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Superscription.—“To the chief Musician, Altaschith:” see introduction to Psalms 57:0. “A Pslam—a song of Asaph:” see introduction to Psalms 74:0.
“There are,” says Perowne, “no clearly marked historical allusions in the Psalm. It seems, however, not improbable, as has been conjectured by many commentators, that it may refer to the time of the Assyrian invasion, either as celebrating, or immediately anticipating the defeat of Sennacherib. Like Psalms 46:0, it bears some resemblance to the prophecies of Isaiah uttered at that time.” It seems to us that in this Psalm we have the “thank-prayer” of the people in confident anticipation of victory over the Assyrians; and, in the following Psalm, we have their exultant and grateful praise for the accomplishment of that victory.
ISRAEL’S PRAISE FOR THE PROMISED HELP OF GOD
In the first verse, the Psalmist speaks as the mouth-piece of the people of Israel; in the second and third verses, he represents Jehovah as addressing them. In these verses we have—
I. Heroic anticipation of victory. The people are threatened by Sennacherib. His army is near them even while they chant this prayer-psalm. Yet they are confident of ultimate victory. Around them all was darkness, and to the carnal eye no helper was near, but to the faith-enlightened eye all around them was luminous with the near presence and help of God. They seem to have attained this brave anticipation of victory somewhat in this way.
1. By contemplating the wondrous works of God. In former times He had done great and wondrous things for them. He had repeatedly caused their foes to flee before them, utterly discomfited, in battle. He had done wondrous things in nature on their behalf. And now in the day of their distress the great things which He had done for them pass before them clearly and impressively, and their troubled hearts grow calm and strong.
2. By connecting the wondrous works which He had done for them with promises of wondrous works which He would yet do for them. He had made to them declarations of the stability of the throne of His servant David. He had promised them victory over their foes. Wondrous things He had said He would do for them. They received and interpreted His promises in the light of His former doings for them, and their hearts grew calm and strong, and buoyant with hope.
3. By regarding these wondrous works as signs of the Divine presence. As the threatened Jews contemplated God’s wondrous works, they appear to have felt Him near to them, and, thus realising His presence, they confidently anticipated their release from danger, and their restoration to peace and security. Mark the strength of their assurance. The Assyrians have come against them into their own land; there are no outward and visible signs of deliverance, yet so confident are they of the help of God that they pour out their hearts in this thanksgiving Psalm. Their anticipation was so vivid and eager as to make their deliverance appear to them almost an accomplished thing. It reminds us of our Lord’s sublime assurance of victory as He entered into the darkness and anguish of His last and fiercest strife. He has forewarned His disciples of the trials and persecutions which await them. And now He would encourage them, and He says, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” There is much of temptation and grief and terrible battling immediately awaiting Him, yet He regards the victory as so infallibly sure that it seems His already. The faith is grand, heroic, which so trusts God’s promise as to anticipate the victory, as the poet does in this Psalm.
II. Firm ground of confidence. In the second and third verses we understand the poet as representing God as the speaker. The translation of the second verse given in the margin, appears to give the correct idea, “When I shall take a set time I will judge uprightly;” or, “For I shall fix a time when I shall judge righteously.” Upon the promise of God to interpose for them, they base their faith and hope as upon a sure foundation.
1. In times of the greatest distress He is all-sufficient. Such a time is indicated in the third verse. “The earth, in consequence of the succees of the conqueror of the world, is, as it were, dissolved, sunk back into its ancient chaotic state; but the same omnipotence which at that time brought its dissolution to an end, shall aid it now.” In the greatest calamities, such an a dissolution of the earth, God is calm and unmoved in His own conscious sufficiency and sovereignty. When the earth seems to be reeling into ruin He calms His people with the assurance, “I have adjusted the pillars of it;” and they know that they are secure. Can we conceive any distress which He is unable to cope with and overcome? Is it possible that any evil or misery can be so complicated as to baffle infinite wisdom? Can there be a calamity so appalling and utter as to triumphantly defy omnipotence to remove or relieve it?
2. When He interposes He will judge righteously. He will manifest no unfair partiality or favouritism. He sitteth upon the throne judging in righteousness. This was an encouragement to His menaced and imperilled people. They thought upon it, and lifted up their heads, believing that their redemption drew nigh. Let the oppressed people of God take heart at the remembrance of His upright government. The Lord reigneth to smite down the oppressor and vindicate the oppressed. He will deliver the righteous out of all their troubles, and bring them out into a wealthy place. Let the enemies of God take warning. God is supreme. He is also righteous. You are opposing omnipotence, and must be crushed unless you desist from your insane conduct. “Because there is wrath, beware lest He take thee away with His stroke, and a great ransom cannot deliver thee.”
3. He will interpose in due season. “When I shall take a set time I will judge uprightly.” “Our God, who governs the world by His omnipotence and wisdom, has appointed to all things a boundary, and has also fixed a time and an hour for His judgment, and when this comes, He reveals His judgments, and no man can hinder them. God withholds His punishments for a very long time, but at last it comes with certainty, and makes no delay.” Let the much-tried child of God learn to wait patiently and hopefully for His appearing. In infinite wisdom and love He has fixed the time when the night of your mourning shall be ended by the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, with healing in His wings. He will not come a moment too soon. He will not tarry one moment after the due season. At the best time He will come and judge uprightly.
Surely there is here the firmest ground for the strong confidence which the Psalmist expresses for the people. God is more than sufficient even to their great needs, when He interposes He will judge righteously, and He will interpose in due season.
III. Devout utterance of praise. “Unto Thee, O God, do we give thanks, do we give thanks.” The thanksgiving of the people was hearty. The Psalm opens with praise, and before it closes it breaks forth into praise again. The praise was emphasised, repeated—“We give thanks, we give thanks.” Praise such as this, for a promised blessing, in a special manner honours God by the calm, strong trust in His word which it implies. It rises as an acceptable offering unto Him. Such praise as this also blesses those who offer it. It is indeed a means of grace unto them. By means of it their faith is yet more increased. Their soul is calmed, enriched, and exalted into communion with God.
“When gratitude o’erflows the swelling heart,
And breathes in free and uncorrupted praise
For benefits received: propitious Heaven
Takes such acknowledgment as fragrant incense,
And doubles all its blessings.”
1. In times of the greatest calamity let us trust in the Lord, and not be afraid. He has adjusted the pillars of the earth. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear,” &c.
2. Let us learn to recognise God in His works, both in nature and in grace. Let us pray that our eyes may be opened to see Him, and our ears to catch the inspiring accents of His voice.
3. Let us cultivate a grateful spirit. “Nothing more detestable,” said Ausonius, “does the earth produce than an ungrateful man.”
“I hate ingratitude more in a man
Than lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness,
Or any taint of vice, whose strong corruption
Inhabits our frail blood.”—Shakespeare.
Gratitude is well pleasing to God. It also enriches man. The ungrateful man has his blessings in his hand only; the grateful man has them in his heart and hand. He is thus “twice blessed.” Let our gratitude rise to God in psalms of praise, and express itself amongst men in kindly deeds.
GOD’S NEARNESS TO HIS PEOPLE A REASON FOR PRAISING HIM
I. There are times when God specially manifests Himself to His people. “Thy name” = Thyself. God’s wondrous works led the Psalmist to feel that God Himself was near. God specially manifests Himself to His people—
1. In deliverances wrought for them. Cite examples.
2. In judgments inflicted upon them. Cite examples. It is our shame that we sometimes fail to see God in the blessings which He bestows upon us. He must needs visit us in judgment ere we feel Him near.
3. In revivals of His work. What quickening of spiritual life! What increase of spiritual activities! What gracious conversions! What restorations of backsliders!
“Thy noblest wonders here we view,
In souls renewed and sins forgiven.”
God is near to many objectively, yet not subjectively. He is near to them, yet they do not feel Him near. Let His wondrous works in nature, in providence, and in the human soul be to us a sign, an indication, of His own presence.
II. These manifestations should awaken the praise of His people. “Unto Thee, O God, do we give thanks, do we give,” &c. Our thanksgiving, like that of the people in this Psalm, should be,—
1. Repeated. “We give thanks, we give thanks.” “Stinted gratitude is ingratitude. For infinite goodness there should be measureless thanks.”
2. Hearty. God accepts our praise only as it proceeds from the heart.
3. Practical. The people by the poet express their resolve to oppose evil, and favour righteousness. We should praise God “not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to His service and by walking before Him in holiness and righteousness all our days.”
Let us cultivate fervent gratitude to God. Gratitude is the duty of every one. Let us esteem it a privilege. “What shall I render unto the Lord?” &c. “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” &c. “While I live will I praise the Lord,” &c.
“We’ll praise Him for all that is past,
And trust Him for all that’s to come.”
ASPECTS OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT
In these verses the Poet speaks as the mouth-piece of the people. “According to some expositors, the address of God is still continued in this verse; according to others in verse fifth; and according to others even in verse sixth. But verse seventh, where God is spoken of in the third person, hangs together with verse sixth by ‘for,’ and this verse again with verse five by ‘for,’ and verses four and five cannot be disjoined from each other.” Moreover, “the Selah stands at the end of the preceding verse, and the expression, ‘I say,’ at the beginning of this one, indicates a change of speaker.”—Hengstenberg.
The Divine government is here regarded—
I. As a rebuke to wicked oppressors.
1. The wicked are admonished of the folly of sin. “I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly.” Sin is folly, and he who acts wickedly “deals foolishly.” Sin is irrational. All sound reasoning is opposed to moral evil. Conscience condemns it as wrong. Reason pronounces it to be folly. The laws of God in nature all antagonise it. The law of God as revealed in His Word exhibits it as moral insanity. Sin is self-injury. The evil-doer is working his own ruin; he is destroying himself. In this world he is foregoing the most exquisite and exalting joys for the unsatisfying pleasures of sin. In the world to come there is for him “a fearful looking for.” “He that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death.” Sinner, “Do thyself no harm,” … “deal not foolishly.”
2. The proud are counselled to shun insolence. “I said unto the wicked, Lift not up the horn. Lift not up,” &c. The horn was a symbol of power. And the foes of Israel are here exhorted not to boast insolently of their power. Pride of power is a most absurd thing. In some respects, how insignificant is the greatest of men! how weak the most powerful of men! God is supreme. With what infinite ease can He baffle the most cunningly devised schemes of man! And the strength of the mightiest is utter weakness before Him.
Haughtiness and arrogance ill-become any creature. To boast of power is a sure sign of weakness, and usually heralds a great fall. “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” It was pride that led to the expulsion of Lucifer from heaven. Pride ruined King Saul. Pride brought Haman to the gallows. Pride, “lifting up of the horn, and speaking with a stiff neck,” brought Nebuchadnezzar from his throne, expelled him from his palace, drove him from human society, and sent him to herd with the beasts of the field. The fact of the supremacy of the Divine government should silence all proud boasters.
II. As an encouragement to the righteous. “For lifting up,” i.e., deliverance from trouble, safety, victory, “cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south,” &c.
1. There are times of need when all human aids are unavailing. Israel was experiencing such a time. They looked eastward, westward, southward, and could see no signs of deliverance. From the north their adversary approached. There was no help for them in man. If they must look to an arm of flesh for support, then their case seems hopeless. Reliance upon any human assistance is utterly vain. Their case is too extreme to be met by any efforts of their own, or by any alliances which they might form.
Their case is surely a picture of what sometimes happens to the good man. From one quarter the trouble comes, and from all other quarters of the earth no help can reach him. The experience of each man will afford examples of such times—times when human helpers all fail, when human resources are utterly inadequate to our need, when we look around us for encouragement or hope, but look in vain. May it not be that such seasons of helplessness, and extreme need, and human inability are of Divine arrangement? They certainly have the divinest uses. They tend to teach us our own helplessness, and the vanity of all human beings as objects of trust, and to lead us to place our hope in God.
2. At such times consideration of the Divine government inspires the soul to hope in God. “God is the judge: He putteth down one, and setteth up another.” He ordereth human affairs. “Kingdoms shift about like clouds, obedient to His breath.” And He is ever on the side of truth and righteousness. So the threatened people of Israel turned confidently to Him when all other helpers failed, and all other resources were inadequate to their need. He could put down their foes, as He had done in past times. He could lift them up into safety and triumph. He could defend their cause, and carry it to glorious victory. And, therefore, they lifted up their hearts and voices in glad thanksgivings to Him. He is ever the hope of His people. He “turneth the shadow of death into the morning.” In our extremity, when our strength is all spent, and “the collied night” surrounds us, and the storm is loud and strong, and progress is impossible to us, He cometh to us walking on the boisterous and threatening waves, hushes the thunderous clamours into peace, quells our craven fears, and brings us to the desired haven. Courage, servant of God! “The Lord reigneth.”
III. As an assurance of the punishment of the wicked. “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red, it is full of mixture,” &c.
1. The punishment of the wicked is from God. The cup is in His hand. There is a grave tendency in our time to a dangerous sentimentalism which represents God as pitiful, compassionate, and forgiving, and ignores His holiness and justice. God is merciful; He is also righteous. He pardons the penitent; He also punishes the persistently impenitent. There is wrath in God—not a stormy, passionate, revengeful feeling, as it too often is in man; but a calm, holy, fixed determination to punish those who scorn His reproofs, trample under foot His laws, and reject His salvation. God must wage incessant war against evil. His love burns with unquenchable fire against sin. His laws are all arrayed against it in stern antagonism. Wisely and benevolently He has so ordered His universe that penalty shall ever follow transgression. And if men persist in iniquity, then iniquity will be their ruin.
2. The punishment of the wicked is severe. The cup is “full of mixture,” an allusion to the custom of mixing roots and spices with the wine to increase its intoxicating power. What a cup is that which is being prepared for the wicked! What blighted hopes, what lost opportunities, what ever-accusing memories, what bitter self-reproaches, what unutterable anguish! Oh! the unfathomable depths of misery involved in the words—“Hell fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” They shall drain this cup to the very “dregs.” The bitter draught cannot be evaded. No part of it may be left undrank. There is no escape from the misery; for the misery is within the guilty breast.
“Me miserable! which way shall I flee?
Where’er I am is hell; myself am hell!”
3. The punishment of the wicked is without exception. “All the wicked.” “There is no respect of persons with God.” He is just in His dealings with all men. Favouritism or partiality is unknown to Him. The finally impenitent, the irreclaimably wicked, of all lands and of all ages, “shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God.” “God will render to every man according to his deeds: … unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.”
1. Warning to the wicked. “If man will contend with God, he cannot answer Him one of a thousand. He is wise in heart and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against Him, and hath prospered?”
2. Counsel to the wicked. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.”
3. Admonition to those in high stations. Realise your dependence. “The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.”
4. Encouragement for the oppressed righteous. “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, Thou wilt revive me.”
A MODEL OF DEVOUT PRAISE
The Poet still speaks as the mouthpiece of all the people of Israel. And, feeling confident of deliverance, declares their resolution to praise God for ever, to suppress the wicked, and to exalt the righteous. The praise resolved upon here is worthy of our imitation, inasmuch as it—
I. Loses sight of self in devout admiration of the character and doings of God.
1. He will praise God for His doings. He resolves to declare for ever the wondrous works of God. God had done great things for them, they were confident that He would again do great things for them, and were determined to “praise the Lord, declare His doings among the people, and make mention that His name is exalted.” God has done great things for us, whereof we are glad. Shall not we praise Him for His mighty acts? “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.” “He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay,” &c. Considering what God has done for us, especially in giving to us Christ and His salvation, if we were not to praise Him, surely the very stones would cry out. The great things He has done for us were
(1) Undeserved by us. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
(2) Unsought by us. We did not seek God, but He sought us by Jesus Christ.
(3) Freely and heartily given by God out of His own sovereign love. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”
2. He will praise God for His faithfulness. “I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.” God had entered into covenant with Jacob, and that covenant He had kept. Through all the vicissitudes of their history, from the time of their father Jacob until the time when this Psalm was sung, God had never abandoned them. They had had their seasons of darkness and trial, but the Lord was their Friend and God in those seasons, though they saw Him not. They praise the God of their fathers, for His faithfulness. “For the Lord will not cast off His people, neither will He forsake His inheritance.” We, too, have found Him a covenant-keeping God. We have proved that His promises are reliable, that He ever abideth faithful. With Him there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Shall we not praise Him as we recollect that we have never trusted Him in vain? and that He is the unfailing rock of our heart?
3. He will praise God “for ever.” Not simply while His gracious interpositions are recent, but for ever. Constant mercies should awaken constant gratitude, and constant gratitude will seek to express itself constantly in some form of praise. In some of the old monasteries it was a rule that the chanting of praise should never be interrupted, and that one choir of monks should relieve another in the sacred service. Let us learn a lesson from this. “Let not thy praises be transient—a fit of music, and then the instrument hung by the wall till another gaudy day of some remarkable providence makes thee take it down. God comes not guest-wise to His saints’ house, but to dwell with them. David took this up for a life-work: ‘As long as I live, I will praise Thee.’ ”
II. Evinces its reality by resolving to imitate Him. Anticipating their “lifting up” the people resolve, through the grace of God and in the strength which He grants them, to cut off all the horns of the wicked, and to exalt the horns of the righteous. When they were restored to peace and security they would use their power in putting down wickedness, and upholding and honouring the righteous. These are the very things which, by anticipation, they have beheld God doing, and in this Psalm have praised Him for doing. They resolve that they will imitate Him in these things. It has been well said that, “Imitation is the sincerest praise.” This praise they here offer to God. Do we know by personal experience this praise? Our praise of the excellences of others is a very hollow affair unless we also cultivate those excellences. We praise God for His “unspeakable Gift;” are we imitating His pure generosity? We praise Jesus Christ for His great self-sacrifice for us; are we denying ourselves in His spirit that others might be benefited? We bless God for the Gospel; are we exemplifying the spirit of the Gospel? A certain Dr. Whitaker, on reading the fifth chapter of Matthew, brake out, saying, “Either this is not the Gospel, or we are not of the Gospel.” And is it not to be feared that the spirit of the Gospel for which men praise God, and the spirit of their lives, are often widely different? Let us evince the sincerity of our praise to God by imitating Him in our spirit and life. Let us admire Him, commune with Him, adore Him, until we are transformed into the same image. Let us, like the Psalmist, cultivate such thoroughness and fervency of praise that we shall lose sight of everything but God and His glory. May God so fill the horizon of the soul that we may be filled with admiration and praise of Him.
“God! God! God!
Thou fill’st our eyes
As were the skies
One burning, boundless sun;
While creature mind,
In path confined,
Passeth a spot thereon.
God! God! God!”—P. J. Bailey.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 75". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34