We have already noticed that the book of Psalms is divided into five separate books. We come now to consider the last of this particular collection. We noticed that the first book of the Psalms is linked very intimately with the first book of the Pentateuch. It has to do with God as the Creator and Upholder of all things and as the Deliverer of His people, as the One who took us up in His electing love and having made us His own undertakes to carry us on in spite of all circumstances until at last we behold His face in righteousness. And everything hangs on the work of the Cross. As in the book of Genesis we have type after type setting forth the work of the Cross, so in this first part of the Psalms we have one Psalm after another that emphasizes the fact that every blessing for time and eternity comes to us through the work that our Lord Jesus Christ did when He took our place in judgment and was made sin for us upon the tree. That came out very clearly in Psalm 22 where we heard His anguished cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” We saw it also in the fortieth Psalm where we looked upon the Lord Jesus as the burnt offering, presenting Himself without spot unto God, dying to glorify God in the scene where He had been so terribly dishonored by man’s sin, and in glorifying God, working out salvation for us. We heard the voice of the Lord Himself speaking in that fortieth Psalm and noticed His cry in the closing verse, “I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon Me: Thou art My help and My deliverer; make no tarrying, O My God.” The One who uttered these words by the Spirit was really God over all blessed forevermore, who became Man in order that He might die for us. We read in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.”
We have noticed throughout this book that very frequently the last verse of one Psalm suggests the first thought of the one that follows it. And so we turn immediately to the first verses of the forty-first Psalm and read, “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.” When we realize that the poor one here is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, we can see the real force of these words. It is not so much that He is the poverty-stricken One; it is poor in the sense that one is weak and helpless, and that is what our Lord Jesus chose to become on the Cross. “He was crucified through weakness” (2 Corinthians 13:4), we read. And this verse may be translated, “Blessed is he that thinketh upon the weakened one,” the One who though He had all power and all might yet chose to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, refusing to exercise His divine omnipotence in order to deliver Himself, but was “brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). We can see how David typified Him.
The Psalm would suggest that it may have been written by David when he fled from Absalom, his son, when his own son turned against him and the great bulk of the army of Israel followed after Absalom. David left the city of Zion and passed over the brook Kedron, climbed the Mount of Olives, weeping, descended into the valley on the other side, and fled eventually across the Jordan. When his own son had turned against him, then he was indeed the poor one, the weakened one. You remember the story of Barzillai who heard of David’s need and distress and came with all manner of fruit and provisions, and one can imagine David receiving these things with a grateful heart and sitting down to write this Psalm, “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.” And of course the principle comes down to us. Do you want blessing yourself? Then be thoughtful and considerate of others who are in need. Do you know why some Christians, when they get in distress and trouble, cry to God and do not seem to get any answer? The reason often is this, when they were prosperous and others cried to them in their need and distress they did not give to them; they did not consider the poor, they did not minister to them, and the Lord says, as it were, Now you can just have a dose of your own medicine. You were not interested in others in the days of your prosperity; you were thinking of your own comfort; you knew that the poor and needy were all about you, and they pleaded in vain for help from you. So do not be surprised now if I turn you down. That is exactly what the Spirit of God intimates in the first Epistle of John when speaking of answers to prayer. The Lord has never promised to answer the prayer of one who is not walking in manifest love and concern for other people. Look at 1 John 3:16 to 22, “Hereby perceive we the love of God [Hereby know we love, R.V.], because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him…If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.” If our own consciences tell us that we are indifferent to the needs of others in their distress, God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things. “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not”-if we know that we have walked before God with real concern for others, that we have not been living for self, then in our time of trial-“then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” This is the New Testament way of saying, “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”
J. Elder Cumming calls this Psalm “The Sick Man’s Cry,” and as you read it you can realize that the writer was passing through a time of great physical stress. If he was not suffering from some actual disease, he was under a strain-his mind, and nervous system were under a terrible strain, but in the midst of it all he turned to God. Did you ever know what it was to be so tired and sick and nervous that it seemed you could not pray? That is a good time to use a prayer book. God has written some wonderful prayers for us in His own Word, and some of these we can use when we are so distracted and distressed that we do not know what to say ourselves. Many a time when so troubled I did not know how to pray or what to do I have sat down and read the Psalms and I would get hold of something that was the exact expression of my own personal need, and I have said, “Lord, this is Thine own Word, and this is the expression of my heart.” Sometime when you are sick and nervous and tired and people do not understand you and everything is going wrong, sit down and take this forty-first Psalm and see if it does not make a wonderful prayer for you.
In the first three verses you will notice the Psalmist is really meditating; he is speaking about God and about what He will do for those who trust Him, but when he comes to verse 4 and down to the end of verse 12, he addresses the Lord directly. Let us notice his meditation. Verse 2, “The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and Thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies.” Who? The one who considers the poor-first of all, the one who considers the poor Man, our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, and has put his trust in Him. But then the one who remembers the words of the Lord Jesus, “Ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good” (Mark 14:7). I do not know any joy on earth like helping folk in their distress if they do not know who did it and then seeing how happy they are because of the help they get. I used to know a man in Sacramento, California, who was very wealthy and was always doing little things in a quiet way. He would find a Christian family in real distress, maybe in need of food, and he would go down to the grocer’s and order such a splendid supply of things and then send it out to be delivered on the back porch with no explanation. The folk would come out and find the porch loaded with all these things and then would come to meeting and say, “Oh, die Lord did such a wonderful thing for me. I was in such need and did not know which way to turn, and then He sent me such a large supply of provisions.” And that man would be so happy he would almost give away his secret and laugh out loud. Nothing gives more joy if you do it in a loving, Christlike, unostentatious way. Then when your day of trouble comes, and it is coming, do not think it is not, you can count on God to undertake for you.
“The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and Thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: Thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.” Is that not a wonderful thing when laid aside so weak you cannot rise, when you are confined to your bed with illness, to realize the Lord Himself is smoothing your pillow and freshening your covers? Think of the Lord making your bed for you. He will “make all his bed in his sickness.” I have not been ill very much in my life but some of the greatest blessings I have had were when I was sick. I remember so well the first real sickness I had. I took typhoid fever and was sick for six weeks. I saw more as I lay there on my back looking up than I had seen for years walking around and looking down. The Lord made things more real and precious than I have ever known them to be in all the days going about in good health. And then I found that after I had been in that position I could help other people. I did not like to go to visit sick people before that. I would go to some poor sick one and would try to talk to him and I always felt that he thought, “What do you know about it? It is all right for you to tell me to trust the Lord and be patient, but you do not know anything about it.” After that I could say, “I know all about it and know what the Lord can do for one in sickness.” Some years before I had run across a little group of Christians in Idaho. A group of Swiss Christians had taken up large claims for farms, had cleared the forest and built their homes and raised their families. They built a chapel in the woods and as they came to service they would be singing in French as they rode down the river or as they came driving through the woods, and they filled the place. They loved the Word, but I could not speak French, and many of them could not talk English, so I would speak in English and one would interpret. They did not have a prayer meeting, and I talked to one of them about it and said, “I understand you do not have a prayer meeting.”
“Oh,” he said, “we come together to break bread in remembrance of the Lord, and for Bible study, but there is no need to come together to pray.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“What do we have to pray for? We are blessed ‘with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:3), so we do not need to pray for more spiritual blessings. As for temporal blessings, the Lord knows what we need more than we do, and so we do not need to pray for temporal blessings. We do not have to pray for bigger farms for we have all the farms we can manage. We do not have to pray for children for I have nine and Brother So and So has thirteen. We do not need to pray for any of these things, so we do not have prayer meetings.”
Well, I had a second attack of typhoid fever, and again I was looking up to heaven for six weeks, and when I got well enough to get home again I met this same brother, and he said, “We are so glad to see you. When we got word that you were down with typhoid fever again and were so far away from home, our hearts went out to you and we had prayer meetings, sometimes two or three times a week, praying for the Lord to raise you up again. Then we were so glad to hear that you were on your way back to California, and we haven’t had any prayer meeting since.”
I said, “I thank you for praying for me, but you know, when I was sick, I was having a wonderful time with the Lord. I need prayer more when I am strong and well than I do when sick.”
When we come to verse 4 the Psalmist changes, and instead of speaking about the Lord, David speaks to the Lord. “I said, Lord, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against Thee.” There is nothing that exercises one like the trials that David went through. I am sure David had deep thoughts of heart when Absalom rebelled against him, when he had to flee from his presence; and I have an idea that David said to himself, “Oh, my son is treating me the way I treated God.” David would not be able to forget those terrible failures that had come into his life, and he was suffering still under the hand of God because of them. Sin may be confessed, but after all, there are temporal consequences that follow. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7), and when David committed that awful sin that made such a blot upon his record you remember how he gave judgment against himself. Nathan came and told that story about the ewe lamb. David loved sheep and more than once he had put his life in jeopardy to save a lamb, and so when Nathan told of this rich man who took the ewe lamb and killed it in order to make a dinner for his visitors, he was wrought up and said, “The man that hath done this thing…shall restore the lamb fourfold” (2 Samuel 12:5-6). And in this, David pronounced his own judgment. Nathan brought the word home to him and said, “Thou art the man.” And David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” The Lord put away his sin, but there were temporal consequences still. David had said, “The man that hath done this thing…shall restore the lamb fourfold.”
The little child that Bathsheba bore took sick, and David went in and threw himself down before God and pled with the Lord to save that little child’s life. By-and-by he noticed his servants whispering together, and he asked, “Is the child dead?” They said, “Yes.” David went out and washed himself, sat down, and took food. “Why,” they said, “what a strange thing! When the child was living you fasted and would not eat, and now the child is dead and you anoint yourself and eat.” David said, “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead…I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22-23). There was David’s first lamb taken away.
Then you remember how Amnon committed the very same kind of sin that his father had committed. It is an awful thing, “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 20:5). The father goes into sin and the first thing you know the son goes into the same thing. And Absalom was so angry about the wrong wrought upon his sister that he slew Amnon. There was David’s second lamb.
And then Absalom turned against his father, and this Psalm was written, perhaps, while David was fleeing from his presence. How David would have saved Absalom if he could. When Joab went out against Israel David said, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom” (2 Samuel 18:5). But when Joab found him caught in the boughs of the tree, he drove three darts through his heart and David’s third lamb had gone.
And now David is an old man, and Solomon has come to the throne, and it looks as though David is going to have to restore only threefold. But no, the last sorrow that he had was Adonijah, another son, who rebelled against Solomon and was put to death, and so David had restored fourfold. We need to realize that it is a serious thing to have to do with the living God. We get so careless about sin; we get so indifferent and imagine we can sin with impunity, but God’s Book says, “Be sure your sin will find you out.” David faces his sin and says, “I have sinned against Thee.” He does not say, “Why do You call me to suffer like this?” No, he says, there is good reason for it for I have sinned. “If he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:15). Then David speaks of enemies, and here we may realize how he becomes a type of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Mine enemies speak evil of me, When shall he die, and this name perish?” That is the way they spoke of the Lord Jesus. “And if he come to see me, he speaketh vanity.” Was that not like Judas coming to the Lord Jesus and saying, “Hail, Master,” and kissing Him, pretending to be His friend? “His heart gathereth iniquity to itself; when he goeth abroad, he telleth it. All that hate me whisper together against me: against me do they devise my hurt.” And then they are anxious to lay something on him. “An evil disease, say they, cleaveth fast unto him: and now that he lieth he shall rise up no more.” In other words, now we have him where we want him. That is what they said when they crucified the Lord of glory but God raised Him from the dead.
And then in the ninth verse the reference is to Ahithophel the Gilonite, who had been David’s friend. Do you know why he turned against him? Look up those names in the early chapters of Chronicles and you will make a remarkable discovery. Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba. That is why he turned against David. David had wronged his granddaughter, and he betrayed David. Jesus had not wronged anybody, but Judas turned against Him, and the Lord uses these words about Judas, “Yea, Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of My bread, hath lifted up his heel against Me.” Do you get the meaning of that expression? You have read it often. If it were translated into modern English it would be, “Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of My bread, hath kicked Me.” You understand what it means to be disappointed in one you thought to be your friend, to have him turn against you and then kick you. If you have to suffer like that, go and talk it over with Jesus, for He has been through it all and
“In every fang that rends the heart
The Man of Sorrows hath a part.”
In the next three verses David expresses his full confidence in God in spite of all that the enemies can do. “But Thou, O Lord, be merciful unto me, and raise me up, that I may requite them. By this I know that Thou favourest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me.” He puts God between himself and the enemy. “And as for me, Thou upholdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before Thy face for ever.” No one could say that like Jesus. Every one else must have certain reservations when using language like that, but the Lord Jesus could say it without any reservations whatever. “As for Me, Thou upholdest Me in Mine integrity, and settest Me before Thy face for ever.”
The last verse not only closes the Psalm but it also closes this first book; and as we noticed on the first occasion that we examined the book of Psalms every one of the books ends with a doxology something like this, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Psalms 41". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany