Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalms 18-21

Psalm 18‑21  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Psa. 18 is of the deepest interest, as regards the interpretation, presenting, as it does, the sufferings of Christ as the center of all the deliverances of Israel. His cry there called out upon. Israel all the favor of God in power. But I have not a great deal to say upon it, for that very reason, in its application to us. The great principle developed—and it is a precious one—is the cry to a trusted God in distress, which He surely hears. Of this Christ is the example, as elsewhere. “This poor man cried, and Jehovah heard him.” Only that here it is not, as in psalm 34., tender commiseration towards the suffering poor; but the interest that Jehovah takes in a suffering Christ, who has walked in perfect obedience to the law. The psalm is a psalm of praise, because He has been heard and Jehovah known as a rock and a deliverer; but this, as often remarked, is the result expressed in the first verses, and what leads to it is then pursued.
“I will call upon Jehovah,” for His name it is, and His alone, the God of His people, which inspires confidence. It is His name which is celebrated, but what has drawn all this praise out is the answer to the cry raised to Him in distress in the midst of enemies, in the sorrows of death. In that distress Jehovah heard out of His temple. This associates it at once with the earth, and deliverance and triumph there. But another point of the highest interest does so too—obedience to the law laid as the ground for his living, heard in the day of distress. (ver. 20-26.) The righteous obedience on earth and dependence of Messiah on Jehovah, calling on him in distress, brought Him earthly deliverance and earthly triumph. The two previous psalms look onward to heavenly blessing, though the latter of them for the disappointment of the enemy also; but the hope held out is heavenly, the righteousness not legal; but in the former the heart set on Jehovah, in the latter a heart right with God, and in this world, and looking for righteousness.
Here in psalm 18, there is obedience to His statutes, a cry in distress even to the pains of death, and deliverance, and triumph on the earth, Such is the result of the legal righteousness of Christ, when in distress, in the midst of the floods of ungodly men and His strong enemy. Note, it is the power of men and death, and His crying thus to God, and His cry comes before Him—in no way God's hand upon Him as suffering for sin. Messiah's legal righteousness and distress bring earthly triumph and supremacy to David and to his seed. It is the government of God, (see 25-26) having regard to righteousness on the earth which in Christ was perfect. But this, perfectly accomplished when Christ's enemies are put under His feet, is not actually so how, because God prepares His saints for a heavenly dwelling and joy, and, during all the proving of the first Adam, shows by their trials that their rest is not here. Still there are some precious points for every soul. In uprightness and suffering through it, he can surely count upon God; and remark here that the interest and sympathy of God, awakening in us the blessedest affections, are sweetly shown. The Lord hears when we call in distress, and in the greatest depth we can have confidence, and what ought to seem to shut us out from it is just the occasion of it. The psalm instructs us thus to call upon the Lord in distress, come how or why it may—to call on the Lord; and thus not only the deliverance is known, but the Lord is known in His sympathy, and kindness, and interest in us. I love the Lord, he says; or rather the heart turns to the Lord Himself and says, “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength,” and then the heart thinks of all He is for us. “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my strength, in whom I will trust, my buckler, the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” The heart enlarges in the sense of what He has been for us. And so He is. Though our deliverances may not be exactly of the same kind, yet difficulties and distress often beset us, and there is deliverance in crying to the Lord. Note also, there are holy affections drawn out by the dealings of the Lord, as by His eternal salvation—holy and confiding affections, piety; not merely praise, because He has redeemed us forever, but daily exercise of sympathy and tender thoughts of compassion. He cannot bear to see us suffer, save when needed, and there are trials which draw out love to Him. Surely, He says, “Ephraim is my dear child; for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still.” There indeed it was the remembrance of him when under chastisement. Here it is suffering in integrity, but at bottom there is integrity in the Christian and in Christ. He can cry in that distress. The psalm however is the cry of a holy and calm spirit, confiding in God and finding the abundant results in His faithfulness. The heart is drawn to Himself.
