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This psalm, like the preceding one, is from the pen of David, and is addressed “to the chief musician,” for use in public religious services. It seems to have been composed with reference to a period when the Psalmist was suffering from bodily sickness, and from the malice of his enemies and the faithlessness and ingratitude of friends. “The kernel of our psalm,” says Hengstenberg, “is contained in Psalms 35:13-14. The fundamental idea is this, that he who is compassionate will receive compassion, that he who has the consciousness of having wept with the weeping, may console himself with the assurance that his own weeping shall be turned by God into laughing.” Homiletically we shall consider the psalm as setting forth—The blessedness of the compassionate (Psalms 41:1-3); the complaint, prayer, and confidence of the compassionate (Psalms 41:4-12); and the doxology (Psalms 41:13).
THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE COMPASSIONATE
The blessings mentioned in these verses are for the man “that considereth the poor.” By “the poor” in this place we must understand the weak and feeble, those who are in a depressed condition, and need the sympathy and aid of others. The word may be used in reference to those who are in a low condition by reason of poverty, bodily affliction, or sorrow. The consideration of which the Psalmist speaks is a thoughtful sympathy and help, “the manifestations of a tender fellow-feeling.” And the man who extends this thoughtful sympathy and help to the poor, the Psalmist pronounces “blessed.” He is blessed with—
I. Divine deliverance. “The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.” Margin: “in the day of evil.” Hengstenberg: “in the day of distress.” “The day of evil” is a period with which all men are more or less acquainted. The present state is characterised by affliction and trial, pain and sorrow, disease and death. But “if any be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger,” the compassionate shall. The Lord will keep them in the day of distress, and will deliver them.
II. Divine preservation. “The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive.” “This,” says Barnes, “refers to a general, not a universal rule in the Divine administration, that acts of piety will be partially rewarded on the earth; or that the Divine favour will be shown to those who deal kindly with others.” When the shafts of death fly quickly around them, they shall be shielded by God. He who manifests kindness and care for the afflicted and sorrowful may expect, when he is placed in similar circumstances, that God will interpose for his preservation.
III. Divine blessing. “He shall be blessed upon the earth.” Hengstenberg: “in the land.” “This is in accordance with the doctrine noticed above, and so often referred to in the psalms and elsewhere, that the effect of religion will be to promote happiness and prosperity in this life.”—Barnes. “If it may be for God’s glory, and the man’s good. this temporal life shall be preserved, and evidences of God’s blessing shall be seen upon him.”—Dickson.
IV. Divine reservation. “Thou wilt not deliver him to the will of his enemies.” When attacked by foes the Lord will defend the compassionate man, so that they shall neither ensnare him by their wiles, nor overpower him by their might. “The most potent enemy we have can have no power against us but what is given him from above. The good-will of a God that loves us is sufficient to secure us from the ill-will of all that hate us, men and devils; and that good-will we may promise ourselves au interest in, if we have considered the poor and helped to relieve and rescue them.”—M. Henry.
V. Divine support in affliction. “The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing; Thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.” God has not promised His people “that they shall never be sick, nor that they shall not lie languishing, nor that their sickness shall not be unto death; but He has promised to enable them to bear their affliction with patience, and cheerfully to wait the issue. The soul by His grace shall be made to dwell at ease when the body lies in pain.”—M. Henry. On the second clause, Hengstenberg says, “ ‘All his couch dost Thou change in his sickness.’ The couch stands here for the state of the sick; God changes his couch of pain and sickness into one of convalescence and joy, and that entirely.” And M. Henry, “That bed must needs be well made which God Himself has the making of.” When we are in affliction it is no small comfort to remember that we have kindly ministered to others in like circumstances. And God Himself will relieve and comfort those who have so done in all their sufferings.
1. Heed well the principle which underlies our text, that God will deal with us as we do with others. “With the merciful Thou wilt show Thyself merciful,” &c. (Psalms 18:25-27. “Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.” “With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.”
2. Cultivate a kind and considerate spirit toward the poor, the sorrowful, the afflicted. By so doing, we tread in the footsteps of our Lord and become sharers in His joy.
THE COMPLAINT, PRAYER, AND CONFIDENCE OF THE COMPASSIONATE
The relation of this section to the preceding, as we understand it, is thus stated by Hengstenberg: “The Psalmist, who, with perfect right, could appropriate to himself the words, ‘Blessed is he who acts wisely towards the poor,’ goes on to mention, in two strophes, that now it was the day of distress for him, now the rage of his enemies was boiling against him, now he was prostrated with pain, so that it was time for him to receive the fulfilment of the promise, He will deliver him,” &c.
I. The complaint of the compassionate. David had shown himself compassionate to the poor and needy, yet now that the day of his distress has come he has to complain bitterly of the treatment he received from men. Here is his complaint concerning.
1. His enemies. He complains of
(1.) Their malignity. “Mine enemies speak evil of me, When shall he die, and his name perish?” It is scarcely possible to imagine malignity more intense than this. The malignity that desires the death of another is terrible; that which desires not only another’s death, but also the blotting out of his memory from amongst men is more terrible; whilst that which desires these things concerning a good man is most terrible. Yet such was the malignity of the enemies of the Psalmist.
(2.) Their deceit. “If he come to see me, he speaketh vanity; his heart gathereth iniquity to itself; when he goeth abroad, he telleth it.” Here is the most cruel hypocrisy. These enemies visited the poet in his affliction under the pretence of friendship and kindly interest in his welfare, uttering empty and hypocritical assurances of love and sympathy. Their real object was to gather materials for slandering him, to discover something in his temper, or speech, or condition, which they might pervert to their own base ends. And then they went abroad and published their base and dastardly perversions. “There is no fence against those whose malice thus gathers iniquity.”
(3.) Their confederacy. “All that hate me whisper together against me; against me do they devise my hurt.” Here are combination and consultation with a view to the injury of the poet. His enemies were many, and they conspired to effect his overthrow. “Whisperers and backbiters are put together among the worst of sinners (Romans 1:29-30). They whispered that their plot against him might not be discovered and so defeated; there is seldom whispering (we say) but there is lying or some mischief on foot.”—M. Henry.
(4.) Their fiendish exultation. “An evil disease, say they, cleaveth fast unto him, and now that he lieth, he shall rise up no more.” The first clause of this verse is not easily interpreted. Our translation is incorrect. Margin, as in the Hebrew: “A thing,” or word, “of Belial.” Professor Alexander: “A word of Belial is poured upon him.” Hengstenberg says: “The first member, literally: a matter of mischief is poured upon him.” We take it that “the matter of mischief,” or “word of Belial,” is the diabolical plan which the enemies of the Psalmist had framed for effecting his ruin; and in the anticipated success of which they fiendishly exulted. It was not without reason that David complained of his enemies.
2. Those whom he had regarded as his friends. “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” “Mine own familiar friend,” or “the man of my peace,” indicates one who was associated with David in the most peaceful and amicable relations. “In whom I trusted,” points to “one who lived on a footing of confidence with the Psalmist.” “Who eats my bread,” does not refer to one who had been entertained as an occasional guest by the Psalmist, but to one who was supported by him as a member of his family. “The participle points to something continued.” Such an one, the Psalmist complains, had “lifted up his heel against” him, like a horse that turns and kicks a kind master. Matthew Henry, Hengstenberg, et al., think that the reference here is to Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:12; 2 Samuel 15:31). Well may David complain in bitterness of soul of such treatment. La Fontaine said: “Rare is true love; true friendship is still rarer.” “In trust,” said Queen Elizabeth, “I have found treason.” “Friends!” said Socrates, “there is no friend.”
Our Lord applied part of this verse to Judas, the betrayer, John 13:8. But it is significant that He omitted the words, “Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted.” The omission is
(1.) “An evidence against the direct Messianic interpretation” of the psalm.
(2.) It seems to show that Christ had never regarded Judas as an intimate and trusted friend.
II. The prayer of the compassionate. The Psalmist here prays that the blessing promised to those who consider the poor may be granted unto him. He prays—
1. For mercy. In both the fourth and the tenth verses he cries, “O Lord, be merciful unto me.” The request for mercy implies a consciousness of unworthiness. It is also an appeal to the disposition of God to pity the miserable, and succour the distressed.
2. For restoration. “Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee; … and raise me up.” The Psalmist recognises the intimate connection between sin and suffering. He regarded his afflictions as a consequence of his sins. “Sin,” says Matthew Henry, “is the sickness of the soul; pardoning mercy heals it; renewing grace heals it; and this spiritual healing we should be more earnest for than for bodily health.” The request, “and raise me up,” looks back to the cruel boast of his enemies, “and now that he lieth down he shall rise up no more.” It is a prayer that God would restore him to health and prosperity, and so baffle the wicked designs of his foes. The latter part of the tenth verse is not, “in order that I may requite them,” but, “so will I requite them.” The words do not necessarily involve a desire for individual revenge on his enemies. They may mean simply a desire for the vindication of right and truth.
III. The confidence of the compassionate. The Psalmist expresses his assurance of,—
1. The Divine favour. “By this I know that Thou favourest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me.” The possession of the Divine favour, and the defeat of his enemies, are in his mind inseparably associated, and he expresses a confident assurance of both. “When we can discern the favour of God in any mercy, personal or public, that doubles it and sweetens it.”
2. The Divine support. “And as for me, Thou upholdest me,” &c. The remarks of Matthew Henry on this verse are excellent. “
(1.) When at any time we suffer in our reputation, our chief concern should be about our integrity, and then we may cheerfully leave it to God to secure our reputation. David knows that, if he can but persevere in his integrity, he need not fear his enemies’ triumphs over him.
(2.) The best man in the world holds his integrity no longer than God upholds him in it; for by His grace we are what we are; if we be left to ourselves, we shall not only fall, but fall away.
(3.) It is a great comfort to us that, however weak we are, God is able to uphold us in our integrity, and will do it if we commit the keeping of it to Him.
(4.) If the grace of God did not take a constant care of us, we should not be upheld in our integrity; His eye is always upon us, else we should soon start aside from Him.
(5.) Those whom God now upholds in their integrity. He will set before His face for ever, and make happy in the vision and fruition of Himself. He that endures to the end shall be saved.”
CONCLUSION.—Let us cultivate and pray for strong confidence in God. Then shall we be victorious over the infirmities of the flesh, the weakness or falseness of professed friends, and the scheming malignity of enemies.
This verse of praise marks the close of the first book of the psalms.
I. Blessing is ascribed to God as a God holding relations with His people. “The Lord God of Israel.” In the past He has conferred many blessings upon them. In the present they trust Him; and He upholds and saves them. He has promised to bless them with eternal glory. “The Lord of hosts is the God of Israel, even a God to Israel.” “Blessed,” i.e., praised, honoured, “be the Lord God.”
1. God is supremely blessed in Himself. “The ever blessed God.”
2. God is blessed in His works. “All Thy works shall praise Thee, O God.”
3. God is blessed by all His intelligent and loyal creatures. By angels, and by the redeemed both in heaven and on earth.
II. Blessing is ascribed to God eternally. “From everlasting and to everlasting.” From the unbeginning past to the unending future. What an existence is that of God!
III. Blessing is ascribed to Him fervently. “Amen, and Amen.” The repetition of the “Amen” shows that the ascription of blessing is the intense wish of the mind and heart. Many and forcible are the reasons which urge all intelligent creatures thus to ascribe blessing to God.
We, whom He has redeemed from sin and hell, are under special obligation to praise and glorify Him. “What shall I render unto the Lord?” &c. “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” &c.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 41". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26