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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Psalms 78

 

 

Verses 1-72

INTRODUCTION

Superscription,—"Maschil of Asaph," i.e., an instruction of Asaph, a didactic song by Asaph. The Psalm was probably written by the celebrated Asaph in the time of David.

Occasion.—The Psalm seems to have been occasioned by the jealousy of the tribe of Ephraim, by reason of the position which the tribe of Judah held under David. For many years the haughty and powerful tribe of Ephraim was pre-eminent amongst the tribes. The sanctuary was placed in Shiloh, which is in this tribe. When David selected Jerusalem as the home of the sanctuary and the capital of the nation, "that haughty spirit which could brook no equal or superior chafed against the growing dominion of Judah" (Stanley). In this Psalm they are taught that what they regarded as a usurpation was in fact a Divine judgment; and the ten tribes are warned not to rebel against the Divine arrangements.

MAN'S RELATION TO THE LAW AND TESTIMONY OF GOD

(Psa .)

The Psalm opens with a summons of the people to attention. The Poet speaks as one who has a right to be heard with respectful attention, and who is about to make statements which were worthy of their particular regard. From the second verse it seems as though the Psalmist regarded the historical facts mentioned in the subsequent part of the Psalm as illustrations of spiritual facts and relationships. The history of the Israelites sets forth in clear light many aspects of human life and Divine providence. Amongst other things it strikingly illustrates—

1. The great goodness of God, in His care of His people, in His guidance of them, &c.

2. The abiding faithfulness of God, in fulfilling His promises and threatenings.

3. The sad tendency of human nature to ingratitude and departure from God. In this respect this history is a very painful one.

4. The inviolable connection between sin and suffering. These and other facts and tendencies of human life and the Divine government are set forth in striking and impressive aspects in this history.

The section now before us is introductory to the history recorded in the Psalm, and presents us with some important views of Man's relation to the law and testimony of God.

I. Man has received a knowledge of the will and works of God. The Hebrews were acquainted with the laws, moral and ceremonial, which God had given unto them. They also had ordinances of Divine institution which were abiding testimonies of the character and will of God, and of their relation to Him. They were also acquainted with the wonderful facts of their own national history. They had the Scriptures. Hengstenberg holds that "by the testimony and the law in Psa are meant the whole contents of the Pentateuch, the direct commandments contained in it, and the deeds of the Lord which are to be considered as indirect commandments." This Pentateuch, with its marvellous history, its Divine legislation, and its revelations of God and His will, they possessed. They had much knowledge which they had received by tradition. As children, their souls had been thrilled as they listened with rapt attention to the narratives of the wondrous and glorious works of God on behalf of their ancestors. Their memories were richly stored with these glorious deeds, and Divine revelations.

What a noble and precious heritage is ours in this respect! We have the holy Word. Not simply the Pentateuch; but the inspired hymns of the ancient poets, the wise instruction of men moved by the Holy Ghost, &c. "The holy Scriptures, which are able to make men wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." What a rich and blessed possession we have in the Bible!

"Most wondrous book! bright candle of the Lord!

Star of eternity! The only star

By which the bark of man can navigate

The sea of life, and gain the coast of bliss

Securely; only star, which rose on time,

And, on its dark and troubled billows, still

As generation, drifting swiftly by,

Succeeded generation, threw a ray

Of heaven's own light, and to the hills of God—

The everlasting hills—pointed the sinner's eye."—Pollock.

We have also religious instruction. Much of the intellectual and spiritual wealth of the true and good of past ages has been handed down to us in books. The best utterances of the mind and heart of wise and holy men of this age are given to us in books. Who can estimate his indebtedness to literature! In our early days the earnest and loving teaching of Christian parents and Sunday school teachers was ours. And now we have the instruction, exhortation, and counsel of the Christian ministry. We have received a great and precious knowledge of the Divine will and way. The way of salvation is clearly made known unto us. "We see Jesus," and in Him God has revealed Himself to us. "He that hath seen Me," said Christ, "hath seen the Father."

II. Man should impart a knowledge of the will and works of God to others. The Israelites were distinctly and repeatedly commanded to impart religious knowledge to their children. (Vide Deu ; Deu 6:6-7; Deu 9:19.) It was a binding religious duty. To this the Psalmist refers in the fifth verse. The Psalmist's resolve to communicate this knowledge to posterity has two points worthy of notice. He resolves,

1. To communicate a knowledge of His wondrous works. "Showing to the generation to come His strength, and the wonderful works that He hath done." Their history was peculiarly rich in marvellous and glorious deeds which He had done on their behalf, and in judgments with which He had visited them by reason of their numerous and heinous sins. It was plenteously stored with wise teaching, and helpful encouragement to faithfulness, and grave warning against evil. He will impart to the children a knowledge of this remarkable history. He resolves,

2. To communicate a knowledge of His wondrous works that the generation to come might praise the Lord. He will narrate God's glorious deeds of ancient date, not that national pride might be promoted thereby, but that God might be glorified. His was the power, and His shall be the praise. He will show to the children "the praises of the Lord."

We, too, are bound to transmit to posterity the religious knowledge and the spiritual privileges that we enjoy. Our Lord lays down the principle with transparent clearness—"Freely ye have received, freely give."

"Heav'n doth with us as we with torches do,

Not light them for themselves,

For if our virtues do not go forth of us

'Twere all alike as if we had them not."

—Shakespeare.

The coming generations will need the knowledge of God that we possess. Our systems of philosophy and theology they may do without, our human creeds and religious formul they may in many things outgrow. But our knowledge of God, especially as revealed in Jesus Christ and His redemption, the generations that are to come will need. Nay, without it they will be undone.

III. Man should impart a knowledge of the will and works of God to others with a noble aim. The object of the impartation of this knowledge is thus stated by the Psalmist—"That the generation to come might know them, the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children," &c. (Psa ).

The object then aimed at was—

1. That the knowledge might be continued to the race. We have received from our fathers great treasures of information and experience, of knowledge and wisdom, and every generous emotion and every conviction of duty strongly urge us to hand them down to coming ages. If it is not in our power to make much addition to the treasures of the past, we can at least with scrupulous fidelity do our share to transmit those treasures undiminished to the coming generations.

2. That the coming generations might avoid the errors and sins of their ancestors. "That they might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that prepared not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God." The history of the Israelites abounds with painful illustrations of the statements of this verse. With sad frequency throughout their journeyings in the wilderness they manifested a murmuring, stubborn, and rebellious spirit. Again and again they forsook the Lord God, and worshipped the idols of the idolatrous nations around them. Their history was to be made known that their posterity might take warning and shun their errors. Let us point out to the generations to come the sins of past ages with their consequences, that they may avoid them.

3. That the coming generations might be righteous. "That they might keep His commandments." Let us so teach the law of God to the uprising generation that they shall regard it as "holy, just, and good," a Divinely wise and benevolent thing, and shall loyally and heartily seek to comply with its requirements.

4. That the coming generations might be religious. "That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God." Two things are aimed at in this.

(1) A recognition of the Divine presence and activity. "Not forget the works of God." God is ever working in the universe, in history, in redemption. History should be studied with reverence as well as with inquisitiveness, for God has been working in it. Our life should be lived holily, for God is ever active within us and around us. In imparting instruction let us aim at the recognition of the Divine presence and agency by the generations to come—that the history, science, and philosophy of the future might not be materialistic, atheistic, but intelligent, humble, reverent.

(2) A calm trust in the Divine Being. "Set their hope in God," i.e., "place their trust in God." Let us endeavour to represent God to our children truthfully, in His Divine beauty, in His all-sufficiency, in His perfect reliableness, that so they might be attracted to Him, and be led to repose in Him with supreme and unfaltering trust.

Here, then, we have a grand end in imparting a knowledge of the will and works and ways of God—the continuation and increase of knowledge, the avoidance of error and sin, the promotion of Divine righteousness and religiousness amongst men—in a word, the furtherance of human progress in its path towards perfection.

The race advances, the world makes progress. Christianity is spreading and diffusing widely its blessings. Each generation grows richer in the highest knowledge and wisdom than its predecessor was. The time comes on apace when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." Are we each doing what we can to usher in that time?

FOR A SABBATH-SCHOOL ANNIVERSARY

(Psa .)

The text is the preface or introduction to the whole Psalm.

It shows the design of Asaph in its composition.

Its design was the instruction of children.

Its style—parabolic and enigmatical. Spiritual truths hidden under narration of facts.

I. The interesting objects of our solicitude mentioned. Consider—

1. The love which welcomes them. The love of mother, father, friends.

2. The evils which surround them. A sinful nature within. Evil example without; public house, theatre, &c.

3. The possibilities which await them. Greatness in good or in evil.

II. The sacred duties which we owe to them.

First: They are weak; we must protect them. Jacob's children, and Esau. (Genesis 32)

Second: They are helpless; we must provide for them.

Third: They are ignorant; we must instruct them.

1. The nature of this duty. What must we teach?

(1) The praises of the Lord. "Out of the mouth," &c. (Psa ).

(2) The strength of the Lord.

(3) The wonderful works of the Lord. In nature, providence, grace.

2. The importance of this duty. The docility and impressibility of children.

3. The way to perform this duty. Parents, Christians, example, precept.

III. The object which we hope shall be realised.

1. The knowledge of truth shall be perpetuated.

2. Our children will put their hope in God.

3. They shall be better than their fathers.

—B. D. from The Study.

OUR RELATION TO OUR ANCESTORS AND SUCCESSORS

(Psa .)

Consider—

I. Our great obligations to our ancestors.

1. For the Bible.

2. For a glorious literature. How vast the number of books which are characterised by high and deep thinking, and pure and reverent feeling!

3. For holy and heroic examples. Martyrs, reformers, and a great multitude of obscure yet faithful and noble lives.

4. For religious teaching. We are immeasurably indebted to those who in the home, the school, and the church, have instructed us.

II. Our great duty to our successors.

1. To hand down to them intact the heritage of religious intelligence and privilege which we possess.

2. To seek to increase that heritage. The stream of blessing should grow broader and deeper.

3. To endeavour to lead them to prize and improve their heritage. That they may not only know His will, but do it; not only know His wondrous works, but praise and trust Him.

Be it ours to contribute something to the promotion of the progress of our race in all that is true, wise, and good.

MORAL COWARDICE AND ITS CAUSES

(Psa .)

The term "the children of Ephraim" is not used here in contradistinction to the rest of Israel, but as representing the whole, because of the prominent position of that tribe. "For more than four hundred years Ephraim, with its two dependent tribes of Manasseh and Benjamin, exercised undisputed preeminence. Joshua the first conqueror; Gideon the greatest of the judges, whose brothers were ‘as the children of kings,' and whose children all but established hereditary monarchy in their own line; Saul, the first king—belong to one or other of these three tribes." The haughty spirit of the tribe "could brook no equal or superior, and chafed against the rise even of the kindred tribe of Manasseh in the persons of Gideon and Jephthah, and yet more against the growing dominion of Judah in David and Solomon, till it threw off the yoke altogether, and established an independent kingdom."—(Stanley).

It seems clear to us that the Psalm does not refer to the disruption of the kingdom; but that our text refers to an event or series of events during the period of the Judges. We propose to regard the text as an illustration of Moral Cowardice and its Causes. Let us consider—

I. The illustration of moral cowardice. "The children of Ephraim, armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle." Whether this refers to one specific battle, or to several battles, or whether "the Ephraimites are merely compared to cowardly bowmen," we need not attempt to decide. In either case they are charged with cowardice. The greatness of this cowardice is apparent from three facts.

1. They were men of might. Ephraim was a warlike tribe, famed for valiant men. Joshua was of this tribe. Perhaps they are specially named here because of their proud, domineering, boastful spirit.

2. They were fully armed. They were not surprised and attacked at a disadvantage. They were "armed and carrying bows." Proud, boastful, powerful, and well armed, yet—

3. They refused to fight "Turned back in the day of battle." A brave English drummer boy was taken captive in some battle by the French. He was ordered to beat several military signals, and obeyed. But, being commanded to beat a retreat, he pertinaciously refused. He had never beaten a retreat, and he never would do so. Unlike this heroic lad, the Israelites, with the strong and warlike tribe of Ephraim, turned their back to their foes and fled. A picture of what has often been the case in our spiritual history. We have been bold and courageous in speech, we have been supplied with weapons from the Divine armoury, yet we have fled before our foes, have weakly yielded to temptation, and dishonoured our uniform and our colours.

II. The causes of moral cowardice. "They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in His law," &c.

1. They lacked the support of conscience. If conscience is with us in arduous and perilous enterprises, it will nerve the heart with courage and fill the arm with energy.

"What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted?

Thrice is he arm'd that hath his quarrel just;

And he but naked, though lock'd up in steel,

Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted."

—Shakespeare.

But this "heart untainted" the men of Ephraim had not. "They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in His law." Conscience in them was an accusing voice. And the consciousness of guilt "makes cowards of us all." "The wicked flee when no man pursueth," &c.

"Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind;

The thief doth fear each bush an officer."

—Shakespeare.

If in our moral battles we would stand before our enemies, we need a clear self-approving conscience. Without it "every noise appals" us; with it we may be as "bold as a lion."

2. They lacked the inspiration to be drawn from the recollection of past interpositions of God on their behalf. "They forgat His works, and His wonders that He had showed them." When David did battle with Goliath of Gath, he was inspired and fortified by the recollection of what God had done for him and by him in former times. "The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine." In this spirit he met the foe, and speedily the proud, gigantic champion of Philistia fell before the shepherd boy, who trusted in the God who had aided him in the past. But the glorious doings of God on behalf of Israel were shamefully forgotten by them, and, when they went forth to battle, the inspiration, which they would have had if they had remembered His works, was missing, and they cowardly turned back. If we would meet the foes of the future hopefully and courageously we need to remember the victories of the past devoutly and thankfully.

3. They lacked the help of God. They did not seek Him whose covenant they had violated, and whose law they had disregarded. They could not trust Him whose wondrous works on their behalf they had basely allowed to sink into forgetfulness. And so they went up to battle without the Lord, and returned from battle dishonoured. "O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turneth their backs upon their enemies? And the Lord said, Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them; therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies."

As we contemplate this picture, let us learn the lessons which it has for us. We, too, have enemies which are both subtle and powerful—Satanic temptation, evil in society, proneness to sin in ourselves. We must battle with courage and fortitude against these foes, or they will vanquish us, and that means ruin. Complete and splendid armour, both offensive and defensive, is provided for us (Eph ). Let us gird it on. And in this holy war let us go forth in the strength of God, and we shall return victorious. It has been well said that, "Courage consists not in blindly overlooking danger, but in seeing it, and conquering it." We need moral courage; and for that we must have an approving conscience, the memory of past victories won by the help of God, and an unfaltering trust in Him. Without these, as cowards we shall turn our back to the foes. "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might."

SCENES FROM A REMARKABLE HISTORY

(Psa .)

In these verses we have a brief record of some of God's wonderful and gracious dealings with His people, and of their great sin against Him. On the one side, the portion of history here referred to is luminous with the great and beneficent works of the Lord; on the other side, it is dark with the basest ingratitude, unbelief, and perversity of man. We have here—

I. A people divinely emancipated. By great signs and wonders wrought on their behalf Jehovah had delivered them from the cruel oppression of the Egyptians. His hand was clearly manifest—

1. In their deliverance out of Egypt. "Marvellous things did He in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan." It was because of His blessing that, notwithstanding their oppressions, they increased and multiplied and gathered power in Egypt. It was because of the wonders wrought by Him on their behalf, the stroke after stroke of judgment, each one severer than its predecessors, with which He smote their tyrannical lords, that they were at length permitted to go forth from the land of bondage.

2. In their deliverance from their pursuers at the Red Sea. Narrate the circumstances of the departure from Egypt, the encampment by the sea, the pursuit of the Egyptians after them, the apparently desperate situation in which they were placed, their alarm, murmurings, &c.; the prayer of Moses, the answer of Jehovah, &c. "He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and He made the waters to stand as an heap." "On a sudden," writes the late Dean Milman, "Moses advances towards the sea, extends his rod, and a violent wind from the east begins to blow. The waters recede on both sides, a way appears; at nightfall, probably about eight o'clock, the caravan begins to defile along this awful pass. The wind continued in the same quarter all the night, but immediately they had passed over, and while the Egyptians, madly plunging after them, were in the middle of the passage, the wind as suddenly fell, the waters rushed back into their bed, the heavy chariot-wheels of the pursuers sank into the sand, broke and overthrew the chariots, and in this state of confusion the sea swept over the whole host, and overwhelmed the king and all the flower of the Egyptian army." We have in this a triple wonder:—

(1.) The division of the sea. This was no ordinary phenomenon of nature, but an extraordinary manifestation of the presence and power of God.

(2.) The preparation of the road. When the waters were divided, the bed of the sea would not have been in a fit state for the great multitude to pass over, had not Jehovah prepared it for their passage.

(3.) The encouraging of the people to pass through the opening made for them. Such an unbelieving and craven-hearted crowd of serfs needed an infusion of courage ere they would have attempted to make such a passage. The Lord "caused them to pass through." If ever any people were emancipated by God, the Israelites were when they came forth from the land of Egypt. His hand was manifestly outstretched to subdue the pride of the oppressors, and to rescue the oppressed from thraldom.

II. A people divinely led. "In the daytime also He led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire." "The fiery, cloudy pillar" went before them in all their journeyings.

1. They were led constantly. In the day the cloud led them onward, and at night the pillar of fire moved mysteriously and majestically before them.

2. They were led divinely. The guiding pillar was not merely a sign to indicate their way, but a visible symbol of the presence of God. He Himself guided them. Rightly understood, the cloud and the fire were an assurance that God was with them to lead them, to protect them, to provide for them. What a proof of the goodness of God to them we have in this!

III. A people divinely provisioned. "He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths," &c. Upon two occasions, at the command of God, Moses had smitten a rock, and water had flowed forth in abundance. (Vide Exo ; Num 20:11.) But it was not simply water that God provided for them, but food and raiment also. "He gave them bread from heaven to eat." "I have led you," said Moses, "forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot."

1. Their supplies were abundant. "As out of the great depths; … caused waters to run down like rivers." Whatever God gives, He gives abundantly. His hand is free and bounteous. And if at any time the Israelites suffered from hunger or thirst it was by reason of their unbelief, or to humble them and impress them with their dependence upon God.

2. Their supplies were divine. An unriven rock was a most unlikely object from which to obtain water. Rocks are "not capable of receiving it either from the clouds above or the springs beneath." Yet, when smitten by Moses, water copiously flowed from them. Moses was but the instrument of Jehovah in this matter. Moses smote the rocks, but God clave them and brought forth streams from them.

3. Their supplies are illustrative of ours. Ours are divine. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above," &c. Ours are abundant. "God giveth us richly all things to enjoy."

IV. A people basely perverse and wicked. "And they sinned yet more against Him, by provoking the Most High in the wilderness," &c. (Psa ). Notice here,—

1. Divine signs leading to profane curiosity. The miracles which God had wrought on their behalf should have impressed the Israelites with a deep sense of the presence and power of God; and should have been to them signs of His almightiness, His hatred of tyranny and oppression, and His interest in the oppressed and afflicted. But, with amazing and saddening perversity, they regarded God with little more of reverence than the Egyptians did their magicians and sorcerers. They had seen the divine wonders, but failed to recognise in them divine signs. Having witnessed marvellous displays of His power, sinful curiosity is awakened within them, and they ask, "Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? can He give bread also?" &c. They should have been humble, reverent, trustful; they were curious, profane, presumptuous.

2. Divine providence leading to a desire for the indulgence of appetite. The provision which God made for them seems to have awakened in them neither gratitude, contentment, nor faith; but a desire for the gratification of their animal appetite by a greater variety in their diet. And, with awful audacity and presumption, they tempted God by their questions as to His power, and by their demands upon Him. They "demanded meat for their lust" ( נֶפֶשׁ= here, the animal soul). It was not a desire for what was necessary, but a craving for variety. And this craving was expressed, not as a humble request, but as an insolent demand, accompanied by profane questions as to the limit of the Divine power. This sin took its rise in the heart. There the evil desire sprang up and was fostered into strength. Then it expressed itself in speech. "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life."

3. Divine goodness responded to by human distrust and ingratitude. No song of thankfulness arises from them as they call to mind the great goodness of God to them, but an impious challenge to Him to supply them with flesh. They utter no holy declaration of confidence in Him as they recall His wondrous works, but distrustful, irreverent inquiries.

As we look upon this picture of extreme wickedness, let us remember that it was an utter perversion of the dealings of God with them. God's emancipation, guidance, and provisioning of them were both adapted and intended to awaken within them contentment, trust in Him, gratitude, and reverence to Him. But their own sinful hearts wickedly perverted the Divine relation to them and dealings with them in the way we have indicated. We have a power by which we may make evil the occasion of good. We may gather patience out of suffering. By means of defeat we may learn how to conquer. Through trial we may grow in strength and grace. But by the abuse of this power we may pervert a means of grace into an occasion of evil, out of the Divine longsuffering may educe arguments in favour of impenitence and presumption, may so treat God's richest blessings that they shall become to us a dire curse.

CONCLUSION.—

1. See the terrible effects of slavery. These Israelites would not have been so utterly base, irreligious, and despicable had not their manhood been eaten out of them by slavery. Physical oppression had left them mere serfs in spirit.

2. See the depravity of human nature. In the midst of the richest goodness and the divinest signs, it remains ungrateful, unbelieving, impious.

3. See our need of Divine preservation. "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe."

DIVINE BLESSINGS

(Psa .)

I. Divine blessings from unlikely sources. Water from solid rocks. Emancipation of the Hebrews by means of the shepherd Moses. Redemption out of Nazareth. The Light of the World from a carpenter's shop. Jesus Christ was "a root out of dry ground." Most of the apostles were "unlearned and ignorant men." Tenderness, trust, triumph out of suffering. Spiritual wealth out of temporal loss.

II. Divine blessings in rich abundance. "As out of the great depths, … like rivers." All pure blessings God gives abundantly. Light, air, dew, beauty, &c. He gives abundantly. "Abundantly pardon." "Plentuous redemption." "Peace as a river, righteousness as the waves of the sea." "Make all grace abound toward you, that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things," &c.

III. A type of the supreme blessing. 1Co . "That Rock was Christ."

Analogy—

1. In the blessings. Christ gives "the water of life."

2. In the mode of obtaining them. The rock was smitten and cleft. Christ "was wounded," &c.

3. In the conditions of bestowal. "Freely." "Without money and without price." The river of life flows freely by, we have but to stoop down and drink.

HUMAN SIN AND DIVINE JUDGMENT

(Psa .)

In these verses we see how God regarded the conduct described in the preceding paragraph, and how He responded to the insolent demands of the Hebrews. The main teaching of this portion of the Psalm may be developed under two main topics.

I. Human Sin. We have here the Divine view of the sin of the perverse Israelites.

1. The nature of their sin. Unbelief. "They believed not in God, and trusted not in His salvation." They doubted either the power or the goodness of God, or both. He had given to them signal displays of His might and majesty, yet they perversely questioned His ability to provide for them. He had also given to them gracious assurances that He would guide, guard, and supply them, yet they seem to have doubted these assurances. Herein was their great sin in the sight of God. Unbelief is a sin which directly dishonours the Divine being and character. Amongst men of honour it is a great insult to discredit the word of another. But what shall we say of the sin of discrediting the word of God? It is an impeachment of His faithfulness. Or a tacit declaration that we doubt His ability to fulfil His promise. But whether we doubt His willingness or His ability to keep His promises, His goodness or His power, we dishonour Him. To this sin the Hebrews in the wilderness were very prone. It is lamentably prevalent in the present day. There are many sincere Christians who are often guilty in this respect. They fail to believe God's promises, &c. In this Christian dispensation unbelief towards Christ is the damning sin. "He that believeth not shall be damned."

2. The aggravation of their sin. "Though He had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors," &c. (Psa ). The aggravation of their sin in distrusting God in the matter of provision is seen in that,

(1) He had hitherto supplied them with food. Though journeying in a wilderness, yet they had not suffered from the lack of anything. God had provided for their wants. He had supplied them with water (Exo ; Exo 17:6), and quails (Exo 16:13), and with a regular supply of manna (Exo 16:14-26).

(2) He had supplied them with choice food. "The corn of heaven. Man did eat angels' food." The word translated "angels" has been variously rendered. But whatever rendering be adopted, the idea of rare, choice food is presented. The Hebrews in the wilderness were not supplied with coarse, common fare. Their food was delicate in its nature and rich in quality, such as is found on the tables of nobles or princes. Or it was so delicious and rare that, coming down as it did from heaven, the poet naturally speaks of it as "angels' food."

(3) He had supplied them with choice food in abundance. "He sent them meat to the full." There was no lack of provisions. The supply was as abundant in quantity as it was rich in quality.

(4) He had supplied them with choice food supernaturally. The water was drawn from the rock miraculously. Concerning the manna, Dr. C. E. Stowe, writing in Smith's "Bible Dict.," says, "The manna of Scripture we regard as wholly miraculous, and not in any respect a product of nature." The people had not to put forth any effort to procure this provision, except the mere gathering of it. It was manifestly the special provision of God for them. Yet "they believed not in God, and trusted not in His salvation." On this very question of their food supply they had distrusted God, and insolently called into question His power. While subsisting upon provisions miraculously supplied by God, and which clearly manifested His abounding goodness, they basely distrust Him and impiously propose to submit His power to tests of their invention. Much of the unbelief of this age is painfully aggravated in its character. When men do not trust Christ as their Saviour, is not their guilt the greater because His qualifications as such are so ample and convincing—in His teaching, miracles, life, resurrection, and in the witness of a great and ever-increasing multitude who have trusted Him and proved Him all-sufficient? When men distrust the providence of God in their lives, is not their sin aggravated by the abundant evidence of the universality, wisdom, and beneficence of that providence? When Christian men distrust the power, or faithfulness, or goodness of God, does not His gift of Christ to us make the sin of such distrust much greater? "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" The sin of the Israelites in its essential principle is deplorably common to day.

II. Divine judgment. "Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel. He caused," &c. (Psa ). This judgment against Israel,—

1. Reveals God's observation of man's life. "The Lord heard." All human speech is audible to the Divine ear. During a dark period in the history of the ancient church, the few faithful and godly men "spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard," &c. He hears the voice of prayer and of praise. Words of murmuring, complaint, and unbelief are heard and registered in heaven. The hard speeches and awful blasphemies of the wicked find their way to the ear of God. God is the great Auditor of human utterances. No sound escapes His ear.

2. Reveals God as affected by man's life. He not only hears, but feels also. "The Lord heard, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel." God is affected by man's life. Our trust and praise of Him are gratifying to Him. Our distrust of Him and our murmuring against Him are grievous to Him. Men cannot tempt Him, or impiously challenge Him to display His power, as did the Hebrews in the wilderness, without provoking Him to anger. Let no one deceive himself in this matter. There is in God a principle of anger which burns with unquenchable fire against evil. While God is God His wrath must burn against sin. Being good and righteous He must punish evil doers unless they turn and repent.

3. Reveals the punishment as growing out of man's sin.

(1) In the granting of their own demands. "They demanded meat for their lust." Theirs was not an urgent prayer, which submits even the most eager desires to His will; but an impious demand that God would give them meat for the gratification of their animal appetite. God complied with their demand, and that which they had so eagerly coveted proved a great curse to them. The flesh which they had demanded occasioned their death. Let us beware of urging selfish desires in prayer to God. In every petition that we present to the throne of grace let us copy the example of Him who in His most impassioned prayer said, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt." Who has not become acquainted with instances in which God has granted the passionate demand that has been made to Him, and the demander has lived to rue the day when the demand was made and granted? What seems to us unquestionably desirable and good, may really be a thing of great peril and evil to us. The well-watered plain of Sodom nearly led to the ruin of Lot. That sick child over whom fond parents bend in anguish, and whose life they demand God to spare, may perchance grow up, and bring down their grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. "Not my will, but Thine be done."

(2) In their gluttony. When they had eaten of the quails which God sent into the camp, "and were well filled; they were not estranged from their lust." They had eaten as much, or even more, than their physical nature required and could appropriate, yet they would have more. The drunkard and the glutton are never satisfied. And by the gluttony with which they devoured the flesh that they had demanded, "the wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the young of Israel."

"Heaven is most just, and of our pleasant vices

Makes instruments to scourge us."

—Shakespeare.

"Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." In the judgments of God against sin there is nothing arbitrary. A sinner's punishment is the natural fruit of His sin. The hell of every sinner is developed out of his own corrupt heart. Let the wicked be warned. They are "treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God."

4. Reveals the punishment as being brought about by the forces of nature. "He caused an east wind to blow in the heavens; and by His power He brought in the south wind." By means of a south-east wind, God brought immense quantities of quails into the camp of Israel. This wind is so spoken of as to lead us to conclude that it was miraculous. By His direct agency, He caused it to blow from that particular quarter. All the powers of nature are under His command. He can employ them as He pleases. The winds are His couriers, carrying messages of judgment or of mercy to men. Again, let the wicked be warned. You are not only preparing your own punishment, but God may command nature's forces to aid in carrying out His judgment upon you. You are gathering the materials for your own hell-fire, and God may despatch the lightning-flash which shall kindle them into a blaze.

CONCLUSION.—Let us especially ponder,—

1. The great evil of unbelief. It is a reflection cast upon God; it grieves Him, &c.

2. The peril of unsubmissiveness in prayer. "He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul."

3. The terribleness of the Divine anger. "The wrath of the Lamb; the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"

4. The certainty of Divine retribution. The only way by which we may escape hell is by getting rid of a sinful character. "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin."

MAN'S PROVOCATION OF GOD, AND GOD'S PATIENCE WITH MAN

(Psa .)

I. Man's provocation of God. "They sinned still, and believed not for His wondrous works." In the verses before us the Psalmist mentions two chief features of their provocation of God.

1. Their persistence in evil. They persevered in their unbelief. All the wondrous works which they had witnessed failed to quicken faith in them. Notwithstanding the many miracles which God had wrought in their sight, they still doubted His power. Notwithstanding His great and constant kindness to them, they still doubted His goodness. It was thus that they "limited the Holy One of Israel." They regarded His willingness and ability to aid them as bounded. Man's unbelief ever limits and dishonours God. They also persevered in their murmuring and rebellious spirit. "How often did they rebel in the wilderness, and grieve Him in the desert?" When any inconvenience met them, or any difficulty or privation confronted them, they at once fell to murmuring against Moses and against the Lord. Their mean and ungrateful spirits were constantly turning to thoughts and feelings of rebellion against God. And this, notwithstanding all God's efforts to effect their moral reformation. His mercies awoke no feeling of humility, gratitude, or trust in them; but were followed by exhibitions of selfishness and unreasonable exaction. His judgments produced no lasting improvement in their character; for, as soon as they were removed, the people returned to their old courses. "For all this they sinned still." What a correct representation is this of many sinners to-day! God has enriched them with countless blessings, but His goodness has not led them to repentance. He has smitten them with the rod of affliction, but they have not turned in penitence to Him. He has stripped them of temporal prosperity, He has taken from them the desire of their eyes at a stroke, He has shut them up in loneliness and sorrow of heart, yet have they not turned unto Him. He seems to have used every means for their salvation; yet "for all this they sinned still."

2. Their spurious repentance. When God's severe judgments were upon Israel they sought Him in apparent humility and penitence. But their penitence was neither deep nor sincere.

(1.) The confessions and promises which they made to God were untrue. "They did flatter Him with their mouth, and they lied unto Him with their tongues. They could not deceive Him. Yet their repentance was false. Their prayers and professions made in affliction were not hearty, but were extorted by suffering. And the promises they made to God were not kept, but forgotten when the pain and peril were removed.

(2.) Their heart was not really turned to God. "Their heart was not right with Him." In true repentance the soul turns from sin with loathing and abhorrence, and seeks God with humility, and faith, and prayer. It was not the sin that they shrank from, but the penalties of the sin.

(3.) Their life remained unchanged. "Neither were they stedfast in His covenant." The promises made in affliction were speedily broken. Addison says that repentance is "the relinquishment of any practice, from the conviction that it has offended God. Sorrow, fear, and anxiety are properly not parts, but adjuncts of repentance; yet they are too closely connected with it to be easily separated." Shakspeare defines it thus: "Repentance is heart's sorrow, and a clear life ensuing." But the Israelites did not relinquish their sinful practices. A "clear life" did not follow their pretended repentance. "He who seeks repentance for the past, should woo the angel virtue for the future." But they provoked God by their frequent rebellions. His heart was grieved, and pained by their many and heinous sins against Him.

II. God's patience with man. This was manifested in—

1. His judgments upon them. "Their days did He consume in vanity, and their years in trouble. He slew them." His judgments were severe, but not so severe as they had deserved. They were not sufficiently severe to restrain the people from returning to their evil ways. And when they cried unto him, or Moses entreated Him for them, He withdrew His stroke away from them. And as for their bootless wanderings in the wilderness—were such craven-hearted creatures the men to go up against the Canaanites and conquer them? Retaining, as they did, the spirit of slaves, were they fit to be intrusted with freedom and independence in a land of their own? In His very judgments God manifested His patience and mercy, or, instead of leaving them to live out their life in the wilderness, He would have consumed them in His anger when they had provoked Him by their unbelief, and murmurings, and rebellion.

2. His mercies to them. "He being full of compassion forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not; yea, many a time turned He His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath." In their base rebellions He did not destroy them. Though they had provoked Him many times, yet many times He turned His anger away from them. And when He did visit them in judgment, He did not pour the full flood of His fury upon them. "He did not deal with them after their sins, nor reward them according to their iniquities." "He forgave their iniquity." He not only removed the dark and threatening clouds of His wrath, but He lifted upon them the light of His forgiving and favouring countenance. How graciously and completely God forgives! "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us." "Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back." "Thou hast cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." "He will abundantly pardon." Thus graciously and patiently God has dealt with us.

3. His remembrance of them. "He remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again." He remembered their frailty and corruption. "They were flesh," and liable to suffering and pain. "They were flesh," and exposed to temptation, and prone to evil; and, therefore, He had long patience with them. He spared them when He would otherwise have destroyed them. He had compassion on them. He remembered their evanescence. "A wind that passeth away, and cometh not again." "Life is a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."

"How short is human life! the very breath

Which frames my words, accelerates my death."—H. More.

The Lord remembered this, and spared them when their sins loudly called for their destruction.

This subject urges its—

1. Warning to all who have long persisted in evil. This generation so patiently borne with, so mercifully dealt with, at last found their graves in the wilderness. Beware lest through further persistence in evil your life ends in utter failure as regards all that is true and good.

2. Encouragement even to the most sinful to seek the Lord. His long patience with you proclaims His willingness to pardon and save you. Turn unto Him heartily in true repentance (Isa ).

3. Counsel to all. Let us not frustrate God's gracious dealings with us. By judgments and by mercies He seeks to save us. Let us trust Him, and earnestly enter into His gracious designs concerning us.

MAN UNDER DIVINE CHASTISEMENT

(Psa .)

I. Man under Divine chastisement sorely smitten. "When He slew them." See the case before us in this Psalm, Psa . Examples are frequently transpiring. There are some who, like this generation of Israelites, seem to need stroke upon stroke of the rod of God. (Comp. Isa 1:4-5.)

II. Man under Divine chastisement remembering God. "They remembered that God was their rock, and the Most High," &c. "Reflection followed infliction." They remembered God—

1. As their Rock. Three ideas here:

(1.) Security. "He shall dwell on high: His place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks."

(2.) Stability. "A stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation."

(3.) Shelter. "The shadow of a great rock in a weary land."

2. As their Redeemer. He had redeemed them from the bondage of Egypt; therefore He was able to save them, and worthy of their trust.

III. Man under Divine chastisement seeking God. "Then they sought Him; and they returned and inquired," &c.

1. "They returned," implying that they had departed from God. Here we have the reason of the chastisement.

2. "They inquired early after God." In their prosperity they had forgotten God, in their affliction they promptly inquired after Him.

3. "They sought Him." Aforetime they had neglected and forsaken Him; now they search for Him by prayers and sacrifices. How inexpressibly mean. "Like whipped curs, they licked their Master's feet."

IV. Man under Divine chastisement offering to God unreal repentance. "Nevertheless they did flatter Him," &c., Psa . Repentance begotten of terror or suffering dies when the terror or suffering is removed. Their penitence was pretence. "Under the pressure of heavy judgments, the loss of property, the loss of friends, or the failure of health, men become serious, and resolve to give attention to religion. It is rarely that such purposes are founded in sincerity, and that the conversions apparently resulting from them are true conversions." "The devil cannot be whipped out of human nature, though another devil, namely hypocrisy, may be whipped into it." "Good resolutions called at their hearts as men do at inns; they tarried awhile, and then took their leave." Two main features of true repentance were wanting to them.

1. Change of heart. "Their heart was not right with Him." In true repentance sin is regarded as the "abominable thing," and the sinner turns from it to God. But "they would fain be rid of their sufferings, but did not care to be rid of their sins."

2. Reformation of life. "Neither were they steadfast in His covenant." The truly penitent turn "from evil and do good." They "make haste and delay not to keep God's commandments." But the Israelites "sinned still." How awful to offer to God a mockery and a sham!

CONCLUSION.—

1. Remember the fate of this generation of the Israelites, and take warning.

2. Consider the mercy that sought to save them both by favours and by judgments, believe in it, accept it, and be saved.

THE EXERCISE OF THE DIVINE MEROY

(Psa .)

I. In holding back deserved punishment. "He destroyed them not," &c. Notice—

1. Their sins against God were very heinous. Ingratitude, though His goodness to them was very great. Unbelief, though they had much to quicken and strengthen faith. Rebellion, though God's rule over them had been marked by so much patience and generosity.

2. Their sins against God were very numerous. "How oft did they provoke Him in the wilderness, and grieve Him in the desert." Many a time turned He His anger away." God's forbearing mercy was manifested—

(1.) In not inflicting the judgments threatened (Deu ; Num 14:11-21).

(2.) In only partially inflicting the judgments threatened. As in the case of the judgment of the fiery flying serpents, and the healing of the diseased and dying by means of the brazen serpent. And others. How frequently when we have sinned has God graciously turned His anger away from us.

II. In forgiving great iniquities. How frequently God forgives. "Not until seven times; but until seventy times seven." "He aboundeth in forgiveness." How completely God forgives. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." "I, I am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." He not only removes His condemnation from us, but lifts upon us the light of His countenance.

III. In compassionating human frailties. "He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind," &c. He remembered—

1. Man's tendency to sin. "Flesh." Our carnal appetites are depraved. By means of the flesh the soul is frequently tempted to evil.

2. Man's exposure to suffering. "Flesh." The body is subject to weariness, infirmity, disease, pain, death.

3. Man's brief tenure of life. "A wind that," &c.

(1.) Unsubstantial.

(2.) Ever-moving.

(3.) Never returning.

CONCLUSION.—In the great mercy of God to us, behold—

1. The grand support of frail humanity. (Psa .)

2. The grand hope of sinful humanity, Psa . (Psa 103:3-4; Psa 103:8-12.)

MAN'S LIFE UPON EARTH

(Psa .)

"He remembered that they were but flesh," &c.

I. The weakness of human life. "He remembered that they were but flesh." Man is here regarded—

1. As having a tendency to evil. "The flesh lusteth against the spirit." Animal appetites are often opposed to spiritual aspirations. Animal passions to moral principles.

2. As being subject to weakness, affliction, and pain. There is much of physical suffering in human life upon earth, and the mystery and pain of death at the close.

II. The unsubstantiality of human life. "Wind."

"Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing."—Shakespeare.

Of the work of the most gifted and laborious of men how little result remains! Man himself passes away, leaving few traces behind him.

III. The impermanence of human life. "Passeth away. This is true of—

1. Individuals. "It is appointed unto men once to die."

2. Generations. "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh."

"Fast to the driving winds the marshalled clouds

Sweep discontinuous o'er the ethereal plain!

Another still upon another crowds,

All hastening downwards to their native main.

Thus passes o'er through varied life's career

Man's fleeting age; the seasons as they fly

Snatch from us in their course, year after year,

Some sweet connection, some endearing tie.

The parent, ever honoured, ever dear,

Claims from the filial breast the pious sigh;

A brother's urn demands the kindred tear,

And gentle sorrowsgush from friendship's eye.

To-day we frolic in the rosy bloom

Of jocund youth—the morrow knells us to the tomb."

3. The race in this world. The human race will not remain on this earth for ever. The earth as it now is will not continue for ever. The great drama shall be played out, and the theatre shall then be taken down.

IV. The irretrievableness of human life. "Cometh not again." "When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return." Man passes hence to "the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns." What an argument have we here for the prompt and faithful discharge of duty! "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do with thy might; for there is no," &c. "I must work the works of Him that sent me while," &c. There is no coming back to correct errors or to discharge neglected duties, &c.

V. The grand distinction of human life. It is remembered by God. He is interested in it.

1. He remembers our frailties and sufferings, and pities us.

2. Our weakness, and succours us.

3. Our capabilities, and saves us. Here is the glory of human life. God is concerned in it. He is working in it and for it. Through Him man shall

"Re-rise from ruin,

High, holy, happy, stainless as a star,

Imperishable as eternity."

THE INSTRUMENTS AND METHODS OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS

(Psa .)

In this paragraph the Psalmist speaks of the plagues with which God visited Egypt, and by means of which Pharaoh and his people were humbled, and the Israelites were delivered from bondage. He does not mention all the plagues, and those which he does mention are not named in the order of their occurrence. The subject is introduced here as affording another illustration of the great sinfulness of the unbelief and rebelliousness of the Hebrews.

I. The instruments by which Divine judgments are inflicted.

1. He uses their famous river as an instrument of His judgments. With them the river was the great means of life, and a thing in which they boasted themselves; but God turned all its waters into blood. When purified from slime, those waters were most delicious drink; but now they are most loathsome even to look upon. In this case, the great glory of a people was turned by God into their great curse. He can make our choicest treasures His instruments to scourge us for our sins.

2. He uses some most despicable creatures as instruments of His judgments. "Flies, frogs, caterpillars, locusts." The great Pharaoh, with his princes and nobles, were greatly afflicted and tormented by these insignificant creatures. God can make use of the weakest and meanest creatures to bring down the pride of the loftiest princes. What they are deficient in strength, He makes up by increasing their numbers. Terrible plagues they were. No armour could ward off the flies. The frogs came in such shoals as to defy all repressive measures. While caterpillars and locusts came in dense clouds, devouring every green thing.

3. He uses the elements of nature as instruments of His judgments. "Hail, frost, lightnings." The laws and forces of nature bow loyally to the Lord. The God of providence is the God of nature also, and when He pleases He can use nature's elements and forces for the carrying out of His plans. In this case, He sends forth the hail as his scourge. The frost is the minister of His wrath. The lightnings are the executioners of His judgments.

4. He uses angels as instruments of His judgments. By the term "evil angels" we are to understand not that the angels spoken of were themselves wicked, but angels who were used by God for bringing evil or calamity upon the wicked. The reference is to the angel, or angels, who smote with death all the first-born of the Egyptians. All holy angels come and go at God's command. "Angels that excel in strength, do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word." He sends them forth to succour and deliver the righteous, or to smite and destroy the wicked, and they hasten to do His bidding. Thus we see that God can use any and all of His creatures as instruments to carry out His judgments, if He please to do so. He can arm all nature,—air, earth, fire, water—to fight against those who refuse to submit to Him. He can employ all ranks of creatures, from the tiny insect of an hour to the august "angel standing in the sun," as messengers of His wrath. He can arm the universe to fight against the wicked.

II. The method according to which Divine judgments are inflicted. Two features of the Divine method of administering judgment stand prominently forth here.

1. Gradualness in the severity of the judgments. Pharaoh must suffer, but God will spare him as much as possible. The sternest judgments are reserved to the last, so that if the proud monarch will obey the commands of God he may escape their infliction. Mark the gradation in the severity of these judgments. First, they suffer privation and annoyance by reason of the water being turned into blood, and the plague of frogs. Then they suffer the irritation and the severe pain of body arising from the plague of flies and that of boils. Then they suffer the loss and disappointment of seeing the fruit of their labours consumed by caterpillars and locusts. They also saw the trees of their fields and vineyards destroyed by hail, and their flocks and herds first afflicted with a grievous murrain, and afterwards destroyed by hail and lightning. But still God has heavier and more terrible judgments in store. After every plague there is a pause in the storm of the Divine anger to ascertain if Pharaoh will repent and obey God. God has no pleasure in smiting him. But when the former plagues have failed to produce any lasting and salutary impression upon the king, God prepares to inflict the severest stroke of all, to "cast upon them the fierceness of His anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending" His angels to destroy all the first-born of the land of Egypt. And in one dread night all the first-born of the land were slain, "from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne, unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle." The gradualness with which God inflicts His judgments is a proof that even in wrath He remembers mercy. It should also act as a warning to the impenitent not to provoke God to do His worst. He has sharper swords in His armoury than He has as yet drawn against you.

2. The exemption of the Israelites from the judgments. When the Egyptians suffered the Lord separated the Israelites from them. From the common sufferings and trials of life the people of God are not exempted; but from the judgments of God they are exempted. When the world was destroyed by the flood, Noah and his family were saved. Before the fiery deluge consumed the cities of the plain, Lot was rescued from them. In the terrible siege and destruction of Jerusalem it is not known that any Christian perished. So will it be in the final judgment.

III. The object for which the Divine judgments are inflicted. The object of the judgments inflicted on Egypt was, at least, threefold—

1. The humbling of the proud Pharaoh and his advisers.

2. The emancipation of Israel from their captivity, &c.

3. The carrying out of His own great plan. The great plan of God, a small portion of which was developed by means of these judgments, stretches far beyond the Egyptians and the Israelites. It embraces all ages and all peoples. The Hebrews occupy a most important position in that plan. "Of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came." God makes all events contribute to the development of His own wise, benevolent, and glorious purposes.

CONCLUSION.—

1. Let the manifold instruments of Divine judgments lead the stout-hearted sinner to pause and consider. "If He will contend with him, he cannot answer Him one of a thousand. He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against Him and hath prospered?"

2. Let the method of Divine judgments, as here exhibited, strengthen our confidence in the righteousness and mercy of God. He is merciful to tyrants such as Pharaoh. He is righteous and will not in judgment "destroy the righteous with the wicked."

3. Let us mark well the assurance which this subject gives us of the certainty of the accomplishment of the Divine purposes. He has engines of judgment wherewith to crush incorrigible rebels. He controls all events for the furtherance of his own vast and sublime designs. In the end evil shall be engulfed as in ocean's depths, and the exultant praise of the good shall resound throughout the universe.

THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE

(Psa .)

In this portion of the Psalm, as in the previous portions, we have brought before us the sad sins of the Hebrews, and the great goodness of God in His dealings with them both of mercy and of judgment. We may profitably group the teachings of the paragraph round Psa , as a centre, and take as our subject, The withdrawal of the Divine presence. When the Israelites had entered upon the possession of Canaan, they set up the tabernacle at Shiloh, where it remained during the period of the Judges. During the administration of Eli, who was at once high priest and judge, the moral condition of Israel grew extremely evil. His two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were notorious for their wickedness. "The war between the Philistines and Israelites broke out anew. A bloody battle was fought at Aphek, in which the Israelites were totally defeated. They determined to resort to those means of conquest which had proved irresistible under the direction of Joshua. They sent to Shiloh for the Ark, and the Ark was brought forth from its holy place, and was placed in the centre of the camp of Israel. But the days were gone when the rivers dried up, and the walls of cities fell down, and the enemy fled at once, before the symbol of the presence of Israel's God. The measure was unauthorised by the Divine command.… The Israelites fought with desperate but unavailing resolution—the iron chariots of the Philistines triumphed. Thirty thousand Israelites perished, and the Ark of God fell into the hands of the uncircumcised—the guilty sons of Eli were slain in its defence. The aged high priest sat by the wayside in dreadful anxiety for the fate of the Ark. A messenger rushed in, bearing the sad intelligence; a wild cry ran through the whole city; the blind old man, now ninety-eight years of age, fell from his seat, broke his neck, and died." (Vide 1 Samuel 4.) After seven months the Philistines sent back the Ark, which was placed successively at Nob and at Gibeon, and finally by David on Mount Zion. In our text we are taught that it was in consequence of the sins of the people that the Ark was removed for ever from Shiloh, in the tribe of Ephraim, and was at length placed upon Mount Zion, in the tribe of Judah. When the Ark was removed by the Philistines the Israelites felt that God had abandoned them, and that their independence and glory had departed for ever.

I. The withdrawal of the Divine presence is invariably preceded by many and aggravated sins.

1. The sins of Israel were many. They were guilty of oft-repeated acts of disobedience. "They kept not His testimonies." As they had tempted and provoked God in the wilderness, so also did they in Canaan under the judges. They were guilty of unfaithfulness to God. They turned away from God in their hearts and in their lives, no reliance was to be placed upon them, they were untrue even in their most solemn engagements. As a treacherous bow in the hands of the archer fails of its true aim and may occasion disaster, so had they proved in relation to God utterly untrustworthy. They were guilty of idolatry. Imitating the idolatrous Canaanites, they had erected altars on high places, and bowed down to graven images. They committed spiritual adultery, and so moved God to jealousy. Can we wonder that God withdrew from them? That they, whom He had chosen as His own people, and called to be the witnesses to the nations of His essential unity, and blessed above all others,—that they should depart from Him unto idols is surely a trumpet-call for the display of His signal displeasure.

2. The sins of Israel were aggravated. To estimate their sin aright we must view it in the light of His dealings with them. Look at their disobedience in the light of His great goodness to them, their unfaithfulness in the light of His constant fidelity, their idolatry in the light of His non-abandonment of them notwithstanding their sins, and you will be able to appreciate the greatness of their wickedness which led to His withdrawal from their midst. "God never leaves us till we leave Him, never withdraws till we have driven Him from us." See this in the case of Saul, the king of Israel. Not until he had grieved God by repeated acts of disobedience did God forsake him. See also the case of the Jews. Notwithstanding extreme provocation God continued to own and bless them, until they had filled up the measure of their iniquity by rejecting and crucifying Him, in the person of His Son. And even then He rejected them with unutterable sorrow and bitter tears. Thus He deals now with individuals. He does not desert the temple of the human soul until He is driven thence by inexpugnable depravity. He never says of any one, "let him alone," unless he is hopelessly "joined unto his idols." Thus He deals with churches also. Persistent infidelity to duty, truth, and God, will cause Him to depart from any church, leaving it in the darkness of error and evil to sink into dreary nothingness.

II. The withdrawal of the Divine presence is invariably succeeded by many and terrible calamities. In the case of Israel it was followed by—

1. The loss of power and honour. The Ark is spoken of by the Psalmist as the strength and glory, or ornament of God. On many occasions it had been a defence and an inspiration to Israel. It was the visible symbol of their distinction and glory as the chosen people of God, among whom He dwelt. When it was captured by their enemies, their inspiration and fortitude were gone, and their glory had suffered a dreary eclipse. Let God abandon a man, and all moral power, all spiritual dignity are gone. Let Him withdraw from a church, and, whatever else may remain, the spiritual life, strength, and glory have all passed away.

2. Defeat and slaughter in battle. In the battle of Aphek thirty thousand Israelites were slain. Forsaken by God, they could not stand before their enemies. In our personal spiritual conflicts we are strong only as we are animated by God. If He withdraw from us we shall fall an easy victim to our enemies. In the war of the Church against ignorance and sin she is strong in exact proportion as God is with her. If He desert her, though all her arrangements and offices are perfect in other respects, her victorious life and power are completely gone.

3. Great social misery. "The fire consumed their young men, and their maidens were not given to marriage," &c. The young men were slain in battle. The maidens were thus doomed to involuntary maidenhood. They "were not praised" in the songs which were usually sung at marriage celebrations. "Their priests fell by the sword." The reference is to Hophni and Phinehas, who were sinners before the Lord exceedingly, and who were out of place amid the ferocity and carnage of a battle-field. When the priests of God were slain it was regarded as a most severe calamity. "And their widows made no lamentations." Take one case in point. When the wife of Phinehas heard the issue of the battle of Aphek, she "was seized with the pains of premature labour; the women around her endeavoured to console her with the intelligence that she had borne a male child: she paid no attention to their words, and only uttered a passionate exclamation. The pride and exultation of maternal tenderness, the grief for her father-in-law and her husband, were absorbed in a deeper feeling. She said, The Ark of God is taken; and she called her child Ichabod, the glory is departed from Israel." Sorrows for personal loss were swallowed up by the great sorrow for the national loss and dishonour. In Psa we thus trace the outlines of a picture of extreme social misery. Let God withdraw from a people, and the greatest social wretchedness must supervene.

Brothers, heed well the message of this subject to you personally. "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God." You have grieved Him much already. Then pray to Him at once—

"Stay, thou insulted Spirit, stay,

Though I have done Thee such despite,

Nor cast the sinner quite away,

Nor take Thine everlasting flight."

—C. Wesley.

Let Christian churches also heed the warning voice. "Trust ye not in lying words saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord are these.… But go ye now into my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel." "Repent," ye backsliding churches, "and do your first works," or God may say of you, "Pray not for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to Me; for I will not hear thee."

ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD

(Psa .)

In these verses God in His sovereignty is represented as—

I. Arousing Himself to interpose in human affairs. "Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine. And He smote," &c. He arose,

1. To smite His enemies. He had made use of the Philistines to punish His people for their sins; but they were not His servants. Their pride and power were used by Him for the execution of His purposes, but they wist not what they did. And now He arises for their confusion. By raising up and sending forth against them His servant David He rebuked their insolence, curbed their power, and in due time drove them from every portion of the land of Canaan. Nay, more, "He put them to a perpetual reproach;" for, as Hengstenberg remarks, "The eternal shame is in accordance with the history. The Philistines went downward step by step, till they disappeared from the scene altogether."

2. To adjust the affairs of His people. Though He withdrew from them for a season, He had not cast them off for ever. He again comes to their help, in the manner indicated in the text, and which we shall shortly consider. In the representation which the Psalmist gives of God arousing Himself, as a mighty man refreshed by sleep and wine, and shouting for the battle, there is much that is anthropomorphical and poetical. God never sleeps. His control of human affairs is continuous. His sovereign purposes are ever being developed under His superintendence. His activity is incessant. But there are periods in which His hand is not manifest in human affairs, in which He seems regardless of the interests of His people, as though He slept and knew not the state of those affairs. His sovereignty is calm, eternal, unchangeable. But its continuity and immutability of operation is not fully manifest to us. Thus, for a time, He appeared to resign His control of the affairs of Israel and to surrender them to their enemies. Now that His hand is again manifest, the poet pictures Him as a mighty warrior arousing from slumber and shouting with joy to do battle with His foes.

II. Rejecting men from the possession of privileges. "He refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim." He deposed Ephraim from the priority and supremacy which that tribe had hitherto held. Why did He so? This Psalm is a complete answer to the inquiry. Why, except that they were no longer worthy of holding that position; nay, that they were utterly unworthy. Our Lord, in many instances, represents God as rejecting men, and we believe that in every instance the rejection is because of some fatal flaw in the character of the men rejected. He delights not in rejecting men, but in accepting them.

III. Selecting men to the possession of privileges and the performance of duties. "He chose the tribe of Judah," &c.

1. He selected Judah to receive the sanctuary. Ephraim had been tried, and had been found sadly wanting. Now the Lord will try Judah. So that tribe is raised to precedence. Within its territory on Mount Zion the sanctuary was established, and the seat of government placed; and from its people King David was chosen. And this was in accordance with God's sovereign purposes. The supremacy of Judah had been predicted by Jacob long before (Gen ). And from that tribe the Messiah was to come forth. God still selects men to be the recipients of privileges. Some enter upon the work of life with countless advantages, while others enter upon that work burdened and straitened by reason of disadvantages. He still selects nations to privileges, and honours, and responsibilities.

2. He selected David to become the sovereign. "He chose David also His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds," &c. Here is a remarkable example of Divine sovereignty.

(1.) God chooses a man of humble position to fill the most exalted position. "He took him from the sheepfolds," &c. David was not of royal descent, nor was he selected because of his acquaintance with king's courts, or with the arts of kingcraft. "He was bred not a scholar, not a soldier, but a shepherd." He was chosen not for his appearance or position, but for his ability and character. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."

(2.) God chooses a man of eminent fitness for the most exalted position. David was a man of singularly great ability. He was remarkable for strength, courage, endurance, tact, ruling faculty, &c. He was distinguished as a shepherd, warrior, musician, poet, and king. He was a man of approved faithfulness. As a shepherd he was no hireling. He had risked his own life to defend that of some members of his flock. He seems to have been particularly careful of "those that were with young." Having been faithful in his lowly sphere, God raised him to the honours and responsibilities of the most lofty sphere. He was a man of noble character. He is eminent for gentleness, generosity, and self-sacrifice; he was profoundly religious; but for the one black and painful exception, he lived as a man who had set God always before him; he was a man after God's own heart. Thus in His sovereignty God selected the fittest instrument for the great work. He can use the most incompetent instrument for the most important task. But such is not His rule of action. In calling men to important posts, He selects for each post him who is most adapted for it. God's sovereignty is a thing of infinite wisdom. He does not choose the most ignorant and incapable man for the greatest mission (as some men seem to hold and certainly preach), but the greatest and godliest. He can employ the feeblest intelligence. And He calls the man of scholarship, and genius, and heroism, and faith, and power, to consecrate himself thoroughly to His service.

IV. Establishing a beneficent institution. "He built His sanctuary like high," &c. We have here the ideas of prominence and stability. "Palaces" is supplied by the translators. The tabernacle, and afterwards the temple, was the most conspicuous and important thing in the land. Its services appealed to all that was tender, true, and noble in their nature; its ministrations were fitted to help them to attain to strength and beauty of character. Those institutions which contribute to our right spiritual development are of all others the most valuable and beneficent. God established His sanctuary there. It was not to be removed as it was from Shiloh. It was to be a permanent institution, and permanent there. So it continued. The tabernacle gave place to its magnificent successor the temple, which remained with varying fortunes until its mission was accomplished, and then the local Jewish temple made way for the universal Christian Church.

V. Resulting in human advantage. The reign of the divinely elected king was an inestimable benefit to Israel. "He fed them according to the integrity of His heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of His hands." His administration was pure and upright, wise and beneficent. During his reign the kingdom attained to a rank among nations and to a height of prosperity altogether unknown, if not unimagined, hitherto. In choosing a king for them, God's sovereignty was the people's prosperity.

From this rapid glance at these illustrations of the sovereignty of God, we learn—

1. That God's sovereignty is not capriciously or unreasonably arbitrary, but a thing of the highest reason and Wisdom

2. God's sovereignty is not weak and changeful, but eternally and immutably great and good.

3. God's sovereignty is not tyrannical, but in perfect accordance with man's entire moral freedom.

4. God's sovereignty is not malevolent or maleficent, but benevolent and beneficent in the highest degree. In one word, it is the sovereignty of GOD, the supremely Wise and Good. "For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen."

THE CALLING OF DAVID

(Psa .)

I. David's Calling. Two questions present themselves.

1. How was David's shepherd life an unconscious preparation for his calling? and

2. How did the Divine summons, when it came, fit him for his mighty destiny? Observe—He was sent back to his flocks. Nothing could train him more perfectly than that waiting. Two great convictions awakened in him then that formed in him elements of strength.

(1.) The belief in a Divine leader (see Psalms 23.)

(2.) The belief in a Divine choice.

II. Its modern lessons.

1. There is a Divine plan in every life.

2. There is a Divine vocation for every man.

3. There is a Divine Shepherd for every man.—E. L. HULL, in The Treasury of David.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 78:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/psalms-78.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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