In 16, 17, 18, we have found Christ Himself—His personal position, the joy set before Him in heaven, and His final triumph on earth as suffering when legally righteous. In 19 – 21, we have the godly remnant contemplating the different testimonies presented to the responsibility of man. A few remarks on each are called for. First, there is the testimony of creation, and in particular the heavens, for the earth has been given to man and is corrupt. Here, remark, God is spoken of, not Jehovah—His hope in God as such. Hence the Godly man sees that the witness goes out into all lands, and that the Gentiles are the objects of God's testimony. This is a very important point, which the Jews ought to have understood, and which Paul, by the Holy Ghost, did understand, citing this psalm to show it—not resting on what the testimony was, but on the fact that the testimony of God went out into all lands to the ends of the earth. The godly man can delight in this testimony to the glory of His God; And he sees it reaches out to all. He enters into and understands the penetrating, pervading character of this testimony, and that it is God who is witnessed to by it. Such, I add, will be the estimate of the restored remnant in the last days. (See psalm 148.) But the godly man estimates the experimental excellence of the law of God also; and though, of course, for Israel it was the law as given by Moses, we must take it here as the testimony of the word of God to the conscience. I say the conscience, because it is not the revelation of the riches of grace, or the unfolding of the person of Christ and the ways of God in Him, but the testimony of God's word respecting man, to the conscience of man, even when it is taken in the largest sense. He does not say the law of God here, but “the law of Jehovah,” a God known in covenant relationship. His law is given to His people, to His servants. It is perfect, the exact mind of God as to what man ought to be before God, according to God's will, now that evil is known; but man's mind is not such, even when the law of God is delighted in. It sets the soul therefore right. One has the consciousness of its doing so: for the soul having life, appreciates it when revealed, (though it may not have had it in mind,) and is livingly susceptible of its truth. It has living power as the word of God for him who lives. But where it is not forgotten, there is enlightening and direction. It is pure and enlightens the eyes, gives to see clear where we were obscure in heart and spirituality. But the psalm connects this with the state of the heart. There is a reference, not merely to the law, but to the Lord Himself—the effect of the sense of God's presence in the conscience—the fear of the Lord—the introduction of God into everything, and the reference of the heart to Him, and the judgment which he has of everything. This is clean; no spot can remain there, and it is an eternal principle, for it depends on the nature of God Himself. Further, God's dealings and ways as pronounced (for judgments include that, as well as judgments executed; He does show His judgment of timings in His chastisements;) but in general every judgment He forms, however shown, is true and righteous altogether. But they are not only this, but as gold and the honeycomb to the faithful.; they are the expressions of God's mind, and that is infinitely precious and sweet to the saint. But, besides this, the heart is in the midst of dangers and human tendencies, which draw us far from God. The judgments of the Lord on all human conduct warn us: for the joy of the word, and, in the case of the Christian, of heaven, do not suffice. We need the wisdom and prudence which can point out a divine path in the confusion of evil, to guide our steps out of the reach of evil here. God's word meets us even here. And in keeping His judgments there is great reward: great positive blessing and peace of heart here. The soul is happy with God, and walks in peace through the world, and, as a Christian, the heart is thus wholly free to serve others. Remark that it is not merely what the law is, but what the heart knows it to be: the servant of Jehovah is warned by it. There is delight in it, according to the new nature, and the consciousness of relationship; for we are servants of God, though we have higher, more intimate and glorious relationships. But in this confidence, the effect of this nearness is to turn the eye to another point: the want of full self-knowledge, distrust of self. “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” In many thing's, although delighting in the word, and appreciating it when thinking of it. I may not have judged my own heart, or be able morally to prove it, so as to judge it according to that perfection: for there is growth in spiritual judgment. But there is integrity and confidence in the Lord, and he demands to be cleaned from his secret faults, and to be kept from all presumptuous faults—what one would commit with open disregard of God. Thus he would be undefiled, and be kept with God, not turning aside to idols or vanity. For small and neglected sins and unjudged confidence of heart lead to forgetfulness of God, and denial of Him in the truth. I do not speak here of security by grace, but of the path in which these evils lead. Finally, the true desire of the heart is shown: that the words of the mouth, and the meditations of the heart may be acceptable in God's sight. This is the true test of a. godly life, when good is sought inwardly, when only in God's sight: the research of good with God, not before man or in the knowledge of man. I speak not of hypocrisy, but of walking with God. But in all true righteousness God is owned as our Rock and Redeemer; for we cannot be “with Him, with the real apprehensions of a new life, without feeling our need of Him in both characters.
Psa. 20 and 21, as remarked elsewhere, present to us the third witness presented to time responsibility of men—Christ. But this is not our only subject here: psalm xx. shows us the profound interest which the heart takes in. watching the Faithful One in His sorrows—in a Jewish form no doubt. Still, as elsewhere, the substance is the same for us. It is still confidence in Jehovah which characterizes the feeling of Him who speaks; for time God of Jacob is before His thoughts. There is faith in Him in this relationship. Yet Messiah is seen in the trials and questions of His life here below, walking but in piety towards Jehovah, and in dependence on Him. Nothing can show Christ more completely as a man than this. The Anointed is saved, i.e., delivered, and heard. The whole heart of the godly is wrapped up in this. But the remnant see yet further here, as Israel ought to have done; they see Him answered in His demand for life, by a most glorious one forever, in the immediate light of God's countenance, with which He is made glad, and after that, His right hand finding out all His enemies, and destroying them. But, even in all this, (as in John 17. where one sees at the same time that he must be one with the Father,) Messiah receives all from Jehovah as a man, and is so viewed by the godly. And so was He presented by Peter. His privilege is the favor of Jehovah; His piety, confidence in Jehovah. This link is what occupies the godly, who are thus profoundly attached to Messiah, and this was in effect what characterized Christ—seeking His Father's glory, and in nothing His own. So Jehovah associates Himself entirely with Him as 21:9, as the godly does on his side also. And as Messiah is exalted by Jehovah in spite of His enemies, so is Jehovah exalted in His glory in doing it; and so it is, the remnant, equally interested, exalt and praise the power of Jehovah. This linking up the interests of the godly, bound in heart to Messiah—Messiah and Jehovah, as characterizing the piety of the godly, is full of beauty and interest. Yet, in His life, Christ never took this title with His disciples. He would lead them further. He was Son of man, and spoke of His Father as being Himself Son of God. “My Father,” said He to the Jews, of whom ye say that He is your God. All the moral qualities of Messiah, Son of God, He had, but He was weaning His disciples from the earthly associations to higher and heavenly ones; and this shows us the need there is in all our use of the psalms to make this difference. We see with the profoundest interest the sorrows and sufferings of Christ, but it is from a higher point of view; we look not at his official place and then humiliation, but the divine and perfect love in which He emptied Himself and came down and took the form of a servant, and was found in fashion as a man, and passed with a purpose of love across the trials and sorrows of this world of sorrow, and we see His glory in it. The truth is much more deeply taught in the New Testament. Still the way Christ is presented as a true dependent man, and His piety in this dependence is most instructive to us who can add the deeper truth from the revelation of the Son of God. The word of life in it is seen.