Title: Two Portraits
1 Blessed is the Man
That walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor standeth in the way of sinners,
Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord;
And in His law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
That bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
His leaf also shall not wither;
And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 The Ungodly are not so:
But are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous:
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
The first two Psalms, which are anonymous, provide an introduction to the whole Psalter, the Hymn Book of the Hebrews. The first treats of the Law, and the second, of Prophecy, and these are the foci around which the whole of the Old Testament moves as in an ellipse. That both Psalms are from the same hand seems to be indicated by the occurrence in each of certain words such as "blessed" (1:1; 2:12), and "meditate" (1:2; 2:1), and "perish" (1:6; 2:12).
The problem of the sufferings of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked belongs to every age. In the Psalter it occupies a prominent place, but the Hebrews firmly believed in Jehovah's righteous government of the world, notwithstanding appearances to the contrary. The righteous are blessed and the wicked are cursed; that is the plain fact, and that is the subject of this Psalm. The Tree and the Chaff would be a good title. Think about that.
The Poem is in two parts: 1, The Godly Man (1-3). He is described first negatively (1), then positively (2), and then consequently (3). The whole is covered by the introductory word, "Oh the blessednesses of the man that—" This word "blessednesses" is not found in the singular in the Hebrew because there is no such thing as a single blessing; wherever there is one there is another. Observe then that there are three things the godly man will not do (1). Mark carefully the triple triplets:
They denote successive steps in a career of evil, and each category moves towards a climax. There is a negative side to goodness.
But there is also a positive (2). The secret of a life that is acceptable to God is (a) delight, (b) meditation, and (c) continuance in the "law of the Lord." The true Christian is a Bible Christian. And such an one will be characterized by Vitality, "a tree"; Security, "planted"; Capacity, "by the runnels of water"; Fertility, "that bringeth forth its fruit"; Propriety, "in its season"; Perpetuity, "its leaf also shall not wither"; Prosperity, "and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." Is this a portrait of you? It is of your Master.
In part two the picture is reversed (4-6). It begins with, "Not so are the Ungodly"; and that is the worst that can be said about them. They are not trees, but chaff. The one defies the storm, but the other is driven before it. He who stands in the way of sinners (1) shall not stand in the judgment (5). There are only the Two Ways and the Two Ends (6). To which do you belong? Read Matthew 7:13-27.
By supplying the ellipsis in verse 6 it will read:
The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous,
Therefore it shall abide;
But the way of the ungodly shall perish,
For the Lord knoweth it not.
How terrible a thing it must be to perish!
Thought: The ultimates are black and white
What Jerome saith on St. Paul's epistles, the same may I say of this Psalm; it is short as to its size, but full of length and strength as to its matter. This Psalm carries blessedness in the frontispiece; it begins where we all hope to end: it may well be called a Christian's Guide, for it discovers the quicksands where the wicked sink down in perdition, and firm ground on which the saints tread to glory.
Title: God's King
1 Why do the heathen rage,
And the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord, and against His Anointed,
3 "Let us break their bands asunder,
And cast away their cords from us."
4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh:
The Lord shall have them in derision.
5 Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath,
And vex them in His sore displeasure.
6 "Yet have I set My King
Upon My holy hill of Zion."
7 I will declare the decree:
The Lord hath said unto Me,
"Thou art My Son;
This day have I begotten Thee.
8 Ask of Me,
And I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance,
And the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.
9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron;
Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potters vessel."
10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings:
Be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And ye perish from the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.
Psalm 1 called attention to the Law (2); this one directs our thought to Prophecy, and these are the two ruling notes of the Old Testament (Luke 16:16). Psalm 1 began on the word "blessed" (1); this one ends on it (12). In Psalm 1 there is right "meditation" (2); but here, wrong "meditation" (1, margin). This marvellous poem is in four stanzas; and it is dramatic in form.
1 The World-wide Rebellion (1-3). Observe the wild commotion of the many (1) and of the mighty (2a); the outward tumult and the inward cause (1); the array of the kings, and the plot of the rulers (2a). Also, the object of their enmity, Jehovah and His Messiah (2b): and, their daring proposal (3), to snap the bands of divine restraint and to fling away the cords of the yoke. That is a picture of the world to-day; and it will bring down—
2 The Divine Indignation (4-6). Mark here God's laughter of derision (4), His utterance of displeasure (5), and His act of disclosure (6). "Laugh—derision—wrath—displeasure!" What terrible ideas these words hold! Whatever you do, don't have God against you; and if God be for us, what matters it who is against us? Now follows:
3 The Great Declaration (7-9). It is about God's Messianic King. He is divinely attested (7). The "begetting" here does not refer to His birth, but to His resurrection (Acts 13:33): mark that. His dominion is to be universal (8). Compare "the uttermost parts of the earth" with Acts 1:8. The gift is in response to request—"ask." Then there is Messiah's victorious rule (9). He possesses by conquest. This, therefore, cannot refer to the evangelization of the heathen to-day. Subjugation to-day is not by breaking and dashing; but it will be some day. Now, finally—
4 The Solemn Exhortation (10-12). Be wise, be instructed, serve, rejoice, kiss, trust. Dread that "lest" (12). God's King (6) is His Son (12). It is better that you should "kiss" Him than that God should "laugh" (4) at you. Yet kiss Him not as did Judas.
Thought: It is better to bend than to be broken
Verse 10 was the remonstrance addressed to Henry VIII by John Lambert who was burned at Smithfield in 1538. Lambert's martyrdom was one of the most cruel of that time and the oft quoted words came from him as he lifted his fingers flaming with fire, "None but Christ, none but Christ."
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
Title: God My Help
1 Lord, how are they increased that trouble me!
Many are they that rise up against me.
2 Many there be that say of my soul,
"There is no help for him in God." Selah.
3 But Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me;
My glory, and the lifter up of mine head.
4 I cried unto the Lord with my voice,
And He heard me out of His holy hill. Selah.
5 I laid me down and slept;
I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people,
That have set themselves against me round about.
7 Arise, O Lord;
Save me, O my God:
For Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone;
Thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.
8 Salvation belongeth unto the Lord:
Thy blessing is upon Thy people. Selah.
for the chief musician
on stringed instruments.
A careful reading of Psalms 3 and 4 will show that they are closely related in structure, circumstances, and time. In each are four stanzas; each reflects a time of great danger, and that danger appears to be one and the same in both Psalms. The titles, which are very ancient, ascribe both to David; and there is no ground for doubting the historical note at the top of Psalm 3, which connects it with Absalom's rebellion. Read 2 Samuel 15-18. Psalm 3 is a morning hymn (5), and Psalm 4 an evening hymn (8). Both tell of the faith of God's Anointed when the Kingdom was opposed, not from without (Psa. 2), but from within.
In this Psalm each stanza, except the third, ends with Selah, which means—pause, think. The writer's distress is set forth in verses 1, 2. The wave which threatens to overwhelm him is growing in volume and momentum; his cause is pronounced hopeless. Have you ever felt like that? Yet, his trust in God remains unshaken (3, 4). He seemed to be exposed to the darts of false friends, but the Lord was his "shield"; he appeared to be plunged in gloom, but the Lord was his "glory"; men had cast him down, but the Lord would "lift him up" (3).
The writer derives comfort from past experience. It had been his habit to pray, and the Lord had always answered him (4). Selah. But his present experience also, justified his confidence (5). He is speaking of the morning after a night of refreshing sleep—not in bed! but out in the open and beneath the stars, hunted by foes! It is not the sleep of exhaustion, but of trust in God, Who sustains him all the time (Heb.). Numbers are not everything (6). Absalom had the crowd, but David had God, and one with God is a majority.
David ends with prayer, first for himself (7), and then for the nation (8). Many had risen against him (1): so he asks the Lord to arise for him. He makes his expectation to rest on his experience (7b): what God had done, He could and would do. First he says, "Save me" (7), then, "save them" (8). Let us pray.
Thought: Restful among foes
Dean Alford wrote in his Journal for New Year's Day. 1871:
"I preached on Psalm 3:5, and 4:8. Evening and morning thanksgiving. God only knows whether I shall survive this year. I sometimes think my health is giving way, but His will be done."
Twelve days later the Dean passed away at the age of sixty-one: but after two generations his Greek New Testament is still a mine of wealth.
A Psalm of David
Title: Before Going to Bed
1 Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness:
Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress;
Have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.
2 O ye sons of men,
How long will ye turn my glory into shame?
How long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing?
3 But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself:
The Lord will hear when I call unto Him.
4 Stand in awe, and sin not:
Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.
5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
And put your trust in the Lord.
6 There be many that say,
"Who will shew us any good?"
Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us.
7 Thou hast put gladness in my heart,
More than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.
8 I will both lay me down in peace and sleep:
For Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.
for the chief musician
with wind instruments
Selah" at the end of Psalm 3 connects it with Psalm 4 because the word means "pause before going on." For the relation of these Psalms to one another see the preceding exposition. This is an Evening Hymn (8). As in Psalm 3, there are here four stanzas of two verses each, Selah being omitted at the end of stanza three.
In the first stanza are a call to God (1) and a challenge to men (2). David grounds his prayer on his integrity—"my righteousness," and on God's past mercy—"Thou hast." God made room for him when he was in a strait (cf. 18:19). Has He ever done that for you! Rebellion against God is vain and false, and cannot be for long (2). But be it good or bad, people will seek what they love (2). Test yourself by that to-day. Rebellion against God is doomed to fail (3), but time is given for reflection and repentance (4). Conscience, which is unheeded in the turmoil and excitement of the day, often becomes busy when we get to bed; the solitude of night promotes reflection (4).
Men should offer to God, and trust in Him, and the former should be the expression of the latter (5). Some people are chronic sceptics, grousers, and grumblers, pale pessimists—"who will shew us any good?" (6). One flash of the Lord's countenance upon such would change all that (6). Get in the line of His light to-day.
Pity the people whose peace is dependent on plenty, who, unless they have corn and wine are not glad (7). Earthly joy does not rise above earthly things; but that which God puts into the heart is "joy unspeakable and full of glory." Bring your empty heart to Him and let Him fill it.
"Only" in verse 8 may mean either that God is our sole Protector or that in solitude He makes us to dwell safely (R.V.m.). Will you lie down to-night "in peace"? That will depend on how you live this day's life. Live for God to-day whatever your task, and to-night "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, will garrison your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus."
Thought: Pray before you sleep
On the night preceding the execution of Nicholas Ridley (1500-1555), Bishop of London, his brother offered to pass his last hours in his company, but the bishop refused, saying that he meant to go to bed and sleep as quietly as he ever did in his life:—
"I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest,
For it is Thou, Lord, only, that makest me dwell in safety."
The next morning he was chained to the stake in the town ditch, opposite the south front of Balliol College, Oxford. As the flames rose round him he exclaimed, with a wonderful loud voice:
"In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum.
Domine, recipe spiritum meum."
And then in English:
"Lord, Lord, receive my spirit."
A Psalm of David
Title: Talk and Walk
1 Give ear to my words, O Lord,
Consider my meditation.
2 Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God:
For unto Thee will I pray.
3 My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O Lord;
In the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee,
And will look up.
4 For Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness:
Neither shall evil dwell with Thee.
5 The foolish shall not stand in Thy sight:
Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.
6 Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing:
The Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.
7 But as for me,
I will come into Thy house in the multitude of Thy mercy:
And in Thy fear will I worship toward Thy holy temple.
8 Lead me, O Lord, in Thy righteousness because of mine enemies;
Make Thy way straight before my face.
9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth;
Their inward part is very wickedness;
Their throat is an open sepulchre;
They flatter with their tongue.
10 Destroy Thou them, O God;
Let them fall by their own counsels;
Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions;
For they have rebelled against Thee.
11 But let all those that put their trust in Thee rejoice:
Let them ever shout for joy, because Thou defendest them:
Let them also that love Thy name be joyful in Thee.
12 For Thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous;
With favour wilt Thou compass him as with a shield.
for the chief musician
on stringed instruments
set to the sheminith
This Psalm is a striking example of introverted parallelism as follows:
(a) The devout soul, 1-3 (singular)
(b) The wicked, 4-6
(c) Personal, 7
(c) Personal, 8
(b) The wicked, 9-10
(a) The devout soul, 11-12 (plural)
Read the verses under the corresponding letters, a-a, b-b, c-c, and you will see what is meant. The occasion of the Psalm is still a time of trouble, and wickedness and righteousness are still the theme (cf. Psalms 3 and 4). These Psalms tell of two days and a night between: 3, first morning (5); 4, night (8); 5, second morning (3).
In this Song the believer's life, within and without, is contrasted with the unbeliever's, both as to his talk (1-7), and his walk (8-12). How much depends upon how we start the day (1-3). David started it with prayer. Do you? The first hour is to the day what the rudder is to the ship, therefore pray in the morning (3). "Direct" your supplication to God as you would a letter to a friend, and then "look up," keep watch (R.V.) for the answer.
Mark here how David speaks of his prayer; to Whom he prays; and what he wants done with his prayer (1-3).
His confidence in approaching God is stated, first negatively (4-6), he is not a worker of iniquity, for such God will not hear; and then, positively (7), he is a worshipper of Jehovah. Only as this is true of us can we expect our prayers to be heard. Passing from the talk to the walk David prays to be led of God, that his path may be both level and straight (8). The answer to such a prayer is in Psalm 32:8. How great is our need of God's guidance (8, 9), for we are in the midst of foes; but, these notwithstanding, we shall shout for joy if our trust is in Him Who protects, and we shall trust Him if we love Him (11). The Lord quite covers the righteous, and His favour is the buckler with which He does so (12).
All our divers moods are reflected in the Psalter—hope and fear, dejection and rapture. If you find it difficult to frame words, use these Psalms. Your case is certain to be found here.
Thought: We must love holiness to hate sin
Bishop Bury says, in his account of an Episcopal Mission to British Honduras and Central America:
"As I stood one morning, according to custom, at the door of one of my timber churches in Costa Rica, to say good-bye to the people after the Early Celebration, before leaving them for that year, a tall, strong negro came out, leading his little boy of seven by the hand. When he and I had expressed our mutual goodwill in the usual 'God bless you' and 'God-speed,' he glanced down at his little son, who at once, looking timidly up at me as he did so, recited a text: 'Early in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up.' It was a text I had taken weeks before at their Children's Service, and the father wished his bishop to see that one small person out of the congregation remembered what had been said. But I place the incident here because it will always be to me typical and emblematic. Whenever I am thinking of the future of the dark race I shall see again that little black face turned wistfully up into mine, and I shall feel that it is thus that the negro race is 'looking up' into the face of the white race all over the world to-day."
A Psalm of David
Title: Appeal and Answer
1 O Lord, rebuke me not in Thine anger,
Nor chasten me in Thy hot displeasure.
2 Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak:
O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
3 My soul is also sore vexed:
But Thou, O Lord, how long?
4 Return, O Lord, deliver my soul:
O save me for Thy mercies' sake.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of Thee:
In the grave who shall give Thee thanks?
6 I am weary with my groaning;
All the night make I my bed to swim;
I water my couch with my tears.
7 Mine eye is consumed because of grief;
It waxeth old because of all mine enemies.
8 Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity;
For the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.
9 The Lord hath heard my supplication;
The Lord will receive my prayer.
10 Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed:
Let them return and be ashamed suddenly.
This is the first of the seven Penitential Psalms, the others being 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143. You should read one of these each day of the week until you know them.
The time and circumstances of this Psalm cannot with certainty be fixed, but the occasion is plain.
David has come through an illness which threatened to prove fatal; which he regarded as an evidence of God's displeasure; and over which his enemies rejoiced. Mark those three points in the Psalm (1-7). But he did what every Christian should do in time of trouble, he prayed, and his prayer was answered. The subject of the Psalm is, therefore, From Trouble through Prayer to Triumph. Verses 1-7 set forth the Trouble; and 8-10 reflect the Triumph.
The prayer is in two parts. David first asks of God favour instead of anger (1-3); and then for life instead of death (4-7). The writer is "vexed" both physically (2) and spiritually (3), and as Job's friends of old he associates suffering with sin, and so with the Divine anger (1). Of course these are vitally related, but suffering is by no means always the result of the sufferer's sin (Job 42:7-10).
The acuteness and continuance of David's trouble are reflected in verse 6; and a bitter drop in his cup was the glee of his enemies (7). Should he die that would but seem to confirm their verdict, so he prays for life (4, 5). Observe his view of "after death" (5). Life and immortality were brought to light only by the Gospel.
But the cloud breaks; heaviness is turned to joy; the sufferer's prayer is heard (8-10). He had prayed for the Lord to return to him (4); now he is sure that his enemies shall return from him (10). Penitential tears speak loudly—"the voice of my weeping" (8). When did you last weep for your sins? Many reading these lines must be in trouble; have you prayed? and do you believe? "Weeping may tarry for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Beyond the trouble is the triumph, and beyond the gloom is the glory. Believe it.
Thought: "Look from the top" (Cant. 4:8)
In one of those moods of despondency, which at times sweep over all of us, it is in the language of a psalm that Jane Welsh Carlyle utters her cry for help. On March 24th, 1856, she had resolved, in spite of weakness and ill-health, neither to indulge in vain retrospects nor to gaze into vague distances of the future, but to find the duty nearest to hand, and do it. Two days later she had learned how much she was the creature of external conditions. "One cold, rasping, savage March day," aided by the too tender sympathy of a friend, brought back all her troubles, and she writes (March 26th, 1856):
"Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak;
O Lord heal me, for my bones are vexed.
My soul is also sore vexed; but Thou, O Lord, how long!
Return, O Lord, deliver my soul;
O save me for Thy mercies' sake."
Shiggaion of David
Which he sang unto the Lord concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite
Title: Not Guilty
1 O Lord my God, in Thee do I put my trust:
Save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me:
2 Lest he tear my soul like a lion,
Rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver.
3 O Lord my God,
If I have done this;
If there be iniquity in my hands;
4 If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me;
(Yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy:)
5 Let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it;
Yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth,
And lay mine honour in the dust. Selah.
6 Arise, O Lord, in Thine anger,
Lift up Thyself because of the rage of mine enemies:
And awake for me to the judgment that Thou hast commanded.
7 So shall the congregation of the people compass Thee about:
For their sakes therefore return Thou on high.
8 The Lord shall judge the people:
Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness,
And according to mine integrity that is in me.
9 O let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end;
But establish the just:
For the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins.
10 My defence is of God, Who saveth the upright in heart.
11 God judgeth the righteous,
And God is angry with the wicked every day.
12 If he turn not, He will whet His sword;
He hath bent His bow, and made it ready.
13 He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death;
He ordaineth His arrows against the persecutors.
14 Behold, he travaileth with iniquity,
And hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood.
15 He made a pit, and digged it,
And is fallen into the ditch which he made.
16 His mischief shall return upon his own head,
And his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.
17 I will praise the Lord according to His righteousness:
And will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.
for the chief musician
set to the gittith
The writer is David; the occasion, the slanderous charges of a man named Cush; and the time, that period of David's life when he was hunted from place to place by Saul (read 1 Sam. 24-26). The Psalm is in seven parts:
The psalmist's urgency of need, and appeal for safety (1-2): False accusations are indignantly denied (3-5): the Intervention of the Lord as Judge is asked for (6-8); Hope of, and confidence in, the overthrow of evil and the triumph of the righteous (9, 10); the Warrior-Judge is lying in wait for the wicked (11-13): but Wickedness works its own punishment (14-16); a closing Doxology (17).
It should be understood that the protestations, here and elsewhere, of innocence, are not absolute, but only a relative claim to righteousness. David declares not that he is sinless, but that he is innocent of the charges brought against him (3-5, 8). In this sense every Christian should be able to make this claim (Psalm 17).
Compare the reference to slanders in the title with 1 Sam. 24:9, 26:19: the virulence of persecution described in verses 1, 2, with 1 Sam. 20:1, 31, 23:15: the protestations of innocence in verses 3, 4, with 1 Sam. 24:10, 11, 17, 26:18, 23, 24: the appeal to God as Judge in verses 6-8 with 1 Sam. 24:12, 15 (Kirkpatrick).
Learn from this Psalm that God's people are often sorely slandered; that false accusation is very hard to bear; that in such event it is best to go to God about it; that He assuredly will judge the wicked and vindicate the righteous sooner or later; that the law of retribution works with exactness (15, 16); and that in spite of trouble we should sing (17).
David had the most varied experience and he has told us freely about it for our comfort. He was "a great human," and in spite of his sin, a great saint. His God is yours, and may be better known in this age than they could know Him in the last. To-day, therefore, "sing praise to the name of Jehovah Elyon" (17).
Thought: Stoicism is not saintliness
It is useless for the sinner to allege that he is swept away by temptation: "he conceiveth mischief, and he bringeth forth falsehood" (14); and if he is swept away, it is as the suicide who repairs to the river, stands on its bank and, leaping in, is swept off to his watery grave.—Guthrie.
Earth's entertainments are like those of Jael,
Her left hand brings me milky her right, a nail.