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Lord, how are they increased that trouble me.
With returning day there comes back on the monarch’s heart the recollection of the enemies who threaten him, a nation up in arms against him; his own son heading the rebellion, his wisest and most trusted counsellor in the ranks of his foes (2 Samuel 15:1-37; 2 Samuel 16:1-23; 2 Samuel 17:1-29). Never, not even when hunted by Saul, had he found his position one of greater danger. The odds are overwhelmingly against him. This is a fact which he does not attempt to hide from himself: “How many are mine enemies.” Meanwhile, where are his friends, his army, his counsellors? Not a word of allusion to any of them in the Psalm. Yet he is not crushed, he is not desponding. Enemies may be as thick as leaves of the forest, and earthly friends may be few, or uncertain, or far off. But there is one Friend who cannot fail him, and to Him David turns with a confidence and an affection which lilt him above all his fears. Never had he been more sensible of the reality and preciousness of the Divine protection. If he was surrounded by enemies, Jehovah was his shield. If Shimei and his crew turned his glory into shame, Jehovah was his glory; if they sought to revile and degrade him, Jehovah was the lifter up of his head. Nor did the mere fact of distance from Jerusalem separate between him and his God. He had sent back the ark and the priests, for he knew that God could still hear him from “His holy mountain” (Psalms 3:4), could still lilt up the light of His countenance upon him, and put gladness in his heart (Psalms 4:6-7). Sustained by Jehovah, he had lain him down and slept in safety; trusting in the same mighty protection, he would lie down again to rest. Enemies might taunt, and friends might fail him, but the victory was Jehovah’s, and He could break the teeth of the ungodly (3:7, 8). (J. J. S. Perowne.)
A morning hymn
The Psalm falls into four strophes; three of which are marked by “Selah.”
1. Verses 1, 2: The Psalmist recounts his enemies. As a morning Psalm this is touchingly true to experience. The first waking thought is often a renewed inrush of the trouble which sleep had for a time dammed back. His enemies are many, and they taunt him as forsaken of God. The Psalmist is finding refuge from fears and foes, even in telling how many there are, since he begins his complaint with “Jehovah.” Without that word the exclamations of his first strophe are the voice of cowardice or despair. With it they are calmed into the appeal of trust. The Selah here is probably a direction for an instrumental interlude while the singer pauses.
2. Verses 3, 4: The utterance of faith, based on experience, laying hold of Jehovah as defence. By an effort of will the Psalmist rises from the contemplation of surrounding enemies to that of the encircling Jehovah. This harassed man flings himself out of the coil of troubles round about him, and looks up to God. He sees in Him precisely what he needs at the moment, for in that infinite nature is fulness corresponding to all emptiness of ours. How comes this sudden burst of confidence to lighten the complaining soul? Verse 4 tells. Experience has taught him that as often as he cries to Jehovah he is heard. The tenses in Psalms 3:4 express a habitual act and a constant result.
3. Verses 5, 6 beautifully express the tranquil courage that comes from trust. “Surrounded by enemies, he was quite safe under God’s protection, and exposed to no peril even in the night.” This suits the situation pointed to in the superscription of the Psalm.
4. Verses 7, 8 give the culmination of faith in prayer. “Arise, Jehovah” is quoted from the ancient invocation (Numbers 10:35), and expresses in strongly anthropomorphic form the desire for some interposition of Divine power. Fearlessness is not so complete that the Psalmist is beyond the need of praying. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The number of a man’s foes
When a man’s enemies increase fit number the man should bethink himself, for surely they will not increase without reason. This is a matter which cannot be decided without careful consideration. It is no argument against a man that his enemies are millions strong, nor is it any argument in favour of a man that his friends are at least equal in number. At the same time, it may be spiritually educative and useful to consider why there are so many enemies. Enmity may be founded on jealousy, or envy, or opposition of conviction; or upon assurance that the individual against whom the enmity is directed is pursuing a mischievous course. It is for the man himself to retire within the sanctuary of his own conscience, to discover his moral purpose in everything, and, according as his integrity can be proved to stand fast even in solitude and desolation. But there is a self-analysis that is irreligious. It is conducted upon wrong principles, and the conductor of it is resolved upon self-vindication, rather than upon an absolute discovery of truth, be it on which side it may. It should be remembered, too, that there are some questions which cannot be decided in solitude, the help of social influence is necessary to modify the judgment and chasten the feeling of the inquirer. A second thought arising in this connection is that the very fact of the enemies being all but countless in number may be a tribute to a man’s greatness. Armies are not sent to cut down mushrooms or bulrushes. The very magnitude of the host encamped against a man may say without words how great the man is and mighty, and how worthy of being attacked. To leave some men alone is to withhold from them every moral and intellectual tribute. The numbers of a man’s enemies may be a tribute to the very greatness which they desire to modify or overthrow. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
A soul’s complaint to God
I. An enumeration of trouble (1, 2). Though God knows all, it relieves the surcharged heart to tell all unto Him. The foes were “many.” They quoted his sin as a reason for supposing that God had forsaken him (2 Samuel 16:7-8). The word “help” is “salvation,” which belongs only unto God.
II. An expression of unfaltering trust (3, 4). God our shield (Genesis 15:1). It is a good thing to use the voice in prayer as our Lord did. Words keep the heart awake (Hebrews 5:7).
III. An acknowledgment of mercy (5, 6). It was the perfection of trust to be able to sleep under such circumstances. But it is possible (Mark 4:38; Acts 12:6). If we are where we should be God will save us, if not from, then in our troubles.
IV. An urgent entreaty. He counts his foes as wild beasts, harmless because their jaws are broken and their teeth dashed out. They may prowl around, but they cannot hurt. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The great trials of life
I. A good man under great trial.
1. It involved great dangers: the danger of losing his palace, throne, reputation, life.
2. It came from an unlikely source. From his own and favourite son.
3. It was morally deserved. He had committed heinous crimes. His guilty conscience added much to the weight of the trial which now befell him.
II. An all-sufficient friend under great trial. Here Jehovah is presented as--
1. A protecting;
2. A glorifying;
3. A restoring;
4. A prayer hearing;
5. A life-sustaining friend.
III. A right moral temper under great trial. Two characteristics in David’s temper at this time--
David’s whole soul seems to have gone out in this prayer, and in truth all true prayer is earnest. “As a painted fire,” says a brilliant old writer, “is no fire, a dead man no man, so cold prayer is no prayer. In a painted fire there is no heat, in a dead man there is no life; so in a cold prayer there is no omnipotency, no devotion, no blessing. Cold prayers are as arrows without heads, as swords without edges, as birds without wings. Cold prayers always freeze before they reach heaven. As a body without a soul, much wood without fire, a bullet in a gun without powder, so are words in prayer without fervency of spirit.” (Homilist.)
The via dolorosa
The title is, “A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom, his son” (2Sa 15:1-37; 2 Samuel 16:1-23; 2 Samuel 17:1-29; 2 Samuel 18:1-33).
I. None are exempt from trouble. The man who sorrows is a king, even David. All meet together in sorrow, for it is the lot of all.
II. Troubles often come in troops. “How are they increased that trouble me.” So was it here with David, and so was it with Job. All sorrows are akin, and hence they come in crowds.
III. Our trouble may be our sin finding us out. It was so with David here. “The backslider ill heart shall be filled with his own ways.”
IV. Trouble is apt to stagger our faith in God. The enemy took advantage of David’s troubles, and said to him, “God hath forsaken thee, and left thee.” Men in trouble are prone to run into one of two extremes--despair or indifference. We are not to steel our hearts against chastening, for God means that we should feel it; nor, on the other hand, are we to faint. Doubt God’s very existence sooner than His mercy. Plato defines suicide to be “a desertion of our post.” We are to be like that Roman soldier who stood to his post in the sentry box at Pompeii, when the scoriae of Mount Vesuvius buried it with the city.
V. The power of sustaining grace under affliction is here seen. “I laid me down and slept.” There are myriads today who are able to testify of the peace of God, which passeth all understanding. David in flight finds God his Shield and high Tower, though he has but six hundred men. Ahithophel at court, backed by an army of twelve thousand troops, is in despair, and hangs himself. God keep us from unsanctified affliction. (E. S. Prout.)
The harassed man
1. One element of the harassment is multitudinousness of trouble. A characteristic feature of the trouble time with Absalom.
2. Another element is unkind and taunting speech. The cruel scoff--“no help for him in God”--cuts like a knife to the very centre of his personality.
3. Another element is a kind of internal despair. It sounds in the first sentences of the Psalm. What are the resources of the harassed man? Turning Godward. He flings himself out of the coil of troubles round about him, and looks up to God. The thought of God as possessing precisely what he, amid his harassments, needs. God is the three things he needs--“shield,” or defence; “my glory”; and the “lifter up of my head,” for God can both cheer the harassed man’s spirit, and restore to him the consciousness of his own real dignity, notwithstanding his trials. I came upon the most beautiful illustration of all this the other day. One of those spiritual Christians, a Stundist as they call them in Russia, was standing amidst a lot of Russian criminals in the courtyard of a Russian prison, chained with them, and sentenced with them to Siberia for his faith’s sake. His fellow prisoners were jeering at him. “But you’re no better off than we are. You are wearing the bracelets, as we do; if your God is of any use to you, why doesn’t He knock off your chains and set you free?” The man replied reverently: “If the Lord will, He can set me free Wen now; and though my hands are chained, my heart is free.” He was freed. But though he had been obliged to trudge the weary way to Siberia, for his free heart God would still have been shield, glory, the lifter up of the head. Calmness and courage can come to the harassed man. There is this possible mood for the harassed man--confident expectation. Salvation belongeth unto God; Thy blessing is upon Thy people.” (Homiletic Review.)
Many are they that rise up against me.
The Psalmist’s complaint
The superscription of the Psalm indicates the occasion of its composition (2 Samuel 15:1-37).
I. The magnitude of his complaint. It proceeds from a heart at once oppressed by the grievousness of its sorrows, and terrified at the number of its enemies. The severity of the trial is evident from its progressive character. He has adversaries who even blaspheme God, and insultingly say of His servant, “There is no help for him in God.” The best men have many faults, and sin often appears sweet to them. So God suffers them to taste the unpalatable fruit of transgression; but He even extracts sweetness from its very bitterness, educing from chastisement amendment of life, and help heavenward. Good men flee to their heavenly Father in the day of trouble, and this fact shows that the very nature of punishment is transformed.
II. The nature of his trial. The Psalmist sighs over the extreme severity of his trials. But God never lays more upon His own children than they are able to bear. The sense of gracious support in the hour of trial is an evidence that God is assuaging grief and providing a way of escape from it. When the wicked are punished there is no such alleviation, nor any access to God.
III. The source of his complaint. It does not proceed from mere human nature. The complaint originates with the Spirit of God, and with that spirit of adoption which He sheds abroad in the heart. The son, conscious of his father’s affection, expostulates in the midst of his chastisement. He even feels that God suffers with him, and is deeply affected by the trials which He Himself sends. We shall do well to imitate David’s complaint in our time of trouble, ever seeking profoundly to realise God’s love in Christ Jesus. (Robert Rollocks.)
Psalms 3:2; Psalms 3:4; Psalms 3:8
Stop and think
That seems to sum up the several meanings of the word “Selah.” Some say it is a direction to the musicians to play an interlude while the singers ceased; some regard it as a direction to the players to stop and tune their instruments. Others see an injunction to raise heart and voice, harp and organ, to their fullest capacity. Others see a reference to eternity, as if one interposed, “World without end, Amen!” Many regard the word as equivalent to certain well-known signs in music, bidding you turn back and repeat. In any case, it is as if a solemn rock (“sela”) stood right across our path, bidding us “stop and think.” On the ground of this injunction meet all meanings, however divergent they seem. “No help for him in God.” Stop and think. Selah looks forward as well as back. God has been a shield for David; He can also lift up his head once more, and invest him with glory, the sunshine of the Divine countenance. For us who conduct the services of God’s house, “Selah” has a message. It bids the preacher rightly divide the word of truth. It bids him compare truth with truth, bringing out things new and old, and fixing each in its most telling place. It says--tune your hearts, voices, instruments. Seek inspiration, do justice to the Divine message and the gospel song, so that with holy passion, and sacred emphasis, and heart-felt pathos you shall lead our hearts to God, and incite our minds to things eternal. (Michael Eastwood.)
But Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me.
A man’s best confidence in trial
These verses show how much a man may have in reality when he seems to have absolutely nothing in appearance. David has described his estate as one of loneliness, amounting almost to utter desolation, so far as social relationships are concerned. He seems to be alone in the very midst of threatening and desperate enemies. His soul is mocked and his prayers are blown aside by the furious opposition of his pursuers. What, then, has David even in the midst of all this loss and peril and fear? He himself seems to give an inventory of his riches.
1. He has a sense of security. “Thou art a shield for me.” The image of Divine protection under the type of a shield is of frequent occurrence in Scripture.
2. He has a sense of prayer. He describes God as the lifter up of his head: the meaning is, that though sore driven he could still turn his eyes towards heaven, expectant of spiritual deliverance and benediction, and that even when his enemies were most heavily pressing upon him he was lifted up higher than any of them--a target to be shot at; but he knew that no arrow of the enemy could strike the head that was divinely sustained.
3. Then David points out the fact of his own enjoyment of the quietness and refreshment of sleep,--“I laid me down and slept.” An eye so critical as this could never be without an object of Divine care upon which to rest. We are too prone to think of God as only at the head of battles, and as leading great hosts in orderly procession; we forget that He giveth His beloved sleep, that He dries the tears of sorrow, and that He does about us the work of a servant, ministering to our life in patience and tenderness, and all bountifulness of love. The warrior who talks about a shield, and who rejoices in the lifting up of his head, recognises in sleep the benediction of God. God will never allow Himself to be excluded from what may be termed the more quiet and domestic spheres of life. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
My shield and my glory
This is a sweet song, and all the sweeter when we note the estate of the songster. Some circumstances set the sweetness of music in pronounced relief. It is the song that rises out of dreariness that exercises such a fascinating ministry. Look at the outside of the Psalmist’s life. His external comfort was disturbed. His piety was questioned, and his fellowship with the Divine was denied. Man fails him. He retired more entirely upon God. In God he found that which transcended comfort, he found peace. In God he found that which transcended success, he found glory. In God he found that which transcended human regard, he found the approbation of the Divine. The figure of the shield is a beautiful one. It suggests the all-sufficient protection which comes from the companionship of God. The Lord will not permit my external circumstances to injure my spirit. The Lord will also be a shield against the foe within. When the circumstances are unfriendly, man is apt to become embittered. The hostility may nourish revenge. Failure may make a cynic. The winter time may breed envy, malice, and uncharitableness. I need some defence against these foes within. “Man needs re-enforcing against his worse self.” I claim all the real protections as the ministry of the king. “My glory” In the approbation of God I find my honour. The crown that man can give me, man can take away. God’s crowns are worn not as external dignities, but as spiritual dignities which adorn the soul . . . Men were unfriendly, circumstances were unsympathetic; this man “cried unto the Lord, and He heard him.” There was a constant festival of fellowship, of fruitful responsiveness between man and his God. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
God a shield
“Often,” says John Paten, during his early days on the island of Tauna, “often have I had to run into the arms of some savage when his club was swung, or musket levelled at my head, and so clung round him that he could neither strike nor shoot until his wrath had cooled down.” One day, while toiling away at his house, the war chief and a large party of armed men surrounded the plot where he was working. They all had muskets besides other weapons. They watched him for some time in silence, and then everyone levelled his weapon at his head. Escape was impossible, speech useless. His eyesight went and came in a moment. He could do nothing but pray, and the text came into his mind, “Whatsoever ye shall ask,” etc. The natives retired a little to another position, and they all levelled their muskets again, and urged one another to shoot, and ultimately withdrew. Once again was he saved as a bird from the snare of the fowler.
God a helper in time of trouble
Gerhardt was exiled from Brandenburg by the Grand Elector in 1659. The said Grand Elector wished to tune his pulpits. Gerhardt refused to preach save what he found in God’s Word. Notice to quit was thereupon promptly served upon the intrepid preacher; he tramped forth a homeless exile, accompanied by his wife and children. Wife and weans at night, wearied and weeping, sought refuge in a wayside inn; Gerhardt, unable to comfort them, went out into a wood to pray. As he prayed, the text, “Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass,” recurred to his mind, and comforted him so amazingly that he paced to and fro under the forest trees, and began composing a hymn, Englishised by John Wesley, beginning with the verse--
“Give to the winds thy fears.
Hope and be undismayed:
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears;
God shall lift up thy head.”
Returning to the inn, he cheered his wife with the text and the hymn, and they went to bed rejoicing in the confident hope that God would take care of them. They had hardly retired before a thunderous knocking at the door aroused them all. It was a mounted messenger from Duke Christian Meresberg, offering him “Church, people, home, and livelihood.” So, adds the Chronicle, the Lord took care of His servant. (W. T. Stead.)
The Lifter up of my head.
This verse is the triumphal shout of David when under peculiarly trying circumstances. Happy is the man who makes God’s ordered and sure covenant all his salvation and all his desire. Three things in the passage.
I. Favour. For Jehovah to become our “shield.” If your religion is not opposed, it is not worth your having. Real godliness, real Christianity, cannot exist without being opposed. Sin is always opposed to grace. We are opposed on our journey heavenwards by ourselves. The Father shields us with His fixed decrees The Son shields us with His imputed righteousness. The Holy Ghost shields us by His operations in the soul.
II. Our orthodoxy. “Thou, O Lord, art my glory.” Theology may be brought into a very narrow compass; here it is in two words, “my glory.” Every doctrine, every privilege, and every practice must glorify Him. The words “my glory” contain the idea of fixedness, in opposition to fickleness.
III. The revival. The lifter up of my head.” In times of experimental depression. From nature’s ruin and degradation. This work is carried on by the Comforter’s ministration. (Joseph Irons.)
I cried mate the Lord with my voice.
Turning to God in prayer
I. The psalmist’s exultation. “But Thou, O Lord.” The second part of the Psalm shows how David’s sense of the Divine presence and protection impelled him to rejoice, as if he were delivered from trial, although not yet actually set free. No sooner does he complain to God than he begins to experience consolation, for never does anyone flee to the Saviour for refuge in vain. But to particularise: what kind of help does the Psalmist receive when he seeks Divine aid? He fled from Absalom defenceless, and God, like a shield, completely protects him: he was in disgrace, God becomes his glory; prostrate, and God lifts up his head. In a word, Jehovah supplements every deficiency. This is ever true. Dost thou desire wisdom? He will be thy wisdom. Glory? He will be thy glory. Riches He will be thy wealth. Yea, He Himself will be all that thou cravest. The sweet sense of Divine compassion cannot be repressed, but will find vent in confession. Thus God is glorified, and the consciousness of His favour is increased by the very act of acknowledgment.
II. Method of gaining deliverance. The Psalmist therefore unfolds the method which he, had adopted--turning to God in prayer--“I cried unto the Lord with my voice.” For let no man think that God bestows His grace on those who do not seek it, or opens the heavenly door to those who do not knock, still less to those who despise and refuse His proffered mercy. In this way He disciplines our faith, although He never grants the least favour because there is anything meritorious in our prayers.
III. The Divine response. “And He heard me”--from the heavenly sanctuary, and also from the earthly tabernacle then radiant with the Divine presence. This is added so that all may know that God answers supplications, in harmony with His will, as quickly as we offer them, and thus causes success in prayer to stir us up to renewed petitions. The answer which was vouchsafed to David--God replying by deeds rather than by words--is specified at the end of the next verse, “the Lord sustained me.” What he had stated before in several words, “Thou art a shield for me my glory, and the lifter up of my head,” he afterwards expresses in a single phrase, “the Lord sustained me,” thereby indicating his sense of Divine protection in the very midst of persecution. (Robert Rollocks.)
John Rutledge, of Buffalo, a godly sailor, was used very much in winning his swearing, licentious fellows for the Saviour. They had left Buffalo when the lake was still dangerous with floating ice, and they had accomplished three-quarters of their way, when one morning, to the great alarm of crew and skipper, they saw the ice closing upon them. There was just a narrow passage straight ahead, and it was fast closing. If the ice close it will crush the ship to pieces like a tinderbox, and they will all be lost. The men’s faces grew white, for the wind ceased and the calm came, as if to let the ice nip them and grip them to destruction. John Rutledge asked the skipper’s leave to go down to his cabin and pray. The captain was a godless man, but eternity was nigh, and he believed in John Rutledge. He had sailed with John for many a voyage; and the Christian had commended Christ by his life. Happy soul when the man that works by you,--when your comrades, at any rate, acknowledge your fidelity to Jesus. They may not like you, but yet they believe in you up to the hilt; and they trust in you even when they profess to despise you. John Rutledge got the skipper’s leave to go down to the cabin and pray. As he was there on his knees a few of the men gathered with him, and amongst them the captain. Rutledge prayed that God would guide the vessel, that God would steer the craft, that God would deliver them. The men heard, and listened attentively. As they returned to deck, the man at the wheel greeted them with, “There is hope.
The wind is nor’-nor’-east.” The wind began to “sough” and sigh and fill the sails, and the ice began to part; and the men said to the captain, “Shall we spread more canvas?” “No,” he replied, “not a stitch. Somebody else is guiding this ship. Let her alone.” A happy life is that when difficulties come, when rebellions arise, when doubts all drop upon deck, for the man to be able to say, “Let her drive; there is Someone else controlling and guiding.”
I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.
God’s protection of the helpless
The reason why we sleep in peace and rise up in safety is, “the Lord sustained me.” This is one of those truths, long familiar and unrealised, which later on m our spiritual life may become to us fresh discoveries. Underneath the beating of every heart, and underneath the whole order of human things, and underneath the world and all worlds, there is forever a present active sustaining power from one generation to another, and that power is the power of God. The same truth is equally true if stated more widely. Whether we take as our measure the short time of the earth turning on itself, or the longer time of the earth travelling round; whether we speak of the day or of the sum of all the year, with its multitude of thoughts, its complexity of circumstances, its frequent risks and incessant occurrence of events;--still there is always abiding over us the same Divine protection, never tired, never slackening. Some people are so situated in life that they have but very little pressure and very few cares. All along the path of life seems smooth to them. That is but a tame life, and unless we have the nerve to make ourselves useful in some way, time so passed is a yoke which soon sits uneasy on the shoulder. Days wasted are a bad investment of life, and a dark account to be laying up. But the many are blessed with the pressure of responsibilities, and obliged to take up the happy burden of usefulness. All Christian burden bearers have laid them down to sleep, and risen again feeling that a benefit has been conferred on them, a sustaining hand has been bearing them up, and their good God has been giving to the human trial the promise He speaks of, “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” The Hebrew word translated “sustained” means to place the open hand under a thing to support it. The Sept. renders by a word meaning “to take hold of one another by the hand, the weaker being so supported.” How does the kindness of God support the weakness of all Christians? He tells His own secret in Colossians
1. It is done by His Christ and our Christ. There He says how He has qualified us to partake of the portion of the saints in light; how He has rescued us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. It is in Him, He says, we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins. Let us count up, discover, and consider these many mercies until our heart warms into some honourable and loving recognition of this care, which is never tired of us and never leaves us. We may feel confident from the past that God will take care of us in the future. (T. F. Crosse, D. C. L.)
Sleeping and waking
One of the mysteries of life of which men hardly think at all is the mystery of sleep. “Death’s twin sister,” it has been called. Into its secrets the cleverest man cannot pierce, though all men share its blessings. See the tired man worn out after a heavy day’s work, or burdened with care. He flings himself on his bed, his day’s work or his day’s trouble, his foremost, ever-present thought. Kind sleep touches his eyes. His fatigue is forgotten, his cares are gone. What thought strikes us most forcibly as we look on the picture of the sleeper? Surely the thought of helplessness. The strongest man asleep cannot defend himself or help himself. And yet the millions of mankind daily lie down to sleep, and daily rise again, safely and in peace. Why? We know why, though we so often carelessly forget it. Because God is with us always, never leaving us for an instant to ourselves; about our path and about our bed; the Almighty Father, with more than a mother’s love and tenderness. Ought we not to have, at least, David’s faith? I say “at least” because we know so much more of God’s truth than he did, have so much more light upon our path than he had. We know our weakness and helplessness, but we know our Helper. If we will only love and serve God in Christ, and consecrate our lives to Him, we are safe. (Samuel Pascoe.)
A trustful sleeper
Luther noticed one evening a bird quietly settling down for the darkness of the night, and he exclaimed, “That little fellow preaches faith to us all! He takes hold of his twig, tucks his head under his wing, and goes to sleep, leaving God to think for him.”
Preserved amidst the dangers of the night
In Mongolia we had one rather serious adventure. The south edge of the plain is famed for storms, and the night we camped there, just after dark, began one of the fiercest thunderstorms I can remember having seen. The wind roared, the rain dashed, the tent quivered; the thunder rattled with a metallic ring, like shafts of iron dashing against each other, as it darted along a sheet-iron sky; the water rose in the tent till part of our bed was afloat. It was hardly possible to hear each other speak; but amid and above all the din of the tempest rose one sound not to be mistaken, the roar of rushing water. There was a river to right of us, but the sound came more from the left. Venturing out, I found there was a great swift-flowing river on both sides of us; that we could not move from the little piece of elevated land plain on which we had our tent; and that a few inches more water, or an obstacle getting into the path of the upper river, would send the full force of the current down on our tents. Flocks, herds, men are said to be swept away now and again in Mongolia, and for an hour our case seemed doubtful; but about 11 p.m. the storm ceased and the danger was over, and, though we had hardly anything left, we went to sleep, thanking God for His preserving mercy. (James Gilmour.)
And rose up again.
The whole world is full of Divine tokens. Everything should put us in mind, more or less directly, of Jesus Christ our Saviour. The sun rising in the east is nature’s token, to remind us of Christmas Day; and here in the text we find a no less clear token of the mysteries of Easter, our Lord dying and rising again. It is not anything new to have such a verse applied to the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. The old fathers and bishops so explained it from the very beginning of the Church. We do well to connect thin mystery with our own lying down and rising up as often as night and morning return. Sleep is an image of death. To a Christian it is an image of the death of Christ. Our daily lying down and rising up is given us for a sacramental sign and pledge of Christ’s death and resurrection, and of our own. Our falling asleep is a mystery, a thing which takes place we know not how, a thing out of our power, as much so as death itself. What becomes of us during our sleep? That longer sleep which we call death may come on us we know not how, and leave our bodies without power or thought for awhile, our souls in the meantime departing we know not where, and employed we know not how. There is a still higher and more awful depth of mystery in the Psalmist’s words, spoken as they are in His person, who is both God and man. It is as if we heard Christ Himself, risen from the tomb, and saying, “I laid Me down and slept, and rose up again, for the Lord sustained Me.” The Lord, the most high and glorious Godhead, still in our Saviour’s Person, inseparably joined to His human soul and body, even while the one was in the grave and the other in Paradise, or elsewhere in the regions of the dead,--He still continued the same Christ, very God and very man, and by virtue of that Eternal Spirit He raised Himself from the dead when His time was come. Notice what gracious help is afforded to those who are willing so to lift up their hearts, by Christ’s making so common a matter as our daily sleep and awakening a token and sign of this most awful mystery. Christ, even now abiding in His people, makes them already in this world partakers of a heavenly and Divine life. He sustains them, sleeping and waking, in life and in death, in their beds and in their graves; for in both conditions they are alike members of Him. But all this depends upon our keeping our baptismal vows. One or two rules of recovery and perseverance--
1. Since it is Christ only who sustains us, when in our lying down, or sleeping, or rising up, how dare any of us lie down or rise up without solemnly committing himself to Christ on his knees in devout prayer? Private devotion must be one great help towards saving and recovering the heavenly life which our Lord offers to sustain in us.
2. The Holy Communion of the Body and the Blood. This is the sacrament of perseverance and growth in grace, as baptism is of repentance and regeneration. The heavenly life which Christ has begun in us can be sustained in no other way besides that which He has appointed. Prayer, then, and Holy Communion, are necessary to all. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times. ”)
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me.--
Faith stronger than fear
It is said that the Romans were accustomed only to inquire where the enemies were and not after their numbers Faith revived and invigorated by prayer and fixed on God alone is a stranger to fear in the worst of times. (Bp. Horne.)
Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone.
The secret of David’s confidence
This shows that David’s expectation of victory was not in himself, in his personal prowess as a warrior, but in the faithfulness of the Lord his God. Hence his impassioned cry, “Arise, O Lord! save me, O my God!” It is true that David marshalled his forces as a skilful and experienced general should, and as carefully as if everything in the battle to ensue was to be accomplished by the sword alone;--and yet he still looked to God alone for success. And to inspire himself with confidence that God would give success, he refers to the victories He had given him in times past, saying, “Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.” This imagery of breaking the cheek bone and teeth of enemies is likening them to wild beasts whose great power is in their jaws and teeth, so that when their jaws and teeth are broken their power to injure is gone. The imagery, then, indicates that the Lord had always destroyed the power of David’s enemies to injure him. And as the Lord had subdued his enemies before him hitherto, David could not but believe that He would subdue them still. This, his belief, was not in vain, as the speedy winding up of Absalom’s rebellion showed; for Absalom’s forces, though outnumbering his father’s probably more than ten to one, were utterly routed and dispersed, and himself slain, in the first and only battle fought. The battle was the Lord’s, the victory His, and to Him David ascribes it. (David Caldwell, A. M.)
Salvation belongeth unto the Lord.
Thanksgiving after peace
I. The meaning of this sentiment. The words carry a general confession of the influence of Divine Providence upon every event, and in particular with respect to salvation, or deliverance from impending danger. The words imply three things.
1. All confidence in man stands opposed to the sentiment. It is not opposed to the use of means, but to an excessive reliance on second causes of any kind. Success in any attempt is to be ultimately attributed to God.
2. The Psalmist had in view the omnipotence of Providence. God has not only the direction and government of means and second causes, but is Himself superior to all means. Salvation signifies a great and distinguished deliverance.
3. The sentiment has respect to the mercy and goodness of God, or His readiness to hear the cry of the oppressed and send deliverance to His people. Power and wisdom alone give an imperfect display of the Divine character.
II. Divine providence in dealing with the united states of america. In conclusion, some practical improvement of the subject.
1. It is our duty to give praise to God for the present happy and promising state of public affairs.
2. We should testify our gratitude to God by living in His fear, and by a conversation such as becometh the gospel.
3. And by usefulness in our several stations. Let us guard against using our liberty as a cloak for licentiousness, and thus poisoning the blessing after we have attained it. (T. Witherspoon, D. D.)
God the Author of salvation
This will be seen if we consider--
I. The work of the Father in devising it.
1. Adam fell by his own sin, and so involved all posterity.
2. Thus all needed salvation; and.
3. God’s flee grace devised it.
II. The incarnation and atonement of Christ, the Son of God, which executed it.
III. The work of the Holy Ghost in applying it. For of ourselves we cannot repent and believe. And yet unless we do we are lost. It is the Holy Spirit that brings us into a state of grace. (T. Myers, A. M.)
Thy blessing is upon Thy people.--
At the Mint a piece of gold is put under the stamp, and in the twinkling of an eye the machine descends and the gold becomes a sovereign. So when we see that God is our Father, and that He in Christ died for us, then in a moment, like the stamp on the gold, we receive the witness of the Holy Spirit. The gold bears the stamp of the a the image and blessing of God.
I. What is a blessing? Not merely when we have what we wish, but far more when we do not wish what we have not.
II. The greatest blessing is to know that we have the Lord for our Father.
III. It is a great blessing when we can live temperately. What a curse is drunkenness.
IV. Is not the Bible a blessing? An infidel said one day, “There is only one thing that troubles me: I am afraid the Bible is true.” But what a blessing that it is so. When Sir Walter Scott lay dying he requested a friend to help him into his library, so that he could look out from the window on the river Tweed. Then he asked for something to be read to him. His friend said, “What book shall I select?” Sir Walter replied, “Can you ask? There is but one--the Bible.” Is this book a blessing to you?
V. The Lord gives His people the blessing of being able to trust Him. In the darkness of night you may strike a match and try to light the candle, but you must first take off the extinguisher. And so you cannot feel happy while you keep on the extinguisher of doubt over your heart. How blessed it is to trust in God.
VI. What a blessing to know that Jesus died for us. (William Birch.)
God’s blessing, and the way to gain it
I. What is God’s blessing? Given an occasion upon which we are called upon to write on paper our idea of the Divine blessing: hand me the papers and I will examine them: shall I find in a thousand instances upwards of nine hundred that will run after this fashion?--God’s blessing is sunshine, music, prosperity, deliverance from all affliction, distress, fear; God’s blessing is on the house where there is no vacant chair, upon the fold where there is no dead lamb, upon the estate where there is no covered grave. So your papers would read, and so would they be wrong. God’s blessing may be upon a man without any sense of external sunshine. The clouds do not alter the month. There may be dark clouds upon a June noonday, but it is still June, the sun is still warm, summer is still on the eve of coming upon us, with all its countless flowers and all its ineffable music. God’s blessing does not mean exemption from pain; nor does God’s discipline mean mere penalty. God’s blessing is not a sleeping draught but an inspiration. If you are asleep when you ought to be awake do not say, This is the blessing of God. God’s blessing, I repeat, is not an opiate; it is an inspiration, an excitement, a voice in the soul that says, Onward!
II. How are we to know that the blessing is on us? Easily; there need be no difficulty about that. When you feel that you must do more work, God’s blessing is upon you. Be sure of that confidence. When you want to be idle, God has withdrawn from you because you have withdrawn from Him. When are we to know that God’s blessing is upon us? I will tell you: when you feel that you must help other people more liberally than you have ever done; not when you tie your purse strings, but when you open them is God’s blessing on you. You have done nothing yet; I have done nothing yet. It is the crime of the Church that it has played with its responsibilities. We are always compounding with God, we are always filing our bill in the chancery court of heaven, and asking God to accept a penny in the pound. Do not close your eyes under such circumstances and say, This is the comfort of grace. When you feel that you must go four-and-twenty hours in the day in doing good, God’s blessing is upon you. Of course, nature will say, Lie down, poor child, and rest awhile, because time spent in sleep is time spent in true labour; thou shalt in sleep recover thine energy, and do ten fold more because of a good night’s rest. But when the first thought is work, and the middle thought is work, and the last thought is work, then say, Thy blessing is upon Thy people; this is no longer an inspiration but a fact accomplished.
III. We cannot arrange for the Divine blessing. Do not accept the sophism that the Divine blessing can be used as an element in speculation or investment. The Divine blessing comes as the wheat comes: it comes after ripping up the earth, sowing it, preparing it, and after a long process, it may be, of waiting; so it comes not by itself but as the final mark in a series, as the blessing upon a process. When the golden wheat swings in the autumnal wind and throws back the autumnal sunlight, all the seasons of the year seem to culminate in that one motion. Winter is there, because winter gave the earth its hospitality of sleep; spring is there, and summer is there, and autumn is there: in that golden wheat the four seasons of the year hold harmonious festival. Some have not begun yet to do anything. When the lists are made out our names will not be upon them. The first shall be last and the last shall lie first. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The blessing of God
I. God’s special relation in the world. “Thy people.” The king of a nation and the father of a family hold peculiar relations
II. From God’s special relation spring special benefits. “Thy blessing.” The ruler of a people, from his position and power, holds in his hands benefits which are for his nation alone. A loving father has a peculiar regard for the welfare of his own family. Israel enjoyed benefits that were not extended to other nations.
III. The benefits springing from the special relation must be sought by prayer. Spiritual blessings are obtained only by prayer. The Apostles had a definite promise given to them of the Holy Ghost, yet they were commanded to pray for His descent (Acts 1:4-14). So in the individual life (Luke 11:18). (William Harris.)
The best inheritance
This was the confidence and comfort of the Psalmist when deprived of earthly friends and earthly comforts. The more we know of the power of sin, the more we shall prize the sovereignty of God.
I. The nature of this blessing which is upon the people of God. All the blessedness they have is by Christ Jesus the Lord; and to understand the blessing we must look to the Lord Jesus Christ. As there was a fourfold curse pronounced upon the serpent, you will find the very reverse relative to the Lord Jesus Christ and His people.
1. The serpent was to “go upon his belly.” While the enemy is condemned in all that he does, the Lord Jesus Christ is justified in all that He does. The Lord Jesus felt that all He thought, and all He did, and all He said was right. He felt that He had no sin of His own. He enjoys the consciousness that all He has done and does is right, and we in Him get rid of all our sins, guilt, and fears, and rest not in a consciousness of our fleshly, personal, legal right, but in a consciousness of the righteousness of Christ, the efficacy of His great salvation, the eternity of His glory. Draw a line of distinction between a moral reality and a spiritual reality. Moral reality is good, and a good principle to act upon among men; but if I go to eternal things I must go beyond this--I must come to the reality of atoning blood, I must come to the reality of saving grace.
2. The enemy was “to eat dust.” This is to be understood figuratively. As for the enemy, and all that are with him, their attainments shall be all perishable--shall be but dust. Was the Lord Jesus to feed upon perishable things? No. His meat His attainments are imperishable, His honours incorruptible, His glories inimitable, His grandeur indescribable. While He lived in this world He lived upon immortal things. He is with us in these infinite provisions, in opposition to that destitution, that famine, that state of misery which we deserve. The “blessing” overcomes a great curse. While dust shall be the serpent’s meat, our bread shall be royal dainties.
3. The serpent was to be cast out. There was to be enmity between him and the woman, and between his seed and her seed. They should come together, and one or the other must prevail. “The prince of this world is cast out.”
4. The serpent’s head should be bruised. Here is the confusion, the defeat, of all his plans. But can confusion ever reach the infinite mind of Jehovah-Jesus?
II. The progression of this blessing. It has been progressive from age to age; and nothing has met with so much opposition. Look at some typical circumstances and watch the progression. Cases of Joseph, David, Mordecai, the Redeemer Himself. See the progress in two individual cases, that of Jeremiah and that of Paul. There is this difference between providence, and grace. Grace is progressive, but providence is retrogressive. The fruit we had last year is gone, but the grace we had when the world was created we have now. None of it passes away.
III. The continuation of the blessing. This originates chiefly in the manner of it. There is no way in which anything contrary to it can enter into the vitals of this blessing, or into the union which the people have with Christ, to affect that union. If you look behind them there is mercy behind them from everlasting. If you look at what is before them, it is eternal life, eternal salvation, eternal glory. So that from the very manner of this blessing no curse can come in. (James Wells.)
The people of God
I. The people. The children of Israel were, in a national sense, the people of God. But were they so individually? It is not the name of Christian that can stamp us the people of God. It is in a personal, and not merely in a national or ecclesiastical sense, that God’s people are an elect people.
II. This people are a purchased people. What shall be the price paid down for that spiritual people, the Church of the firstborn? We are redeemed, not with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the blood of Christ.
III. The people are a voluntary people. They do not follow God reluctantly, as did the literal Israel. Everyone can say with David, I have “chosen” the way of truth.
IV. A holy people (Deuteronomy 14:2). The sanctity of Israel was only external and relative; only a type of the purity of the invisible Church. The whole body of the people of whom we speak are holy in an internal and personal sense (John 1:13; 1 John 3:24).
V. A people valued and beloved. We value the objects of our choice because we have chosen them. God’s blessing is on the people themselves, and on their allotments, enjoyments, and even their afflictions, and their labours and connections. (T. Kennion, M. A.)
Trust in God’s overrule
Dr. Stewart of Moulin said, “I remember an old pious very recluse minister whom I used to meet once a year. He scarcely ever looked at a newspaper. When others were talking about the French Revolution he showed no concern or curiosity about it. He said he knew from the Bible how it would all end, better than the most sagacious politician: that the Lord reigns; that the earth shall be filled with His glory; that the gospel should be preached to all nations; that all subordinate events are working out these great ends. This was enough for him, and he gave himself no concern about the news or events of the day, only saying, “It will be well with the righteous.”.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19