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Superscription.—“To the Chief Musician, Maschil, a Psalm of David, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, and said unto him, David is come to the house of Ahimelech.”
“To the Chief Musician,” see on the title to Psalms 39:0.
“Maschil,” an instruction, a didactic poem. “The didactic character of this Psalm,” says Moll, “which is brought into prominence by the title, and its devotional aim, are especially noticeable, from the fact that, with respect to its form, the invocation of God, which is peculiar to prayers, lamentations, and hymns, is entirely absent; with respect to its contents, the mighty man, who, according to Psalms 52:7, is proud of his riches, is upbraided for his impudence, wickedness, and falseness (Psalms 52:1-4), the punishment of God, which will destroy him, is proclaimed (Psalms 52:5), the action of the righteous, which will be called forth thereby, is contrasted with it (Psalms 52:6-7), and the lot and conduct of the pious Psalmist, corresponding with his trust in God’s grace, is pronounced. It is advisable to abide by the statements of the title, and refer to the informing of Doeg, the overseer of the royal asses (1 Samuel 22:9, sqq.), in consequence of which eighty-five priests were slaughtered, whilst David retained his courage, and expressed it to Abiathar, who escaped to David from that blood-bath, the son of Ahimelech, that priest of Nob, who had thoughtlessly given David, as the king’s son-in-law, the shew-bread, and the sword of Goliath, which was hung up behind the ephod in the sanctuary, and this had excited the suspicion and vengeance of Saul, who now made Doeg, the informer of that act, likewise the executioner of his bloody sentence.”
Homiletically, the Psalm sets before us an impressive beacon (Psalms 52:1-5), and the effect upon the righteous of the judgment of God upon the wicked (Psalms 52:6-9).
AN IMPRESSIVE BEACON
We have here—
I. The moral portrait of a wicked man. In this delineation of the moral features of Doeg the Edomite, we see,—
1. Inventiveness in evil. “Thy tongue deviseth mischief.” The tongue uttered the mischiefs which the heart devised. He invented malicious speeches, and framed skilfully evil designs. Baron Huddlestone, on April 23, 1877, in sentencing a prisoner to fifteen years’ penal servitude, remarked, “That he was a man of great talent, and, if he had employed it in a proper manner, he might have obtained a position of the highest honour and respectability; but instead of this, he appeared to have devoted his mental strength against mankind.” Like him of whom the judge spake, and like Doeg, there are many who are subtle and inventive in evil doing. Such deliberation in wickedness involves the greatest guilt.
2. Rooted mendacity. “Thou workest deceit … thou lovest lying … O deceitful tongue.” M. Henry: “It may refer to the information which he gave in against Ahimelech; for the matter of fact was, in substance, true, yet it was misrepresented, and false colours were put upon it, and, therefore, he might well be said to love lying, and to have a deceitful tongue. He told the truth, but not all the truth, as a witness ought to do; had he told that David made Ahimelech believe he was then going upon Saul’s errand, the kindness he showed him would have appeared to be not only not traitorous against Saul, but respectful to him. It will not save us from the guilt of lying to be able to say, ‘There was some truth in what we said,’ if we pervert it, and make it appear otherwise than what it was.” Beecher: “A lie always needs a truth for a handle to it, else the hand would cut itself which sought to drive it home upon another. The worst lies, therefore, are those whose blade is false, but whose handle is true.”
3. Cruel malignity. “Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs like a sharp razor. Thou lovest all devouring words.” Perowne: lit. “Words of swallowing up.” His words were wounding as a sharp razor, and ruinous, as if they engulfed those against whom they were directed. “An untrue man is a moral murderer, his tongue the deadly weapon, and his neighbour the victim.”
4. Utter and terrible perversion of character. “Thou lovest evil more than good, and lying rather than to speak righteousness.” Moll: “The accused not only loves evil more than good, but he prefers evil to good, so that he loves it instead of that which he should love.” What terrible moral perversion does this involve! He “boasted himself in mischief;” he triumphed in that which was his ignominy; he exulted in falsehood and cruelty. When sin is characterised by so much deliberation and malignity, when men love it, and make their boast in it, who can estimate its criminality?
In this moral portrait of a wicked man, have we not an impressive beacon warning us away from sin? Look upon it, and beware of falsehood, and all evil speaking. “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt.” Look upon it, and, as you mark its unrelieved and utter blackness, beware of the beginnings of evil, &c.
II. Remonstrance with a wicked man. “Why boastest Thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man?” &c. This inquiry implies—
1. That his boasting was vain. The folly of his boast appears from
(1) the nature of his deeds. “O mighty man,” or, “O hero!” “can only be sarcastic,” says Moll. In what he had done he had exhibited no courage, no fortitude. A veritable hero art thou, Doeg! for thou didst first slander a noble man and a priest, and then thou didst courageously slay eighty-five unarmed priests, and then, O paragon of heroism! thou didst slay “women, children, and sucklings!” O valiant Doeg! Boast on, thou mighty man. The folly of his boast appears from
(2) the result of his deeds. In his calculation of results Doeg had not taken account of GOD. “The goodness of God endureth continually.” That is a guarantee of the ultimate security and well-being of the righteous, and of the destruction of the wicked. M. Henry: “Thou thinkest with the mischief which thou boastest of (so artfully contrived, and so successfully carried on), to run down and ruin the people of God; but thou wilt find thyself mistaken: the goodness of God endures continually for their preservation, and then they need not fear what man can do unto them. The enemies in vain boast in their mischief while we have God’s mercy to boast in.” They who now boast in their iniquities shall, ere long, be covered with reproach and confusion of face.
