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A PSALM in which praise and prayer are commingled. Almost certainly Davidic:
1. From the title.
2. From the style.
3. From the way in which David is mentioned in Psalms 144:10 (comp. Psalms 61:6; Psalms 63:11; and especially Psalms 18:50).
Blessed be the Lord my strength; or, "my rock" (comp. Psalms 18:2, Psalms 18:46; Psalms 31:3; Psalms 62:7, etc.). Which teacheth my hands to war, dud my fingers to fight (comp. Psalms 18:34).
My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust. The general resemblance to Psalms 18:2 is striking, but there are peculiar and original touches which indicate the author, not the copyist. For instance, the expression, "my goodness," occurs nowhere else. Who subdueth my people under me. Another reading gives, "Who subdueth peoples under me." Either reading suits the circumstances of David, who had to subdue a great portion of his own people under him (2 Samuel 2:8-31; 2 Samuel 3:6-21), and also conquered many foreign nations (2 Samuel 8:1-14).
Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! (comp. Job 7:17, Job 7:18; Psalms 8:4). Or the sea of man, that thou makest account of him! It enhances our estimate of God's goodness to consider the insignificance and unworthiness of the creatures on whom he bestows it.
Man is like to vanity; or, "to a breath" (comp. Psalms 39:5; Psalms 62:9). His days are as a shadow that passeth away (see Psalms 102:11; Psalms 119:23). And yet God has regard to this weak creature of an hour.
Bow thy heavens, O Lord, and come down. The strain changes. From praise of God's loving-kindness and might, the psalmist proceeds to invoke his aid. Taking his metaphors from Psalms 18:9. "Bow thy heavens, O Lord," he says, "and come down" to earth—appear in thy might, to the discomfiture of thy enemies and the relief of thy faithful ones. Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke. Do as thou wert pleased to do at Sinai, when thou showedst thyself—"Touch the mountains, and let a smoke go up from them" (see Exodus 19:16, Exodus 19:18; Deuteronomy 4:11; Psalms 18:7-14)—a consuming fire, that shall burn up the ungodly.
Cast forth lightning, and scatter them: shoot out thins arrows, and destroy them (comp. Psalms 18:14).
Send thine hand from above; literally, reach out thy hands from on high. Rid me; rather, rescue me. And deliver me out of great waters. "Great waters," or "deep waters," is a common metaphor in the Psalms for serious peril. David's peril at this time was from the hand of strange children; literally, sons of strangers; i.e. foreign foes.
Whose mouth speaketh vanity; rather, fraud (comp. Psalms 18:45). A feigned submission of some foreign enemy is probably glanced at. And their right hand is a right hand of falsehood. The right hand was lifted up in the taking of a solemn oath (see Ezekiel 20:15).
I will sing a new song unto thee, O God. Another change of strain. The psalmist returns to his original theme of the praise of God (see Psalms 144:1, Psalms 144:2), and promises a "new song," as in Psalms 40:3. Upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee; rather, upon a psaltery of ten strings (see the Revised Version, and comp. Psalms 33:2). Assyrian harps had commonly, in the earlier ages, either eight, nine, or ten strings.
It is he that giveth salvation unto kings. There has always been a belief, especially in the East, that "a divinity doth hedge a king." Saul himself was regarded by David as sacrosanct, and to kill him, even at his own request, was a sacrilege (2 Samuel 1:14-16). Who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword. David speaks of himself by name, not only here, but in Psalms 18:50; 2 Samuel 7:26.
Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood (see above, Psalms 144:7, Psalms 144:8). The passage is made a refrain, to terminate stanzas 2 and 3.
That our sons may be as plants. The stanza which these words introduce is a very remarkable one, having nothing at all corresponding to it in the rest of the Psalter. It has been thought by some to be an antique document, quoted by the writer of the psalm, as suited for a festal occasion. Our translation makes it a picture of the condition to which the writer hopes that Israel may one day come; but the best recent critics see in it a description of Israel's actual condition in the writer's day. Professor Cheyne translates, "Because our sons are as plants;" and Dr. Kay, "What time our sons are as plants." Grown up in their youth; literally, grown large. The sons are compared to ornamental trees or shrubs, growing outside a building. That our daughters may be as cornerstones, polished (or, "carved") after the similitude of a palace. The daughters are like carved pillars, lighting up the angular recesses of the structure.
That our garners may be full, affording all manner of store; or, "while our garners are full," etc. That our sheep may bring forth; rather, and our sheep bring forth. Thousands and tea thousands in our streets; rather, in our fields. Khutsoth (חוּצוֹת) is rendered "fields" by our translators in Job 5:10 and Proverbs 8:26.
That our oxen may be strong to labor; rather, and our oxen are heavily laden. A sign that an abundant harvest is being gathered in. That there be no breaking in, nor going out; literally, and there is no breach and no removal; i.e. no breach made in our walls, and no removal of our population into captivity. That there be no complaining in our streets; rather, and no wailing in our streets. Here the description of a happy time ends, and a burst of congratulation follows (see the next verse).
Happy is that people, that is in such a case! yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord! The cause of Israel's prosperity is their faithfulness to Jehovah.
National piety and prosperity.
The latter part of this psalm seems hardly to belong to the former; but looking at it in the light of the last verses, we regard it as an utterance which has in view, from first to last, the well-being of the nation. Thus considered, we have—
I. THE ONE TRUE SOURCE OF NATIONAL SECURITY. (Psalms 144:1, Psalms 144:2, Psalms 144:10.) The writer is presumably David. He takes the position of a leader, of a warrior-king. And though we do not look upon war as the principal activity of nations, we must remember the times to which the psalm belongs, and must take into account the fact that national independence and prosperity were then determined by the sword. We need not be surprised or shocked that the psalmist thanks God for teaching him to be a successful soldier; that he calls God "iris Strength, his Goodness, his Fortress," etc; in this connection. We, too, may thank God heartily for the great soldiers who achieved or preserved our national independence; for the courage and the patriotism which made us secure from all assault from without, and from all attempts to infringe liberty within our borders. We pray for" peace in our time;" we work and strive (if needful) for the maintenance of peace; we may be prepared to make some sacrifices for peace; but we shall not shrink from asking God to "go forth with our armies" when they defend our liberty; nor will we fail to ascribe their victories to him who is our Strength and Fortress, as he was Israel's under David anti Hezekiah.
II. THE CONSTITUENTS OF NATIONAL PROSPERITY. Some of these are mentioned here. Let it be assumed that there is perfect security; that there is no danger of any breach being made in the wall of the city, or any crossing the border of the country—no "breaking in;" nor yet of any being led forth into captivity or exile—no "going out." Then there will be, or should be:
1. Industrial activity, with its full reward (Psalms 144:13, Psalms 144:14). Agricultural and pastoral pursuits are here mentioned; but, while including them, we naturally think of manufactures, of trade, of commerce, of mining—of all those fields of labor and sources of wealth which are familiar to us. The wise king (Psalms 144:10), the wise government, will give its first concern to the promotion of all kinds of activity, in which every one of its citizens may have his share.
2. The peaceful home. (Psalms 144:12.) That country, whatever be its pastoral or mineral wealth, is poor indeed whose sons and daughters are not growing up in health, in wisdom, in virtue, in piety. However full the garners, or well stocked the fields, the great question is that of the home-life and the character of the young. We want our sons to be as plants or trees—strong, living, fruit-bearing, with power of growth, obedient to the laws of Heaven; and our daughters to be as "corner pillars"—fair with the beauty of holiness and kindliness, helping to sustain, useful in the house in which they dwell. Where the children and the young people are declining, there the country is on its downward course; but where they are pure and beautiful and strong, there the country is secure, and its future is assured.
3. True, acceptable worship. "Whose God is the Lord" (Psalms 144:15). The service of God is not only the source of national prosperity; it is an integral and important part of it. Then are the activities of a people most worthily employed, and then is its happiness of the best and truest order—when its citizens are engaged in worshipping the living God, in learning of the great Teacher, in communicating his holy will to the children in the home and in the school.
4. Happiness. (Psalms 144:15.)
III. THE WAY TO SECURE IT. (Psalms 144:1, Psalms 144:5.) Praise and prayer. "Bless the Lord," etc. "Bow thy heavens and come down." As the king blesses God and prays for his presence, so also must the people. The recognition by all of the hand of God in past and present mercies, and the continual prayer for future blessing,—this is the condition of Divine favor and the way to permanent enlargement.
IV. OUR INSIGNIFICANCE NO BAR TO OUR PRAYER OR OUR HOPE. (Psalms 144:3, Psalms 144:4.) "Will God in very deed dwell upon the earth?" Will he "bow the heavens and come down"? Will he take note of us on this small earth? Will he care about one section, one nation, on its surface? Is not frail man, who passes away like a flitting shadow, beneath his regard? The answer to that natural and repeated question is in the historical fact of the manifestation at Sinai; it is also in the much less imposing but immeasurably more affecting and convincing fact of the birth at Bethlehem. Then God came to visit us, to dwell with us, to show us how much he cared for us, to fill our hearts with the truth that not only every nation, but every human soul, is dear to the Father in heaven.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
What the goodness of God does for me and in me.
This psalm is a string of quotations, mostly from Psalms 18:1-50; as any reference Bible will show; and as that psalm is almost undisputedly one of David's composition, therefore this, which owes so much to it, may be called his likewise. It is also one of the war-psalms, breathing the fierce and sometimes the truculent spirit, the presence of which in these psalms has so often perplexed the Christian reader. In order to understand such psalms, we need ourselves to live in war-times; to be strenuously engaged in it, and against an enemy who has done us much wrong, and whom, therefore, our souls abhor. There have been many such times; and when they come, psalms like this one, and many more, are easily understood and readily adopted as utterances both natural and justifiable. But when all that is said, we still feel, and ought to feel, that such psalms and the spirit of Christ are far removed from one another. We may, however, gain much help from these psalms if we transfer their thoughts and words to the spiritual conflict—those wars of the Lord in which we all have to engage. There its language is felt to be true, because in harmony both with Scripture and experience alike. Thus reading it, we may note what the psalmist tells of—
I. THE GREAT GOODNESS AND MERCY OF GOD. He praises and blesses God:
1. For what God is to him. (Psalms 18:1.) "My Strength." Perpetual demand arose for strength. Fierce foes were all around, and as formidable as they were fierce. No mere weakling could possibly stand against them; strength was imperatively needed, and he found it in God. All this which was true of the psalmist is true of the spiritual warrior still. "My Goodness." Whatever good there was in him, it was all of God. In the rough hurly-burly of war, character and all moral excellence had but hard times; deterioration was apt to set in. Therefore, if there were any goodness in him, it was from God. And is it not true of ourselves? Will any one dare say that his goodness is self-derived, his own production, due to his own power alone? "My Fortress" (cf. 1 Samuel 23:29 for local allusion). David knew well the value of such safe retreats. He had availed himself of them again and again. And for us all there is "the secret place of the Most High." "My high Tower." As in Central Europe, as you traverse its rivers, you see on the summits of the lofty hills, commanding the entrances and exits from the valleys beneath, the lofty towers and castles, mostly now in ruins, which warlike chieftains in bygone days erected, and within which they dwelt secure from attack, and from which they sallied forth to attack others. Such loftily placed towers were frequent in the hill-country of Palestine also, and were places of great strength. Now, of such advantage was the help of God to David, and so it is today to all who make the Lord their Refuge. From that high tower the movements of the enemy can be clearly discerned, guarded against, and aggression made upon them in a most successful way. "My Shield." That which wards off from me the stroke of sword, the thrust of spear, the point of dart and arrow. So is God to the soul. Well may he say of the Lord, "It is he in whom I trust."
2. For what God has done for him—as his Teacher. (Psalms 18:1.) "Which teacheth my hands to war, and," etc. Literally, this has been true again and again. See Gideon before the Midianites, David before Goliath, etc. And wherever there has been warlike skill and the wisdom which commands success, devout men have confessed that it was God from whom all the wisdom and skill came. And yet more is this true in the holy war—the conflict we have to wage with the world, the flesh, the devil. Never was there a successful warrior there but owned at once and always that it was the Lord who taught him. "My Deliverer." So was he, so is he, so will he be. David could recall instances not a few; and what servant of God, in looking back over his spiritual life, does not own, as he thinks of one trial and another that has befallen him, "Yes, the Lord was my Deliverer"? "Who subdueth my people under me." This a yet greater mercy. Life might have been delivered, but enemies might have remained enemies still, ready to break out against him at the first chance that came. But over and above deliverance, there has been given the submission of the people. And God thus deals with his servants. Not only will he deliver them from their spiritual foes, but these foes he will subdue. The lawless passions, the evil propensities, the unhallowed temper, the uncontrolled craving,—these God will subdue, so that the very desire for sin will cease. So great is God's mercy, and so full his salvation.
3. For that God has done all this for the weak and unworthy. This seems to be the connection of Psalms 18:3 and Psalms 18:4 with what precedes. It is not for the great and good, the worthy and the strong, but for such as man, who is like to vanity and whose days are as a shadow. Truly it is wonderful that God should take knowledge of such a one, or make account of him at all. It is of a piece with our Lord's declarations, that he had come to call, not the righteous, but sinners; to seek and to save, not the ninety and nine safe in the fold, but the wandering sheep away and lost in the wilderness. "God so loved the world"—the mass of the unworthy.
II. THE CONFIDENCE THAT GOD'S MERCY CREATES. (Psalms 18:5-8.) The psalmist is encouraged by what God has done to ask for yet greater things. Hence he asks:
1. That God would manifestly appear on his behalf against his enemies. Reminiscences of the old Hebrew history float before his mind: the terror and discomfiture of Pharaoh; the awful display of God's majesty at Sinai—the thunder-roll, the lightning-blaze.
2. He feels that only God can give him victory, or deliver him out of the great waters of trouble by which he is well-nigh overwhelmed. (Psalms 18:7.) The barbarous, cruel, and lying strangers who were against him were too many for him, and hence he turns to God (Psalms 18:7, Psalms 18:8, Psalms 18:11). But what God has done for him encourages him thus to pray.
III. THE GRATITUDE IT INSPIRES. (Psalms 18:9, Psalms 18:10.)
IV. THE BRIGHT HOPE WHICH IT FOSTERS AND SUSTAINS. (Psalms 18:11-15.) Many regard these verses as belonging not to this psalm at all; but it seems better to look on them as declaring the motive both of its gratitude and its prayers. The hope which it expresses was cherished with longing desire, and underlaid the whole psalm. The verses point to the golden age of Hebrew history, and pray for its return.
1. It concerns their children—that they might be vigorous, strong, goodly.
2. The prosperity of their land.
3. Freedom from invasion and capture. Then happy should they be, for God would be their Lord.—S.C.
Psalms 144:11, Psalms 144:12
Children who are a sorrow and shame, and those who are our unspeakable joy.
In these verses we have contrasted the children concerning whom we pray, "Rid and deliver us," with those who are such as every godly man desires and craves of God that his own sons and daughters may be. The prayer of our text, it has been repeatedly remarked, is the prayer which may well come from every prince, patriot, and parent. The interests and well-being of each depend upon its being answered. As is the character of our sons and daughters, so will be the happiness of the throne, the nation, the home. But especially is it the godly parents' prayer. Consider—
I. THE STRANGE CHILDREN HERE SPOKEN OF. (Psalms 144:11.) From them the psalmist prays, "Rid and deliver us."
1. Who are they?
(1) The children of foreigners, or the foreigners themselves; the heathen peoples around them, and especially those with whom they were in conflict;—these may be meant.
(2) Or the evil children of God-fearing parents. There are, alas! such children, and many a home is saddened and shamed by them. They are rightly called "strange children." Literally they are so, if the children of strangers; but rightly too, if they are the offspring of saintly parents. For they are strangers to their father's God, their father's thoughts and ways, their father's joys and blessed anticipations, their father's holy character. They are out of sympathy with the spirit of their home, and their influence in it is of a hostile and most hurtful nature.
(3) Or wicked children generally.
2. Their characteristics are given. "Their mouth speaketh vanity." No wholesome, helpful speech is heard from their lips, but only that which is worthless or worse, and which comes from and leads to no good. What a miserable amount of such speech there is in one day, heard or read, spoken, written, or printed! and what incalculable mischief it has worked, and must ever work! The strange children, the foreign speech as read in their literature—what an amount of uncleanness and ungodliness is not that responsible for! And "their right hand is a right hand of falsehood." This is another of the characteristics of the "strange children." The meaning seems to be that they are unfaithful to their covenants, false in their dealings; they cannot be trusted or relied upon at all. Further, their conduct is such as, by its influence upon men, leads to the denial of God's existence, authority, and Word, and to the belief of the falsehood that this world is everything, and is alone worthy of our care. They are utterly ungodly both in speech and deed.
3. Bible instances of such strange children. Cain, Esau, Jacob's sons, Absalom, and apparently all David's sons, and many more.
4. The motives that should lead to the prayer in our text concerning them. We would not have such children, for we remember what their end must be; what the sorrow they bring upon those who love them (see David's sorrow about Absalom); what the disastrous influence they exert upon others; what the dishonor they bring upon God. Let all this quicken our prayers, as parents, for our children's real conversion to God, and our endeavors to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
II. THE CHILDREN THAT ARE LIKE THE TRIBES AND THE POLISHED PILLARS OR CORNER-STONES. (Psalms 144:12.) These are the sons and daughters that the psalmist longed to behold and to possess; and such may well be our longing likewise. Note the imagery employed. In both, the metaphors here, though they are manifestly unlike, as a stone is unlike a plant, yet they have some common characteristics, and these seem to have been in the psalmist's mind.
1. The grown-up plant. As such, so it is prayed, may our sons be in their youth—that is, whilst yet young. It is the grown-up plant, not the root; because that is out of sight, and the psalmist would have their godly character a visible thing. And not the tender plant, for that would be wanting in strength, and strength of character is another blessing desired. Hence the ideas suggested by the metaphor seem to be these—that, as the grown-up plant, the moral character of their sons may have root. Rootless plants never abide or come to full maturity; therefore there must be the inward principle and spring of life. Then, visibility. All can see the grown-up plant; it attracts attention—is evident to all. So should our son's character be—not only inward, but outward and visible. Beautiful, too, as the grown-up plant, whether tree, or herb, or flower. There should be about the godly character what too often is conspicuous only by its absence—symmetry, attractiveness, loveliness, and spiritual beauty. The matured flower, how beautiful it is! "So," etc. Then, further, there should be strength. The vigor of the plant is when it is grown up. And how essential is it that our children's character should be strengthened with all might by the Spirit in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16)! "Be strong ' is a perpetual charge in the apostolic writings, and they ever point us to the one Source of strength. And there is yet one other idea suggested—light of God. The plant is no man-made or man-matured thing; it is of God. And so with that character which we so crave—it must be of God. He must create, he must sustain, he must perfect it. Character that is simply man-made, that relies on self alone, what a sad contrast it offers to that which is depicted here! how much it always and inevitably lacks!
2. The polished pillar or cornerstone. This is the other metaphor. In the courts of the Lord's house we know there were trees. Josephus plainly tells us so, and Psalms 84:1-12, implies it when it speaks of the home of the birds there. And in the palaces of the great, in the quadrangles around which they were built, there were generally many beautiful plants; and there would be also conspicuous the beautifully worked and decorated stones, placed at the angles of the building, or the polished pillars on which they rested. So, prays the psalm, may our daughters be. Here the same ideas are suggested by this metaphor as by the other. The cornerstone rests on its foundation as the plant springs from its root. St. Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:1-21. as if he had these verses in his memory, of "being rooted and grounded in love;" rooted like the plant, grounded as is the foundation of a building. So must character be—based on firm foundation. Then the idea of visibility is common both to the matured plant and the polished pillar. Beauty also is even more suggested by this second figure than by the first. St. Paul teaches the same lesson when he speaks of our comprehending "with all saints what is the breath, and length, and depth, and height." It is the fair proportion and the beautiful comeliness and completeness of the Christian character which he desiderates so earnestly. Strength, again, is in this metaphor, as in the other. Both pillar and corner-stone would alike need to be strong. Some have regarded the word as pointing to "the Caryatides, the exquisitely sculptured forms of maidens which adorned the corners of some magnificent hall or chamber of a palace" (Perowne). But, with all their beauty, these pillars supporting the angles, of the building must have strength. But inasmuch as the Prayer-book Version, and other authorities beside, give the meaning of "temple" rather than "palace," and as such rendering is more in harmony with this devout utterance, we accept it, and find in it that suggestion of God in the character here spoken of which is also found in the emblem of the plant (Psalms 92:13). Added on to the idea of strength and beauty which belonged to the temple of God there is that of godliness—consecration and devotion to him, without which no character is perfect and complete.
III. How WHAT IS SO DESIRED MAY BE SECURED.
1. Parents, and all who have charge of children, must pray for it; and the prayer must be endorsed by appropriate action.
2. Believe in God's willingness to bestow this. He would not have inspired such prayer else.
3. Our young people must yield themselves up to God. They must renounce sin, and surrender their all to him, and then continually trust and expect the blessing sought.
IV. THE GREAT EXAMPLE OF THIS BEAUTIFUL CHARACTER. Our Lord Jesus Christ.
V. WHY YOU, OUR SONS AND DAUGHTERS, SHOULD THUS PRAY.
1. For the sake of the Lord, who calls you to this blessed life.
2. And for the sake of those who love you, and long that you may be the Lord's.
3. And of those whom you must influence for good or ill.
4. And for your own sake. Oh, how many have mourned, and are mourning now, that they have not lived this true life! But never one who did so live has done other than be profoundly grateful for God's grace that led him thereto.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Psalms 144:1, Psalms 144:2
War-figures of God's relations.
"The psalmist recounts glorious victories in the past; complains that the nation is now beset by strange, i.e. barbarous, enemies, so false and treacherous that no covenant can be kept with them; prays for deliverance from them by an interposition great and glorious as had been vouchsafed of old; and anticipates the return of a golden age of peace and plenty" (Perowne). If it ever has been right, the manifest duty of the hour, for a man to engage in war, it must be right to associate God with that doing of duty. No man would venture to say that it never has been right to engage in war. Till human nature is wholly renewed and sanctified, war will probably continue to be one of the forces which help collective humanity to make right triumph over wrong. And God may be thought of as the Trainer of soldiers for the wars of righteousness.
I. HE WHO TRAINS FOR WAR TRAINS ONLY FOR WARS OF WHICH HE CAN APPROVE. It is usual to say that defensive wars may be necessary, but offensive wars never are; but this is to take a very limited view of life, facts of history, and Divine dealings with men. God has commissioned nations to carry out his purposes of judgment and mercy by offensive wars. War as a scourge of organized societies, of nations, has been, and may still be, used by God in execution of his judgments, and even in the movement of the locations of men to different parts of the globe. Old Testament history distinctly associates God with aggressive war. Israel invaded Palestine for God. Assyria invaded Palestine as God's servant. Mere dynastic wars are selfish wars, and wholly wrong. Wars that are really race-movements may be right. There is a good end in all war of which God approves.
II. HE WHO TRAINS FOR WAR PUNISHES THOSE WHO USE TRAINED POWERS FOR THEIR OWN ENDS. And this is the thing to which nations, and rulers of nations, are continually tempted. It is illustrated by God's dealing with Assyria, which was the rod to execute his anger against his people, but proceeded to serve its own ends, and so brought upon itself the judgments of God.—R.T.
Psalms 144:3, Psalms 144:4
The transitoriness of man.
"The occasion of the introduction of these sentiments here is not quite clear. It may be the humility of the warrior who ascribes all success to God instead of to human prowess; or it may be a reflection uttered over the corpses of comrades; or, perhaps, a blending of the two."
I. THE VANITY OF MAN CREATES SURPRISE AT GOD'S CARE. "Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him?" This is an exclamation of surprise, which is repeated by every devout soul when the frailty of man is brought impressively before him. It is not merely the brevity of life that is in view, nor its uncertainty; it is the smallness of all human doings and aims. Relative to the size of the globe, the highest mountain is but a slight and scarcely perceptible ridge. Relative to the mountain, a single man is scarcely as big as a pin's head. And what can man accomplish? His mightiest achievements are but as the triumphs of the ants whose work he despises; and he is seldom permitted folly to achieve anything, for he is usually cut off before the thing he intended can be completed. Man is a smaller being than some of the animals, and it is hard to conceive of his doing anything that is really worthy of Divine notice. And yet God does care for man as he cares for nothing else that he has made. We can only wonder over the fact, glory in it, and let it bring home to our hearts the mystery—"God is love."
II. THE VANITY OF MAN SHOULD LEAD HIM TO PUT HIMSELF INTO GOD'S CARE. For it is not enough that God should care for us. The joy of that care is not realized until we care that God should thus care. It may be a fact, but it is no helpful, comforting fact until we respond to the fact, accept the care, and voluntarily put ourselves entirely into it. The psalmist here speaks as one who had mastered the depressing influence of his own sense of frailty, by assuring his heart of God's personal care. That brings to man a sense of dignity which more than matches the sense of frailty. Man may be "crushed before the moth;" but it is also true, he is only "a little lower than the angels," for God—yes, the great, eternal God—is mindful of him.—R.T.
God's intervention is his condescension.
"Bow thy heavens, and come down." This prayer follows on the acknowledgment of man's frailty and transitoriness. His sphere is altogether below God, who must stoop down to help him. God's intervention involving his condescension may be illustrated in several spheres. To create material things; to remedy the disturbance of things; to provide for the wants of things; to recover self-ruined things;—all involve the Divine condescension.
I. TO CREATE MATERIAL THINGS. We want the mind of a Hindu philosopher in order to conceive of God as an absolute, uncaused, unrelated, independent existence; eternally and infinitely happy in himself, without what we call "personality," because without relations. Just in the measure in which we can conceive such a being, we can realize his condescension in coming out of the abstract into the concrete, and making, and putting himself into relation with, a world of things.
II. TO REMEDY THE DISTURBANCE OF THINGS. Once let things be in any sense separate from himself; once let there be forces (which we call laws) in nature, and free-will in man, and God's order will be sure to get disturbed. But he may be sublimely indifferent to the disorder in his creation. It is his condescension that he is the constant Rectifier of the difficulties and disasters which come in his creation.
III. TO PROVIDE FOR THE WANTS OF THINGS. What impresses us so greatly is the minuteness of attention which creation daily needs. We bow ourselves to do a thousand insignificant but necessary things in our households. How God must bow himself to guard the life of every grass-blade, and to feed every gnat that hums in the summer evening!
IV. TO RECOVER RUINED THINGS. This brings to view the havoc which man's sin has made in individual lives and in God's fair world of things. For there is a ruin of the world which answers to the self-ruin of man. Why should not God let things go, and leave men to ruin themselves, and the world in which they dwell, if they please to do so? He is not bound to intervene. If he does, it can only be in condescending love.—R.T.
Psalms 144:7, Psalms 144:8
The known God and the unknown foe.
"Stretch forth thine hand from above; rescue me out of the hand of strangers." This is but saying, "I do not know those who trouble me, but I do know thee."
I. ALL AROUND US IS THE UNKNOWN.
1. There is so little that we can understand. Spite of all the attainments of science, the "known" today bears no comparison at all to the "unknown." The philosopher has but scooped up in his shell a little of the water of the great ocean of truth. The mute a man knows, the more he feels how little he knows. We need not be philosophers, and argue that man never does know more than phenomena, the accidents of things; it is enough to see that, concerning almost everything, a child can ask questions which the wisest man cannot answer.
2. There is so much that never comes into the field of human thought at all. For we have no right to say that the laws which we apprehend as controlling the movements of nature are the only laws that control them. We are constantly baffled by intimations of the working of laws of which we know nothing at all.
3. And the human experience through which we have to pass is hopelessly unknown to us. Known to no man are his coming positions, relations, friends, or foes. Every day every man has to say to himself, "I have not gone this way heretofore." It just has to be accepted as the fact for every life, "We are of yesterday, and know nothing."
II. UP ABOVE US IS THE KNOWN. In a recent exhibition there was a very touching picture of an old farm-laborer, dressed in his smock-frock, and with a lined, wearied face that told of a long life of troubles, but over the seams and lines seemed to spread a soul-smile as, looking away through the clouds, he said, "Up beyond is the blue sky." It may be thus with every man. For the mind there is no rest; there is nothing but a fretful worrying with the surrounding unknown. But for the soul there is rest. It does not look around; it looks up, and knows God—knows as love can know, knows as trust can know. And that is the only satisfying knowledge. A man can only be an agnostic till his soul finds God; then he knows as souls only can know.—R.T.
The first stage of salvation is deliverance.
"Who rescueth David his servant from the hurtful sword." This describes what is involved in "giving salvation unto kings." An act of deliverance is always the beginning of salvation; but such act of deliverance is only a beginning.
I. AN ACT OF DELIVERANCE IS THE BEGINNING OF SALVATION. This is the truth of a fact that is once for all illustrated in the history of Israel. God would saw that people in a large sense of saving. He must begin by a formal act of deliverance, in bringing his people out from bondage in Egypt. That truth once presented in so large a way, is afterwards presented again and again in more limited spheres. In the time of the Judges, when God would save his people, he began the salvation by a formal act of deliverance, as is seen strikingly in the case of Gideon. When God would save his people from captivity in Babylon, he began by the formal act of liberation made by Cyrus. And it was the same with the great spiritual salvation of men. Its beginning is that sublime act of sacrifice which is man's rescue from the thraldom of sin. The formal act of surrender made on the cross was Christ's triumph over man's sin, his "leading captivity captive." And so in personal experience salvation begins in that act of consecration to Christ which we make, and which is met by Christ's act of delivering us from the power of self and sin.
II. SUCH AN ACT OF DELIVERANCE IS ONLY THE BEGINNING. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt was only a beginning of God's dealings in their salvation. Gideon's overthrow of the Midianites was only a beginning. Cyrus's decree was only a beginning. Our Lord's sacrifice was only a beginning. Our consciousness of acceptance is only a beginning. The salvation of a nation is a large and comprehensive thing; so is the salvation of a man. But in every case God's beginning is the pledge that he will carry on the work and perfect it.—R.T.
True national prosperity.
"It is only a narrow and one-sided religion that can see anything out of place in this beatitude of plenty and peace." "As plants: this figure marks the native strength and vigor and freedom of the youth of the land. As corner-pillars: marks the polished gracefulness, the quiet beauty, of the maidens; who are like exquisitely sculptured forms (Caryatides) which adorned the corner of some magnificent hall or chamber of a palace." (It does not, however, seem probable that at any time sculptured figures were allowed in Hebrew houses or palaces.) Ornamentation and various coloring of pillars may be referred to. Three things make up temporal prosperity. Family joys; business success; social security. The sense of God's gracious relations sanctifies all three.
I. FAMILY JOYS. From Eastern points of view, large families were desirable; but usually in the East daughters are despised. Two things are noticeable in these verses.
1. Daughters are spoken of as honorably as sons.
2. It is the growing up, developing character of children, that is the chief source of family joy.
II. BUSINESS SUCCESS. Dealt with in the psalm from the strictly agricultural point of view. The figures employed all belong to farm-life. This may give indication of the date of the psalm; but we may take it as illustrative of all the ways in which men work for their living. Harvest is the key to the prosperity of the year, and that is in God's hand. Times of confidence and enterprise bring national prosperity.
III. SOCIAL SECURITY. This is suggested by the sentence, "That there be no breaking in nor going out." Security is the condition of business enterprise. Men will not work for what they have no hope of keeping when it is gained. Social security is imperiled by fear of attack from national foes, and also by the restlessness of sections within the nation (nihilists, and extravagant socialists, etc.). But family joys, business success, and social security are, in a way, merely material things. Back of them all there must be this secret of happiness—the "nation's God is the Lord."—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
A golden age.
"The psalmist recounts glorious victories in the past; complains that the nation is now beset by barbarous enemies, so false and treacherous that no covenant can be kept with them; prays for deliverance from them by an interposition great and glorious as had been vouchsafed of old; and anticipates the return of a golden age of peace and plenty." The people who have Jehovah for their God, who obey his will and are governed by his laws, will be distinguished in the following ways.
I. BY THE CHARACTER OF ITS YOUNG MEN AND WOMEN. (Psalms 144:12.)
1. They will be beautiful. In body and mind. Like plants, the young men, with vigor and freedom and beauty. Like polished corners, the maidens—or corner-pillars, with exquisitely sculptured figures.
2. They will be vigorous. As a consequence of their purity and health.
3. They will be free. The plant has the freedom of all the air of heaven; nothing between it and heaven.
II. BY THE WEALTH OF ITS POSSESSIONS.
1. Rich in merchandise. (Psalms 144:13.) Full garners. A free, healthy, pure people are bound to prosper.
2. Rich in agricultural and pastoral possessions. (Psalms 144:13.) Sheep and oxen multiplied.
III. BLESSED WITH THE PROSPERITIES OF PEACE. (Psalms 144:14.) "No sallying forth from our walls, and no cry of battle in our streets." A state of war destructive of all kinds of prosperity.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 144". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany