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We call the Jews a people. What does this mean? It generally means a number of persons bound together by three things: by having one blood, one language, one land. Other bonds may usually come in, such as one set of customs, one law, one government, one religion. But the three I have mentioned are the most constant.
I. First one blood. The Jews mixed wonderfully little with other people till quite late in history, and the family feeling was part of their religion. One of the names by which they are called is 'The Children of Israel'. Generation after generation was thus taught to look back to the first beginnings of the people. It lifted them out of base and earthly things. It carried them halfway to God. For God Himself was likewise known to them in the same form. Declaring Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He brought Himself near to them through their recollections of their forefathers.
II. Secondly, a people is held together by speaking one language. This bond of language the Jews possessed. Almost from the first it became intermixed with their thoughts about God. First the memory of His Commandments as written on the Tables of stone or spoken by the lips of Moses, then the possession of holy books, the short beginnings of a Bible, led them to feel that their common speech was not merely the necessary means of conversing with each other on the things of everyday life, but also supplied the outward form in which God spoke to their fathers and to them.
III. Again, men are made one people by dwelling in one land. And such was Judea or Jewry, the land of Israel to the Jews, the children of Israel. The affection which they bore it was one of the most powerful ties which helped them to feel that they were indeed one at times when other causes were tearing them asunder. God saw fit that for their sins they should be earned away prisoners into a strange land, and there they seemed ready to be scattered away and leave no traces on the face of the earth, till in due time part of them obtained leave to return to their own country, and then once more the people rose out of the dust. Their entrance into it was marked by wonderful signs of God's presence and favour, and He taught them to look on continuance upon its sacred soil as the highest earthly blessing, the best reward for those who obeyed His laws.
IV. We have now considered the three chief signs which mark a people in the proper sense of the word, and which the Bible shows to have marked the ancient people of God, the Jews. So far they were in a great measure like other peoples, old and new. The difference was that God made Himself known to no other people. That is what renders their history a treasure of the highest and best instruction to us; not a mere subject of curiosity for those who have time and opportunity to busy themselves about things that happened so very long ago, but a possession meant for the use of every one of us.
J. F. A. Hort, Sermons on the Books of the Bible, p. 18.
References. LXXVI. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 791. LXXVI. 5. S. Baring-Gould, The Preacher's Pocket, p. 119.
Charles Kingsley had a special love for this Psalm. When sailing up the Rhine, and looking on the ruined strongholds of the old freebooters, he writes: 'How strange that my favourite Psalm about the hills of the robbers (hills of prey) should have come in course the very day I went up the Rhine!'
The Divine Coercion of Evil
Let us note for our consolation and encouragement the two precious truths expressed by the text the Divine restraint of evil, and the Divine compulsion of evil to issues of good and blessing. For, whatever the variations in the interpretation of the original by the great scholars, this is substantially the significance of the passage before us.
I. The Divine Restraint of Evil. 'The remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain.' The mighty army of Sennacherib, splendidly equipped, full of fury and confidence, suddenly and mysteriously melted away under the power of Jehovah, leaving Jerusalem intact and joyful; and the permanent significance of this event is, that no weapon formed against the kingdom of God shall finally prosper, that every conspiracy in a critical hour shall be brought to nought.
1. In nature we see abounding examples of the fact that limits are fixed to the destructive forces, limits they may not transgress. There is a benign law, a delicately poised balance, a sovereign virtue, an antiseptic quality, in the very constitution of things, which keeps the destructive elements within bounds, and preserves the world a theatre of life, sweetness, health, and beauty. And as the snake is in the grass, the hawk in the sky, the poison-plant in the woods, so the octopus, alligator, and shark infest the waters; yet the protective law operates there also, sheltering whatsoever passeth through the depths of the seas.
Evil is full of boasting; it is insolent, mocking, rampant, apparently irresistible; it threatens to occupy the whole sphere annihilating all that is good, soiling whatever is beautiful, quenching in darkness whatever is joyous; yet somehow it breaks off unaccountably where and when we did not expect it to break off, not having wrought nearly the mischief that seemed inevitable. 'Fear ye not Me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at My presence which have placed the sand for the bound, of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it; and, though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?'
2. If in nature these gracious limits are imposed on the genius of destruction, let us be assured that stern circumscriptions restrain moral evil and render impossible its triumph.
II. The Divine Compulsion of Evil. 'Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee.' Not merely restrained, but coerced to most desirable issues. Not only is Zion saved from evil, she is served by it. The peoples of the earth, the estranged heathen peoples, through their defeats and humiliations, are to attain to true insight and reverence. The most furious and the most enraged are to come to the thankful acknowledgment of God. Such is the significance of the closing strophe of this Psalm. The rage of kings and peoples is overruled to the glory of the Church of God and to the ultimate salvation of the revolters.
Let us, however, be clear as to what is exactly meant by evil working good. We must remember that evil is evil, not good in the making, not undeveloped good. Essential evil is the deliberate contradiction of the Divine will, the positive violation of the Divine law, programme, design, the clash of God's will and the creature's. And, secondly, that good is never brought out of evil that is impossible. When it is affirmed that evil works for good, we mean that God so antagonizes wicked men, vile institutions, and malign movements, that in the final result they develop the good they threaten to destroy. The selfishness, pride, and licence of the world are made to work its purification.
Let us not be overpowered by the vision of the power of evil. Whatever is done against us in our personal life by the injustice of men or the maliciousness of demons shall, whilst we remain faithful, work for our final gain. What is the moral of the book of Job but the subordination of alien wrath to the profit of the saint? From a great fight of unmerited affliction we see the patriarch emerge more rich and powerful than when the storm burst upon him, and with a deepened experience that must have given to his restored prosperity tenfold interest and satisfaction. The government of God extorted from the malice of hell splendid spoils in which Job was arrayed. So now with every loyal child of God. 'All things work together for good to them that love God.'
W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, pp. 62-76.
References. LXXVI. 11. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. i. p. 218. W. G. Bryan, Seven Sermons on the Sacrament, p. 54. LXXVI. 17. H. Woodcock, Sermon Outlines, p. 72. LXXVI. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 165. LXXVII. 5. W. R. Inge, Faith and Knowledge, p. 211.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 76". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany