For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.…
This is a quotation from an earlier psalm, with variations which are interesting, whether we suppose that the psalmist was quoting from memory and made them unconsciously, or whether, as is more probable, he did so deliberately and for a purpose.
1. The words in the original psalm (56) read, "Thou hast delivered my soul from death; hast Thou not delivered my feet from falling?" The writer of this psalm felt that that did not say all, so he put in another clause — "mine eyes from tears." It is not enough to keep a man alive and upright. God will wipe away his tears; and will often keep him from shedding them.
2. The original psalm goes on: "Thou hast delivered... my feet from falling, that I may walk before God." But the later psalmist goes a step further than his original. The first singer had seen what it is always a blessing to see — what God meant by all the varieties of His providences, viz. that the recipient might walk as in His presence. But the later poet not only discerns, but accords with, God's purpose, yields himself to the Divine intention, and instead of simply saying, "That was what God meant," he says, "That is what I am going to do — I will walk before the Lord."
3. The original psalm says, "in the light of the living"; the other uses another word, a little more intelligible, perhaps, to an ordinary reader, and says, "in the land of the living." Now, noting these significant variations, I would draw attention to this expression of the psalmist's acceptance of the Divine purpose, and the vision that it gave him of his future. It is hard to say whether he means "I will walk," or "I shall walk"; whether he is expressing a hope or giving utterance to a fixed resolve. I think there is an element of both in the words.
I. A SURE ANTICIPATION. "Thou hast" — "I will." The past is for this psalmist a mirror in which he sees reflected the approaching form of the veiled future. God's past is the guarantee of God's future. What God has done, He will keep on doing. Our experience yields fuel for our faith. We have been near death many a time; we have never fallen into it. Our eyes have been wet many a time; God has dried them. Our feet have been ready to fall many a time, and if at the moment when we were tottering on the edge of the precipice, we have cried to Him and said, "My feet have well-nigh slipped," a strong hand has been held out to us. "The Lord upholdeth them that are in the act of failing." And if we have pushed aside His hand, and gone down, then the next clause of the same verse applies, for He "raiseth up those that have fallen," and are lying prostrate. As it has been, so it will be. "Thou hast been with me in six troubles," therefore "in the seventh Thou wilt not forsake me." We can wear out men; and we cannot argue that because a man has had long patience with some unworthy recipient of his goodness, his patience will never give out. But it is safe to argue thus about God.
II. A FIRM RESOLVE. "I will walk before the Lord." What does "walking before the Lord" mean? It means the habitual — I do not say unbroken, but habitual — effort to feel in our conscious hearts that we are in His sight; not only that we are with Him, but that we are "naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." And that is to be the result, says our psalm, as it is the intention, of all that God has been doing with us in His merciful providence, in His quickening, sustaining, and comforting influences in the past. He sent all these varying conditions, kept the man alive, kept him from weeping, or dried his tears, kept him from falling, with the intention that he should be continually blessed in the continuous sunshine of God's presence, and should open out his heart in it and for it, like a flower when the sunbeams strike it. Oh, how different life would look if we habitually took hold of all its incidents by that handle, and thought about them, not as we are accustomed to do, according to whether they tended to make us glad or sorry, to disappoint or fulfil our hopes and purposes, but looked upon them all as stages in our education, and as intended, if I might so say, to force us, when the tempests blow, close up against God; and, when the sunshine came, to woo us to His side. Would not all life change its aspect if we carried that thought right into it, and did not only keep it for Sundays, or for the crises of our lives, but looked at all the trifles as so many magnest brought into action by Him to attract us to Himself? But there has to be something more. There have to be a firm resolve, and effort without which the firmest resolve will all come to water, and be one more paving stone for the road that is "paved with good intentions." That firm resolve finds utterance in the not vain vow, "I will" — in spite of all opposition and difficulties — "I will walk before the Lord," and keep ever bright in my mind the thought, "Thou God seest me." Aye! and just in the measure in which we do that shall we have joy. If we are right with God, then the gladdest of thoughts is, "Thou knowest me altogether, and Thou hast beset me behind and before." If we are right with God, "Thou hast laid Thine hand upon me" will mean for us support and blessing. If we are wrong, it will mean a weight that crushes to the earth. And if we are right with Him, that same thought brings with it security and companionship. Ah! we do not need ever to say, "I am alone," if we are walking before God. It brings with it, of course, an armour against temptation. That thought, of the present God, draws the teeth of all the raging lions, and takes the sting out of all the serpents, and paralyses and reduces to absolute nothingness every temptation. Clasp God's hand, and we shall not fall.
III. A FAR-REACHING HOPE. When we read, "I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living," we cannot but think of the true and perfect deliverance, when it shall be said, with a depth and a fulness of meaning with which it is never said here, "Thou hast delivered my soul from death," and the black dread that towered so high, and closed the vista of all human expectation of the future, is now away back in the past, hull-down on the horizon, as they say about ships scarcely visible, and no more to be feared. We cannot but think of the perfect deliverance of "mine eyes from tears," when "God shall wipe away the tears from off all faces, and the rebuke of His people from off all the earth." We cannot but think of the perfect deliverance of "my feet from falling" when the redeemed of the Lord shall stand firm, and walk at liberty on the golden pavements, and no more dread the stumbling-blocks of earth. We cannot but think of the perfect presence of God, the perfect consciousness that we are near Him, when He shall "present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy." We cannot but think of the perfect activity of that future state when we "shall walk with Him in white," and "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth." And one guarantee for all that far-reaching hope is the tiny experiences of the present; for He who hath delivered our souls from death, our eyes from tears, and our feet from falling, is not going to expose Himself to the scoff; "This 'God' began to build, and was not able to finish." But He will complete that which He has begun, and will not stay His hand until all His children are perfectly redeemed and perfectly conscious of His perfect presence.
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.