Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalms 33-36

Psalm 33-36
Psa. 33 I have only a few principles to note in speaking of this psalm. All the psalms to the end of 39. unfold the moral state of the Jewish remnant in the last days. I say the moral state, more than their condition under oppression, and the thought of forgiveness gives in general a brighter tint to the coloring of them, though the sense of their condition is found also, as elsewhere. Psa. 33 follows on the last verse of 32, and the thought of forgiveness having put a new song in his mouth, he can look out with clearer confidence on the principles on which men should act, looking to the word and works of God. The earth is viewed as under God's eye and direction—His government as applied to it. This, fully displayed at the end, has its application to the lower part of a Christian's life, too. (Compare Psa. 34:12-1612What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? 13Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. 14Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. 15The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. 16The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. (Psalm 34:12‑16) Peter 3:10.) We get some general principles. “The works of the Lord are done in truth.” I may perfectly reckon on His acting on the known principles of His holy will. Hence His word, which is essentially right, can judge me now. This is always an important principle. The Lord, though not visibly and publicly, does govern all things. Hence I can act on His word, and be sure of the consequences. I may, no doubt, suffer for Christ—that is a still better blessing; but the result of acting on God's word will be blessing. From the 6th verse the power of the word is shown in creation. The earth should fear Him, “for he spake, and it was done;” again, He subverts the counsels of men, His stand fast. Another principle then comes in, the blessing of being the chosen people of God, His inheritance. This is Israel: still faith has to walk in the strength of it now. “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved.” We are not God's inheritance, but heirs of God; but the greater elevation of the position does not destroy, though it may give a deeper application to, the principle. We have to walk through the world as the elect of God; and this is a most blessed position. It is according to the foreknowledge of God the Father; but we walk in the consciousness of being the elect of God. He orders and fashions all hearts. What a thing to say, if I have to say to men! And He makes all things work together for good for me. Thus, while all human strength is naught, I can wait on the Lord with sure confidence. His eye, too, is never withdrawn from me. (Compare Job 34:77What man is like Job, who drinketh up scorning like water? (Job 34:7).)
But, Psa. 34 goes further. It takes up the case of sorrow and trial in the most beautiful way. Jehovah Himself, as ever, is the blessed burden of the psalm. In the first four verses, it is the spirit of Christ in an especial way which speaks, but as for the heart of every one so tried, and belongs to every one who has this faith, that every one may have it. The point of the psalm is, “at all times.” It is easy to praise the Lord when He makes all flow softly for us. Yet the Lord is not as much praised really for what He is. In the midst of trouble the soul is seen humble and subdued in spirit. He has sought the Lord, and he found Him a ready friend. This made the Lord intimate and precious to him. The saint's heart was tried, exercised; difficulty and wrong pressed upon it, and his will did not rise up in pride and anger, but he lays his matters with confidence on the kindness of the Lord, and He interests Himself in him. It is not high and sovereign providence making things flow for outward blessing—no doubt, we should be thankful for this—but the gracious interest of the Lord in his tried heart. This is much nearer, the interest greater, the link more sweet and stronger. It was not pride of will in trial or in success, but an oppressed and humble heart finding the Lord's ear and heart open to it. Thus consoled himself, he could console others with the comfort wherewith he himself was comforted of God. He was delivered from all his fears. Oh, how often this happens, even as to the removing not unreasonably expected evil entirely. This knowledge of the Lord leads to the exercise of love in encouraging others, while the heart experiences it, and is filled with it. It is applied to the remnant by the Spirit in verse 5. They recall the case of Christ, in verse 6. In verse 7, we have it as a general truth; in 8-10 his own blessed experience enables him who has trusted the Lord, to assure others of the certainty of finding this help.
The experience of the Lord's kindness is very precious. It is not only that one is assured of it for all trials, but Himself is known. He is blessed and praised. The heart dwells in Him, and finds its joy and rest in Him, and in the goodness of one who is alone, and none like Him in what He is. The blessedness is infinite and divine in its nature, as He who is the source of it, yet as intimate as what is in the heart can be—more intimate than any human being who is without us. We dwell in Him, and the Lord is our stay and the rest of our heart. There is nothing like it. None can be so intimately near us as God; for He is in us. Yet what an intimacy it is!
But there is another principle brought out here—what the walk is in which this blessing is found. (ver. 7-10.) We have fearing the Lord, trusting the Lord, and seeking the Lord. Ver. 11-16 take up what the character of this fear of the Lord is, in a passage most of which is quoted by Peter only. The end of 16 is left out as inapplicable now, though the general fact of government for the Christian is not. It is important that we should remember this. Not only is it true that God is not mocked that what a man sows he will reap—that God has governmentally attached certain consequences to certain conduct; but He also watches over and directly govern His children—may cause them to be sick, to die; may deliver them from it, on confession or intercession. “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, his ears open to their cry.” