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This psalm was composed by the same author as the preceding one, and has reference to the same occasion. It is fitted to impart help and encouragement to the afflicted and desponding in their troubles. The pious spirit of the author is clearly seen in the psalm.
The poet pours out his heart to God in petitions, expostulations, and promises; but the prevailing tone of the psalm is that of intense desire. He longs
I. For vindication and deliverance. “Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; O deliver me” (Psalms 43:1-2). Notice—
1. The character of his enemies. “An ungodly nation, … the deceitful and unjust man.” The word which is translated “ungodly” is in the margin more correctly rendered “unmerciful.” Hengstenberg renders it “unloving.” It is a word which may most fitly be applied to the conduct of the Jewish nation at the time of the rebellion of Absalom, to which time the psalm most probably refers. In the conduct of an immense number of the people towards David, there was no love, no mercy; but base ingratitude, injustice, and cruelty. “The deceitful and unjust man” may have been said of many at the time to which we suppose the psalm to refer, and pre-eminently of Absalom and Ahithophel (Comp. 2 Samuel 15:0; 2 Samuel 16:0; 2 Samuel 16:0; 2 Samuel 17:0; 2 Samuel 17:0.) The Psalmist was contending against men who were cruel, treacherous, and unjust.
2. The dejection of his spirit. “Why dost Thou cast me off? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” The entire tone of the psalm forbids us to think that David felt himself rejected of God. But his circumstances at the time seemed inconsistent with the guardianship of God; and he, therefore, appeals to Him on the matter. See notes on Psalms 42:9.
3. The nature of his petition. “Judge me, O God, and plead my cause.” The enemies of the poet were many and virulent. They persecuted him and reproached him as a man forsaken by God. And here he appeals to God for vindication. He could honestly and fearlessly appeal to the Lord to judge between him and his enemies. He had given no occasion to them for the treatment he received from them. And if God grant him deliverance from them, that will be an unmistakable evidence of the Divine judgment, a clear vindication of the persecuted and much-suffering poet. So he prays that God would interpose and deliver him and thus vindicate him. For this he longs.
4. The strength of his plea. “For Thou art the God of my strength.” Hengstenberg: “For Thou art my guardian-God.” The Psalmist pleads that he was looking to God for strength and protection; that he was trusting in the Lord. This plea is never urged sincerely and earnestly but what it avails with God.
II. For restoration to the tabernacle of God. “O send out Thy light and Thy truth; let them lead me,” &c. (Psalms 43:3-4). Notice—
1. He longs chiefly for restoration to the tabernacle of God. His great desire is to be brought again unto God’s “holy hill and tabernacles.” “The centre of all the Psalmist” wishes is his return to the sanctuary, because the exclusion from that was, of all the marks of the Divine displeasure under which he suffered, the most palpable. In his return to the sanctuary, he would find a matter-of-fact justification, a pledge of the return of God’s grace.—Hengstenberg. “His heart is set,” says Matthew Henry, “upon the holy hill and the tabernacles, not upon his family comforts, his court preferments, or his diversions; he could bear the want of these, but he is impatient to see God’s tabernacles again; nothing so amiable in his eyes as those,—thither he would gladly be brought back.”
2. He looks for the realisation of his longings through the favour and faithfulness of God. “O send out Thy light and Thy truth.” God’s light here is equivalent to His favour or mercy, and His truth to His faithfulness. And the Psalmist prays that through these he may be led back to the enjoyment of the privileges and blessings from which he was at present so cruelly exiled. Blessed is that man who, like David, sets his hope firmly in the favour and faithfulness of God. His hope shall attain unto splendid fruition.
3. He promises to avail himself of the opportunities of worship when he is restored to the tabernacles of God. “Then will I go unto the altar of God,” &c. He will worship
(1) With sacrifice. “I will go unto the altar of God,” with sacrifices for sin and offerings of gratitude.
(2) With delight. “Unto God my exceeding joy.” (See the sketch on this verse.)
(3) With praise. “Yea, upon the harp will I praise Thee, O God, my God.” Instrumental music was largely used by the Hebrews in their worship. “David excelled at the harp (1 Samuel 16:16-18), and with that in which he excelled he would praise God; for God is to be praised with the best we have; it is fit He should be, for He is the best.”—M. Henry.
4. He encourages his soul to expect the realisation of his longings. “Why art Thou cast down, O my soul?” &c. (Psalms 43:5). (See homiletic sketch on Psalms 43:5, and notes on Psalms 43:5 and Psalms 42:11 of the preceding psalm.)
CONCLUSION.—In this psalm the poet appears to us as a glorious example of a man whose hope is steadily fixed in God. Heroic was he in his trust in the Lord. In the first verse, we see him calmly trusting in the righteous judgment of God; in the second, he rests in God as his strength; in the third, he looks expectantly to God for restoration to his dearest privileges; in the fourth, he resolves to adore Him as his exceeding joy and his most treasured possession; in the fifth, he exults in confident anticipation of the enjoyment of all that he most deeply longed for; and all this at a time when circumstances seemed all against him, and when to the eye of sense his prospects were of the darkest. Brave, trustful poet, we cannot but admire thee! Let us also imitate him in this respect.
THE ALTAR OF GOD
“Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy.”
The text opens to us two important views.
I. The peculiar nature of that worship which God has authorised. It is going to the altar of our God. By the altar only can God be approached. Behold, then, the true character of acceptable worship.
1. There is in it a recognition of our sin. There was no altar in Paradise. When John beheld a vision of heaven, he “saw no temple therein.” But in the present state, in approaching God, we go to His altar. The sacrifice of Christ is made particularly prominent in the Christian scheme to remind us that we are sinful men, and cannot draw near to God in our own name.
2. An acknowledgment of our just liability to punishment. Worship is not a claim of right, but a plea for mercy. Sentence of death is denounced against every transgressor of the law of God, and in such a prayer as that of the publican its justice is acknowledged. The ancient offerer of sacrifice acknowledged this, and we do the same when we flee to Christ’s atonement.
3. The true worship of God recognises Him as propitious through an atonement appointed by Himself. It was not an altar of human device to which the Psalmist resolved to go, but to the altar of his God. The cross is “the altar of God,” His Son is the victim; the precious blood of Christ is the accepted atonement; and coming to Him in faith, our sin is purged and our persons are accepted.
4. Our worship being an approach to the altar of God, we are assured of constant access to Him. The priests had their courses, that there might be no intermission in the service. The fire of the altar was never extinct. The altar was always there to receive the sacrifice, and the altar of incense was an emblem of the acceptance of perpetual prayer. The sacrifice of Christ needs never to be repeated. It was offered “once for all,” for “by one offering He hath for ever perfected them that are sanctified.” Our High Priest never dies, but “hath obtained an unchangeable priesthood.” Access to the throne of grace is ever given, and our prayers are always accepted.
II. The emphatic description which is given us of the joy which results from it. “To God my exceeding joy.” “Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest,” &c. “How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!”
Contemplate the sources of this joy, that you may aspire after it.
1. We are placed in the presence of a Being of infinite glory and perfection. The joy in question supposes reconciliation with God, and when that is effected all our intercourse with Him may be adoring gratitude. We cannot approach the sublime of nature, we cannot be brought into the presence of an elevated character, without a deeply interested and joyous impression; but here God reveals Himself to man. Infinite beauty, glory, purity, and perfection says, “Come up to me in the holy mount;” and in answer to our prayer, “I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory,” He makes all His goodness pass before us. David anticipated this joy (Psalms 63:1-2).
2. True worship enables us to appropriate this display of glory to ourselves. There is an inexpressible emphasis in the words “My God.” All His glory is ours. Is He the everlasting God? Then, because He lives, I shall live also. Is His fulness infinite? Then my supplies are secure. “All my springs are in Thee.” Is He omnipotent? Then, “if God be for us, who can be against us?” And whatever other perfections He has are mine. Mine is His wisdom, His mercy, and His love.
3. It is the joy of confidence. The very reason why we seek God is the want of confidence in everything beside, and in Him we may confide absolutely. God in Christ assures us of this. The philosopher tells me to span the heavens. I am an atom, a nothing. I look upon God incarnate, and all my chilling calculations fly. I am not unnoticed among His works. He came to this world, minify it as you may, to seek and to save that which was lost. When I go “to the altar of my God,” I see that He is love. He that so loved me can never be indifferent to me, and can never forget me.
4. The joy of renewed assurances of His favour to us. Doubts and fears may oppress and chill, till we steadfastly behold His beauty in the sanctuary, and by renewed acts of faith obtain richer manifestations of His love, when our peace flows like a river. Comp. Psalms 73:16-17; Psalms 73:28.
5. There is the joy of hope. The tabernacle was an emblem of heaven.—Richard Watson, abridged.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 43". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany