THIS psalm is primarily (Psalms 94:1-11) a "cry for vengeance on Israel's oppressors, passing into an appeal for more faith to God's own people" (Cheyne). In the latter half (Psalms 94:12-23) the psalmist comforts himself with the thought that God will assuredly protect his own, and bring destruction upon the evil doers (Psalms 94:12-23). Metrically, the psalm is made up of four strophes—the first of seven verses (Psalms 94:1-7); the next of four (Psalms 94:8-11); the third of eight (Psalms 94:12-19); and the last of four (Psalms 94:20-23).
The cry for vengeance. Israel is suffering oppression—not, however, from foreign enemies, but from domestic tyrants (Psalms 94:4-6). Innocent blood is shed; the widow and the orphan are trodden down. God, it is supposed, will not see or will not regard (Psalms 94:7). The psalmist, therefore, cries out to God to manifest himself by taking signal vengeance on the evil doers (Psalms 94:1, Psalms 94:2).
O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth (comp. Deuteronomy 32:35, "To me belongeth vengeance and recompence;" and Jeremiah 51:56, where God is called "the Lord God of reeompences," as he is here—literally—"the Lord God of vengeances"). O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show thyself; or, "shine forth"—make thy justice to appear; show thyself in thy character of a God who will by no means clear the guilty (Exodus 34:7).
Lift up thyself (comp. Psalms 7:6; Isaiah 33:10). "Rouse thyself," that is, "from thy state of inaction"—come and visit the earth as Judge. Thou Judge of the earth (comp. Genesis 18:25; Psalms 58:11). Render a reward to the proud; rather, render a recompense—as the same phrase is translated in Lamentations 3:64.
Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? "How long?" is the continual cry of the psalmists to God, as it is of the souls under the altar (Revelation 6:10; comp. above, Psalms 6:3; Psalms 13:1, Psalms 13:2; Psalms 35:7; Psalms 74:10; Psalms 79:5; Psalms 89:46; Psalms 90:13). It is a cry of weakness and impatience, but has an element of faith in it, on which God looks with favour.
How long shall they utter and speak hard things? rather, they pour forth, they utter arrogant things; literally, arrogance. And all the workers of iniquity boast themselves; or, "carry themselves proudly" (Cheyne).
They break in pieces thy people, O Lord; or, "crush," "oppress" (comp. Isaiah 3:15; Proverbs 22:22, where the verb is evidently used, not of foreign foes, but of domestic oppressors). And afflict thine heritage; or, "thine inheritance"—those whom thou hast taken to be thy "peculiar people" (Deuteronomy 14:2), thine own exclusive possession.
They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless (comp. Isaiah 1:17-23; Isaiah 10:2; Ezekiel 22:6-9; Malachi 3:5; also Psalms 10:8-10).
Yet they say, The Lord shall not see (comp. Psalms 10:11, Psalms 10:13). Foreign enemies did not suppose that Jehovah would not see, but trusted that their own gods were stronger than he, and would protect them (2 Kings 18:33-35). Neither shall the God of Jacob regard it. "The God of Jacob" would not be a natural expression in the mouth of Israel's foreign foes. They knew nothing of Jacob. But it was an expression frequently used by Israelites (Genesis 49:24; Psalms 20:1; Psalms 46:7; Psalms 75:9; Psalms 76:6; Psalms 81:1, Psalms 81:4; Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 41:21; Micah 4:2, etc.).
The appeal to Israel. The oppressors thought that their conduct would not be observed by God, or would not be taken into account. The psalmist appeals to them not to be so brutish and foolish (Psalms 94:8), and argues, from the first principles of natural theology, that God must see and hear (Psalms 94:9). If he chastises the heathen, why should he not also punish them (Psalms 94:10)?
Understand, ye brutish among the people (comp. Psalms 92:6). That there were among God's people some so "brutish" as to suppose that God either did not see or did not regard their misdoings, appears also from Psalms 10:11, Psalms 10:13. And ye fools, when will ye be wise? When will ye put away your folly, and allow Wisdom to enter into your hearts? She is always crying in the streets: when will ye consent to listen (comp. Proverbs 1:20-23)?
He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see? This argument for a real, personal, intelligent God appears here, for the first time. It is of irresistible force. "Can it be possible that God, who planned and made the curious mechanism of hearing and vision, is himself without those faculties, or something analogous to them? Must he not hear those cries, and see those outrages, which men, who are his creatures, see and hear? Is it conceivable that he can be an unobservant and apathetic God?" (Cheyne).
He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? i.e. if God does not leave even the heathen without rebukes and chastisements, shall he not much more punish those among his own people who do amiss? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know? Our version supposes an ellipse, which it fills up with great boldness, producing a very excellent sense. But the insertion made does not appear necessary (see the Revised Version).
The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man. Not only does the Almighty see and know all the actions of men (Psalms 94:9), but he is even acquainted with their thoughts (comp. Psalms 7:9; Psalms 26:2; Psalms 139:17; Isaiah 66:18; 1 Corinthians 3:20). That they are vanity (comp. Ecclesiastes 2:14, Ecclesiastes 2:15).
The blessedness of the righteous. The psalmist proceeds to console and comfort himself by considering in how many ways the righteous man is blessed.
1. God chastises him.
2. God teaches him.
3. God gives him a time of rest.
4. God never forsakes him.
5. God judges him righteously.
6. God helps him against evil doers (Psalms 94:16, Psalms 94:17).
7. God upholds him when he is in danger of falling.
8. God inwardly comforts his soul.
Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord. The blessedness of chastening appears in Deuteronomy 7:5; 2 Samuel 7:14, 2 Samuel 7:15; Job 5:17; Psalms 89:32, Psalms 89:33; Proverbs 3:12; and is the main point of Elihu's teaching in Job 33:15-30. It is not, as some have argued, entirely a New Testament doctrine. Unassisted human reason might discover it. Greek poets noted the connection between παθεῖν and μαθεῖν. Our own great dramatist draws upon his experience when he says-
"Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Bears yet a precious jewel in his head."
And teachest him out of thy Law. The existence of "the Law," and the general knowledge of it by God's people, is assumed here, as elsewhere in the Psalms (see especially Psalms 119:1-176.). Also it is assumed that "the Law" is a revelation from God.
That thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity. Trials and afflictions are means to an end, and the intended end is "rest" and peace. "There remaineth, therefore, a rest to the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9). Until the pit be digged for the wicked (comp. Psalms 9:1; Psalms 35:7, Psalms 35:8).
For the Lord will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance (comp. Deuteronomy 4:31; 1 Samuel 12:22; 1 Kings 6:13; Isaiah 41:17). However long God's chastisements continue (see Psalms 94:3), the faithful may be sure that God has not forsaken, and never will forsake, them, since "he forsaketh not his saints, but they are preserved forever" (Psalms 37:28). The promise is made equally to the faithful individuals ("his saints") and to faithful Churches ("his people," "his inheritance").
But judgment shall return unto righteousness. "Judgment," i.e. God's actual award of good and evil upon the earth, which has seemed to be divorced from justice, while the ungodly have prospered and the pious been afflicted (Psalms 94:3-6), shall in the end "return unto righteousness," i.e. once more, evidently, conform to it and coincide with it. And all the upright in heart shall follow it; i.e. "and then all honest hearted men shall recognize the fact, see it, and rejoice in it."
Who will rise up for me against the evil doers? or, who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity? But meanwhile, until this happy time come, what is the condition of the godly? Are they not left a prey to the evil doers, at their mercy, without a champion? The answer is given in the next verse.
Unless the Lord had been my Help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence. No; they are not without a champion; Jehovah is their Help. It is a part of their blessedness (Psalms 94:12), that they are preserved. in life and protected from the wicked, by God himself. Otherwise they "had soon dwelt in silence." Their soul had gone down to the pit, to the abyss of Sheol, the silent land (comp. Psalms 115:17).
When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O Lord, held me up. Another respect in which the godly, even though suffering affliction, are blessed. God upholds their tottering feet, and, when they are in danger, keeps them from falling.
In the multitude of my thoughts within me; rather, my various thoughts, "my busy thoughts." Sarappim (as Dr. Kay observes) "are anxious, perplexing, branchings of thoughts," such as continually vex faithful yet doubting souls. Thy comforts delight my soul. Internal comfort is given by God himself to the perplexed and troubled in spirit, whereby they are "delighted," or, rather, "soothed and solaced."
The destruction of the evil doers. There can be no fellowship between light and darkness—between God and evildoers, especially those who carry out their wicked purposes under the forms of law (Psalms 94:20), and go the length of condemning innocent blood (Psalms 94:21). Such persons God, who defends the righteous (Psalms 94:22), will assuredly bring to utter destruction (Psalms 94:23).
Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee? The interrogative is here, as so often, an emphatic negative. By "the throne of iniquity" is meant iniquity in high places, wickedness enthroned upon the judgment seat, and thence delivering its unjust sentences. Oppressors in Israel made a large use of the machinery of the law to crush and ruin their victims (see Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 10:1, Isaiah 10:2; Amos 5:7; Amos 6:12, etc.). Which frameth mischief by a law; i.e. which effects its mischievous purposes by means of the decrees of courts.
They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood. A Messianic allusion is possible, but not necessary.
But the Lord is my Defence; and my God is the Rock of my refuge (comp. Psalms 18:2).
And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity. Most manifestly when he makes them fall into their own snare (Psalms 7:15; Psalms 35:8; Psalms 57:6; Psalms 141:9, Psalms 141:10), but really also whenever he punishes them for their sins. And shall cut them off; or, "destroy," "exterminate" them. In their own wickedness; or, "by their wickedness." The wicked man is often "hoist with his own petard." Yea, the Lord our God shall cut them off. The repetition, like that in Psalms 94:1, is emphatic, and solemnly confirms the entire section (Psalms 94:20-23).
The saint's perplexity at the triumph of sin.
"Lord, how long?" etc. This question, which the inspired psalmist, in the anguish of his spirit, could not help putting, is not one of those which are solved by the lapse of time. Rather it grows more urgent. Thousands of years have rolled by since these words were written, and still the awful mystery confronts us which St. Paul so forcibly describes—sin reigning unto death. It is true that in each particular case "the triumphing of the wicked is short"—at least, compared with eternity. True, also, that nothing can shake the truth of the promise, which runs through the whole Bible, that, come what may, "it shall be well with the righteous"—eternally well—and that "all things shall work together for good to them that love God." Nevertheless, when we think, if we could wield absolute power with unerring knowledge, how eagerly we should make short work with injustice, cruelty, tyranny, lawless crime, we cannot but marvel at the spectacle, prolonged age after age, of our heavenly Father "making his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sending rain on the just and on the unjust." The psalmist assumes the fact as unquestionable, and reverently, yet urgently, appeals to God, as the Judge of the earth How long is it to be suffered to continue?
I. First, HERE IS THE UNDENIABLE FACT, WHICH WOULD ASTONISH US INFINITELY MORE THAN IT DOES, IF WE WERE NOT SO FAMILIAR WITH IT. "The wicked triumph."
1. They do so every day, often for long years, in two ways—when they are strong enough, by defying justice; and when they are crafty enough, by evading justice. It is the former of these which especially awakens the indignation and distress of the psalmist. He sees might, which ought to be the servant of right, become the ally of wrong; and justice poisoned at its fountain. It is the spectacle which meets us on every page of history. Joseph a slave and an exile in the dungeon, while his brothers are peacefully feeding their flocks in Canaan, and his wicked, false accuser is dwelling in a palace. Pharaoh blaspheming on the throne, and God's people bleeding and weeping under the lash. Saul in his court, and David hiding in dens and caves. Nebuchadnezzar at the height of earthly glory, and God's faithful servants in the fiery furnace. Herod worshipped as a god, and James slain with the sword. Nero on the judgment seat, and Paul a prisoner at his bar. Popes receiving Divine honours, and martyrs for Christ burning at the stake. Ages roll on, and still, in one form or another, this hideous anomaly bears witness that we live in a world whose whole moral frame is disordered. True, as those ages roll, they show us another side to the picture. Joseph in power, and his brethren trembling before him. Pharaoh's host buried in the waters or bleaching on the shore, and Israel free. Saul stark on Gilboa, and David crowned and victorious. Nebuchadnezzar a maniac, herding with beasts. Herod eaten of worms. Nero a wretched suicide, hooted out of life with curses. But still, successors arise. History repeats itself. The One Arm which could strike down oppression, not only here and there, now and then, but everywhere and forever, seems to delay the blow (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Still the cry goes up, which St. John heard from the souls beneath the altar, "How long, O Lord?" In our own land, thanks be to God, we must look back two hundred years if we would see tyranny and injustice openly triumphing on the throne and on the judgment seat, and God's servants exiled, starved, imprisoned merely for preaching the gospel. Englishmen have almost forgotten that such things ever were in England. But we see crime continually evading justice, and even successfully concealing itself behind a mask of respectability. One terrible vice—drunkenness—has this mitigating circumstance, that it cannot long be concealed, and the mischief and misery it works cannot be denied. But if dishonesty, extortion, gambling, false speaking, secret immorality, could in like manner be brought to view, it would be found (alas!) that the crimes human law can reach are but a fraction of crimes actually committed against the Law of God.
2. There is a wider and deeper view we cannot help taking. The power of sin is the power of Satan. He is expressly declared to be "the prince of this world," "the god of this world," who blinds the minds of "them that believe not." Apart from this, neither the extreme wickedness of men nor the slow progress of Christ's kingdom and gospel can be accounted for.
II. IS THERE NO ANSWER TO THIS CRY WHICH HAS GONE UP FOR SO MANY AGES FROM GOD'S PEOPLE TO HIS THRONE? The tempest of his vengeance does not awaken. The lightning does not strike the tyrant, the slave dealer, the seducer, the assassin. The earthquake does not yawn under guilty cities. Satan is not yet chained. But yet, to the ear of faith there comes from God's Word an answer; not, indeed, such as to end the trial of faith, by clearing away the whole mystery of God's dealings; but enough to sustain faith, nourish patience and courage, kindle hope and stimulate labour. How long?
1. Long enough to answer those Divine purposes for which sin was at first permitted to enter, and the wicked—wicked men or wicked spirits—ever to exist at all. We cannot avoid seeing that it was possible for God to have prevented sin from ever existing; if in no other way (of which we cannot judge), at all events by refraining from creating beings, angels or men, capable of sin. The lower creatures are incapable of sin, and, therefore, incapable also of obedience to moral law and of likeness to God. God has seen fit to create beings capable of loving him, knowing him, obeying him; therefore capable of sinning against him. Knowing infinitely better than we the mischief and misery of sin, he has seen it worth while to allow room for sin to display its character and consequences. And we may well believe the lessons thus taught wilt never be forgotten or need repeating in eternity.
2. Long enough to reveal the infinite preciousness of the Divine atonement for sin—the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanseth from all sin; and the glorious power of Divine love, truth, and grace; the power, that is, of God's Spirit to restore even souls dead in sin to God's likeness.
3. Long enough to perfect that trial of faith and discipline of character, by means of which God is training, in a world of temptation, sorrow, sin, and death, those whom he redeems "from this present evil world," for a life of perfect holiness and endless joy.
4. Long enough to show beyond all question God's patience and long suffering, "not willing that any should perish;" and to justify his righteousness when at last he will "render to every man according to his deeds" (Romans 2:2-11; John 5:22; 2 Peter 3:9, 2 Peter 3:10).
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
How long shall the wicked triumph?
I. SUPPOSE THEY NEVER DID.
1. Then the devil would be right when he asked, "Doth Job serve God for nought?" He meant to say that men serve God only from selfish, interested motives.
2. Men would want to sin, though from fear they held back. The heart would remain unchanged, character would be the same.
3. The essential discipline and test of the righteous would be destroyed. We are tested when, though we see the wicked triumph, we still cleave to God.
4. The wicked would wax worse and worse. "The strength of sin is the Law."
5. It would be a confession that men cannot be governed by higher motives than earthly gain.
II. SUPPOSE THEY ALWAYS DID.
1. Earth would become hell, because of the wickedness of them that dwell therein.
2. The faith and fear of God would disappear.
III. SUPPOSE THEY SOMETIMES DO. This is the case. And sometimes they appear generally to triumph. Nevertheless, it is not always, nor for long. But the present order avails:
1. To glorify God by the fidelity of his people.
2. To lift them to a higher life.
3. To convince the world of the reality of the faith the believer holds.—S.C.
An argument all should understand.
I. ITS NATURE. It is an argument from what we see in ourselves to what exists in God. If God has given to us certain powers, such powers must exist in him.
II. ITS FORCE. It is inconceivable that it should be otherwise. A man must have brutalized his soul, and become a fool, not to see this. God is not as man is—the mere employer of force which he does not and cannot create, but he is behind all force, its Creator and Source.
III. ITS SAFEGUARD.
1. For this argument needs guarding. If it be said that the presence of faculties in ourselves proves the existence of them in God, which is the argument in these verses, then might it not be said God is the author of the sin that is in us as well as the good, of that which is wrong as well as of that which is right? The heathen thought so, and hence they regarded their gods as altogether like themselves—embodiments of not merely good qualities, but also of lust and hate and all abomination. The idea of a holy God they never knew. And sinful men now often say, "God made us so," and thus cast on him the responsibility for their sin. "He that planted in me the love of sin, doth he not love it too?" So they falsely reason.
2. But how must such wrong extension of the argument of these verses be met? By noting that man has not merely the powers of thought, feeling, will, but also of conscience. This last is the regal, the judicial faculty, and decides what is of God, and what is only the product of our corrupt nature. Apart from conscience, there could be no right or wrong, but it infallibly tells, by its "excusing and accusing," how far we may go in arguing from what we see in ourselves to what exists in God. Else a man might say, "He that made me to lust, shall he not lust?" The ancient Greeks and the whole heathen world did say this.
IV. ITS MINGLED COMFORT AND WARNING.
1. As to the comfort this argument supplies.
2. There is warning likewise. Against pride: "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" Against envy. We are as God willed us to be, and, if we be but obedient, equally well pleasing in his sight. Against trifling with sin. If we condemn it, and will to punish it if unrepented of, that condemnation and that will reveal what is yet more in God. They tell of judgment to come.—S.C.
Psalms 94:12, Psalms 94:13
A strange Beatitude.
These verses contain more than this, but all they contain is linked on to this. Therefore consider—
I. THE STRANGE BEATITUDE. "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest." Wherein is the blessedness? We reply:
1. Because of what such chastening often reveals. If he were not really a child of God, he would not endure it; he would start aside and rebel. An infidel told a minister of Christ, who has been stricken with total blindness, that if God served him so, he would curse him to his face. Then this minister—well known to the writer—bore his testimony to the wonderful grace of God, how his soul had been kept in peace, and that he could and did rejoice in God, notwithstanding all his trouble. The text is like the last of the Beatitudes, "Blessed are ye when men shall persecute you," etc. (Matthew 5:1-48.). The endurance, and yet more the meek acquiescence in it, are a real revelation from God, that such a man is one of the Lord's very own. To know that is blessedness indeed.
2. Because of what it is followed by. The Lord teaches him out of his Law. We are all of us laggard scholars; some of us are too proud to learn. But God's chastenings have a wonderfully humbling and softening effect, and bring the soul into the blessed and indispensable condition for receiving the teachings of God.
3. Because of what it ministers. "Rest from the days of adversity." They cannot trouble him. A while ago some works were being carried on at Dover pier; the men had to go down deep in diving bells to reach their work. One evening one of the men was drawn up, the day's work being done, and went to his home. It suddenly occurred to him that he had left one of his tools on the stone which he had been working at. That night a furious storm raged, and the sea was lashed into a wild tumult. When at length on the following day the man went back to his work, he made up his mind that he should never again see the tool he had left the previous day. But lo! when he got down to the depths where he had been at work, there was his tool, just where he had left it the night before. The fury of the storm had not penetrated so far down; it only had power on the surface; in the depths beneath all had been quiet and still. So is it with the soul of him to whom God gives rest from the days of adversity. His soul is in the depths of God's love, where no power of adversity can reach. And this has been proved true a thousand times, and will be for us all if we be really the Lord's. And by and by the adversity itself shall depart; it continues only "until the pit be digged for the wicked." Then there shall be rest without as well as within. Now he can have only the inward rest, and blessed indeed is that; but then externally as well as internally he shall be at rest.
