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THE present psalm consists of three stanzas—the first of three verses, terminated by the pause mark, "Selah;" the second of six verses, ended similarly, and the third (like the first) of three verses. It is a psalm of thanksgiving for some great and signal mercy, which has delivered Jerusalem, and at the same time benefited "all the afflicted of the earth" (Psalms 76:9). All the earth is therefore called upon to join with Israel in praising God, and making him an offering (Psalms 76:10-12). Critics of all schools (Hengstenberg, Canon Cook, Professor Alexander, Dr. Kay, Four Friends, etc.) agree in regarding the deliverance as that from Sennacherib. We must, therefore, understand the "Asaph" of the title as designating, not the individual, but the division of the Levites named after him.
In Judah is God known (comp. Psalms 9:16; Psalms 48:3). By "known" is meant "freshly made known," "revealed," as it were, "anew" by the recent wonderful deliverance. His Name is great in Israel; i.e. greatly honourcd and regarded, on account of what has happened.
In Salem; i.e. Jerusalem. "Salem" was probably a shortened form of the full and complete name, like "Peer" for "Baalpeor," "Maachah" for "Aram-Maa-chah," "El Kuds" for "Beit-el-Kuds," and the like. (So Professor Cheyne.) "Salem" is the peaceful place, the place where God's presence breathed peace and tranquillity. It is only used here and in Genesis 14:11. Is his tabernacle; literally, his tent (comp. Psalms 15:1; Psalms 27:5, Psalms 27:6; Psalms 61:4). The temple is meant, as even Professor Cheyne sees. It took the place of the original "tabernacle," and was modelled upon it. And his dwelling place in Zion; or, "his lair" (comp. Psalms 104:22).
There brake he the arrows of the bow. The expression "there" seems certainly to show that the deliverance celebrated took place at, or very near to, Jerusalem. This would sufficiently suit the destruction of Sennacherib's army, which certainly occurred in the neighbourhood, though not very close to the city (see 2 Kings 19:32, 38). The word translated "arrows" (רשׁפי) means properly "lightnings" (comp. Psalms 78:48), and expresses the swift flight of the arrow, not actual "fiery darts." The shield, and the sword, and the battle; rather, the war equipment (Kay, Cheyne).
Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey. The psalmist, in this, the main portion of his psalm, directly addresses God. "Thou, O God," he says, "art glorious," or "terrible" (comp. Psalms 76:7, where the same word is used), "and excellent, more than the mountains of prey," or perhaps "from the mountains of spoil;" i.e. from Jerusalem, where the spoils of the Assyrians are laid up, and where thou sittest and rulest. (So Professor Cheyne and Canon Cook.)
The stout hearted are spoiled. A "vivid description of the catastrophe" now follows. The "stout hearted," the aggressors, the great dominant race, that has spoiled all the nations of the earth, and fears no one (comp. Isaiah 10:12-14, "The stout heart of the King of Assyria"), is itself spoiled in turn. They have slept their sleep. They have slept, and, as they slept (2 Kings 19:35), they found it indeed a sleep, even the sleep of death. And none of the men of might have found their hands. The mighty men, suddenly assaulted by the grim destroyer, Death, can make no resistance; they are paralyzed; they cannot even move a hand.
At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob. The catastrophe has been God's doing; man has had no part in it. Both the chariot and the horse are cast into a dead sleep. Metonymy for the charioteers and the horsemen (comp. Isaiah 43:17). These were the two chief arms of the military service with the Assyrians.
Thou, even thou, art to be feared. God is to he feared as well as loved. Only "perfect love casteth out fear" (1 John 4:18), and "perfect love" is not for mortals. And who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry? literally, from the time of thine anger (comp. Exodus 5:23; Joshua 14:10).
Thou didst cause judgment to be heard from heaven. By the destruction of Sennacherib's host, God spoke, as it were, with a voice of thunder, to the whole earth. He delivered a "judgment," or a "sentence" (Revised Version), which could not be ignored. The earth feared, and was still. All the world, i.e. all the Oriental world, feared. The attention of the nations of Western Asia generally was attracted (2 Chronicles 32:23), and their minds were affected with a wholesome fear of Jehovah. The result was that they remained at rest and gave Israel rest.
When God arose to judgment (see the preceding verses). God's "rising" is an anthropomorphism, drawn from the tact that men "rise up" when they proceed to take vengeance (comp. Psalms 3:7; Psalms 7:6; Psalms 44:26; Psalms 68:1, etc.). To save all the meek of the earth. God's vengeances on the wicked are, in great measure, for the relief of the righteous. Sennacherib's discomfiture relieved "the meek of the earth," i.e. not only Israel, but many other downtrodden and oppressed nations. The psalmist's sympathies are with all the victims of Assyrian ambition.
Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee. The sentiment is general, but no doubt there is a special reference to the recent deliverance. The "wrath of man," i.e. man's wicked fury and hostility of God and his people, shall give occasion for great deeds on God's part—deeds which will bring him praise and honour. The remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. Either, "the unexpended fury of thine enemies, that which they have not vented, thou wilt hold in check, and prevent from doing mischief;" or else," with thine own unexpended wrath wilt thou gird thyself against the wicked, as with a weapon." (So Kay, Cheyne, and the Revised Version.)
Vow, and pay unto the Lord your God. The people of Israel are now addressed. Under the circumstances, they are sure to have made vows to God in the time of their great trouble, before the deliverance came. Now, when the deliverance has come, let them pay these vows. Let all that be round about him bring presents unto him that ought to be feared; literally, unto the Terrible One. By "all that are round about him" the psalmist seems to mean, not Israel only, but those other oppressed ones who had shared the benefit of the deliverance (comp. Psalms 76:9). That presents were brought by some of these is recorded by the writer of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 32:23).
He shall cut off the spirit of princes. "The spirit" seems here to mean "the life." God cuts off princes in their prime as a gardener cuts off bunches of grapes (comp. Isaiah 18:5). He is terrible to the kings of the earth. Not "princes" only—נגידים—but "kings"—מלכים—also are cut off in their prime when God pleases. Sennacherib's untimely death (2 Kings 19:37) followed not many years after the destruction of his host, in which there must have been many "princes."
The will of man and the will of God.
"The wrath of man shall praise thee." Two great streams of spiritual force meet our view, alike in the Bible and in human life and history, crossing one another every instant, as waves of light and waves of sound, in closest vital relation, yet each holding its course unhindered—the will of man and the will of God. When man was created, not in the image of lower creatures but "in the image of God," he was endowed with this glorious yet perilous heritage—will and conscience. Will—power to weigh reasons, balance motives, pursue a fixed purpose, choose the good or the evil, the right or the wrong; and conscience—power to pass judgment on himself, approving or condemning his own conduct. Yet God's will must needs be sovereign, supreme; even as God's conscience (if the phrase be lawful) must be supreme arbiter of right and wrong (Daniel 4:35). Even the wrath of man shall praise him. That the obedience, love, piety, of men will praise God is natural and easy to understand; but that man's rebellion, disobedience, even angry and violent resistance to God's will, ends in bringing praise to God,—this is indeed the deepest mystery, both of the Bible and of human life. "The wrath of man"—human pride, enmity, ambition, revenge, lawless violence—praises God.
I. WHEN GOD MAKES IT THE INSTRUMENT OF HIS JUDGMENTS; either in chastening his people or in subduing his foes. If this word "foes of God" sounds to any harsh and contrary to Divine love, let it be understood that the Bible means by it the enemies of truth, of righteousness, and of love. The Book of Judges is full of examples (see Judges 2:7, Judges 2:12, Judges 2:14, etc.). In later days, the just resentment of the ten tribes against Rehoboam was the means of executing God's sentence against Solomon, and rending the kingdom (2 Chronicles 10:15, 2 Chronicles 10:16); the invasion by Shishak, the punishment on Rehoboam for forsaking God's Law, "and all Israel with him" (2 Chronicles 12:1, 2 Chronicles 12:2); the leading captive of Israel by the Assyrians, and Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, the punishment of centuries of idolatry, and the fulfilment of the warnings of a long series of prophets (2 Chronicles 36:15-17); the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus was the fulfilment of God's promise to restore his penitent people to their own land.
II. WHEN GOD BRINGS TO NOUGHT HUMAN PRIDE AND POWER, AND DELIVERS HIS PEOPLE. The destruction of Sennacherib's host, the overthrow of Pharaoh's power in the Red Sea, are leading and stupendous examples. "The remainder," etc. (Isaiah 37:28, Isaiah 37:29). The rendering adopted by the Revisers is according to the common use of the word (as girding on a sword, a girdle, etc.); but "upon thee" should be printed in italics,—there is nothing to answer to it in the Hebrew. And the much more intelligible and apt sense of the Authorized Version has the authority of one of the greatest of all the Jewish commentators.
III. WHEN THE VIOLENCE AND WICKEDNESS OF MEN, IN MOST UNBRIDLED EXCESSES, WORK OUT THE PURPOSES AND FULFIL THE PROMISES OF GOD. The supreme example is the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus (see John 11:49-52; Acts 2:23; Acts 3:17, Acts 3:18).
IV. WHEN GOD SUBDUES THE HEART OF HIS ENEMIES, AND TURNS REBELS INTO LOYAL SUBJECTS AND FAITHFUL SERVANTS, persecutors into preachers, blasphemers into witnesses to his truth (see Acts 9:13-16; 1 Timothy 1:12-17). Willingly or unwillingly, men's lives are weaving the web of God's providence, working the pattern of his purpose. The stormy current of human will cannot overflow its banks. In ways as yet unknown, unguessed by us, God will bring good out of evil. The song of eternity shall be, "He hath done all things well!"
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The triumphs of God.
There can be little doubt that this psalm is one of several others whose main theme is God's deliverance of his people from Sennacherib, King of Assyria. Then, in Judah, God was known, and his Name was great in Israel. But we may fitly use the psalm as telling of those great and blessed spiritual deliverances which the soul of God's servants have often known and rejoiced in—these triumphs of God over a deadlier foe than ever any Assyrian king could be to Israel. Concerning these note—
I. WHERE THEY TAKE PLACE. (Cf. Psalms 76:1, Psalms 76:2.) It is where God dwells. The soul that is the abiding place of God witnesses and shares in the triumphs of God as none other can do. Fitful and partial religion leaves the soul more often vanquished than victor, and can never sing such a psalm as this.
II. THEIR NATURE. It is threefold.
1. God destroys the weapons of the soul's great enemy. The arrows of evil thought; the shield of unbelief, love of sin, indifference—all that which wards off those words of God which are sharp in the heart of the King's enemies (Psalms 45:1-17.); the sword of the soul-slaying sin; the battle, the combined array of all the forces of evil.
2. Takes for himself the prey which the enemy had regarded as his own. (Psalms 76:4.) All the spoil of Judah, which Assyria had reckoned to gather on the mountains where they were encamped, all that spoil, together with what they already had,—all was taken from them (cf. Luke 11:22). So God takes from the evil one the possession of those human powers and faculties which he had usurped and claims, and keeps them as his own.
3. Keeps the enemy in the place of death. (Psalms 76:6.) It would be of little avail if our great spiritual foe were but for a time overcome, if after a little while he could come back with all his power. But our Lord came that he might give complete deliverance; and by the soul that continually trusts in him that deliverance is realized.
III. HOW THEY ARE ACCOMPLISHED. (Psalms 76:6, "At thy rebuke.") The moment we believe, our help comes. Not before. All our strivings and endeavours leave us pretty much where we were; but when abandoning ourselves to God, that he may save us, then his power is made known, the enemy is rebuked and slain. The life of faith is, through God's grace, the death of our foe.
IV. FOR WHOM ALL THIS IS DONE. (Psalms 76:9, "The meek of the earth.") Judah and Jerusalem were emptied of all self-trust, all pride and boasting, and had become meek, knowing that in quietness and in confidence was their strength. And so with the soul that is delivered by God.
V. THE IMPRESSION PRODUCED.
1. Holy fear. (Psalms 76:7.) God's mercy and deliverance will never destroy, but ever deepen, holy fear. And there is no argument for God so effectual amongst men as the witnessing his real spiritual deliverances of his people.
2. Disdain of the wrath of man. What can it do against us, if God be for us?
3. Exultant confession, adoration, and service, together with earnest endeavours to draw others unto God.—S.C.
Great because known.
I. NOTHING IS OF MORE IMPORTANCE TO MEN THAN THE KNOWLEDGE AND RIGHT ESTEEM OF GOD.
1. We see this in regard to nations. Such knowledge raises them from the degradation of sensuality and barbarity to purity and humanity.
2. So also in regard to individuals. Such knowledge ministers guidance for life, solace for the spirit, inspiration for righteousness. Thus important is it.
II. SUCH KNOWLEDGE IS THE SPECIAL POSSESSION AND PRIVILEGE OF THE CHURCH OF GOD. "In Judah is God known: his Name is great in Israel." Judah and Israel represent the Church of God, the company of believing, redeemed, God-fearing people, scattered throughout the world. Amongst them God is known by his Word, his people, his ordinances, his Spirit.
III. WHERE HE IS THUS KNOWN HE IS GREAT AMONGST THEM. Increase of knowledge of one another, familiarity with them, by no means always increases our esteem of them; but the more we know of God, the greater he becomes to us. See this in the Lord Jesus—the more his disciples knew of him the greater he became to them. For in the past, the present, the future, he is our All.—S.C.
The fear of God.
I. THE FORMS IT ASSUMES. There is:
1. The fear of terror. The dismay of the vanquished enemies of God seems specially to be pointed at here (cf. Revelation 6:16),
2. The fear of dread. The might and majesty of God awe the soul, as they well may.
3. The fear of reverence. The holy character of God, when seen, cannot but inspire this.
4. The fear of love. Such fear trembles and shrinks from causing pain to the object of its love. This is the sweet filial fear which is blessed indeed. It is but another form of the "love which casteth out fear." Some fear of God every soul must one day know: which shall it be for ourselves?
II. THE SOURCES WHENCE IT SPRINGS.
1. The beholding of God's judgment on his foes.
2. The experiencing of God's mercy to ourselves.
III. THE CHARACTER IT BEARS.
1. It will be the supreme motive of the soul. No matter which form it assumes, it will be the supreme motive whilst it reigns.
2. It will be exclusive. "Thou, even thou"—as if shutting out all other fear.
IV. THE BLESSINGS IT BRINGS.
1. The Christian life cannot be begun without it.
2. Nor perpetuated; for life without it has no root.
3. Nor perfected.—S.C.
The wrath of man.
By this is meant man's rage against God and against God's people. Of this it is affirmed that—
I. IT PRAISES GOD. The Bible is full of illustrations of this. It is part of God's universal purpose of overruling all evil for good. See this in the history of the Fall—it became the occasion of redemption. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ—it draws all men unto him. Persecution of the Church caused its world wide extension. The corruption of the Church led to the Reformation. See the hand of God in history continually compelling what is "meant in malice to be changed to blessing."
II. BUT IS NOT, THEREFORE, TO BE HELD GUILTLESS. (Cf. Romans 3:8, and St. Paul's reply.) If evil were to be held guiltless because overruled for good, then there could be no judgment of the world; all punishment of sin now would be wrong, and all wickedness would be justified.
III. BUT IS THE HEIGHT OF SINFUL FOLLY. What madness it is and has ever been found to be!
IV. THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE NOT TO BE TERRIFIED BY IT. (See Job 1:12; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Psalms 2:1-12.) Let them praise God for the blessed alchemy of his grace, whereby he transmutes the wrath of man into his praise.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Ways of knowing God.
"In Judah is God known." This is a fitting psalm to be sung after any great national victory, any Divine deliverance. It may be associated with the victory of Jehoshaphat, or with the discomfiture of Sennacherib (2 Chronicles 20:28; Isaiah 37:36). If we associate it with Hezekiah's times, it should be noticed that the triumph over Sennacherib was, in a very special sense, a Divine triumph, and so an extraordinary revelation of God, through which he ought to have been better known by his people. Man had nothing to do with that defeat of Assyria. God's working in it man might study. One hundred and eighty-five thousand men are said to have been miraculously destroyed in one night, without the operation of any military agencies. Judah and Israel are mentioned together as thus coming to know God, because the two nations, which had been separated from the days of Rehoboam, were united again under Hezekiah. Here God is revealed, and so known and apprehended, by the judgments which he executes. But God's judgments are always two-sided—they relate to those who suffer under them; and they relate to those who are delivered through them.
I. THEY KNOW GOD WHO SUFFER UNDER HIS JUDGMENTS. Illustrate from the Assyrians. It is quite clear that the Assyrian general, Rabsbakeh, did not know Jehovah, or he never would have put him into comparison with the gods of the nations as he did (Isaiah 37:10-13). The Assyrians had to be taught that Jehovah was God alone; and that lesson they could only learn through such a manifestation of Jehovah's power as would declare him to stand alone. See the effect of Divine manifestation on Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:28, Daniel 3:29; Daniel 4:37); Darius (Daniel 6:26, Daniel 6:27). But God is known through his judgments even by his own people. Illustrative cases may be taken from the wilderness experiences, the times of Joshua, David, etc. And it is still true for the godly individual; he has sometimes to learn to know God fully by coming under Divine judgments. "Judgments" may, for the present purpose, be distinguished from "afflictions" or "chastisements," as meaning "irremediable calamities," such as this plague on the Assyrians. The point is an important one. The "irremediable" is more or less in every man's life; and the "irremediable" is a help to the fall knowledge of God.
II. THEY KNOW GOD WHO ARE DELIVERED THROUGH HIS JUDGMENTS. This leads us along more familiar and easy lines. Israel learned to know God through deliverances and redemptions. Those political and social difficulties of Hezekiah's time, which had their true rootage in mistaken views of Jehovah's relation to his people, were in part removed by the knowledge gained of God through this deliverance.—R.T.
The localization of God.
"In Salem also is his covert, and his dwelling place in Zion" (comp. Jeremiah 25:38, "He hath forsaken his covert as the lion"). The poetical figure is the likening of God to a lion—the Lion of the tribe of Judah"—who leaves his covert in Salem, and his lair in Zion, to spoil the enemy. There is now evidence that the holy city was known as Salem long before the time of Joshua, but the special Divine association with it dates from the time when David brought back the ark, and found for it a resting place in the new tabernacle on Mount Zion. That ark was the symbol of abiding Divine presence. The poet can only liken the sudden and overwhelming destruction of the Assyrian army to the springing of a lion on his prey. Then it was easy to conceive of the holy place at Jerusalem as the den or covert where the lion abode, and out of which he sprang. In treating such poetical figures, we should remember that Easterns allowed themselves a freer poetical licence than we do; and we should treat their extravagant figures with great care and becoming reverence. First recall to mind that God is everywhere present. We must never prison the thought of God to any time or any place. "The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?" (Isaiah 66:1). But, keeping that as our primary thought of God, we may realize helpful associations of God with places and persons.
I. GOD MAY BE THOUGHT OF AS THE GOD OF A NATION. "Elohim" for all the world, God was "Jehovah" for Israel—by virtue of special relations and revelations, the "God of Israel." So there is a proper sense in which God may be spoken of as the "God of England;" and we rightly realize the unique relations in which he stands to us. Impress that effective education of the rising race includes the teaching of this special relation of God to our nation.
II. GOD MAY BE THOUGHT OF AS THE GOD OF A BUILDING. In the wilderness we read of "God's tabernacle;" in the later history we read of God's "dwelling place in Zion." So now we properly speak of God's house," and understand certain buildings to be consecrated to him. There he is pleased to manifest himself.
III. GOD MAY BE THOUGHT OF AS THE GOD OF A PERSON. God was, in a sense, in Moses, with Moses. God's Spirit dwelt "without measure" in Christ. Still God works through his ministers, making of them his earthly dwelling place.
IV. GOD MAY BE THOUGHT OF AS THE GOD OF A SYMBOL. As in the Shechinah-cloud, and as in the Holy Sacrament. God is everywhere. God is here.—R.T.
The returning Conqueror; or, God glorified in his triumph over evil.
The actual triumph over the Assyrian army is poetically presented in the sudden exclamation of Psalms 76:3, "There brake he the arrows of the bow, the shield, and the sword, and the battle." In Psalms 76:4 God is regarded as returning to Zion with the spoils of the camp. The precise figure is difficult to trace. Some render, "Bright art thou and glorious from the mountains of spoil;" and understand the mountains to be referred to on which the hostile army had encamped. The Prayer book Version has, "Thou art of more honour and might than the hills of the robbers." Others read, "Enlightened art thou, and glorious, coming down from the mountains of prey;" and this seems to give the most simple and suggestive explanation. Having the lion figure still in mind, the psalmist sees the lion returning from his prey, with the pride of his triumph on him; and this suggests the glory of God the Conqueror and Deliverer. Compare the songs the women sang when Saul and David returned from the conquest of the Philistines; or Moses' song at the Red Sea; or Deborah's song at the defeat of Sisera; or the cry of Isaiah, "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?" Our joy in the returning Conqueror, our glory in his triumph for us, may be said to depend on three things.
I. THE GREATNESS OF THE DISTRESS FROM WHICH WE ARE DELIVERED. Illustrate from the hopeless condition of Hezekiah at this time. He had no force effective to combat Assyria; and internal conflict broke up and weakened the little force he had. It was a time of uttermost distress; the very independence, the very existence, of the nation was imperilled. Then contrast the state of things when the hostile army became dead men. Imagine the relief, and the joy of the relief. Such feeling is thus expressed elsewhere: "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing." Lead on to show what that deliverance must be which God wrought, in Christ Jesus, for those whose hopeless distress is described in Romans 3:10-19.
II. OUR SENSE OF THE POWER SHOWN IN OUR DELIVERANCE. The agency used for the destruction of the Assyrian army cannot be certainly known. But we feel this—that destruction was a unique and amazing display of Divine power. There had been nothing like it before. God had lifted up a mighty hand, and stretched forth a strong arm. Show that, in Christ's dealings with the sin foe, the same impression is made on us. See the doxologies in the Book of Revelation.
III. OUR APPREHENSION OF THE FULNESS AND COMPLETENESS OF THE DELIVERANCE WROUGHT. Compare the results of God's intervention with the consequences of a mere victory on an ordinary battlefield; God wrought a perfect triumph. So Christ "leads captivity captive," and "saves to the uttermost."—R.T.
The power of the Lord's rebuke.
"At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both chariot and horse are cast into a deep sleep." Byron pictures the scene with great poetical force—
"And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
"And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail."
"God did but speak the word, as the God of Jacob that commands deliverances for Jacob, and, at his rebuke, the chariot and horse were both cast into a dead sleep. See the power and efficacy of God's rebukes." "It is impossible to mistake the allusion to the deeper sleep of death, falling on the sleeping Assyrian army, before the valiant men could 'find their hands,' in the half-waking grasp of weapons in the hour of danger."
I. GOD'S REBUKES ARE SOMETIMES WORDS. Illustrate by Moses' messages from God to Pharaoh. Or the case of the prophet who went to Bethel to rebuke Jeroboam. Or Nathan's rebuke of David. Or Elijah's rebuke of Ahab. What is it that specially calls for the Lord's rebuke? Wilfulness. Persistent forcing of a man's own way. And even more precisely, the daring of the man who forces his way when he knows it is contrary to the will of God, or when he means to put dishonour on God. This is the case before us now. Sennacherib was forcing his own way, with designed intention of insulting and humiliating the God of Israel. And still the Divine rebuke is called forth when we fall into the committal of "presumptuous sins."
II. GOD'S REBUKES ARE SOMETIMES DEEDS. But they are voiceful deeds. See here, the rebuke was a night blast that slew the tens of thousands, and drove Sennacherib back to his land, a defeated and humiliated man. God's rebuke to hardened Pharaoh was the flower of his army drowned in the Red Sea. God's rebuke to over confident David was three days' plague in the land. God's rebuke to Herod, who accepted the homage due alone to God, was a terrible disease, that carried him off in agony and disgrace. Read life aright, and we may find God's rebuke in disappointments that we have known, and disasters we have suffered. Blessed are they who
(1) receive, who
(2) heed, and who
(3) respond to, their Lord's rebuke!—R.T.
The Divine anger.
"Who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?" God can only be apprehended through human figures with which we are familiar. So we find in the Divine revelations of Holy Scripture anthropomorphic figures for God, taken from man's limbs and bodily organs; and anthropopathic figures taken from man's feelings, emotions, and passions. But in applying such figures to God, we must carefully eliminate the sin element which belongs to all such things when they concern man. As man is made in the image of God, from man we may learn of God. But as man has marred the image by his wilfulness and sin, we must take care how we apply the likeness which we now think we see. In applying such terms as "anger" to God, it is important to observe the distinction between the anger of an official and the anger of a private person. The anger of an official—a king, or a judge—should have no feeling in it; it should be the proper response to some public wrong. The anger of an individual may have feeling in it, and be a sign of hatred. In this psalm God is thought of as an official. He is the great King, and so his "anger" is really indignation against the foe that imperils the country, and against the self-willed people who play into the hands of the national enemy. There is, then, a sense in which the king of a country ought to be angry; but in his anger there should be no feeling of hate, no feeling towards individuals, only feeling concerning the wrong which either individuals or combined bodies may do.
I. THE SENSE IN WHICH GOD MAY BE ANGRY. Three terms need to be carefully defined and illustrated. Indignation is the proper revolt of all noble natures against wrong doing, and especially wrong doing of a mean character, as when the strong takes advantage of the weak. Anger is the state of mind suitable for a king, governor, or judge, in the presence of any form of public injustice or crime. Wrath is the term that brings in the additional idea of giving expression, in vigorous action, to vigorous feeling. In some senses, each term may be applied to God.
II. THE FEAR WHICH GOD'S ANGER MAY PROPERLY INSPIRE. Because it is associated with perfect wisdom, absolute righteousness, and irresistible power. We smile sometimes at the futile anger of men; for they can do nothing. We dare not smile at God's anger; for he can do everything. None can stand before him.—R.T.
With God judgment is salvation.
"When God arose to judgment, to save all the meek of the earth." The "meek" are those who, with Hezekiah, held fast their integrity to Jehovah, and yet seemed placed in circumstances of hopeless distress. God's judgment on Sennacherib was their vindication, deliverance, and uplifting. Compare the destruction of Pharaoh's host at the Red Sea. God's judgment on the Egyptians was God's salvation of his people. It may even be established as the recognized principle of Divine dealings, that judgment and mercy shall always go together. They are like the pillar of cloud, which lay dark against the Egyptians, but shone a bright light forth to guide the wonderful path of delivered Israel. It must not be assumed that in this is seen any favouritism on the part of God; for if it is true that God's judgments on the nations were blessing for Israel, it is equally true that God's judgments on Israel were blessings for the nations. What we dwell on here is that, whatever may be the feature of Divine dealing that we specially observe, we may confidently look for signs of that dealing being made a blessing and salvation to somebody. This introduces a very large subject—the vicariousness of all forms of human calamity and trouble. "No man dieth unto himself." No suffering ever bears exclusive relation to the sufferer. You never have read its mission when you have found out what it did for him. You have never apprehended God's infinitely gracious purposes when you have only seen some one thing that he has accomplished. What mistaken views of God the man would take who persisted in seeing only what this awful night judgment was to the Assyrians! It must be seen all round to be truly understood and appreciated.
I. GOD WORKS IN WAYS OF JUDGMENT. Illustrate from Bible history, both of nations and of individuals.
II. GOD WORKS IN WAYS OF SALVATION. Illustrate in a similar way.
III. WHEN WORTHILY APPREHENDED, THESE TWO ARE REALLY ONE, AND GOD'S JUDGMENT IS SALVATION. Lead up to illustrate from the sublime case of the Lord Jesus. "The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all," and the judgment that fell on him was salvation for us.—R.T.
Man's wrath bringing praise to God.
The rendering of this verse is uncertain. The LXX. reads the verse, "The wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shall keep festival unto thee." And the idea of the verse seems to be—"the only result of Sennacherib's enmity to God's chosen people will be that the power of the God who overthrows him shall be more widely acknowledged; for vain will it be for the small remnant of the Assyrians to continue the invasion in which their mighty host had been so terribly foiled" (Jennings and Lowe). This idea may be worked out. Be it the seemingly overwhelming wrath of the mighty army, or be it the manifestly helpless and futile enmity of the enfeebled remnant,—God's ways with them will bring praise to his Name. It will often be noticed that the mischief wrought by a remnant is more to be feared than the mischief wrought by a host. Bunyan, in his 'Holy War,' makes a few Diabolians left in Mansoul do greater mischief than Diabolus' army. So there is point in pressing on our attention that remnants are as much in God's power as armies, and he will be glorified in the mastery of both.
I. THE LIFE FOES THAT WE KNOW AND ESTIMATE ARE WELL WITHIN THE CONTROL OF OUR GOD. And a man ought to understand what his besetting sins are, what his circumstances of temptation are. There are spiritual foes which "loom large" to our view—large as the vast host of Assyria did to Hezekiah. But "greater is he who is with us than all who can be against us." Those foes lose their power to affright us when once we can see that God will get his glory in dealing with them, and in delivering us from them.