2. That his boasting was wicked. He was glorying in his shame. The deeds he had done had heavily weighted him with guilt; and, by glorying in them, he was increasing the burden of his criminality. To do evil is wrong; but to boast of having done it is far more wrong. Let us heed this beacon. Sin is folly; but to boast of sin is the most egregious folly, and indicates the most deplorable moral depravity. Be rational, be wise, and shun sin.
III. The doom of a wicked man. “God shall likewise destroy thee for ever,” &c. Doeg is here threatened with utter destruction, with irretrievable ruin.
1. The ruin is complete and irretrievable. He will destroy thee for ever,” as walls are torn down to the ground, never more to be rebuilt. He will forcibly remove “thee from thy dwelling-place” for ever; and as a tree is torn up from the roots and so destroyed, so will He cut thee off out of the land of the living. A terrible destruction awaits the persistent workers of iniquity—the destruction of all that makes life worth having.
2. The ruin is retributive. “God shall likewise destroy thee,” &c. “Likewise introduces the corresponding behaviour of another.” “Destroyers shall be destroyed.” “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Judges 1:6-7; Isaiah 3:10-11).
Mark well, then, this impressive beacon. See the enormity to which wickedness may grow, and avoid the beginnings of evil; the irrationality of wickedness, and walk in the ways of wisdom; the dread consummation to which wickedness tends, and “abstain from all appearance of evil.” “As righteousness tendeth to life; so he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death.” Jesus Christ is the Almighty Saviour from sin. Trust Him; obey Him; and live.
THE EFFECT UPON THE RIGHTEOUS OF THE JUDGMENT OF GOD UPON THE WICKED
I. The righteous behold the judgment of God upon the wicked. “The righteous also shall see.” The Psalmist expresses his confidence that the righteous would live to see the ruin of the wicked; that they who saw their sin, should also see God’s judgment on them because of their sin. This idea is more fully expressed by David in Psalms 37:34-36. The godly man shall live to see that a life of sin, however prosperous it may seem to be, leads to the destruction of those who pursue it. “When the wicked are cut off thou shalt see.” Even in the present state we may see that the issue of an upright life is blessed, and that of a sinful life is ruinous.
II. They are awed by the judgments of God upon the wicked. “The righteous also shall see, and fear.” This fear is not slavish, but reverent. The godly stand in holy awe in the presence of the divine judgments, and fear lest they should transgress the law of God, and so expose themselves to their stroke. The most hardened sinner cannot stand before the judgments of the Almighty. And, inasmuch as every man by sin has merited His displeasure, we all have need to humble ourselves at the footstool of the Divine mercy. When the righteous see the judgments of God, the effect upon them is most salutary: they fear Him, they shun sin, &c.
III. They approve the judgment of God upon the wicked. “The righteous shall laugh at him.” There is a laughter because of the fall of the wicked which is sinful (Job 31:29; Proverbs 24:17-18). There is also a laughter because of the Divine judgments upon them which is lawful and right, viz., the laughter of joy, because of the triumph of the Divine government. Moll: “If they laugh, it is not a laughing in the joy of injuring, in scorn and reproaching, but the bringing into view the absurd inconsistency in which the ungodly have become involved by their abandonment of God.” Barnes: “The idea here is not exultation in the sufferings of others, or joy that calamity has come upon them, or the gratification of selfish and revengeful feeling that an enemy is deservedly punished; it is that of approbation that punishment has come upon those who deserve it, and joy that wickedness is not allowed to triumph. This may be entirely free from any malignant or any revengeful feeling. It may even be connected with the deepest pity, and with the purest benevolence towards the sufferers themselves.” “Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of nations.”
IV. They are instructed by the judgment of God upon the wicked. “Behold the man that maketh not God his strength,” &c. Perowne: “The words in which the righteous express their triumph, pointing, as it were, to the fallen oppressor, and the lesson to be learnt from his overthrow.” Here are three lessons—
1. That to trust in wealth is folly. “Behold the man that trusted in the abundance of his riches.” It would appear from this verse that Doeg was a rich man, and had great faith in the power of his wealth. Barnes: “He had that spirit of arrogance and self-confidence which springs from the conscious possession of property where there is no fear of God; and into all that he did he carried the sense of his own importance as derived from riches.” Comp. Psalms 49:6; Proverbs 10:15; Proverbs 18:11.
