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THIS psalm has been assigned to Jeremiah by Hitzig, and by others to an unknown writer of the seventh century b.c. But no solid grounds have been shown for setting aside the traditionary evidence of the "title," which ascribes it to David. It is Davidic in its depth of feeling, in its abrupt transitions (verses 9, 15, 20), and in its reference to a faithless friend, who is the chief cause of the writer's sufferings (verses 12-14, 20, 21; comp. Psalms 41:9). The Davidic authorship is accepted by Hengstenberg, Dr. Kay, and Canon Cook. The probable date of the psalm is the time of Absalom's rebellion. David, still a dweller at Jerusalem (verses 9-11), has become aware of the conspiracy which has been formed against him (verses 3-8), and of the participation in it of his "familiar friend," Ahithophel (verses 12-14). He is already contemplating flight from Jerusalem (verses 6-8), since he knows that his enemies seek his life (verse 4). Under these circumstances, he pours out his soul to God, first depicting in eight verses (verses 1-8) his desperate condition and longing for deliverance; then, in seven verses (verses 9-15), describing the prevailing wickedness and ungodliness; and finally, in eight verses (verses 16-23), giving vent to a feeling of confidence that God will come to his aid in answer to his earnest prayers," afflict" his enemies, and rescue him from their hands.
Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication (comp. Psalms 54:2; and, for the second clause, see Psalms 13:1; Psalms 27:8; Psalms 69:17; Psalms 89:46, etc.).
Attend unto me, and hear me. A very special need is indicated by these four petitions to be heard (Psalms 55:1, Psalms 55:2). I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise; rather, I wander in my musing, and moan aloud. "I wander," i.e. "from one sad thought to another" (Kay); and, unable to constrain myself, I give vent to meanings. Orientals are given to open displays of their grief (Herod; 8.99; AEschylus, 'Persae,' passim).
Because of the voles of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked. Professor Cheyne says that by "the wicked" heathen men are primarily intended. But רשׁע—the word used—is" the wicked man," in the simplest and widest sense (see Psalms 1:1, Psalms 1:4, Psalms 1:5, Psalms 1:6; Psalms 7:9; Psalms 9:16, etc.). For they cast iniquity upon me; or, "hurl wickedness at me" (Cheyne). And in wrath they hats me; rather, they persecute me (Hengstenberg, Kay, Cheyne, Revised Version).
My heart is sore pained within me. The attacks of his enemies (Psalms 55:3) deeply grieve and pain the heart of the psalmist. It is not as if they were foreigners, whose hostility was to be expected. They are his own countrymen; one of them is his own familiar friend (Psalms 55:12). Yet they threaten his life. And the terrors of death are fallen upon ms. When a king is the object of a conspiracy, he well knows, especially in the East, that nothing but his death will satisfy the conspirators. So on David, long before he made up his mind to quit Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:14), the "terrors of death" must have fallen.
Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. A graphic description of the feelings which the apprehension of death naturally excites in a man. Where the expectation of a life beyond the grave was so dim and shadowy as in Judaea at this time, the "horror" of death would be the greater.
And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! The beauty of this passage has sunk deep into the Christian heart. Great composers have set to it some of their most exquisite music. The desire is one which finds an echo in almost every human breast, and the expression of it here has all the beauty of the best Eastern poetry. Jeremiah's words are far tamer, "Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging-place of wayfaring men, that I might leave my people, and go from them!" For then would I fly away, and be at rest. The desire of "rest" is universal. Whatever the delights of action, they can only charm us for a time. In our hearts we are always longing to have done with action, and to be at rest.
Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness; rather, and lodge in the wilderness. Doves, ring-doves, and others, are abundant in Palestine, and frequent wild and rocky places, far from the haunts of man. Speaking of a rocky gorge near the Lake of Gennesaret, Canon Tristram says, "But no description can give an adequate idea of the myriads of rock-pigeons. In absolute crowds they dashed to and fro in the ravine, whirling round with a rush and a whirr that could be felt like a gust of wind".
I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest. As doves fly from storm and tempest to their nests in the rocks, so the psalmist would fain haste away from the passions and perils of the city to some safe refuge in the wilds. What he here anticipates, he afterwards accomplished, when he fled from Absalom over Jordan (2 Samuel 15:14).
With a sudden transition, the writer passes from his own suffering, fears, and longings, to imprecations on his enemies, and a description of their wicked proceedings. In the course of his description he singles out one individual for special remark—one who had been his own guide, companion, and friend—but who had turned against him, and joined the company of his adversaries (Psalms 55:12-14).
Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues. The second clause contains a reference to the confusion of tongues at Babel (Genesis 11:7). "Introduce confusion into their counsels, and disperse them, as thou didst with the wicked ones who were forced to leave off to build the Tower." For I have seen violence and strife in the city. Such quarrels and broils, i.e; as usually precede revolutionary disturbance.
Day and night they go about it upon the walls thereof. "It is not a siege or blockade that is described; and the persons spoken of are not foreign, but native enemies. These are compared to watchmen on the walls; only, instead of keeping watch against the enemy, they 'watch for iniquity' "(Cheyne). Mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it; rather, iniquity also and trouble. Compare the "violence and strife" of Psalms 55:9. Society is disorganized. It is not only that wickedness prevails, but throughout the city there is violence and contention.
Wickedness is in the midst thereof; deceit and guile depart not from her streets; literally, out of her street (rehob)—"the open square, where justice ought to have been administered "(Kay), "adjoining the vaulted passage of the city gate" (Cheyne); comp. Job 29:7.
For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it. The psalmist passes from the general to the particular—from the great mass of his opponents to one special individual. Even Professor Cheyne allows this, and suggests that we have here Jeremiah inveighing against Pashur. But the general sentiment of commentators has always been that Ahithophel is intended. And, if we allow the psalm to be David's, we can scarcely give any other explanation. Ahithophel was known as "David's counsellor" (2 Samuel 15:12), i.e. his chief adviser, his "grand vizier," his "prime minister? What he counselled was considered as a sort of "oracle of God" (2 Samuel 16:23). His defection was the bitterest drop in the cup of the unhappy king. Anything else he "could have borne;" but this was too much. Neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me. It was not one among my professed and open enemies—not one of those whose hatred I had long known and reckoned on. Then I would have hid myself from him. Instead of opening all my heart to him, as I have done to Ahithophel.
But it was thou, a man mine equal; literally, a man according to my valuing; i.e. one of my social rank, with whom I was on familiar terms. My guide; or, "my companion." But the LXX. have ἡγέμων. And mine acquaintance. "My confidant" (Kay); "my familiar friend" (Cheyne, and Revised Version).
We took sweet counsel together. And walked unto the house of God in company; rather, in the throng (Cheyne, Revised Version); i.e. in the midst of the crowd of worshippers. When David went up to the house of God, who is more likely to have accompanied him than his chief "counsellor"?
Let death seize upon them. As this strophe begins (Psalms 55:9), so it ends, with an imprecation. The psalmist calls on God to bring destruction upon the whole mass of his enemies. Of the two readings in the original, the one adopted by our translators seems the best, "Let death come suddenly upon them." Let them go down quick (i.e. alive) into hell. There is an allusion to the fate of Korah and his company (Numbers 16:30-33), who "went down quick into the pit;" but probably the psalmist neither expected nor desired a literal fulfilment of his imprecation. The deaths of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23) and Absalom (2 Samuel 18:14, 2 Samuel 18:15), and of so many of Absalom's followers (2 Samuel 18:7, 2 Samuel 18:8), were quite a sufficient fulfilment. For wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them. (comp. Psalms 55:3, Psalms 55:9-11).
In conclusion, the psalmist turns altogether to God, whom he now addresses as "Jehovah" (Psalms 55:16, Psalms 55:22), and expresses his confidence that, in answer to his continual prayers (Psalms 55:17), God will come to his aid, will deliver his soul from the machinations of his enemies, and will visit them with "affliction" (Psalms 55:19) and "destruction" (Psalms 55:23). Still grieved chiefly by the defection of his unfaithful friend, he once more describes the treachery and heinousness of his conduct (Psalms 55:20, Psalms 55:21), before winding up with a word of comfort for all the righteous (Psalms 55:22), and of menace against all the ungodly (Psalms 55:23).
As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord (Jehovah) shall save me. The call is upon the God known to man by nature as the Almighty Ruler of the universe; the answer is from the covenant God of Israel, the Self-existent One, in whom Israel trusts. The two are different aspects of one and the same Being.
Evening, and morning (comp. Genesis 1:5, Genesis 1:8, etc.), and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud. From this passage and from Daniel's conduct (Daniel 6:10) we learn that devout Israelites habitually offered prayer to God at these three times of the day. The "morning "and "evening" devotions were doubtless suggested by the law of the morning and evening sacrifice (Exodus 29:38-42); but the midday prayer, being nowhere commanded, can only be ascribed to natural piety. And he shall hear my voice. Constant unremitting prayer is certain of an answer. Compare the parable of the importunate friend (Luke 11:5-8).
He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me. Once mere "the preterite of prophetic certainty.'' David sees his deliverance effected. He beholds the coming battle (2 Samuel 17:11; 2 Samuel 18:6-8). He sees that there are many with him; i.e. "many that contend with him;" but his courage does not fail—he is assured of being "delivered" and re-established in his kingdom "in peace."
God shall hear, and afflict them; i.e. "God will hear my prayers, and will afflict my adversaries;" or, perhaps, "God will hear me and answer me." But this requires a change in the reading. Even he that abideth of old; or, "he that is enthroned of old;" he, i.e; that sitteth, and has always sat, on his eternal throne in the heavens. Selah. The "selah" here marks probably a pause for adoration of the great and eternal King enthroned in all his glory. Because they have no changes; rather, the men who have no changes—exegetical of "them" in the first clause of the verse. The wicked "have no changes," i.e. no great reverses of fortune, until their end comes (see Job 21:7-15). Therefore they fear not God; rather, and who do not fear God.
He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him. Some explain "he" as "the wicked collectively,'' and maintain that in this verse and the next no particular person is pointed at; but it seems better to regard the psalmist as "suddenly reverting to the fixed and deepest thought in his heart—the treachery of his friend" (Canon Cook). Ahithophel had put forth his hand against such as were at peace with him." He hath broken his covenant. The covenant of friendship with David (Psalms 55:14), not, perhaps, a formal one, but involved in the terms on which they stood one towards the other.
The words of his mouth wore smoother than butter; literally, smooth were the butters of his mouth—i.e; his flattering utterances. But war was in his heart; literally, but his heart was war. His words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords; i.e. keen, cutting—according to our own idiom, "like daggers."
Cast thy burden upon the Lord; rather, thy portion—or, the lot assigned thee—that which God has given thee to bear. And he shall sustain thee. God will support thee under the lot which he assigns, however hard it is. He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved; i.e. to be disturbed, shaken, unsettled from their faith in him. Note that these promises are made to the righteous only; and, among them, only to those who cast themselves in full faith upon God.
But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction. We must understand by "them" the ungodly, the thought of whom is associated with that of the righteous by the law of contrast. While God sustains and supports the righteous, he "brings down" and crushes the ungodly. The "pit of destruction" is the grave. Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days (comp. Jeremiah 17:1). Of course, the statement is not intended for a universal law, and indeed was probably pointed especially at the "bloody and deceitful men" of whom the psalmist had been speaking. The suicide of Ahithophel, and the slaughter of Absalom with so many of his followers, furnished a striking commentary on the statement. But I will trust in thee; i.e. but I, for my part, will put no trust in violence or deceit—I will trust in nothing and no one but God (comp. Psalms 7:1; Psalms 11:1, etc.).
A pathetic prayer.
"Oh that I had wings," etc.! A very natural wish, pathetically and beautifully expressed. The Prophet Jeremiah gave utterance to the same wish, and for similar reasons (Jeremiah 9:2). Hence some have conjectured he was the author of this psalm. The title, ascribing it to David, represents ancient Jewish tradition, which there is no adequate ground for rejecting. But the psalm contains nothing certainly to indicate at what time in David's history it was composed, or who was the treacherous friend referred to. The fact is, the Book of Psalms is a treasury, not of history, but of spiritual experience; a manual of prayer, praise, meditation, faith, for the Church in all ages. Its perennial meaning and value are rather raised than lowered by the uncertainty besetting special occasions and dates which keen critics labour to drag to light.
I. THESE WORDS PICTURE FOR US A HEART WEARY OF THE WORLD. The writer longs passionately to be quit of it, out of sight and hearing, in restful solitude. He feels as our English poet, when taking up Jeremiah's thought he wrote—
"Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumour of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,
Might never reach me more!"
This world-weariness may be of different kinds—from widely opposite causes. There is the case of the man who has loved the world with all his heart, and is sick and sated, and still hungry and unsatisfied. He has loved pleasure, laid the reins on the neck of his lusts; and his reward is a diseased body, a worn-out heart, a blighted character, a guilty conscience. Or money; and while he has been piling up what men call a fortune, his heart has dried up, friends have grown estranged, the power of enjoyment has dwindled as the material means of buying it grew. Or political power; and has learned how thankless a task it is to serve people against their prejudices, how futile is popularity, party allegiance, how unstable earthly greatness. Like many a monarch and statesman, he is longing for freedom and rest. It is not these kinds of world-weariness the Holy Spirit depicts here. Those tired-out worldlings do not write psalms. They have sown to the flesh, and reaped corruption. What David and Jeremiah were so weary of was the wickedness of the world (verses 3, 9, 11, 19). This is the key to the tremendous denunciations of the guilt and fate of sinners, in other psalms as well as here. Intense personal feeling is no doubt implied; but it is as rebels against God, not as private foes, they are described. The king—the Lord's anointed—ought to have punished them if he could; feeling his inability, he appeals to God. And be it borne in mind, God did punish them; as (e.g.) Ahithophel and Absalom. It is often asked—How can we reconcile these denunciations with our Lord's prayer, "Father, forgive them"? Answer: Remember the ground on which this forgiveness was possible: "They know not what they do." They were to have room for repentance. Remember, that only two or three days before, Jesus had uttered, in the temple, denunciations more severe than any in the Psalms; and, lastly, that these woes were fulfilled to the letter, after forty years, in the destruction of Jerusalem.
II. EVERY REAL CHRISTIAN MUST KNOW SOMETHING OF THIS HEART-SICKNESS, SOUL-WEARINESS, ON ACCOUNT OF THE PREVALENCE OF SIN IN THE WORLD. The better he knows the world, the more he feels this. Once our Saviour gave a momentary glimpse of the daily burden this was to him (Matthew 17:17). If so very imperfect a saint as Lot "vexed his righteous soul from day to day" (2 Peter 2:7, 2 Peter 2:8), what must the Holy One of God have endured in the hourly contact with sin! He was the "Friend of sinners." The Christian Church of the present day—and society outside the Church—shows more than in any former age of the likeness of his compassion for sinners. But are we not sorely lacking in that righteous indignation against wrong, and deep grief at the dishonour offered to God's Name, which are no less part of "the mind that was in Christ Jesus"?
III. WE MUST NOT ALLOW THIS HEART-WEARINESS TO SLIDE INTO DESPAIR. It must not abate hope, slacken effort, hinder prayer. The temptation may be strong—partly from forgetfulness or ignorance of the past. When a great poet allows himself to exclaim, "When was age so crammed with meanness, madness, written, spoken lies?" the reply is—What former age was less so? Not the age of Isaiah, or of Jeremiah, or of Malachi. Not the age which cried, "Not this Man, but Barabbas!" Nor the ages of the decline and fall of Rome. Nor what some call "the age of faith;" others, more justly, "the dark ages." Nor of the Tudors and Stuarts. Nor the coldhearted, cruel eighteenth century. No! It is an old story, "The whole world lieth in wickedness." It is an ancient cry, "How long, O Lord, how long?" We are "as they that watch for the morning." But courage! "The night is far spent" (Romans 13:12). Armour is not for flight, but fight. "Like a dove!" Yes, David; if thou wert a dove! But thou art a king—God's servant, Israel's champion and prophet (Ephesians 6:13).
If this prayer is David's, it is pathetic and instructive to remember that it was granted, though not as he desired (2 Samuel 17:23). God can show us the unwisdom of our prayers by granting as well as denying. For the present, our Saviour's prayer for his own is not that they be taken out of the world (John 17:15). But whatever is right and true in this prayer shall in due time be answered (Revelation 21:3, Revelation 21:4, Revelation 21:27).
"As for me, I will call," etc. In this verse—the crisis or turning-point of the whole psalm—you see the storm-tossed vessel making for the harbour, and casting anchor in safe shelter. A sorely wounded soul, vexed and out of heart with the tumult and strife of life, the wickedness of men, longs for
"A lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade;"
where, far from the sight of violence and fraud, the din of business, politics, or war, he might be alone with God. But he discerns that if he cannot flee from mankind, he can take refuge in God. He appeals from an unjust and cruel world to eternal righteousness, infinite love, Divine faithfulness. He pours out his heart to God, and lays hold on him; and light and peace begin to stream in (Psalms 55:18, Psalms 55:22, and closing words of psalm). The text suggests some very important views of prayer.
I. ITS PERSONAL CHARACTER; as expressing individual need and desire; the voluntary confidential converse of the heart with God. Custom, fashion, human sympathy, and opinion are all out of court. If in the whole world not another heart or voice were raised in prayer, the believer would yet say, "As for me, I will call upon God." There are other kinds of prayer: the united prayer of two or three, agreed touching what they shall ask; the public prayer of the assembled Church. In private prayer, too, all is not petition for one's self or others; there is confession, thanksgiving, consecration, submission, adoration. Worship may be wordless, silent. But the most wonderful, instructive, encouraging examples of prayer recorded in the Bible show us some strong earnest spirit face to face with God, in direct petition; alone with the Father of spirits, the Almighty Creator, even though a multitude were looking on. Abraham; Jacob; Moses; Joshua; Elijah; Hezekiah; Paul. This is what makes this Book of Psalms so precious a manual for the Church and for each Christian; a storehouse of liturgies, a magazine of prayers. This makes David's life, in spite of his faults and sins, so true and grand a type of real godliness; the clear, full sense and unhesitating utterance, of personal relationship to God; the reality, blessedness, duty, glorious privilege, of drawing nigh to God. Think of it. There is something more than sublime—appalling—in this view of prayer. That a child of dust, yesterday in the cradle, hanging on God's absolute power over the gulf of nothingness, whose voice can reach so few, even of his fellow-men, whose knowledge, thought, will, are bounded in such strait limits, should be able at will to speak with the Ruler and Author of the universe; to make his wish, weakness, misery, or his boldest hope and loftiest purpose, known beyond the stars, above the thrones of archangels, behind all the laws and causes and inmost springs of nature—to God himself; and that he should have a right to expect an answer! Is not this, I say, an amazing, sublime, appalling contemplation? How poor and low are all the heights of worldly dignity compared with the point to which these words lift our thoughts, to which you or I may soar if we make them our own! "As for me," etc.
II. THE CERTAINTY THAT GOD HEARS PRAYER; its sure warrant, reasonable assurance, joyful encouragement. "And the Lord shall save me." If this certainty were merely an inward persuasion, born of strong desire, it would be worthless. If based on any supposed claim of merit or special favouritism, it would be blind presumption. If on the experience of fact, that God does often answer prayer, it would rest on as sure foundation as the discoveries of science, and what we call "laws of nature" But the haunting uncertainty would paralyze faith—Will God hear my prayer? It rests:
1. On God's promises. If the Bible contains any Divine promises, they are promises to prayer.
2. On the mediation of the Lord Jesus. The Old Testament believer took his stand on the ground of God's covenant; and securely, because, though the priesthood and sacrifices were but shadows, they were shadows of the great Reality—Christ. How much more boldly may we draw near, to whom the reality stands unveiled (Hebrews 4:16; Romans 8:34)!
3. On the promised help of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:26, Romans 8:24.) Let us take up David's purpose (verse 17), and hold fast David's faith, "He shall hear my voice."
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
The godly man in three aspects.
"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." David felt this. Often had he been in trouble, but never perhaps had he been brought so low before. Evils dreaded had become realities. The dark clouds, long gathering, had now burst over him in furious tempest. Absalom, his dearly loved son, has risen in revolt, and multitudes flock to his standard. Even old companions in arms desert, and the very friend most trusted turns traitor. It was a terrible time. The aged monarch, sad and dispirited, his name traduced, his tenderest feelings outraged, his life and kingdom threatened, is compelled, with the few found faithful, to seek safety in flight (2 Samuel 15:1-37.). But even then there was no rest for the king. His mind is in a turmoil; his heart is borne down by cruel doubts and fears, and the sorrows of death compassed him about. But in the dark hour he found rest and hope in God. The good man is presented in this psalm as—
I. THE SUBJECT OF GREAT MENTAL DISTRESS. (Psalms 55:1-8.) The cares of a divided house and the complaints of a disaffected people pressed heavy on David's soul. But worse things still troubled him—private sorrows, which he could tell only to God. Human nature is not changed. Trials are much the same now as they were three thousand years ago. How thankful should we be for such a record as we have in this psalm! We are taught that when sorrow comes it is not as if any strange thing happened to us. We see as in a glass how others have suffered, and we learn from them not only how to be patient, but where to find sure relief. How many, in all ages, since the days of David, have found, in his confessions and prayers, words wherewith fitly to express the surging feelings of their hearts!
II. THE VICTIM OF SOCIAL TREACHERY. We mix with our fellow-men. We have our friends and, it may be, our enemies. However it be, we cannot live long without knowing something of the bitterness of disappointment and the pain of betrayal. In such circumstances we have need to walk circumspectly. We must watch and pray, lest our grief should pass into unholy passion, and our just resentment rise to cruel revenge. There is a better way. Bather let the sense of injury breed in us a hatred of all injury. Bather let the feeling that we suffer wrongfully move us to sympathy with all others suffering in like manner. Bather let the faithlessness of man make us rejoice the more in the faithfulness of God, whose care of us never ceases, and whose love never fails.
III. THE OBJECT OF DIVINE DELIVERANCE. "As for me" (Psalms 55:16) marks the difference between the godly and the ungodly, and points the way to the true Resource in every trouble. Help comes largely from prayer (Psalms 55:17). Recollection of past deliverances is reviving (Psalms 55:18). There is also comfort from a clearer insight into the purposes and doings of God (Psalms 55:19). But the great relief, even when face to face with the most grievous trials, is in casting all our cares upon God, who careth for us (Psalms 55:22). The burden which is too heavy for us, and which is crushing us to the earth, we roll upon God, and therefore enter into rest and assured hope. The last words of the psalm are a fit watchword for life and for death ' "But I will trust in thee."—W.F.
"Oh that I had wings like a dove!" David was not the first nor the last to utter this cry. Men in all ages have suffered. Everywhere we find the game unconquerable desire for rest. This longing underlies all religions and philosophies. And there are times when the cry rises instinctively, and presses for an answer. Who is there who has not, in sorrow or in pain bodily and mentally, or when sick and weary and overborne by earthly troubles, been moved to cry, Oh for rest! And yet the wish may be vain. We need to examine and try ourselves. There is a wrong as well as a right way of seeking rest.
I. IT IS VAIN TO HOPE FOR REST BY SEEKING THE IMPOSSIBLE. Man was made "but a little lower than the angels;" and yet, though all things are said to have been put under him, there are points in which the "beasts of the field and the fowls of the air" have the advantage of him. Hence they may become objects of envy. We are limited beings; but we can conceive ourselves endowed with powers beyond what we possess. There is danger in such fancies. The dove flies past, and all seems peace. But this may be a delusion. We know not what fate awaits it. Besides, we cheat ourselves with a silly thought. We know we have not, and cannot have, "wings." Wishing for the impossible only leaves us the more weak and discontented. Better face difficulty manfully. Better do what God has made us capable of doing, if we are willing, than waste time and strength in idle fancies of what cannot be. The doubter wants a "sign." The anxious sinner craves some sensible proof of acceptance. The troubled mind, tossed to and fro amidst the endless strife of controversy, longs for some infallible guide. There is what Wordsworth calls, "the universal instinct of repose—the longing for confirmed tranquillity." But this is not God's way. "Every man shall bear his own burden" (Galatians 6:5).
III. IT IS VAIN TO HOPE FOR REST BY MERE CHANGE OF OUTWARD CONDITIONS. Place has much to do with feeling. What is near seems more real than what is far off. What we see touches us more keenly than what we only hear of from others (Lamentations 3:15). So with respect to "rest." We are prone to blame circumstances. We delude ourselves with the thought that, if things were altered, all would be well The "imagined otherwise" is the heaven of many. So it is with many of the sick, the poor, the oppressed, the discontented. Absalom played cunningly upon this feeling (2 Samuel 15:4). But "rest" is a state of the mind. It does not come from without, but from within. It is not won by change of condition, but by change of heart. So Paul learned (Philippians 4:11).
III. IT IS VAIN TO HOPE FOR REST BY FLIGHT FROM THE IMMEDIATE CAUSES OF DISTRESS. There are times when flight may be expedient (Matthew 10:23; 2 Timothy 2:22). Again, there are times when flight would be a sin (Nehemiah 6:11; 2 Timothy 4:10). Besides, flight may be a vain resource (Amos 5:19). The question is—What is our duty? Then, when we have settled that, like Paul, we should stand firm (Acts 20:24). There are people who would quiet conscience by silencing the preacher, like Herod; or get rid of an unpleasant duty by flying, like Jonah; or hasten their escape from trouble, like David. But this will not avail. It is better to stand than to fly; to do our duty humbly and quietly in the place where God calls us, than to seek an easier lot. Elijah was a nobler figure confronting singly the hosts of Baal, than hiding in the desert. Peter and Paul and Stephen were truer men, and did a grander work by not holding their lives dear, than if they had cared more for themselves than for Christ. The true way of rest is the way of self-sacrifice. It is when we surrender ourselves wholly to Christ, to be his and his only, and to love and do his will for evermore, that we enter into rest (Matthew 11:28-30). The psalmist in his better moments felt this. If his first impulse was "to flee away," when he came to himself he turned to the Lord as his sure Refuge (verse 9). And what he learned for himself he commends with confidence to others: "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee" (verse 22).—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
The true and the false way of encountering the difficulties of life.
Sorrow, danger, and terror had come upon the psalmist with the force of a tempest. He thinks of two ways of escape—casting himself upon God and flight. Suggests the true and the false way of encountering the difficulties of life.
I. TAKE THE FALSE FIRST. "Oh that I had wings," etc.! (Psalms 55:6-8). We must conquer difficulties, not fly from them:
1. Because the post of difficulty is often the post of duty. And we find no rest in flight, because we have sought to evade or neglect our duty.
2. The post of difficulty is the post of discipline. Difficulty is one of the Divine instruments of our training; gives health and strength.
3. Solitude brings an exchange of difficulties, and does not free us from the power of the world. It is better to fight the battle of life than for the heart to prey upon itself apart from the fellowship of men and women.
II. THE TRUE WAY OF ENCOUNTERING THE DIFFICULTIES OF LIFE. By seeking the help of God. (Psalms 55:1, Psalms 55:2.)
1. God will help us to a greater faith. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith' faith in Divine help, and faith in the good and righteous cause.
2. God will inspire us with a truer courage. "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
3. God will give to those who are faithful all needed strength. Will fulfil the promise, "As thy day'[or, 'need'] is so shall thy strength be."
4. Victory is easier to us than to the psalmist, through Christ. Faith in God through faith in Christ will give every believer the victory.—S.
A picture of corrupt city life and private life, and a denunciation of God's judgments upon them.
I. CORRUPT CITY LIFE. (Psalms 55:10, Psalms 55:11.)
1. Corrupt in every part, on the walls and in the interior. Violence and strife reign unchecked universally.
2. Falsehood and deceit ruled in the market-place. (Psalms 55:11.) In the square, or market-place, near the gates, where was the general place of concourse, men cheated and deceived each other in their ordinary intercourse.
II. PICTURE OF CORRUPT PRIVATE LIFE. The sanctities of friendship were openly violated and renounced. The offence was aggravated by two things.
1. That he who had become the psalmist's enemy had been a closely intimate friend. Love had turned to hate, because of the triumph of evil designs or passions, or of "the whispering tongues that can poison truth."
2. Their friendship had been consecrated by religious associations. (Psalms 55:14.) A depraved life can sweep out of the mind the tenderest memories and the most holy associations, human and Divine.
III. THE PSALMIST PRAYS FOR GOD'S JUDGMENTS UPON THIS CORRUPT LIFE. The two forms of judgment which he imprecates are:
1. The judgment that fell upon the builders of Babel. (Psalms 55:9.) Discord among themselves and their counsels, so that they might destroy one another.
2. That they might go down to the grave alive. (Psalms 55:15.) Like Korah and his company, let them be carried away by death in the fulness of life and strength. The psalmist knew of none but violent means and temporal judgments by which such wickedness could be removed.—S.
Contrasts in the character and experience of the righteous and the wicked.
I. CHARACTER AND EXPERIENCE OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
1. His life is a continued exercise of prayer and faith. Calls upon God, evening, morning, and at noon. Carries all his anxieties and fears to God; casts upon him his burden (Psalms 55:22). And he does all this with an assured faith (Psalms 55:16, Psalms 55:17). "And he shall hear my voice." "The Lord shall save me."
2. He has been already delivered from great dangers. (Psalms 55:18.) "Many were against him." Every good man has a past full of such experiences.
3. He has confident assurance of future protection and guidance. "He shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved." God is good and righteous. and this is the foundation of his assurance.
II. CHARACTER AND EXPERIENCE OF THE WICKED.
1. Generally, they have no fear of God. Without God in the world; living, therefore, without restraint.
2. They are traitors to former vows of friendship. They violate without compunction former oaths and covenants.
3. They are guilty of the most cruel deceit. (Psalms 55:21.) Bloody and deceitful men.
4. God shall afflict and humble them. (Psalms 55:19.)
5. They shall die a premature death. (Psalms 55:23.)—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 55". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany