Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalms 29-32

Psalm 29‑32  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Psa. 29 does not call for much remark connected with the way we are now viewing them. It is a summons to the mighty of the earth to own and give glory to Jehovah—the honor due to His name. The only point I would notice is the connection of worship with this, and here owning Him in His temple, where He has placed His name. His name has been revealed. Glory is due to Him as revealed, to His name; a name which, while the revelation of Himself, is that also of His relationship with His people. There He has placed His name, so as to form a center of association and revealed place of worship. Thus, while His voice may proclaim the majesty of that name, they who know it are drawn together by it as a place of common worship. The glory of this name is made good by and revealed in what is declared in the last verses. Jehovah sitteth upon the floods, is above, and rules to His own purposes all the tumultuous movings of the mass of peoples. He sits, too, King forever. As He is above the swellings of men, so He sits in sure, unmoved government forever. But, then, there is the connection with His people. He gives them strength. He blesses them with peace. Verse 10 is the possession of power over all and in Himself. Verse 11, what He is for the people. It is the invitation of the mighty to own Jehovah, and the sure blessing of Israel.
The great truth of psalm 30 is the practically deeply-interesting one, that the joy flowing from the deliverance the Lord (in this psalm Jehovah) affords is greater and deeper than the blessing of prosperity, even when acknowledged to come from God. It may be that the deliverance is from sorrow occasioned by faults. With the remnant of the Jews it will surely be so; but it is complete and full; and when the sin or evil is fully acknowledged, the restoration and blessing is absolute in communion with God. Forgiveness, or the thought of it, in an unhealed soul, may have regrets. When the soul is healed, it will learn judgment of the evil, assuredly, and a sense of humbleness, if it be recurred to—always more tenderness of spirit, more grace; but if the healing be full, the soul wholly searched out, no regrets, because what God is for us, as such, will possess the soul. The soul will abhor the flesh, and the principles which led to evil; but self will be taken out of the abhorrence when the evil is really hated, and peace will be there. I do not say the psalm pursues these thoughts to this depth. It is more occupied with the outward circumstances, with the hand of God upon it for evil, than with the evil for which His hand is upon it. But these are looked at as His anger. The effect is, that circumstances are looked at as a matter of His anger and favor; and on this the soul rests. It had been in prosperity, had owned its coming from God, but saw in circumstances its ground of confidence for happiness, though looked at as given and established by God. But, in so doing, however much it owned God in giving and assuring the blessing, it rested on the blessing, and that blessing ministered to self, instead of taking out of it. “I shall never be cast down. Thou, Lord, of thy goodness, past made my mountain to stand strong.” Though piety might be there, it might degenerate into “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.” The psalm, however, supposes true piety. Only that God's favor has made the mountain— “mountain” —to stand strong, instead of the favor itself being the blessing. Jehovah hides His face, and direct dependence is felt, direct blessing looked for. Chastening and exercises for faults come, and divine favor itself is felt to be the blessing needed. And what Jehovah is Himself is the source of joy. When His anger is on the people that is felt; not merely the circumstances it is expressed in, but the hiding of Jehovah's face for sin. The soul is brought into an immediate relationship, though it be by anguish and distress. It is brought to think of itself, not as a self to be caressed, a center of its own blessing, but as sinful, and God's favor is needed. Thus, though painfully, a most useful and important work is done, through grace, when this self-judgment is wrought in the soul, so that there is spiritual integrity. The favor of Jehovah shines in upon it, and is enjoyed, and is become itself the blessing, while positive deliverance accompanies it in God's good time. The true nature of God in holy worship is entered into. He is not merely a God to serve man in blessing. The enemy does not rejoice over us, and the soul itself is healed. We see that if His anger be there, it is but a moment of discipline and instruction for the saints; and then they, being purified, enjoy Himself more fully. Here, literally, we see the remnant at the verge of the grave, and there delivered; but the true work is, even for them, with God.
I add these conditions of soul in which we may see saints now, of which this psalm gives an occasion to speak. First, what we may call, in a comparative sense, innocence, when a converted soul has no acquaintances with corruption, and no great inward conflict. Here the grace of forgiveness is enjoyed, and the soul is cheerfully happy in the known kindness and love of Gad its Savior. Such a soul, if walking close with God, may attain to the real judgment of self and deep acquaintance with God. Otherwise, the soul is superficial, and the man of self little known, separation from flesh's sphere, the world on its amiable side, little realized. The next is where it has failed, and, gone through deeper exercises, has been brought thus to the knowledge of self in a humbling way. This is more the case of the psalm. Then forgiveness may be known, and there is the rest of this; but a certain shame of sin and want of open confidence with God, as naturally in enjoyment of Him, if there have been anything base or trifling with God. This is more difficult to attain. But self, at any rate, is not set aside. Thirdly, when the root that has produced the evil is really judged, the point of departure from God, (not merely the evil itself: and self thus set aside practically, then divine favor is everything. The heart is so far whole with God. and, while humble, bold with men. It has its conscious link with God, His favor—God known to be with it in moral unison, and in positive sustainment am: strength. The present is its place with Him, not the past.
Psa. 31 is the expression of entire confidence it Jehovah—God known in our relationship with Him in the most terrible circumstances of trial and distress and that where sin has brought it on; yet where faith is at work, and the known name of God counted on and therefore His righteousness in making it good It is not reckoning upon God with pride. It Jehovah trusted in for what He is—His name—but with the fullest confession of failure, and that it h through sin that trouble has come upon Him that cries to Him. It is not so much the confession of iniquity. but that the sorrow out of which the cry is sent up is due to iniquity; but the extremity of pressure cast the soul in confidence on God according to His revelation of Himself. The special character of the psalm is trust, and, from personal knowledge of Jehovah, the committing one's case to Him. This is a deep principle of true piety—such a knowledge of the Lord such faith in what He is, that the soul can trust Him and cast all on Him, when distress and hostility comes to an extremity. And it is a principle of utter righteousness, because the soul cannot look thus to God but in righteousness. The Lord is known am having considered the distressed one's trouble. He has known his soul in adversities. The sufferings were not God's forgetting the sufferer. God has known, recognized, followed, His heart owned, the sufferer's soul, and thought of it in the midst of adversities; and the sufferer as an owned soul, (however faulty,) looks through the suffering to the Lord. It accepts the punishment of its iniquity, but in this righteous feeling trusts Jehovah; and in this spirit, in what is perfect in principle, commits itself entirely to the Lord, and knows and is content that it should be so, that all is in His hand. (Ver. 15.) It looks hence for His face to shine on it; but that through His appearing for it, it should not be finally ashamed, nor will any that trust in Him. He has laid up goodness for them that fear Him, and trust in Him before the sons of men. His presence is a sure unfailing sanctuary, which makes human malice vain in its attempts. He admits that, in the pressure of distress, he had for a moment spoken as cast out of God. Still faith was shown in the cry to the Lord, and he was heard. The Lord preserves the faithful, so that the saints may love Him, and be of good courage, whatever come. It is not every one that has to pass through such sorrows, as those referred to here; but when it is the portion of the saint, it gives great intimacy and confidence. What a known God is, is the ground of the psalm, and the cry founded on faith in it. I should not say that such is the brightest exercise of faith. This will be found, for example, more in the Epistle to the Philippians, the bright expression of normal Christian experience. Nor is it the commonest: but God, in His rich mercy, has in His word met every need, and made provision in His word for every state. And the state of soul here is one of much exercised depth and intimacy of confidence in God only, learned through needed distress.
Psa. 32. But in the midst of all the exercises of heart which belong to a renewed soul in the midst of its difficulties here below, there is one point which is the center of all, a need to which an answer is craved alike by the heart and conscience—its relationship to God when it thinks of its sin before Him. It has need of confidence for trials, of deliverance and help. It is cheered by promises, and bowed in heart and will as to the ways of God. But it needs reconciliation with Himself above all, the unclouded light of This countenance; as regards its own state forgiveness, and the absence of guilt. The entire removal of all guilt before God, and His complete forgiveness, is beautifully connected here with purifying the heart and inner man, the taking out guile, and this in the confession of actual sins. But it begins, as it must, with God, and finds its satisfaction in His thoughts towards it. And this is right. Thus only can the heart be really purified, and sin have its true character, and God His right place, without which nothing is right. Yet it is the conscious state of its forgiveness which first affects the soul, after conviction and distress for sin has been wrought and the soul brought to confession. “Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven.” He has sinned against God, transgressed. It is all perfectly forgiven. But it was sin before God and evil—a thing itself hateful in God's sight, and now in the soul's. It is expiated, covered; propitiation has been made. The present state is then put absolutely:—Jehovah imputed no iniquity to it; and now the whole heart is open before God. There is no guile in it. Why should there be when all is open with God, all cleared, and sin gone out of His sight? And oh! what a blessing it is to have the perfect light of God on an unsullied soul, not an innocent one. That is a far less thing, and, indeed, the in shining of perfect light would be inapplicable then; but with a knowledge of good and evil, and knowing what light is (in contrast with darkness,) and to have it shining upon one as white as snow, is infinitely blessed. I do not deny that it is more personal relationship here, into which also I will enter; but for the Christian this is implied in forgiveness, and covering, and non-imputation of sin. As yet, of course, it is by faith, but not the less true for that. The ways of God in bringing the soul to it, and His ways after it, are also gone into in the psalm: no rest to the proud will which would not confess! (how gracious to pursue the soul thus!)—the most intimate guidance for the soul reconciled in communion, care in the midst of trial.
The psalm, then, is the expression of conscious blessedness in the sense of being forgiven. And how sweet it is to be in the sunshine of God's favor in the sense that His love has been active towards us! The undeservedness of the favor, though it is not the brightest joy, gives great deepness to it, because it is God Himself who forgives; for so it must be in forgiveness when the soul is restored to Him. Then there is the consciousness of the sin being out of God's sight. This is a very great blessing indeed, and the consciousness of it most sweet, the thought that not one sin appears in the sight of God. But there is the special sense, not that there was no sin, but that God imputes none, that He has a determined fixed judgment—He does not impute it. The sin is not denied; that would be guile. In this part the feelings are not so much engaged, but there is the judicial certainty of non-imputation necessary for truth in the inward parts. This connects itself with confession. But it is not only uprightness in word and confession, but in spirit. There was truth in the inward parts. No desire in the soul to hide, to conceal from itself the evil, it presents itself before forgiveness, before non-imputation; that is its connection with sin, not hiding it. He sees the sin truly, but sees, and because he sees, it is not imputed. But the phrase is absolute and general— “to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.” It is an absolute condition of the individual; it is not his iniquity or particular fault forgiven, though, doubtless, that is so too, but absolute non-imputation of any. The man exists before God as having no sin, according to the judgment of God. Then my heart is open and free before God. I have the consciousness of this, and look lip to God as having no sin, with the consciousness that He sees none. Hence there is no cloud, nothing to hide. This is not so, however, when confession is not made. Absolute non-imputation—that is God's actual judgment of me and manner of looking at me. No sin is there; none between me and Him. lint, in arriving at the consciousness of this blessed truth, there has been confession. Till then, the pressure of God's hand was upon the soul, to force it to come to this. How gracious this is, God's watching over a nail, and a surd going wrong, too! to bring it to Himself. But he was brought by grace to this point—acknowledging sin to God, no excuse, giving it its true character, real spiritual uprightness, however humbling it may be. This was morally important, but is not all. “I will confess my transgressions” —the acts are brought up in memory. He resolved to take this course, and all was right. “Jehovah forgave the iniquity.” 1 John 1 opens this out Christianly. There, also, we cannot say we have no sin, and we confess our sins. The connection of the absence of all sin on the conscience and no guile in the heart, because it is entirely open through conscious non-imputation, is very instructive. It can be in no other way, only man is brought to it in truth by confession, and to confession through confidence. Thus only is the heart opened to God through grace, thus only is truth in the inward parts, though forced to the humiliation as regards our will, by forgiveness being known by promise. “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mightest be feared.”
This revelation of God awakens the thought and feeling of all the upright and gracious minded to look to God in the time when He reveals Himself as the forgiving God, when He can be found. So for Christ Himself in Isa. 49; it was the accepted time. When He had been perfect, when perfectly proved before God, then He was heard, for He had been made sin; and the apostle cites it thus, “Now is the accepted time, to-day is the day of salvation.” The revelation of forgiveness and the joy of such relationship with God awakens the desire after and delight in such a God in gracious souls, and they seek unto Him. Supposing they have not the sense of sin at the moment, they know they are sinners, and God is so revealed, has a character which is their delight, and their soul links itself with Him. They seek to Him, not simply for forgiveness. It is in their character of graciousness they are spoken of here, but it is such a God—a God of this character, and these ways—which draws their heart; and note, God so acting, so revealed, makes the time the finding time. This connection of the graciousness of the heart with the graciousness of God, and the power of attraction it has, is very beautiful, and it is very deep in the gracious mind. There must be the sense of need, of dependence, and in us of the need of grace as such in the whole character of our relationship with God. But it is withal a deep realization in proportion to godliness, when the conscience is not bad, of the perfect and divine grace, the loveliness, yet the sovereign goodness of God's ways in this. Happy in goodness, we feel that this grace suits us and suits God; it draws us, as godly, to God. Hence we are there sheltered, come what will. If we think of the remnant, the principle will be plain. Israel, the Jews, have been deeply guilty in every way. God holds out, as in this psalm, and everywhere in Moses and the prophets, forgiveness. This is felt; God is so revealed; the godly remnant are touched by this: sins, no doubt, are confessed, but the heart of the godly draws to God. When the flood of judgments break in, they are preserved. In every case, the soul thus acquainted with goodness can count upon God. God Himself, thus known, is its hiding place. In the end songs of deliverance will be its portion.
But then promises come. We have to go through a wilderness in which there is no way; and in the midst of snares and dangers of false ways, God guides and teaches. The eye of God rests on us and guides us. It is not a way marked out and left; it is God Himself who watches over and guides us in a way that suits Him, and is the fruit of His wisdom, a divine way for us. God Himself it is that is brought before us here: God's goodness, God's leading, God interested in us to forgive when needed, to lead with the undistracted eye of love. But then it supposes that the heart pays attention to the eye of God. It is attention to Him, and the following it with understanding that is the way; and thus the soul is inwardly taught in what is agreeable to Him, and is formed after Him in knowledge. This the New Testament largely unfolds. (Phil. 1:9-119And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; 10That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; 11Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9‑11); Col. 1:99For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; (Colossians 1:9).10; 3:10; Eph. 4:2424And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:24).) Even Moses says, “If I have found grace in thy sight, teach me thy way, that I may know thee and find grace in thy sight.” It is the spiritual learning of God's way through His guidance, and communion with Him founded on His favor. Hence they are warned not to be like an unintelligent beast, who must be outwardly held. God can guide us thus, does graciously sometimes by His providence; but there is no spiritual understanding, no moral assimilation to His nature and growth of the delight of our new nature in Him; no increased capacity, by this means, for knowing God. The result is declared in the judicial ways of God in the last two verses: only that we have to remark, that it is in Jehovah Himself that the soul has to rejoice, not in the consequences, though they that trust in Him be compassed about with mercy. He Himself known by forgiveness, known by ever accessible kindness and goodness, as a hiding place for the soul, as one that guided with His own care, with His eye, was the one in whom the soul thus taught was taught to rejoice. So Paul. “Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice.” We joy in God through our Lord Jesus, by whom we have received the reconciliation. He fills the soul, and He is above all.