way.
III. GOD RESPONDS TO THE EARNEST MAN IN THE VALLEYS OF BACA. If they dig pools in the desert, God will be sure to fill them with his genial rains. God is to us in blessing as we are to him in trust. - R.T.
I. SPIRITUAL PILGRIMS MUST "KEEP ON." According to the figures of the text, they must not be stopping, or idling, or taking up any interests on the way; day by day, persistently, they must be going forward; every day getting a day's march nearer Zion. A pilgrim must just "keep on." So we are called to "patient continuance in well doing;" to day-by-day persistent goodness; and this of itself may become wearisome. It is the hardest thing given us to do, this keeping on, day by day, in the same scenes, and doing the same work. But it is never really a mere keeping on. We may not realize the joy of it, but the fact is that, in keeping on, we are going "from strength to strength."
II. IN "KEEPING ON," SPIRITUAL PILGRIMS FIND THEMSELVES EVER BETTER ABLE TO KEEP ON. Every difficulty overcome means a higher strength to overcome difficulties. Every joy felt in a spiritual triumph is cheer for dealing with new anxieties. Every day of Christian life is a step; from it we get power to take a step higher. The man who has lived well his Christian life today is in fact, and ought to be in feeling, a stronger man to live his Christian life tomorrow. And so, making the day's experience a step up, he finds power and joy increasing as he nears the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. A Christian life may be exhausting for the body, but "as the outward man perishes, the inward man is renewed day by day." - R.T.
Deuteronomy 33:29), "Happy art thou, O Israel! who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the Shield of thy help?" And one of the later psalms (115) has this for a refrain, "O Israel, trust thou in the Lord; he is their Help and their Shield." The prayer of the text is urged by two metaphors - "Thou my Shield;" "I thine anointed."
I. GOD MAY BE THOUGHT OF AS OUR SHIELD. Shields were peculiar to the hand-to-hand warfare of ancient times. They were of two kinds - one very large, protecting the whole body; another smaller, used by light-armed troops very skilfully. They were sometimes made of light wood, covered with bull's hide of two or three thicknesses, plated with metal; sometimes they were studded with nails or metal pins. They were smeared with oil, both to prevent them from injury by weather, and to render them so smooth that missiles might the more readily glance off. Show that so varied and so complicated is religious life we are glad of the help of all kinds of metaphor. As Christ is set under many names, so God is set under many relations. Christian life, conceived as a warfare, has its defensive and offensive sides. Under the shadow of God, as a Shield, men find defence. Compare figure of the "strong Tower," into which "the righteous runs and is safe." There are times in our Christian warfare when we can only act on the defensive. Then God is our Shield. Under the shadow of God, as a Shield, attacks were made. Describe the ancient mode of attacking a fortress, under shields placed together so as to make a protecting roof, which secured the soldiers from hostile missiles. There is "offensive war" sometimes in Christian life. Prevailing evils must be vigorously attacked. We may be sure of God's shield in all active service. The psalmist here is writing as a civilian, and a Levite, and thinks lovingly of God as his Defence from the perils of the pilgrim way.
II. WE MAY THINK OF OURSELVES AS GOD'S ANOINTED. It is as though the psalmist had said, "Recognize the face that is uplifted to thee." Though the term "anointed" will suit David, it will equally suit the priest and the Levite, as set apart, anointed for the special service of God's temple. If God has brought us into close and loving relations of service to him, he has given us a plea to use in prayer. We may say, "Look upon the face of thine anointed." - R.T.
I. THOSE HERE NAMED.
1. That a day spent in God's courts is better than a thousand anywhere else. But such preference makes it certain that not any day in God's courts can be meant; for too many days are spent there which might just as well be spent elsewhere. They bring no good to any one, but rather harm. For the worship on such days is but formal, hypocritical, has no heart in it. But the day the psalm tells of must be one in which the soul really communes with God, in which God is worshipped in spirit and in truth.
2. That the humblest service in the house of God is better than the most rich and luxurious life in the tents of wickedness. But here again the service meant must be the reverse of formal, perfunctory, grudging; for if the service were of such sort, one might almost as well be in the tents of wickedness. And that dwelling in those tents cannot mean an unwilling, a forced dwelling, like that told of in Psalm 120:5. Many servants of God have had and still have so to dwell amongst wickedness; they are not happy in it, would not be where they are could they help it, but they cannot. Hence if they be "lights shining in the darkness," then they are rendering high service to God, and great shall be their reward. But the dwelling told of is one which is chosen and loved. But, the psalmist says, the meanest place in God's house is better than that. "I had rather be a doorkeeper," etc.
II. SUCH PREFERENCES ARE VERY STRANGE. For few sympathize with them; even good people might be slow to make such affirmation about a single day in God's house being better than a thousand anywhere else. Most people think that those who make such choice are either madmen or fools. They are despised as enthusiasts, or hypocrites, or fanatics.
III. NEVERTHELESS, SUCH PREFERENCES ARE REAL FACTS. He who wrote this psalm was but one of myriads more. He who does not put God first may have much good about him, as had the young ruler told of in the Gospels, but he cannot have eternal life.
IV. AND THEY CAN BE ABUNDANTLY JUSTIFIED.
1. The first-named can - the one day over the thousand. For what gives value to time? Not its duration, but its employment, what you do with it. Which do we deem most worth - the comparatively short-lived empire of Greece, or the thousands of years of Chinese life - if life it can be called? There may be one day in your life which you remember more than whole years beside, for it more influenced and blessed you than all the myriad other days which have gone by and are forgotten. It is the day filled with energies of the mind, heart, spirit; with memories of inspiring deeds; with influences which tell upon you and others. Cf. King Henry V.'s address to his soldiers at Agincourt -
"He that outlives this day and comes safe home, Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named," etc. But the day of real worship and communion with God is a day more filled with energies, memories, influences, than can any others be. How many of these others only drag down the soul! but a day with God! 2. And so the humblest service/or God is to be preferred. For such service is shared in by the noblest, unites us to God, breaks the chain of sin, prepares for heaven, robs care of its sting, etc. Therefore the psalmist's choice is right; let it be ours! - S.C.
2. And so the humblest service/or God is to be preferred. For such service is shared in by the noblest, unites us to God, breaks the chain of sin, prepares for heaven, robs care of its sting, etc. Therefore the psalmist's choice is right; let it be ours! - S.C.
1 Chronicles 26:12-19 we learn that the sons of Korah, or Kore, were the porters of the gates of the Lord's house. "To these ministers of the sanctuary none seem so blessed as they who dwell in God's house, and are forever praising him. To these keepers of the temple gates one day in the sacred courts is better than a thousand spent elsewhere; and they would rather be doorkeepers in the house of God than sit and be served as chiefs in alien tents."
I. LITTLE THINGS ARE AS TRULY "SERVICE" AS GREAT ONES. They are necessary in their places. They are fitted to those of moderate or small capacities. To God the little things of service are as acceptable as the great things. Find any earthly sphere, and take the little things of it away. What an upset of the whole would result! The doorkeeper at the gate was as important in his way as the priest at the altar. We can do our "little things" for God cheerfully, when we can fully realize that they are service - just our service.
II. LITTLE THINGS CAN EXPRESS CHARACTER AS TRULY AS GREAT ONES. A little pool can mirror the sun as truly as the widespreading lake. A dewdrop can refresh the earth, in its way, as truly as the thundershower in its. God is the reader of motives, and accepts the actor rather than the act. It often, indeed, takes more and nobler character to do a small deed well than to do a large one. There is much to help a priest to be noble; there is but little to help a mere doorkeeper, and he has to fall back upon principle. Let but a man rightly esteem doing anything for God, and he will be full of holy joy in being permitted to do some "little thing." - R.T.
I. THE DIVINE BESTOWMENTS.
1. Suggested by two figures.
(1) "The Lord God is a Sun. This figure for God is only used in this place. The sun in nature is the source of light, life, warmth, beauty, fruitfulness. The psalmist seems, even in this figure, to have God's defendings chiefly in mind. God is Light against darkness, which Easterns so greatly fear.
(2) The Lord God is a Shield." See this figure treated in the homily on ver. 9. We may add the picture of the tents of the army ranged in circles round the king's tent, and forming an almost impregnable shield; so "the Lord is round about his people." Some have suggested making one figure of the two, and reading it, "The Lord God is a bright and shining Shield." They think reference may be to the brazen shields, which were kept polished, so that, catching the sun's rays, they might dazzle the enemy.
2. Suggested by two statements.
(1) "The Lord will give grace and glory." We may think of Divine bestowment exactly according with human necessities. Grace fits into all present needs; glory fits into all future needs. But the psalmist probably used the terms as figures for the two things he needed - help and success.
(2) "No good thing will he withhold." A carefully qualified promise. It does not say, "Nothing will he withhold." It is "no good thing;" and no one can decide what is good for us as he can who has the infinite knowledge, and is the infinite Wisdom and Love.
II. THE DIVINE CONDITIONS. "From them that walk uprightly." That being regarded as the sure sign that the heart is right with God. A man may walk uprightly before his fellows who is not heart right with God. But this is quite certain - if a man does not walk uprightly, he cannot be right with God. God is an unstinted Giver; we put the limitations by the failure of our faith, love, submission, and obedience. God would have his bestowmeuts to be the best possible blessing to us; and therefore they are withheld until it is quite plain that we are prepared to make the best of them. - R.T.
I. GOOD MEN ENJOY THE GRANDEST EXPERIENCES.
1. God is to them a Sun and Shield. These figures refer to our moral state as dark and dangerous. Alienation of the soul from God is a state of darkness. God is the Source of our light and life and joy. Our danger is - life is a great battlefield. We have protection from God if we are on his side. The battle is his.
2. He gives to them grace and glory. Grace is unmerited favour. The favour of God to man has been in the exercise of his mercy. "Hath not dealt with us after our sins," etc. Glory is the perfecting the work of grace, in the revelations and rewards of eternity. The beginning, the continuance, and the end of life are from God.
3. He holds back from them no good thing. This includes the bestowment of all real good. And he has given us a proof and pledge in the gift of Christ. "If God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all," etc.
II. SOME GOOD MEN DO NOT ENJOY THE FULL EXTENT OF THESE PROMISES.
1. Because their characters do not answer to the description of the text. They do not walk uprightly, or only do so very imperfectly. None of us translates the theory of the Christian life into our actual practice.
2. They often mistake what are the good things of life. Many things, accounted good by the false judgments of the world, are bad. Things good for some men are bad for others. Things good for us at one time are bad at another. But the absolutely good things - good independently of all circumstances - are meant in the text. To walk in God's light; to see all things in the light that falls from his character; to enjoy his help and protection from spiritual danger; to have his grace now and his glory in prospect; - these are the good things they enjoy who walk uprightly. - S.