2. That the strength of wickedness is weakness. He “strengthened himself in wickedness.” By subtle and evil devices he endeavoured to establish himself, and fancied himself secure therein. No deeds which he deemed would increase his power, ever gave him pause because of their wickedness. He who builds his hopes upon wicked devices, even though they be framed with the utmost skill, builds upon sand. Utter ruin is the destiny of the fabric which he rears. Wickedness is weakness. Lies must perish. Truth and righteousness alone are abiding and strong.
3. That God is the only adequate support of human life. “The man made not God his strength,” and his end was destruction. A consideration of His almighty power, infinite wisdom, unchanging faithfulness, and essential kindness, is calculated to inspire strong confidence in the all-sufficiency of God as the support of human life. And there is no other adequate support. Wealth, wisdom, rank, power, friendship, &c., are insufficient. He who leans upon any or upon all of them is doomed to bitter disappointment and a grievous fall. Such are the lessons which the poet learned from the judgment of God upon the wicked.
V. They flourish in the midst of the judgment of God upon the wicked. “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God,” &c. Consider—
1. The nature of this happy state. The state of the Psalmist was characterised by
(1) Divine security. Barnes: “A tree planted in the very courts of the sanctuary would be regarded as sacred, and would be safe as long as the tabernacle itself was safe, for it would be, as it were, directly under the Divine protection. So David had been, notwithstanding all the efforts of his enemies to destroy him.” The righteous are inviolably secure from any real harm, for the Lord is their keeper (Psalms 125:1-2; Romans 8:31; Romans 8:37).
(2) Religious privileges. David looked forward with confidence and gladness to the termination of his exile and his return to the sanctuary. To him the tabernacle and the ordinances of worship were precious and hallowed things. The people of God find strength and joy in the means of grace, while the wicked are overthrown by their own wickedness.
(3) Spiritual prosperity. In the Scriptures a green tree is the emblem of prosperity (Psalms 1:3; Psalms 92:12; Jeremiah 11:16). M. Henry: “Those that by faith and love dwell in the house of God shall be like green olive-trees there; the wicked are said to flourish like a green bay-tree (Psalms 37:35), which bears no useful fruit, though it has abundance of large leaves; but the righteous flourish like a green olive-tree, which is fat as well as flourishing (Psalms 92:14), and with its fatness honours God and man (Judges 9:9), deriving its root and fatness from the good olive (Romans 11:17).” Notwithstanding the bitter opposition of the wicked, the people of God shall grow in grace, and bring forth the fruits of holy living and useful working.
“When wrath the wicked shall destroy,
They shall abide in peace and joy
Who love Thy righteous laws.”
2. The condition of this happy state. “I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.” The Psalmist was well assured of the constancy, the unchangeableness, and the perpetuity of the mercy of God, and in that he trusted. Faith in God is the condition of spiritual safety and prosperity.
VI. They worship God because of His judgment upon the wicked. “I will praise Thee for ever because,” &c. The judgments of God as viewed by the righteous—
1. Incite to praise. “I will praise Thee,” &c. They reveal the righteousness of His administration; His regard for His people, &c.; and so enkindle gratitude, reverence, &c.
2. Inspire confidence. “And will wait on Thy name.” Barnes: “There are two ideas essentially in the language.
(1) The expression of a sense of dependence on God, as if the only ground of trust was in Him.
(2) A willingness to await His interposition at all times; a belief that, however long such interposition might be delayed, God would interfere at the proper time to bring deliverance; and a purpose calmly and patiently to look to Him until the time of deliverance should come” (Psalms 27:14; Psalms 37:7; Psalms 37:9; Psalms 37:34; Isaiah 40:31).
1. What is our relation to the Divine judgments?
2. What is the ground of our confidence? Is it wealth? or the power of cunning and unscrupulous wickedness? or the Lord God?
3. What is the spirit and what the condition of our life?
THE FOLLY OF TRUSTING IN RICHES
“Behold the man that trusted in the abundance of his riches.” We have here—
I. A great mistake. To trust in riches is to err greatly:
1. Because of the uncertainty of the tenure of riches. “Labour not to be rich: for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven” (1 Timothy 6:17). At the farthest we must relinquish them at death (Psalms 49:17; Ecclesiastes 5:15).
2. Because of the limited power of riches. Wealth can do much, but there are many things which it cannot do. It can buy books, but not intellectual power; paintings, but not appreciative taste; service and sycophancy, but not esteem and affection, &c. It cannot buy pardon, peace, purity, &c. It cannot bribe death, &c.
3. Because of the utter inability of riches to satisfy those who possess them. He who has much wealth would fain have more. The cravings of the soul of man, created for truth, immortality, and God, cannot be satisfied with the bribes which wealth can offer. How mistaken then is he who trusts in wealth!
II. A common mistake. The great race of the age is for the acquisition of wealth. If you ask what a man is worth, people tell you how much money he possesses. Manhood is sacrificed for money. Riches are the deity of thousands in Christian England.
III. A ruinous mistake if persisted in. “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” “Thy money perish with thee.” (Comp. Luke 12:15-21.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 52". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27