II. THE LIFE FOES THAT ARE TOO SUBTLE AND INSIGNIFICANT FOR US TO OBSERVE ARE EQUALLY IN THE CONTROL OF OUR GOD. They may be represented by the remnant, or remainder, of the Assyrians. And after the disaster, Sennacherib might have collected his soldiers, stayed in the land, and done much mischief. God controlled that remnant, and sent him ignominiously back to his own country. Subtle foes, small foes, like ichneumon flies, who deposit their eggs in the caterpillar and eat up its life, could ruin us more surely than open foes, were it not that our God will be sure also to get his praise of them.—R.T.
Following up our vows.
"Vow, and pay unto the Lord your God." Vows were formal promises or engagements made in acknowledgment of Divine mercies, or as conditions on which Divine help was sought. They are illustrated by Jacob's vow after the vision at Bethel; by King Saul's vow at Michmash; Absalom's vow which was made the excuse for starting his revolt; St. Paul's vow, which explained his presence in the temple courts, etc. The vows of the olden time are precisely represented by our solemn resolves, our good resolutions, which become promises and pledges of what we will do. The psalmist found out, what we have all found out through our own experiences, that it is easy to make vows and promises, and to take solemn pledges, but far easier to neglect them and let them go unfulfilled. Therefore in moments of awakened feeling, he exclaims, "I will pay my vows unto the Lord," and he advises God's people to "vow and pay"—to follow up their vows, and never to rest until they are fulfilled. It may be well to note what is the mission of vows. They are helpful in strengthening the will. A purpose may be formed which will stand but little testing, and exert but feeble influence. We strengthen that purpose if, in relation to it, we take open pledge, we make solemn promise. Our own inward purpose may be easily forgotten; no one knows about it but ourselves, and so its power of influence on us is small. Turn our purpose into a public vow, and we are helped by remembering that others, and God, expect us to be faithful to our word. How has it been with the vows we have made in the past? Have we joined "vowing" and "paying"?
I. OUR VOWS AT CONFIRMATION, AND UNION WITH CHRIST'S CHURCH.
II. OUR VOWS ON BIRTHDAYS, NEW YEAR DAYS, ETC.
III. OUR VOWS WHEN ENTERING ON NEW LIFE RELATIONSHIPS—MARRIAGE, ETC.
IV. OUR VOWS ON RESCUE FROM PERILS, OR RECOVERY FROM SICKNESS.
Thinking over all these vows, who among us can fail to be impressed by the thought of how much is unpaid, and how much we owe to God? Never have we had a year of life in which our payment of vows matched our New Year promises. What a heap of unpaid vows the years have piled up! What a heap of imperfectly paid vows! Very seldom, indeed, have our vows been fully kept; and we search our lives almost in vain to find any single instances in which we have done better than we vowed. It is important that we should have solemn opportunities for calling our vows to remembrance, such as sacramental seasons provide. So we may be set on new efforts to "pay our vows."—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
A psalm of triumph.
This is one of several psalms supposed to have been written in celebration of the sudden overthrow of Sennacherib's army in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and suggests the following truths—
I. THAT THE CHURCH IS GOD'S PECULIAR ABODE, WHERE THE MOST GLORIOUS REVELATIONS OF HIS POWER AND GRACE ARE SEEN. (Psalms 76:3.) The gospel is most emphatically the "power of God unto salvation."
II. THAT GOD'S GREATEST GLORY IS NOT IN DESTROYING, BUT IN SAVING AND REDEEMING, MEN. (Psalms 76:4 Psalms 76:6.) Here his power for destruction is celebrated; but in the New Testament his work of salvation—his power to give life, not his power to take it away.
III. GOD IS TO BE FEARED MORE FOR HIS HOLINESS AND LOVE THAN FOR HIS PHYSICAL OMNIPOTENCE. (Psalms 76:7-9.) These excite filial affectionate fear; that excites an unworthy slavish fear.
IV. GOD IS ABLE TO OVERRULE THE REBELLION OF MEN SO THAT IN THE END IT SHALL ILLUSTRATE HIS PRAISE. (Psalms 76:10.) God's love can conquer human wrath, and so make it praise him.
V. THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE GIFTS WE CAN OFFER TO GOD ARE THOSE OF REPENTANCE AND A RENEWED LIFE. (Psalms 76:11.) "A broken and a contrite spirit; "To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God;" "Let all that are around him do homage to his majesty."—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 76". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29