Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SUCH SUFFERING TO COME TO HIS PEOPLE? We may reply:
1. Suffering is the lot of an. The men of this world do not escape it more than the servant of God, and, all things considered, probably they suffer more, because the alleviations and consolations which belong to the child of God they know nothing of. But if suffering, which is the lot of all, did not come to the child of God; if faith were the passport to immunity from those varied ills which flesh is heir to, what a crowd of mere loaves and fishes seekers we should have!
2. For spiritual discipline. The soul needs training, exercise, and development as much as the body, and how but by trial can this be secured? There is not one fruit of the Spirit that can be fully perfected save in this way.
3. In self-revelation. Many men live continually in a perfect mist of mistake about themselves. How strong Peter thought himself! But his trial and his sad fall revealed him to himself as nothing else could.
4. For driving us nearer God. We do not wrench ourselves away from God, but we are perpetually in peril of drifting, and this unconsciously. Hence we need to be from time to time roused to this fact - that we have got away from God, and that we must come back.
5. That we may give testimony. The world marks how the Christian bears trial; if meekly, patiently, both towards God and towards men, the world notes it, and confesses the grace of God.
6. And that we may learn to sympathize. How could we if we knew nothing of suffering?
II. HOW ARE SUCH CONDITIONS BROUGHT ABOUT? Through:
1. Circumstances. The troubles of life, personal or relative - losses, bereavements, sickness, etc.
2. Wrong thoughts of God. How many such there are in this psalm! A great deal that the psalmist has said is exaggerated and untrue. What he says existed not in reality, but in his own bewildered imagination.
3. Failure of hope for the future. What terrible things he says about death I To him the grave is all dark and dreadful. It is "the pit," a mere charnel house, blow, the Old Testament writers, though they had not our fulness of hope, yet had hope. But in this psalm the writer seems to have lost it. Perhaps there had been:
4. Neglect of communion with God. If we fail here, farewell to all joy in God, and when trouble comes it finds us all unprepared, and we go down before it into the depths.
5. Love. For that which touches the beloved touches the heart that loves. Christ loved us intensely, and became of necessity "the Man of sorrows;" for he saw and pitied our misery so much that it led him straight to Gethsemane and the cross. And all love links itself to pain.
III. WHAT TO DO UNDER SUCH CONDITIONS.
1. Inquire of God as to the, cause of your trouble, if you do not know what it is.
2. Humble yourself beneath his hand. Say over and over again, until your heart assents, "Thy will be done."
3. Get nearer God than ever. This is what he desires to see you do.
4. Be careful to obey his every command.
5. Go and try to comfort other troubled ones.
6. Meditate much upon Christ's Sufferings. Along such channels as these help, peace, rest, relict, will come. - S.C.
my salvation. This has been called "the saddest of all the psalms." But it represents mental rather than spiritual distress. It belongs to such an age as that of Solomon, and classes with the Psalms of Asaph, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and the Book of Job. It is a psalm of Heman the sage; but his wisdom is spoiled by the pessimistic view he takes of his circumstances and surroundings. The man who believes in God does not see clearly unless he sees hopefully. Things never can be "going to the bad" if God is in them. Dr. S. Cox calls this psalm, "Heman's Elegy," and he carefully marks its distinguishing feature, and this helpfully aids the pulpit treatment of it. "Its sadness is that of one who has wearied himself by much study of a large and varied experience, who has thought of all things till all things have grown doubtful to him, till he finds the trail of the serpent in all the fairest scenes of human life, till he doubts his very doubts. It is the intellectual sadness of one who, in long brooding over the wrongs and sorrows of time, the frailty of man, the limitations of human thought, the vanity of the ends which men commonly pursue, the cravings which importune a satisfaction which they never find, the mystery by which our being is encompassed, the impenetrability of a future which nevertheless we must try to penetrate, has lost touch with the warm and breathing activities of human life, and has sunk towards a pessimistic despair of the life which now is on the one hand, and, on the other, into a prying and credulous curiosity as to the conditions of the life which is to come. And that, happily, is a misery which is comparatively rare." The point proposed for illustration is the way in which a personal anchorage of the soul in God may keep it steady under all kinds of soul distress, and even the distress arising from mental perplexity.
I. OUR PERSONAL RELATIONS WITH GOD MAY BE RECOGNIZED AND FELT. Illustrate from the expression, "My God," in Psalm 22:1, as repeated by the Lord Jesus when on the cross. See experience of Bible saints.
II. THE PERSONAL RELATION BRINGS A SENSE OF SECURITY, BECAUSE IT IS BASED ON GOD'S RELATION TO US. We feel him to be our God only because he is graciously pleased to be our God. "We love him because he first loved us."
III. THE SENSE OF PERSONAL RELATION WITH GOD STEADIES US AMID THE CHARGING SCENES OF LIFE.
IV. THE SENSE OF PERSONAL RELATION WITH GOD KEEPS OUR MIND WHEN WRESTLING WITH DIFFICULTIES.
V. THE SENSE OF PERSONAL RELATION WITH GOD GIVES US AN UNFAILING PLEA IN SEEKING DIVINE HELP. - R.T.
I. A PICTURE OF THE MOST DESPAIRING MISERY. Scarcely possible to think that such unalleviated misery ever existed.
1. Utter physical and mental weakness and prostration. (Ver. 6.) As good as dead.
2. Utterly forsaken of all his friends. (Vers. 8, 18.) And God had put them from him.
3. Cast off from God, by reason of is wrath. (Vers. 7, 14, 15, 16.) He is abandoned utterly both of God and man; i.e. he thought so. But no one really is.
4. This misery had been nearly lifelong. (Ver. 13.)
II. RESOLUTE PRAYER IS THE LAST RESOURCE OF THE PROFOUNDLY MISERABLE.
1. His prayer was persistent. (Vers. 1, 13.) Day and night, morning and evening.
2. He makes the greatness of his affliction an argument for being heard. (Vers. 2, 3.)
3. He prays to know the "why of God's wrath towards him. (Ver. 14.) The affliction is a mystery the reason of which he would have made clear. He makes no confession of sin as explaining the terrors of God from which he is suffering.
III. SOME GLEAMS OF FAITH AND HOPE BREAKING THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF HIS DESPAIR.
1. God is the God of his salvation. (Ver. 1.) Notwithstanding all he says of his abandonment.
2. God is worthy of praise for his loving kindness and faithfulness. (Vers. 10, 11.) He could still believe in these.
3. He prays for the righteousness of God to be manifested to him. (Ver. 12.) He cannot help uttering these deep-grounded faiths that made him still cling to God in the most despairing moments. None can abandon themselves to utter despair who have seen God in Christ as the Father. - S.
mean to answer. The plaint of the psalmist is that he "had cried unto God day and night," and nothing seemed to have come of his crying. Happily this only drives him the more earnestly to seek an answer. "Oh let my prayer come into thy presence!" Spurgeon says, "His distress had not blown out the sparks of his prayer, but quickened them into a greater ardency, till they burned perpetually, like a furnace at full blast."
I. FEAR THAT PRAYER WILL NOT BE ANSWERED MAY BE REASONABLE. There may be good ground for the fear in the character of the prayer itself.
1. Its tone may indicate that we are not greatly interested in it ourselves. We cannot expect God to be if we are not.
2. The prayer may have in it no note of submission. God cannot heed prayer that does not express the cherished feeling, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt." Delay often means God's waiting until we are in right moods.
3. There may be in prayer a dictating to God the time and the way in which he shall answer. If so, and his delay excites fears, those fears are most reasonable.
II. FEAR THAT PRAYER WILL NOT BE ANSWERED MAY BE UNREASONABLE. That is God's ways with us, though somewhat strange, may really give no occasion for such fears.
1. Delay is not refusal. We know that our delay in responding to requests is not refusal, and we are grieved if it is so taken. But in our case, too often, delayed answer means neglect, which may be more cruel than refusal. It is full of gracious assurance that, with God, delay no more means neglect than it means refusal.
2. Delay may be answer. At least, it may be if we can see that the moral answers God sends are always more important than the material. Delay sets us upon thought, self-searching, clearing of ourselves, and makes us at once simpler minded and more earnest; and that is God's first soul answer to our prayer.
3. Delay prepares for answer. It may be God's time for looking round, so that the answer may be a better one than he could have sent at once.
III. FEAR THAT PRAYER WILL NOT BE ANSWERED MAY BE UNWORTHY. It will be if in it there is any cherished doubt of God's power, or wisdom, or willingness to bless us. - R.T.
I. THE BREVITY OF HUMAN LIFE. That does not impress us so much when the aged are taken away, because we have become familiar with seventy as man's allotted years; and the aged seem to have completed their time, and rounded off their lives. Nor does it impress us when young children die, because we have become familiar with the perils of infancy. We feel it most when men are taken away in the "midst of their days." Hezekiah, smitten in the prime of life, wails over the brevity of life, saying, "I said, in the cutting off of my day, I shall go to the gates of the grave; I am deprived of the residue of my years. Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent. I have cut off like a weaver my life." See the similar plaints of Job. The corrective of this trouble is to measure life by deeds, not by years. He lives long who does much.
II. LOSS OF BODILY AND MENTAL STRENGTH. "I am as a man that hath no strength." Perhaps there is nothing harder for active-minded, energetic men to endure than conscious weakness. To many persons mental depression, resulting simply from lowered vitality, is the supreme distress. Yet in these days the human trial often takes this form. It is a triumph of grace to hold fast integrity even when the very mind is clouded with weakness, and "like a mist our vigour flees away," until all that remains to us is "a fragile form, fast hasting to decay." The corrective is to see that even weakness is in the list of God's disciplinary agents.
III. SEPARATION FROM ORDINARY DUTIES AND RELATIONS. From ver. 8 we gather that this was complicated by the fact that disease had taken offensive forms; and this brings to view the very marked and distressing features of Job's disease. No one can fail. to feel it hard to retire from loved scenes and associations, and to loose out of hand loved duties. We think that no one can do them but ourselves, and no one can be to our friends what we were. The corrective is to remember that God may provide rest times for his servants; but he never bids them put their tools down, once for all, until he knows that their work is done; and then no true-hearted man could wish to stay. It may come to be the form of our final struggle with self, that we are called to give up life's duties and life's relations at God's bidding. There is possible triumph even over soul troubles. - R.T.
official feeling in response to wrong doing. "Wrath" suggests personal feeling. It would be well, however, if we could keep "wrath" as the Special term to indicate the response of God to man's sin. "He is angry with," wrathful towards, "the wicked every day." Perowne translates by a very unsuitable word, "Upon me thy fury lieth hard." In his moments of deepest depression the man of God ought not to associate fury with his God, because it indicates feeling that is beyond control, passion; and we may never think of God as having lost self-control. It must be borne in mind that we have in this psalm passionate utterances, not calm and sober judgments. These are not the quiet, settled opinions of the psalmist; they are only passing feelings, belonging to a time of strain. They are his "infirmity." Two things lead him to think and speak thus.
I. THE SENSE OF SIN MAKES AFFLICTION SEEM LIKE DIVINE WRATH. When the son of the widow of Zarephath died, she rushed into the presence of Elijah, saying, "O thou man of God, art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?" Her feeling is that which comes to us all in times of affliction. We ask what we can have done to need this visitation of Divine wrath. The Jews were sure that either the man born blind or his parents must have sinned. The friends of Job could find no explanation of Job's afflictions, save that he had come under the wrath of God for some special sin. The Book of Job is written to show that this may be the explanation of suffering, and it may not be. All through life, and often very painfully at the close of life, the sense of sin embitters trial and suffering. Our relief comes from feeling that all God's "wrath," shown in the afflictions of his people, is disciplinary and corrective (see Hebrews 12:5-11).
II. THE SPECIAL FORMS AFFLICTION SOMETIMES TAKES COMPEL US TO THINK THEY ARE SIGNS OF DIVINE WRATH. It is not so much their intensity as it is their special character. Some kinds of affliction are specially distressing; they are unsightly, or offensive, or disgraceful. This is hinted at in the psalm. Even relatives shrank from the sufferer. Take the case of Job. This was the bitterest feature of his trouble. Illustrate from such disease as leprosy, or from offensive forms of skin disease. Surely some special "wrath" in God must appoint us such a lot. And yet the truth may be that this is but a burden of love. We are only being shown "how great things we may be able to suffer for his Name's sake." - R.T.
I. THE DESCRIPTION OF THE HABITATION OF THE DEAD. The terms they use are all sad. As:
1. "The pit." (Ver. 4.) "The lowest pit" (ver. 6). The idea is of a vast profound subterranean cavern, into which no ray of light entered. Infernal regions indeed:
2. "Destruction." (Ver. 11.) A place where all living powers came to an end, and death only reigned.
3. "The dark. (Ver. 12.) And darkness" (ver. 6).
4. "The land of forgetfulness and silence. God had been their Light, their Joy, their Life; but now they should know him no more. What wonder that they so shrank from death!
II. THE BLESSINGS OF WHICH THEY WERE DEPRIVED. The living might rejoice in them, but never the dead. These blessings were:
1. Knowledge of God's wonders. The memory and experience of these were to the living their perpetual gladness; but the dead know and can know nothing of them. They are unhappy beings who know not anything, clean forgotten, out of mind - beings whom God himself remembers not.
2. God's loving kindness. (Ver. 11.) They had been wont to exclaim, How excellent is thy loving kindness!" to pray that God would "continue" it; to declare that they would "not conceal" it from all men, that they continually "thought of" it, that it was "good," that it was "life," yea, "better than life." But now they were shut off from it altogether.
4. God's righteousness. (Ver. 12.) This had been all their trust and stay when living, but in the grave they knew it no more.
III. THEIR LOSS OF ALL POWER.
1. They cannot praise God. (Ver. 10.) This had been their joy on earth.
2. They cannot see. It would be in vain that God's wonders were displayed before them.
3. They cannot hear. Therefore it would be of no avail to declare God's loving kindness to them.
4. They cannot know either the wonders or the righteousness of God.
5. They have no power even to stand on their feet. Body, mind, and soul all stripped of their former powers. No wonder that Hezekiah cried, in his dread of death, The living, the living, he shall praise thee!" And this was the belief of all the saints of the Old Testament.
IV. QUESTIONS THAT ARISE FROM THE FACT OF THESE VIEWS ABOUT DEATH.
1. Are they true? Certainly not. In no one single particular are they true. The believer does not after death abide in the grave, nor in any pit, nor in the land of destruction, of darkness, and of forgetfulness. He is "with Christ, which is far better" (see New Testament, passim).
2. Were they ever true? In part they were. Christ opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He was the Forerunner. None entered into the heavens until Christ, "the Way," first entered. Until then the spirits of the just were being safely guarded - the rendering (1 Peter 3:19) "in prison" is surely a misleading one, suggesting, as it does, the idea of punishment, whereas the word only signifies being "watched over," "guarded," "kept" - in the invisible world, in Hades, the place of departed spirits. They were in an inferior, but not in an unhappy, condition. It was called by the Jews "Abraham's besom," "Paradise" (Luke 16:23; Luke 23:43). And again and again in the Psalms we have utterances of bright though not definite hope as to the future (Psalm 11:7; Psalm 16:8-11; Psalm 17:15; Psalm 49:15, etc.). But they had their seasons of despondency, and then this hope fled away, and they could speak only as in these verses before us, which are so very far from the complete truth. Even then, blessed were the dead who died in the Lord!
3. Why was our better, brighter hope withheld from them, so that they could hold such sad views as these? The reply is to be found in God's method of educating the race. Step by step, here a little and there a little, progressively - such seems to have been the Divine plan. As we educate our children, so did God educate man (cf. Hebrews 1:1). Our Lord taught the people, when he was here on earth, "as they were able to bear it." And such seems ever to have been God's way. It has been suggested (J.A. Froude) that, seeing how Egypt had perverted the doctrine of a future life, making it the minister of all kinds of wrong, God kept any clear knowledge of this life from Israel, concentrating their attention upon the present life and its duties by means of present temporal rewards and punishments. It may have been so; but the question is one beyond our power to fully answer.
4. Why is the better hope given to us? To vindicate God (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12-19). To sustain men's hope. "We are saved by hope." To quicken the love and pursuit of believers. To deliver from the fear of death. All this our hope does. - S.C.
I. PEERINGS INTO THE FUTURE ARE NATURAL. Man has never been able to accept the idea that his life ends at death. Heathen and pagan religions meet the cry for light on the world beyond death. Our friends die, but we cannot think them lost. So many die young, just fitted for life; there must be life for them beyond. We must die, but we cannot admit the idea that our real life ends at death. We are consciously fitted, by our earth life, for something more.
II. PEERINGS INTO THE FUTURE MAY BE HEALTHY. They will be if they bring a vivid sense of the relation of the coming life to this life. If we see that the powers of that life are the powers gained in this.
III. PEERINGS INTO THE FUTURE MAY BE UNHEALTHY. They will be if they become time-consuming, vague, impractical speculations, which fritter away the powers of the soul, and make present duties seem dull. The sitting in a window seat and dreamily peering into the west may be all very well, supposing the dreamer has got no housework to do. She would be wise to do her duty and leave the future alone. Unhealthy speculation on the future is a modern religious epidemic, seriously injuring the vitality of our Churches.
IV. PEERINGS INTO THE FUTURE DEPEND ON DISPOSITION AND CIRCUMSTANCE. Some are speculative; they cannot live in the actual, they are always imagining the possible. They are always away yonder. No doubt they have their mission; but we are glad not to have too many of them, or the work of today would never get done. When men are in illness, or at gravesides, or set thinking by national calamities, then "peerings into the future" are befitting, and may be helpful things. - R.T.
before the King is up. His prayer is there before the King is. To "prevent" now means to "hinder." In older days it simply meant to "go before," to "anticipate." The word is never used in the sense of "hinder," either in the Bible, as we have it, or in the books of the age in which it was translated. But it should further be observed that getting up very early in the morning to do a thing is a frequent Bible figure for doing a thing earnestly, doing it with all your heart. It is still true of us that if we are thoroughly in earnest about a matter, we can easily get up early in the morning to attend to it. So this figure of the psalmist does but express his intense earnestness in prayer, the fervency of his desire, his almost passionate waiting on God, that makes him feel as if he could get before God, as if he could be there to plead before God was there to hear. It can be but a figure of man's feeling. He never can be ready before God is; he cannot get before God. Man is always second in prayer; God is always first in waiting to receive prayer.
I. MAN THINKING HE CAN BE FIRST WITH GOD. He can get before his fellow man, and ask what his fellow has not thought about, and is not quite prepared to give. And so, in his intensity, man thinks he can even be first with God; he thinks he can ask what God has not thought about. He can tell God something. God does indeed gently and graciously deal with impetuous and impulsive souls, and let them freely speak out all their hearts, and even think they have informed him a great deal. He loves our confidences, even if they are intense; but he must often smile as the mother smiles on her impetuous boy, who tells her, as if it was something quite new, what she has suspected or known for a long time. But the earnestness that tries to be first with God cannot fail to be acceptable to him.
II. MAN FINDING OUT THAT GOD IS ALWAYS FIRST WITH HIM. It comes to us occasionally as a great surprise, that what we have asked God about so intensely, he has been a long while attending to. He knew our need before we felt it, and let it take shape as prayer. And that is one of the most important blessings that follow prayer. Asking God's help in some things, we find out that God's help has all the while been in everything. - R.T.
speaking as little as possible. They convey their wishes, and express their feelings, by their looks, or by simple movements of their hands. So their servants and their courtiers anxiously watch their faces, to see in them signs of approval, acceptance, and favour. If the king does not look at them, turns his face away, hides his face from them, they know that they are out of his favour; they fear that some mischief will befall them. And so, if a man brings a petition to a king, it is enough answer if the king simply turns his face away, hides his face; that is a virtual refusal. Compare such poetical expressions as "Make thy face to shine upon thy servants;" "Lift up the light of thy countenance upon us;" "Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?" "Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself."
I. GOD'S HIDINGS ARE NEVER MERE ACTS OF SOVEREIGNTY. A thoughtful writer says, "I know that some have maintained that God sometimes forsakes his people in the exercise of his sovereignty. I confess I do not understand this. It appears to me that undue and unwarrantable liberties are often used with the sovereignty of God, and that many things are laid to its account with which it is not chargeable. We speak of the Divine sovereignty. But sovereignty is not an arbitrary, capricious thing; it is a righteous and holy thing; and God must ever act in conformity with the unalterable principles of his character. Believe it, there is no such mystery as some would make us think in those temporary desertions with which God sometimes visits his own people. The reason of them is to be found in themselves - in their sinfulness, in their unsteadfastness, in their unfaithfulness."
II. GOD'S HIDINGS ARE ALWAYS EXPRESSIONS OF DIVINE WISDOM. They are special modes of dealing, arranged in precise adaptation to particular persons, at particular times, and under particular circumstances. Comfort lies in clearly seeing that God's hidings are not common and usual dealings, and therefore if God deals thus with us, it must be in wise and gracious adaptation just to us.
III. GOD'S HIDINGS ARE THE BEGINNINGS OF HIS ANSWERS TO US. This may be effectively illustrated by our Lord's treatment of the Syro-phoenician woman. He began his answer by seeming indifference, and even seeming refusal, which drew forth her noble intensity. - R.T.