II. A STERN NECESSITY. The destruction of the wicked; for that is what the words just quoted mean. For until then God's people cannot be perfected, but then they shall. Many object to this stern doctrine. They say God is too merciful ever to let such doom fall upon any soul. But what about his own people? If they cannot enter into God's rest until what is here said is fulfilled, does not this make it altogether likely that it will be fulfilled; yea, that it must be? If mercy to the wicked be cruelty to the righteous, as it is, what is it likely that God will do? There can be but one answer.
III. A TERRIBLE ONLOOK. "The pit digged," etc.
1. These words assert the fact that such retribution will surely come. Scripture evermore affirms it. Conscience confirms the Scripture, and observed facts in the constant acting of God's providence—the awful retributions that we see do actually come on the wicked—attest the same awful truth.
2. They tell the nature of this retribution. "The pit." It brings up before the mind the dark horror which awaits sin.
3. Its gradual approach. The pit is not yet dug, but is being made ready. It becomes wider and deeper every day.
4. Those who are preparing it. God and the sinner himself. In an awful sense he is a "coworker with God."
5. Its loud appeal. "Stop the digging!" If man stops, God will; he will not go on if you will not. Turn to him, and he will deliver you out of the horrible pit (Psalms 40:1).—S.C.
The throng of our thoughts.
It is not difficult to see how the experiences which are more or less plainly referred to in this psalm should produce a "multitude of thoughts." The text reminds us that—
I. THOUGHTS COME IN THRONGS. To one standing on the golden gallery that surmounts the dome of St. Paul's in London, and looking down on the streets below, the sight of the thronging multitudes of people, hastening hither and thither, each intent on his or her own business, the traffic never ceasing, is very striking. How the people come and, some one way, some another, crossing and recrossing each other, never still for a moment,—it is all a picture of the minds of most men. Who could count or remember the multitude of thoughts that pass and repass, that come and go across the pathways of the mind? It is an incessant traffic, a concourse that is never still. And they are of all kinds, good, bad, and indifferent, grave and gay, coming one scarce knows whence, and going one as little knows whither.
II. MANY OF THEM OFTEN LEAVE THE SOUL SAD. There are those of an opposite character, and by God's mercy they are the most numerous and ordinary. And there are people who seem never to think seriously at all—the mere butterflies of life. But the Christian cannot be one of them. We know what our Lord said of the "wayside" hearers. The good seed never takes root there. But the soul awakened to things that are eternal must often think seriously, and, not seldom, sadly likewise. It was so with the writer of this psalm. To him also the enigmas of this unintelligible world came clamouring for solution, as they do still. "Lord, how long shall the wicked triumph?" (Psalms 94:3). That was to him one of the many inexplicable and heart saddening facts of life. And how many minds are today agitated, perplexed, well nigh shipwrecked, and their lives darkened by the mysteries they must meet, but cannot comprehend? But—
III. GOD HAS PROVIDED RELIEF FOR SUCH SOULS. Indeed, much more than simply relief. He has provided "delight" for them. Unquestionably—blessed be his holy Name for it!—God has done this. The testimony of saints in all ages has shown that God giveth "songs in the night." See the life and letters of men like Paul; above all, listen to "the Man of sorrows" himself telling of his "joy," and praying that it may "be fulfilled" in his disciples. And there are children of God now plunged in poverty or pain, or both, and yet who know and confess that God is their "exceeding Joy."
IV. THIS IS ACCOMPLISHED BY MEANS OF HIS "COMFORTS." "Thy comforts delight," etc.
1. They are of God. Those that this world supplies could never accomplish this.
2. They come through various channels. Sometimes through Nature—her calm and beauty and grandeur uplift the soul. Or through revelation. Think of all the "exceeding great and precious promises." Or through providence. Or by his Spirit in the soul. This best of all.
V. THE CONDITION IS—TRUST IN GOD.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
A God of vengeances.
Aglen, in Ellicott's 'Commentary,' proposes to render, "God of retributions, Jehovah, God of retributions, shine forth." The idea in the term "vengeances" would be better expressed by the term "avengements." God is thought of as the great Goel-Avenger of his oppressed and afflicted people, and therefore the One to whom appeal should be made in any particular time of distress. The word "vengeance" includes the idea of heated personal feeling. The word "avengement" sets prominently family relations and duties. The Apostle St. Paul expresses this thought of God, when he commands that "no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter, because that the Lord is the Avenger of all such" (1 Thessalonians 4:6). The "avenger of blood" is a familiar figure in the Mosaic constitution. But Moses only adopted and modified an original tribal institution. The main functions of the Hebrew Goel, Avenger, or Redeemer, were three.
1. If any Hebrew had fallen into penury, and been compelled to part with his ancestral estate, the family avenger was bound to redeem it and restore it.
2. If any Hebrew had been taken captive, or had sold himself as a slave, the goel had to buy him back, and set him free.
3. If any Hebrew had suffered wrong, or had been killed, the goel had to exact compensation for the wrong, or to avenge the murder. It is evident that the psalmist lived in a time when wickedness triumphed in high places. We may think of the reign of Ahab and Jezebel, when the condition of Jehovah's prophets and people seemed to be hopeless; they could only cry mightily to God, seeking his preservations and his deliverances. The psalmist had no confidence in the existing rulers, who should have been the avengers of all the poor, the wronged, and the distressed. He had confidence in God, of whom it can be said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay."
I. MAN CANNOT AVENGE HIMSELF.
1. Because those who wrong him are often quite beyond his reach or control.
2. Because he has not at command the requisite forces.
3. Because he is not self master enough to temper justice with mercy.
4. Because he cannot be strictly judicial, but is sure to spoil his avengings by introducing personal feeling.
5. Because he is in grave peril of injuring himself in his avengings.
II. MAN MAY RESTFULLY LET GOD AVENGE HIM.
1. Because his power is sufficient.
2. His self-restraints are perfect.
3. His time is best.
4. His avengings prove to be blessings both for the wronged and for the wrong doer.—R.T.
The Judge of all the earth.
The older Scriptures constantly set God forth as the actual, living Judge, concerned now in his Divine magistracy, deciding causes, vindicating the oppressed, punishing the wrong doer. The idea of some one single judgment day, in the far future, when all earth complications are to be put straight, and all earth evils are to be rectified, does not appear to have been in the minds of Old Testament saints. It may be that the New Testament figure of the "judgment seat of Christ" has unduly limited the Christian idea of the present and ever-continuous judging of God. It may be that this present judging needs to be set more clearly before the Christian mind. Our notion of the Judge is of one who, at a fixed time, holds a grand assize; and this notion helps to shape our figure of a single final judgment. But the Israelite thought of judging, magistracy, as the most important continuous function of his king, which every faithful king would exercise daily, sitting in the gate to hear and decide all causes that might be presented, and so coming into constant judicial relation to the life of the people. Shifting God's judgment on to a future great assize should not be allowed to loosen our Christian sense of God's present rule as involving a present magistracy, and present punishments and rewards. Read life aright, and the signs of a present Divine magistracy will abundantly appear.
I. GOD THE JUDGE IS DISTINGUISHING IN DIFFICULT CASES. Illustrate from the nisi prius courts. Constantly in life we find ourselves bewildered. We do not know what to think, or what to do, or where to go. We are in danger of being carried away by the merely attractive. If we will but wait, God will surely decide for us, and make the right for us quite unquestionable.
II. GOD THE JUDGE IS RECOGNIZING AND REWARDING THE RIGHTEOUS. We never have any doubt of this until we become impatient, and want the recognition at once. Because the Judge is also the Sanctifier, he may delay the reward which he decides to be due. But he is keen to notice everything that is good.
III. GOD THE JUDGE IS THE PUNISHER OF ALL THE WICKED. We need never be deceived by the apparent prosperity of the unjust. It is part of their judgment. It is making them top-heavy in preparation for some irremediable fall.—R.T.
The tether of the ungodly.
"How long shall the wicked triumph?" Men ask this question only when they cannot see the rope, or the chain, which keeps the movements of the ungodly within strict limitations. In Jersey and Guernsey the cattle are not left free in the fields, but are tethered so that they can only feed within a defined circle; and the visitor is interested in the different lengths of tether allowed to each animal. Bunyan represents his pilgrim as alarmed at the lions at the entrance to the palace Beautiful, and reassured when told that they were chained, and the chains did not permit of their reaching the middle of the pathway: he would be quite safe if he kept to the middle. The waves lift up themselves, and sometimes seem as if they would overwhelm; but God holds the waters in the hollow of his hand, puts his limitations even on their storm time swellings. The martyr souls are represented in Revelation 6:10 as crying from under the altar of God, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"
I. THE TETHER OF THE UNGODLY IS FIXED FOR THE HONOUR OF GOD. He will not permit his Name to be dishonoured or his work to be hindered. Nebuchadnezzar finds he has reached the limit of his tether when he begins to boast himself against God. Herod reaches his limit when, unreproved, he allows the people to shout concerning him, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man." Because God is and must be supreme, every man is under limitations. Against that men fret, but they can only hopelessly fret.
II. THE TETHER OF THE UNGODLY IS FIXED FOR THE SAFETY OF GOD'S PEOPLE. "What can harm you if ye be followers of that which is good?" The figure is presented of Satan, the deceiver and persecutor of the saints, as bound for a thousand years. He is always bound. See the figure of Satan, in the Book of Job, obliged to get Divine permission ere he can touch Job, or a thing that Job has. Even the malice of persecuting ages, and the shameless wickedness of the Inquisition, were in Divine limitations.
III. THE TETHER OF THE UNGODLY IS FIXED IN THE INTERESTS OF THE UNGODLY THEMSELVES. Illustrate from the antediluvians. Their life tether was about a thousand years, so they became gigantic in wickedness. What would proud, vicious men become now, if they could get free from Divine restraints? Mercy puts limits on the wicked.—R.T.
Psalms 94:9, Psalms 94:10
From man to God.
The argument here is, that whatever powers are found in man are surely found in him who made man. The workman must have in him everything that gains expression in his work. A machine is an embodiment of thought, and the thought is altogether higher than the machine. Here the point is—men hear the cry of the oppressed; men see the sufferings of the godly; then they may be quite sure that God both sees and hears; and they must seek some better explanation of his delayed help than can be found by assuming his ignorance or indifference. "Whatever is in man must be in the Power that made man—whether by evolution out of lower natures or otherwise it matters not—and whatever exists in that Power must show itself in active energy in the direction of man's history." (Barry).
I. MAN IS ALWAYS READY TO HELP HIS SUFFERING NEIGHBOUR. Man as man is. Some men, self-centred and self-seeking, are not. All true men are sympathetic toward sufferers, easily roused to champion the oppressed, and vigorous against the violent wrong doer. History is full of illustrations of the sacrifices men will make in behalf of the innocent and oppressed. No doubt the advancing civilization, which crowds cities, tends to put the disabled and oppressed out of sight and hearing; but let their condition come into view, and then men are ready with generous hand and gift, prepared to help. The psalmist is dealing with those who pleaded that, in the humiliations and distresses of his time, there were no more than signs of human sympathy and help; and who groaned that these were proving quite ineffective.
II. GOD IS ALWAYS READY TO HELP HIS SUFFERING PEOPLE. First, this is absolutely certain—he can see and hear. And this is quite as certain—he does see and hear. Then why does he not immediately intervene? To get the reason we must always take a large and comprehensive view of God's rule. And especially we must remember that he is the God of the wrong doer as well as of the saint; of the oppressor as well as of the oppressed. And it may be that the need of the hour is chastening for the good, and this may require that the evil be maintained as the chastening agency.—R.T.
The vanity of men's idea of the Divine indifference.
"The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity." Clearly the reference is not a general one, to the common and usual thoughts of men, but a special one to the particular thoughts about the delay of God's vindication of the oppressed, which was at the time distressing the psalmist (see Psalms 94:7). The idea that God does not regard the suffering of his people, and will not intervene in their behalf, is characterized as "vanity," a foolish, baseless, and altogether unsound notion. This idea concerning God is sometimes the doubt of the pious soul, as in Isaiah 40:27; here it is the reproach of the ungodly. The doubt of the pious soul is properly met by Divine comfortings and assurances; the reproach of the ungodly is properly met by scornful and withering reproof. "So far from 'not seeing,' 'not regarding,' as these brutish persons fondly imagine, Jehovah reads their inmost thoughts and devices, as he reads the hearts of all men, even though for a time they are unpunished" (see 1 Corinthians 3:20).
I. SUCH THOUGHTS ARE VANITY BECAUSE THEY ARE UNTRUE. They do not answer to the facts. If God be God, he must know what is going on; he must be controlling everything; he must be working toward the blessing of the good. Such thoughts are untrue if tested
II. SUCH THOUGHTS ARE VANITY BECAUSE THEY ARE UNWORTHY. The men who encourage them are not in a right state of mind. Men ought to trust God, not doubt him. Men ought to be quick to observe everything that can nourish confidence. If God's ways ever seem perplexing, our assumption should always be in favour of their wisdom and loving kindness. It is unworthy of men to doubt God in one thing, seeing he gives them such abundant reason for trusting him in a thousand things. He is "too good to be unkind."
III. SUCH THOUGHTS ARE VANITY BECAUSE THEY ARE UNSTABLE. They are but the feelings of the hour; they are based on no careful considerations. Men take them up when they are vexed at not getting what they wish, or not having things according to their minds. The moods of the hour may well be called "vanity."—R.T.
The triumph of the wicked may be the chastening of the righteous.
It alters everything when we can see our trouble to be Divine chastening. Look on it as human oppression, the masterfulness of unprincipled magistrates, the persecution of an idolatrous Jezebel, the scheme of those who cherish enmity against the righteous, anti our trouble is hard to bear; everything noble in us rises up to resist. But have a supreme faith in God; feel sure of his comprehensive ruling; apprehend that he works for the highest moral ends, and uses even the self-will and the wrong doing of men as agents in the accomplishing of his loving purposes;—and then the soul goes down into the quietness of a holy submission, and out of its enduring sings its songs of hope, even as apostles sang their joy in God when in the dungeon at Philippi. We can never read life aright until we can fully receive the idea of the Divine chastening. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." Illustration may be found in God's dealings with his ancient people. In Egypt, in the days of the judges, and in the age of the later kings, we find what, at first sight, seem to be pure calamities. But we are helped to read them aright, and then we see that they are chastenings, designed to secure the moulding and the correcting of God's people. See also the story of the patriarch Job. There, too, we have calamities, but we are taught to see in them chastenings, and chastenings of the highest order, not meant to secure mere correction, but designed to effect the noblest spiritual culture.
I. WE MAY MISTAKE IF WE READ THE TRIUMPH OF THE WICKED FROM BELOW. That is, as those actually crushed down under it. Suffering prevents both right feeling and right thinking.
II. WE MAY MISTAKE IF WE READ THE TRIUMPH OF THE WICKED FROM THE LEVEL. That is, as those who are not suffering themselves, but are watching the depressions and woes of God's people. So far as earthly issues are concerned, we can see no good in the trouble. Indeed, evil seems better off than good.
III. WE CAN ONLY READ THE TRIUMPH OF THE WICKED FROM ABOVE. From God's point of view. Then we can see how things fit, and what things work towards. The wicked are only his staff with which he chastises his children for their good.—R.T.
The comfortable thoughts God gives.
They are the thoughts God starts in our minds concerning himself. The "multitude of thoughts" here suggest "anxious thoughts," "distractions;" "divided or branching thoughts." Keep before the mind that this psalm was written in some time of personal or national anxiety, which was causing very grave perplexity. Multitude of thoughts, complexity, conflict of thoughts.
I. OUR MULTITUDE OF THOUGHTS. A suitable and suggestive term. A true description. Have you ever tried to watch the process of the mind in ordinary times or in special times? Explain how the law of association brings up not one string of orderly thoughts, but various series, which branch and cross and conflict one with the other. Past, present, future, bring in their various thoughts. The importance of good ordering of thoughts, to the pious man, may be seen from these considerations,
1. Sin lingers in them.
2. Character is exhibited to God as much by them as by our actions; for "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
3. The power of religion is first felt in them.
4. They are the real springs of action, and they give character to our action.
II. GOD'S COMFORTING THOUGHTS. He gives comforting assurances for us to think about. God makes himself a Key-thought to the thoughts that we should cherish. Illustrate how the godly soul may fill his mind with the "exceeding great and precious promises," and how these will be always ready to come up, to dispel distracting thoughts, and soothe troubled thoughts. God's comforts are thoughts that realize God as the holy Father, Christ as the elder Brother, the Spirit as the present Guide, and "all things working together for good."
III. THE DUTY OF CHERISHING GOD'S COMFORTING THOUGHTS. They will ease our distress; they will recall us to trust; they will put a "song into our mouth." We may cherish them by full acquaintance with God's Word, which is the great storehouse of Divine thought suggestions, and by daily communion with God, which is sure to start fresh comfortings in our souls.—R.T.
Man's rival law.
"Frameth mischief by a law." "Making legislation a means of wrong." The idea is that, in the psalmist's time, the courts of justice were corrupt; and man's law, instead of being in harmony with God's Law, and its expression, had become a rival. It had come to do what God's Law never does. It worked towards injustice and unrighteousness. God's Law is "holy, and the commandment holy and just and good." The thing that seemed so unbearable to the psalmist was, that the tyrants of his day claimed to be acting according to law, seeking to hide their unrighteousness by a holy name.
I. SUBMISSION TO LAWFUL AUTHORITY IS A PRIMARY RELIGIOUS DUTY. Inculcated by Old Testament and New. Felt to be the right thing. Necessary to the individual and nation well being.
II. RESISTANCE TO UNLAWFUL AUTHORITY IS A PRIMARY RELIGIOUS DUTY. Unlawful authority is that which conflicts with the authority of God. All law that has claims on men is the translation, for particular relations, of the Law of God. Unless we can be sure that a thing can stand the Divine Law test, we are not bound to render obedience.
III. The case of the text is, however, more subtle than this. It brings before us lawful authority abused, and Divine Law dishonoured in its applications. And it may be difficult for men to see what is their duty in such a case. The psalmist seems to see his way clearly. He suggests that we should submit to the injustice, and cry mightily to God, that he would turn the hearts of the rulers. And he is right. To right law wrongly administered we should present submission, for history abundantly proves that through suffering the wrong doing of rulers is best revealed. But submission would be wrong if men had not the profound conviction that God rules the rulers, and is the Avenger of all the persecuted and oppressed.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Divine retribution certain.
The psalm may be distributed under the following heads.
I. A PRAYER FOR THE PUNISHMENT OF WICKED OPPRESSORS. (Psalms 94:1, Psalms 94:2.) Probably in anticipation of the Assyrian invasion.
II. THE GROUND OF THE PRAYER—THE INSOLENT AND ATHEISTIC SPIRIT OF THEIR CRUEL WORK. (Psalms 94:3-7.) They murder the fatherless, and say, "Jehovah seeth not?"
III. THE BLINDNESS AND CONTEMPT OF GOD THEY SHOW. (Psalms 94:8-11.) All sin implies this.
IV. THE BLESSED REST AND CONFIDENCE OF THOSE WHO ARE CHASTENED AND TAUGHT OF GOD. (Psalms 94:12-15.) "Judgment cannot always be perverted—cannot always fail."
V. THE DEEP CONVICTION OF GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS DERIVED FROM PAST EXPERIENCE. (Psalms 94:16-19.)
VI. AN ANTICIPATION OF RETRIBUTION ALREADY ACCOMPLISHED UPON THE WICKED. (Psalms 94:20-23.)—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 94". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany