Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalms 12-16

Psalm 12‑16  •  24 min. read  •  grade level: 7
IT is evident that Psa. 12 is written under the pressure of extreme wrong and violence and the feeling of being isolated. Human power, and those that have confidence in it, are all against the soul. It is rare to be in such a case rightly—that is, to have occasion to suffer as is here described. But it may come. Individual Christians may find themselves isolated and pressed down. The fifth verse introduces Jehovah's judgments, which will put an end to it. This He often does still in His government, but it is not the direct proper hope of the Christian. For him to do well, suffer for it and take it patiently, is acceptable with God. his rest is elsewhere, where God is perfectly glorified; so it was with Christ, and, therefore, with us. He surely did well, suffered for it here on the earth—was not delivered. How acceptable it was with God I need not say. It behooved Christ to suffer. It is our profit; so that we can glory in tribulations also, because of their fruits, a far higher fruit than ease or repose here, and which ripens in heaven, in our being fitted for enjoying God more deeply; and if we suffer for righteousness' and Christ's sake, we can say, happy are we. The Spirit of glory and of God rests on us. But in many cases of detail, deliverance, if we wait patiently for it, comes even here. At any rate, and this is the point of the psalm, the words of Jehovah are pure words; they prove all that is in man, but they may be thoroughly relied on as genuine. He will hold good in holiness, but make good in power all that His mouth hath uttered. Our wisdom is to hold fast by the word of the Lord, come what will. Outward trials are but instruments of purification and of trying the heart as to faith. The word is the test of all for the soul, the inward measure of its condition before God, and the infallible ground of confidence. If it tries the heart, if the circumstances we are in try the heart, it is only to free it from all that would hinder our leaning on and appropriating every word that has come out of the mouth of God. We shall surely live by it.
Psa. 13 continues the expression of the workings of a soul under the trials we have seen referred to in Psalm 10. We have, comparatively speaking, less to do with it. Yet the Christian may be tried by the momentary and apparent triumph of the power of evil. And in such, can look to the Lord for deliverance, not to be left as if God did not care for him. We see the difference of the Jewish remnant here and Christ, for outwardly He was left in the hand of the wicked; whereas, (though, indeed, some of the wise will fall by the hand of the enemy in that day, obtaining a better resurrection, but,) in general, they will be spared and delivered; but our object now is the moral lesson. In the midst, not only of heartless and conscienceless enemies, but apparently forgotten of God, the soul trusts in His mercy, counts on Himself in goodness and faithfulness of mercy so as to rejoice in deliverance by His power before it comes. So we thank God, when we pray, before we receive the answer, because knowing in our hearts, by faith, that God has heard and answered us, we bless Him before His answer comes outwardly, and this is just the proof of faith. This confidence gives wonderful peace in the midst of trials; we may not know how God will deliver, but we are sure He will, and rightly. He has all at His disposal. It is Himself we trust, and in looking to Him the heart receives a real answer on which it relies. The circumstances and the word try the heart. Confidence and divine deliverance rejoice the spirit. One knows, and before the deliverance comes, that God is for us. The taking counsel in the heart is very natural, but not faith. It wears and distresses the spirit. The sorrow tends to work death. The soul, even though submitting, preys on itself; it is turning to the Lord which lightens the soul. The consciousness that it is the enemy who works against us, helps the soul to confidence. It is a solemn, and for man would be an appalling, thought, but with the Lord is a ground of being assured of deliverance.
Psa. 14 is an eminent example of the principle of very frequent application: how psalms, or other passages of scripture, clearly applicable literally to the Jews in the last days, and events then occurring, are used as great principles, deciding morally on important truths at all times, truths which are then publicly and judicially brought to light. The apostle applies this psalm as the expression of the divine judgment on the state of the Jews, as declared in their own scriptures, and proving the need of a righteousness not their own. I have not much to remark on it here. We may expect to meet with difficulties which arise from a total absence of the fear of God in those with whom we have to do. It is hardly credible for one that fears God, that this can be so, that there should be no compunction; nothing that stays the heart in wickedness, at least, in deliberate wickedness. But we must expect this sometimes, where we should least expect it. But the Lord sees all this. This is our confidence. He may take time, be patient with evil, or, at least, with evil doers, and exercise us, but He sees it all. Not only so, but God Himself is in the generation of the righteous. There is an influence produced by the presence of God with the righteous, which the enemies of the Lord feel, and which in the righteous is known only by faith. We may see all example in what Rahab evidently saw among the Canaanites, Josh. 2:99And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. (Joshua 2:9). The same feeling is referred to in Phil. 1:2828And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. (Philippians 1:28). This feeling of fear, in those who oppose the truth, may be accompanied with boasting and violence; but when faith has confidence in the Lord, the wicked, even if they succeed, have always fear. So even the Jews, when they had crucified Christ, feared lest, after all, His absence from the tomb should make matters worse than before. But there must be the sense of God's presence for the righteous to be thus sustained.
Psa. 15 shows, evidently, that the direct application of these psalms is to the Jews in the last days. Still, there is a present government of God which it is well for saints to remember. It is developed in the Epistles of Peter—in the first in favor of the righteous, in the second in the judgment of the wicked. (See 1 Peter 3:10-1510For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 11Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. 12For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. 13And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? 14But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: (1 Peter 3:10‑15), showing the Christian application of the principles on which God dealt with the Jews as a people, and will still more absolutely in the last days, but which have their application to the time of our sojourn here below.)
Thus, though this psalm be strictly Jewish in its character, we have principles to act on. Thus, ver. 4 gives what, in principle, pleases the Lord at all times. With these few remarks, I pass on to Psalm 16, which applies directly to Christ, but in which we shall find the sweetest instruction also for ourselves. It is essentially Christ taking the place of a man, and pointing out the path of life before him through death, since He came for us, but trusting in Jehovah, into His presence, where is fullness of joy. We must not lose sight of the direct prophetic character; still this path is an example for us. The Good Shepherd has gone before the sheep. The great principle proposed in the psalm is trust in the Lord, even in death—the place of dependent obedience, and the Lord Himself's being the whole portion of man, excluded all inconsistent with this. We may add, having Him always in view. These are the great principles of divine life, and of divine life come into the scene of sin and death. No doubt we should speak of communion with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in this path of life; but the great moral principles, the subjective state of soul, is brought out before us here, and that in Christ Himself. And note here, it is His perfection as man and before God and towards God. It is not divine perfection—God manifested to man; but what He was as man dependent on God. We have not even His offering Himself, in which we have also to follow Him; (1 John 3:1616Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16);) but His place as man in perfection. It is perfectness before God—the principle that governed Him. Hence, even the word, My goodness extendeth not to thee, has its application also to us. That our goodness does not actually reach God it might seem almost absurd to affirm; but when it is applied to Christ as man, who was absolutely perfect, it affords us an apprehension of the nature of this goodness, a principle which we can apply to ourselves, and which puts us in our place. It is man's perfection towards God—the new path of which Christ is the perfection and example in the earth. But this thought shows the unspeakably blessed place which we have as Christians—though in our own case in the midst, not only of weakness, but of internal conflicts, which were not in Christ, in whom was no sin. But Christ's place is the perfect expression of our place before God. This is fully unfolded at the close of the Gospel of John, and particularly in the 17th chapter.
The Epistle of John, too, which first presents Christ as the manifestation on earth of that eternal life which was with the Father, its manifestation in a man whom their hands had touched, teaches that this was true in Christians as in Him, (1 John 2:88Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. (1 John 2:8)) and unfolds the character of this life in righteousness and in love, adding the presence of the Holy Ghost, through which we can dwell in “God and God in us. We have this eternal life which is come down from heaven, but is only said to be in the Son; and he who has the Son has it. Indeed, this gives it all its value. No doubt the Epistle of John unfolds it in all its extent and value, as it cannot be unfolded in the Psalms: still in this psalm we have Christ taking the place itself as amongst the excellent of the earth. 1 may remark here, that the writings of John, though intimating it, and just showing that we shall be with Christ above, do not pursue this life to its presentation in glory before God. This is Paul's office. Indeed, he had only so seen Christ. John presents the life in itself, and manifested on earth. The life is the light of men.
I have already made some allusion to a restriction which we must put, in speaking of this psalm, to the development of the life of Christ on earth. But this restriction only brings out more directly and blessedly in its place, that part of Christ's Life, which is the subject of the psalm itself. Christ was the manifestation of God Himself (I speak of the divine traits of His character, not of His divine nature and title) in His path in this world. Perfect love was seen there—perfect holiness and righteousness. He was the truth in the revelation of all that God is. And this is most blessed. And in this we have to imitate Him. (See Eph. 4:3; 2:5:1, 23Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3); Col. 3:1010And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: (Colossians 3:10).) But this is not the aspect in which the psalm views Him. It depicts His place as the dependent devoted man. It depicts Him as taking his place among the remnant of Israel, in contrast with the idolatry of that people. But on that I do not dwell now. The character of the blessed Lord's life will alone occupy our thoughts.
The expression, My goodness extendeth not to thee, would not suit the divine manifestation of goodness on the earth. But taking His place entirely as a man here, the Lord shows us the true place of man living to God—not in his innocence, not surely in sin, but the very opposite; but perfect, in a world of sin, in righteousness and true holiness, having the knowledge of good and evil, tempted, but separate from sin and sinners, not made higher than the heavens, but fit for it in the desires of his nature, and in the path towards it dependent, obedient, taking no place with God, but before Him as responsible as man upon earth, and looking towards the place of perfect blessedness as man with God by being in His presence, which would be fullness of joy for him, a place which, when having His nature, we can have with Christ. It is man trusting God, deriving his pleasure and joy from God, living by faith and in that sense apart from Him—not God manifested in the flesh, which we know was also true of the blessed Lord. This, while it is our place on earth as sanctified through the truth, is above the place of the Jewish remnant. We have another in the consciousness of union with Christ through the Holy Ghost. The Lord takes the place we are considering when He says to the young man, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God. If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Thus far it went outwardly well with the young ruler, but there was more than this to characterize this life where divine life was, in a world of sin and sinners, in its path towards the place of the fullness of joy—what had been shown in Abraham and in the saints of God, in the Davids and the prophets. The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance. Having the Lord Himself as that which governed and led the heart, Go sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and come, follow me. But the Lord was not, at any rate then, the portion of his inheritance. Only one knows not what may have become afterward his state through grace.
The state described in this psalm is that of man considered apart from God; (I do not mean of course morally separated, nor touch upon the union of the divine and human natures in Christ;) but it is man partaker of the divine nature, for so only it could be, but having God for his object, his confidence, as alone having authority over him, entirely dependent on God, and perfect in faith in Him. This could only be in one personally partaker of the divine nature, God Himself in man, as Christ was, or derivatively as in one born of God; but, as we have seen, Christ is not here viewed in this aspect nor the believer as united to Him. The divine presence in Him is viewed not in the manifestation of God in Him, but in its effect in This absolute perfection as man. He is walking as man morally in view of God. Christ here depends on Jehovah for His resurrection. He says, Thou wilt not leave, though He could say, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Yet He could say, as perfect man, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. As Peter among the Jews could say, He hath made Him, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ; while Thomas could say, My Lord and my God. Indeed Peter never leaves this ground—the rejected man, the Messiah exalted by God—nor preaches the Son of God as Paul did at once in the synagogues, though the first, by divine revelation, to confess Him such. Hence Christ is a perfect model for us—shows what the perfect man is. The first great principle, and that which characterizes the whole psalm, is the referring Himself entirely, and with confidence, to the care of God. He does not preserve Himself, take care of Himself, nor depend at all on Himself: He refers to God. “Preserve me, O God, for in thee do I put my trust.” But this goes far. As God, Christ could have preserved Himself; but He did not come for that. In that sense it was impossible. He came in love to suffer, obey, and so by grace also save—but glorify God. From this, morally speaking, He could not swerve; but as to power, He could have preserved Himself, or as to title to favor as Son, He could have asked and had twelve legions of angels. But thus, as He says, He could not have fulfilled the counsels, the revealed counsels, of God.
It was free submission and dependence, but perfect submission and dependence—the one right thing in the position which He had taken. This was perfect faith. He was the leader and completer of faith, absence of self, dependence, and confidence: and we may add, the word of God was the revelation on which He acted, that which He obeyed, the weapon He used, as we see in His temptation in the desert. He was the word and the truth personally, and all He said expressed what He was. (John 8:2525Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning. (John 8:25).) But it is not less true that He used and acted on and obeyed the Scriptures as man. But here He takes the place of dependence and confidence. As man He says, “Preserve me, O God. In thee do I put my trust.”
The next point, partly necessarily anticipated in what I have said, is entire subservience to the will of God. There to God, as revealed among the Jews, Jehovah: to us it would be the Father and the Son—one God, even the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ. “Thou hast said unto Jehovah, Thou art my Lord.” Remark, “Thou hast said.” He had taken this place. He was Jehovah, but not taking that place at all here in His path. In the form of God, thinking it no robbery to be equal with God, He had taken the form of a servant, and was found in fashion as a man. Freely taken, perfectly preserved in, through death, His taken place is humiliation. Freely to take it is a divine title and action. Creatures have to keep their own; though when not kept by God, none have done so. His given, but deserved, place as man is glory. (John 17) He humbles Himself, and is highly exalted. He had said to Jehovah, “Thou art my Lord;” that is, I am subservient to Thee. He had taken a place, while never ceasing to be God, and which Godhead alone could fulfill the conditions of, outside Godhead; but in which as man to satisfy God, to glorify God in an earth of apostasy and sin, indeed with all on earth, and Satan's power against Him—at the close, even God's wrath, if to fulfill His glory in righteousness. Hence He says, My goodness extendeth not to thee—up to thee. He was to fulfill man's place in the condition in which God's glory was now concerned in it.; A perfect man, when a perfect man, was alone in perfectness; none to sustain—none even to have compassion on Him. He must trust God in life and through death—yea, through wrath. But here it is in the path of life, and even this shown Him. (Ver. 11.) But, further, there were objects of divine favor from which He did not dissociate Himself. But He does not speak of them as chosen by Himself here—as in John of His disciples, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” —(though there also for service,) nor as chosen of God in grace, but as objects of divine delight in the path they trod, as manifested morally—those who were in the path He had to tread in—the saints that are in the earth, the excellent. This is full of interest. It is still His moral place as man, delighting in what God delighted in, as becomes one perfect with God, as we see in full figure in Moses. (Heb. 11:24-2624By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; 25Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. (Hebrews 11:24‑26).) He takes His place with the saints—those really sanctified to God. This we see in fact, and in the way of the most perfect obedience and humiliation, in that the Savior went to be baptized with the baptism of John, when those moved by the Spirit of God to humble themselves went there. In the first and lowest step of divine life, that of the heart giving itself up to God in the acknowledgment of sin, He who knew no sin went with those who owned it; for their owning it was divine life, and it was consecrating themselves to God. They were the true excellent of the earth. How sweet and consoling in the wilderness to see Christ treading this path, victorious over all temptation in it, as shown directly after His baptism by John; binding the strong man, in life possessed and victorious over all the power of the enemy. One sees easily here, that though it be the divine life, the fruit of grace, it is not in se God manifesting Himself, a goodness in its character in itself reaching to God; for it was owning sin, though it was divine grace in Christ to do it. Just as it was not properly of God, as such, to die; though nothing but the perfect love, that is, one who was God Himself could have died as Christ did, given Himself, laid down His life, given a motive to His Father to love Him, for what He did. We see one acting as man in man's place, (only absolutely, perfectly, and freely as loving the Father, which He could not have done if not divine), before God and towards God as men had to act. That a divine person should do this has a value beyond all thought, and it is what, as much else, the blessed Savior did for us, a man in our place, that is in the perfection of it as God's delight, and according to what it ought to be, in the midst of this sinful world, what glorified God in it. And it is of all importance for us to see Christ thus an object of delight, adoring delight, for instruction and confirmation to the soul. It is a path the vulture's eye has not seen and that no man's thought could have traced, if Christ, the perfect One, had not walked in it. We have it in life—in a person—as it only so could be, the path of life in a living one who was the thing to be loved. No doubt the written word gives us the elements of this life in all details, but at the same time it gives much of it, however many blessed precepts direct our path, in the life of Christ Himself; so that this life is understood according to the degree of spirituality which apprehends that life as depicted in the gospels or other parts of Scripture, its motives or rather its motive and nature. Even in precept we find a direction to walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing. How evidently does this require the true knowledge of what He is. The view which we have taken of this divine life, perfect in itself, but displayed in a knowledge of good and evil and proved in the midst of evil—in us renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him that created us—is brought out distinctly in positive separation from evil, but especially in the motive and spring of life, the confession of Jehovah. He (ver. 4) repels all that can be called another God. He will have nothing at all to say to it. It is absolute rejection. He cleaves to Jehovah. Fidelity to Jehovah characterizes the life of Christ as so walking on earth. We can say fidelity to Christ Himself. Christ is all and in all. Jehovah is not only Lord to obey, He is the portion of his inheritance. He sought naught else; as of the priest of old and yet better, as in heart and desire, the Lord was his inheritance and the portion of his cup, his lot here, which he had to drink. His enjoyment in hope, his portion by the way. This I apprehend is the difference between heritage and cup; the inheritance is the permanent portion of the soul, the cup what its feelings are occupied with, what comes to a man to occupy his spirit by the way. He gives the cup of wrath to the wicked to drink; the blessed Lord had to drink the cup of wrath on the cross. My cup runneth over—was filled to overflow with blessing; so we say, habitually, it was a bitter cup. It is not merely the circumstances we pass through, unless the soul be subject to them; but that which we taste in the circumstances, what our spirits feel, that which presses on them in the circumstances. Thus, in Psa. 23, the circumstances were all sorrowful, but the Lord being shepherd all through them his cup ran over with joy and blessing. Thus Jehovah was the permanent portion of the heart of Christ, and, as walking through this world, that on which His heart rested; what formed and characterized His feelings more than the sorrow He went through, save on the cross. My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work. Man, no, not even His disciples, never entered into His thoughts. One who sat at His feet once in affection felt that to which He could give a voice but only to bring out more sadly the failure of all else; but He had meat to eat they knew not of. Jehovah was the portion of His cup, nearer than all circumstances which otherwise could have pressed upon His heart as man, and which He fully felt, if we except the cross, or rather, indeed, more than ever there, for it was the wrath of Jehovah Himself that pressed upon His soul in the cup He then drank. But otherwise so truly was Jehovah the great circumstance and substance of His life in and through everything, that He could only wish that His joy might be fulfilled in His disciples. But, then, it was from Jehovah only, and therein His perfection; the world was absolutely a dry and thirsty land, where no water was, but Jehovah's favor was better than life; and was His life, practically, through a world where all was felt, but felt with Jehovah realized; Jehovah and His favor, the life of His soul, between Him and all. So the Christian, forsaken, perhaps, and imprisoned. Rejoice in the Lord alway, and, again I say rejoice. Nature has circumstances between itself and God; faith has God between the heart and circumstances. And what a difference! No peace like the peace, which hiding in the tabernacle from the provokings of all men gives. But this is a divine life through the world. Jehovah—we say the Father and the Son, a brighter development through the Son Himself—the permanent portion of the soul, its inheritance. Jehovah, the present joy and strength that fills the soul and gives its taste to life. (Comp. 64. and 23.) And, thirdly, the blessed confidence that Jehovah maintains our lot; we trust not ourselves, not favorable circumstances, not a mountain which the Lord Himself has made strong, but Jehovah Himself. Delight thyself in the Lord, He shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Faith leans on Jehovah, on the Father's love and Jesus'; for the securing infallibly happiness and peace we need not look to circumstances, save to pass through them with Him. This was perfect in Christ. He had only this, nor looked for aught else. We see it brightly manifested in Paul. In principle, it is the path of every Christian; and some time or other he is exercised in it. The life of faith is this: God Himself the portion of our inheritance and of our cup: He maintaineth our lot. This is blessedly developed for us in the knowledge of the Father and the Son. But the great principle is the same. It is the life of Christ, and this is enjoyed in contrast with and to the exclusion of all else that could become the confidence or the portion of the heart; expressed here in Jewish relationship, but always essentially true.