Psalm 105
MacLaren Expositions Of Holy Scripture
O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people.
He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes;


Psalm 105:14 - Psalm 105:15

The original reference of these words is to the fathers of the Jewish people-the three wandering shepherds, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Psalmist transfers to them the great titles which properly belong to a later period of Jewish history. None of the three were ever in the literal sense of the word ‘anointed,’ but all the three had what anointing symbolised. None of them were in the literal or narrow sense of the word ‘prophets’-that is to say, predicters of future events-but one of them was called a ‘prophet’ even in his lifetime. And they all possessed that intimacy of communion with God which imparted the power of forth-speaking for Him. Insignificant as they were, they were bigger than the Pharaohs and Abimelechs and the other kinglets that strutted their little day beside them. Astonished as the monarch of Egypt would have been, or the king of the Philistines either, if he had been told that the wandering shepherd was of far more importance for the world than he was, it was true. ‘He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, He reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm.’

Further, as Judaism, with its anointings and prophecies was a narrower system following upon a wider one, so a wider one has succeeded it; and we step into the position occupied by these patriarchs-on whose heads no anointing oil had been poured, and into whose lips no supernatural gifts of prediction had been infused. It is no arrogance, but the simplest recognition of the essential facts of the case, if we take these words of the Psalmist’s and transfer them bodily to the whole mass of Christian people, and to each individual atom that makes up the mass. All are anointed; all are prophets; of all it is true that God suffers no man nor thing to do them wrong. And kings and dynasties and the politics of the world are all in the hands of One whose supreme purpose is that through men there may be made known to all mankind the significant tidings of His love. Therefore, His Church is founded upon a rock, and earth is the servant of the servants of God.

I. Every Christian is a ‘messiah.’

You know that the word ‘anointed’ is a translation of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah,’ or of the Greek word ‘Christ.’ The meaning of the symbolic ‘anointing’ was simply consecration to office by the divine will, and endowment with the capacity for that office by the divine gift. In the ancient system it was mainly employed-though not, perhaps, exclusively-as a means of designating, and when received in humble dependence on God, of fitting, a man for the two great offices of king and priest.

Oil was an appropriate symbol. Its gentle flow, its soothing, suppling effect, and in another aspect, its value as a means of invigoration and sustenance, and in yet another, as a source of light, peculiarly adapted it to be an emblem of the bestowment on a patient and trustful and submissive heart that was saying, ‘Lord, take me, and use me as Thou wilt,’ of that divine Spirit by whose silent, sweet, soft-flowing, strong influences men were prepared for God’s service.

Jesus was the Christ, the Messias, because that Divine Spirit dwelt in Him without measure. If we are Christians in the real sense of the word, then, however imperfectly, yet really, and by God’s grace increasingly, there is such a union between us and our Saviour as that into us there does flow the anointing of His Spirit. There being a community of life derived from the Source of Life, it is no presumption to say that every Christian man is a Christ.

The word has been used of late with unwise significations, but the truth that has been inadequately expressed by such uses is the great truth of Scripture; ‘He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit,’ and there does flow the anointing oil from the head of the High Priest to the skirts of the garments. Every man and woman who has any hold of Jesus Christ at all, in the measure of his or her hold, is drawing from Him this ‘unction of the Holy One.’ So, brethren, rise to the solemnity, the awfulness, the joyfulness of your true position, and understand that you, too, are anointed, though not for the same purposes {and in humbler and derived fashion}, for which the Spirit dwelt without measure upon ‘the First-born among many brethren.’

Kings were anointed; and when that divine gift comes into a man’s heart, it, and as I believe, only it, makes him lord of himself, of circumstances, of time, and of the world. ‘All things are yours, and ye are Christ’s.’ There is one real royalty-the royalty of the man who rules because he submits. Every Christian soul may be described as Gideon’s brethren were described, ‘As thou art, so were they: each one resembled the children of a king,’ for if Christ’s Spirit is in the Christian’s spirit, the disciple will grow like his Master, and it will be growingly true of us, that ‘as He is, so are we in this world.’

Priests were anointed. And we, if we are Christian people, have the prerogative of direct access to the Divine Presence, and need neither Church nor sacraments to intervene or mediate between us and Him. The true democracy of Christianity lies in that word ‘Mine anointed.’

II. Further, every Christian man is a prophet.

I have already said that there is no historical warrant for supposing that the gift of prophecy, in its narrower sense, was ever bestowed upon any of these patriarchs. But prediction is only one corner of the prophetic office. The word is connected with a root which means ‘to boil, or bubble like a fountain,’ and it expresses, not so much the theme of the utterance as its nature. The welling up, from a full heart, of God’s thoughts and God’s truth, that is prophecy. The patriarchs were prophets, not in the sense that they had the gift of beholding and foretelling visions of the future, and all the wonder that should be, but in the higher sense-for it is the higher as well as broader-of being bearers of a divine word, breathed into them by that anointing Spirit, that it might be uttered forth by them. That sort of prophetic inspiration belongs to all Christians. It is the result of the relationship between Christ and Christians of which we have been speaking. Every one who has been anointed will be thus gifted.

God’s ‘messiahs’ will be God’s prophets. If we are in touch with God, and have our hearts and whole spiritual natures drawn and kept so near Him as that we are ever receiving from Him of His transcendent and mysterious life, then silence will be impossible. The lips will not be able to contain themselves, but will speak forth that of which the heart is full. And thus every Christian man, in the measure of his true Christianity, will be a prophet of the most High.

I do not need to point the lesson. A silent Christian is an anomaly, a contradiction in terms, as much as black light, or dark stars. If Christ is in you He will come out of you. If your hearts are full the crystal treasure will flow over the brim. It is easy to be dumb when you have nothing to say, and that is the condition of hundreds of people who fancy themselves to be, and are called by others, ‘Christians.’ ‘Mine anointed’ cannot help being ‘My prophets.’ If you are not prophets, if there never is any bubbling up of the fountain demanding utterance, ask yourselves whether there is any fountain there at all.

III. And so, lastly, every Christian man, in his double capacity of anointed and prophet, is watched over by God.

One is tempted to diverge into wider considerations, and speak of the relative importance of things secular and sacred {to adopt a doubtful distinction} in the history of the world, and how the former are for the sake of the latter. But I do not yield to the temptation. Let me rather take the thought here as it applies to our own little lives.

Abraham more than once in his lifetime, though sometimes by his own fault, was brought into very perilous places. There are one or two incidents which are familiar to most of us, I dare say, in his life which are evidently referred to in the phrase ‘He reproved kings for their sakes.’ The principle remains in full force to-day, and God says to every thing and person, Death included, ‘Do My prophets no harm.’ They may slay; they cannot harm. If I might use a very homely metaphor, sportsmen train retriever dogs to bring their game without ruffling a feather. God trains evils and sorrows to lay hold of us, and bring us to, and lay us down at, His feet untouched.

There is no real harm in so-called evil. That is the interpretation that Christianity gives to such words as this of my text, not because it is forced to weaken them by the obstinate facts of life, but because it has learned to strengthen them by the understanding of what is harm and what is good; what is gain and what is loss. Peter shall be delivered out of prison by the skin of his teeth when they are hammering at the scaffold on the other side of the wall, and the dawn is just beginning to show itself in the sky; whilst James shall have his head cut off. Was that because God loved Peter better than James? Was one harmed and the other not? Ah! Peter’s turn came all in good time. Peter and his brother Paul had both to bow their necks to the headsman’s sword one day, although one of them said, ‘Who shall harm you if ye be followers of that which is good?’ and the other said, when within sight of his death, ‘He shall deliver me from every evil work.’ Were they disappointed? Let us hear how Paul ends the same verse: ‘and shall save me into His heavenly kingdom.’ Ay! and he was ‘saved into the heavenly kingdom’ when outside the walls of Rome; where a gaudy church stands now, he died for his Master. No harm came to him. God said to Death, ‘Do My prophet no harm!’ and Death docilely did him good, and brought him to his Lord.

Only, dear friends! let us remember that the inviolableness of the ambassador depends on his function, and not on his person; and that if we want to be kept from all evil, we must do the work for which we have been sent here. So let us understand the meaning of our difficulties and sorrows. Let us set ourselves to our tasks, live up to the level of the high names which we have a right to claim, and be sure that there is no harm in the harm that befalls us; and that all evil things ‘work together for good to them that love God.’

Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him.


Psalm 105:19

I do not think I shall be mistaken if I affirm that these words do not convey any very clear idea to most readers. They were spoken with reference to Joseph, during the period of his imprisonment. For the understanding of them I think we must observe that there is a contrast drawn between two ‘words,’ ‘his’ {i.e. Joseph’s} and God’s. If we lay firm hold of that clue, I think it will lead us into clear daylight, and it will be obvious that Joseph’s word, which delayed its coming, or fulfilment, was either his boyish narrative of the dreams that foreshadowed his exaltation, or less probably, his words to his fellow-prisoners in the interpretation of their dreams. In either case, the terminus ad quem, the point to which our attention is directed, is the period when that word came to be fulfilled, and what my text says is that during that long season of unfulfilled hope, the ‘word of God,’ which was revealed in Joseph’s dream, and was the ground on which his own ‘word’ rested-did what? Encouraged, heartened, strengthened him? No, that unfulfilled promise might encourage or discourage him; but the Psalmist fixes our thoughts on another effect which, whether it encouraged or discouraged, it certainly had, namely, that it tested him, and found out what stuff he was made of, and whether there was staying power enough in him to hold on, in unconquerable faith, to a promise made long since, communicated by no more reliable method than a dream, and of the fulfilment of which not the faintest sign had, for all these weary years, appeared. His circumstances, judged by appearances, shattered his early visions, and bade him believe them to be no more than the boyish aspirations which grown men dismiss or find melt away of themselves when life’s realities wake the dreamer. We might either say that the non-fulfilment of the promise tested Joseph, or that the promise, by its non-fulfilment, tested him. The Psalmist chooses the latter more forcible and half paradoxical mode of speech. It proved the depth and vitality of his faith, and his ability to see things that are not as though they were. Will this man be able continually through years of poverty and imprisonment to keep his eye on the light beyond, to see his star through clouds? Will he despise the ‘light affliction,’ in the potent and immovable belief that it is ‘but for a moment?’ Thus, for all these years the great blessed word, or the hope that was built upon it, tested Joseph in the very depths of his soul. And is not that just what our anticipations, built upon God’s assurances, whether they are in regard to earthly matters that seem long in coming, or whether they, as they ought to do, travel beyond the bounds of the material, to grasp the hope which is the promise, ‘the hope of eternal life,’ ought to do for us, test us and find out what sort of people we are? And they do!

Let us go back to the man in our text. According to some commentators, he was imprisoned for something like ten years. We do not know how long his Egyptian bondage had lasted, nor how long before that his endurance of the active ill-will of his surly brothers had gone on. But at all events his chrysalis stage was very long, and one would not have wondered if he had said to himself, down in that desert pit or in that Egyptian dungeon, ‘Ah, yes! they were dreams, and only dreams,’ or if he had, as so many of us do, turned his back on his youthful visions, and gained the sad power of being able to smile at his old hopes and ambitions. Brethren! especially you young men and women, cherish your youthful dreams. They are often the prophecies of capacities and possibilities, signs of what God means you to make yourselves. But that is apart from my subject. Suppose we had clear before us, with unwavering confidence in its reality, the great promise which God has given us, do you not think that its presence would purify our souls, and give power and dignity to our lives?

The promise was a test, says my text. The word which it employs to designate the manner of testing or trying, is one drawn from the smelting operations of the goldsmith, by which, heat being applied, the mass is made fluid and the dross is run off, and as the result of the trial, there flows out gold refined by fire.

‘Having these promises, dearly beloved! let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.’ ‘Every man who hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.’ The result of the great promise of eternal life and of the hope that it kindles is meant to be that it shall purge our spirits from meanness, from sense, from undue dependence upon the miserable trivialities of to-day, that it shall emancipate us from slavery to the moment, and lead us into the liberty of the eternities, ‘while we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things which are not seen.’ Oh! if we would only see clearly and habitually before us-for we could if we would-what God’s heart inclines Him to do for us, and what He certainly will do for us, in the far-off future, if we will only let Him, do you not think that these trifles that put us off our equanimity this morning would have been borne with a little more composure? Do you not think that the things that looked so huge when we were down abreast of them would, by the laws of perspective, diminish in their proportions as we rose steadily above them, until all the hubbub in the valley was unheard on the mountain peak, and the great trees that waved their giant branches below and shut out the sky from our eyes while we were among them would dwindle to a green smear on the plain, and all the foes ‘show scarce so gross as beetles,’ from the height from which we look down upon them? Get up beside God’s promise, if you would take the true dimensions of cares and tasks, and burdens and sorrows. Then, brother! you will learn the truth of the paradox, ‘light . . . but for a moment’; though often they all but crush the burden-bearing shoulder and seem to last through slow years.

‘The word of the Lord tried him,’ and because it tried him, it purified him. If we give credence, as we ought to, to that word, it will purify us, and it will test of what contexture our faith is. The further away the object of any hope is, the more noble the cherishing of it makes a life. The trivial, short-lived anticipations which do not look beyond the end of next week are far less operative in making strong and noble characters than are those, of whatever kind they may be otherwise, which look far ahead and need years for their realisation. It is a blessing to have the mark far, far away, because that means that the arm that pulls the bow must draw more strongly, and the eye that sees the goal must gaze more intently. Be thankful for the promise that cannot be fulfilled in this world because it lifts us above the low levels, and already makes us feel as if we were endowed with immortality.

The word will test our patience, and it will test our willingness, though we be heirs of the kingdom, to do humble tasks. Christian men in this world are sons of a King, and look forward to a royal inheritance, but in the meantime they have, as it were, to keep a little huckster’s shop in a back alley. But if we adequately realised the promise of our inheritance, the meanness of our surroundings and the triviality of our occupations would not make us mean or trivial, but our souls would be ‘like stars’ and ‘dwell apart’ while we travelled ‘on life’s common way in cheerful godliness,’ and did small duties in such a manner as to make them great.

Because Joseph was sure that God’s long-lingering word would be fulfilled, he did not mind though he had to be the lackey of his brothers, the Midianites’ chattel, Potiphar’s slave, Pharaoh’s prisoner, and a servant of servants in his dungeon. So with us, the measure of our willing acceptance of our present tasks, burdens, humiliations, and limitations is the measure of our firm faith in the promise that tarries.

‘If we hope for what we see not, then do we with patience wait for it,’ says the Apostle, though most of us would have said exactly the opposite. We generally suppose that the more ardent the hope, the more is it impatient of delay. Paul had learned better. The more certain the assurance, the better we can tolerate the procrastination of its fulfilment.

So, brethren! God’s greatest gift to us, like all His other gifts, has in it the quality of testing us; and we can come to a pretty fair approximation to an estimate of what sort of Christian people we are, by observing how we deal with God’s promises of help according to our need here and of heaven hereafter. How do we deal with them? Why, a sadly large number of us never think about them at all; and a large proportion of the others would a great deal rather stay working in the huckster’s shop in the back alley, than go home to the King. I am quite sure that if the inmost sentiments of the bulk of professing Christians about a future life were dragged into light, these would be a revelation of a faith all honeycombed with insincerity. God tests us, and it is a sharp test if we submit ourselves to it; He tests us by His promises. ‘Child, wilt thou believe?’ is the first testing question put to us by these. ‘Wilt thou keep them hid in thy heart?’ is the next. ‘Wilt thou go out towards them in desire?’ is the next. ‘Wilt thou live worthy of them?’ is the last. ‘The word of the Lord tried him.’

So let us be thankful for the delays of love, for the wide gap between promise and realisation. It was for Joseph’s sake that the slow years were multiplied between the first gleam of his future and the full sunshine of his exaltation. And it is for our sakes that God in like manner protracts the period of anticipation and non-fulfilment. ‘If the vision tarry, wait for it.’ ‘Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus their brother’ very dearly. ‘When He heard, therefore, that he was sick, He abode still two days’-to give time for Lazarus to die-’in the same place where He was.’ Ay, and when each sister came to Him with her most natural and yet most faithless ‘Lord! if Thou hadst been here my brother had not died,’ He only said, ‘If thou wouldst believe thou shouldst see the glory of God.’ Was not Lazarus dearer, restored from the grave, than he would have been, raised from his sickbed? Is not the delaying of the blessing a means of increase of the blessing? And shall not we be sure that however long ‘He that shall come’ may seem to tarry ere He comes, when He has come they who have waited for His coming more than they that watch for the morning and have sometimes been ready to cry out: ‘Hath the Lord forgotten? Doth His promise fail for ever more?’ will be ashamed of their impatient moments and will humbly and thankfully exclaim: ‘He came at the very right time and did not tarry.’ ‘Until the time that his word came, the word of the Lord tried him,’ and the coming of that word was all the more blessed for every heavy-laden hour of hope deferred, which, by God’s grace, did not make the heart sick, but prepared it for fuller possession of the blessings enhanced by the delays of love.

Expositions Of Holy Scripture, Alexander MacLaren

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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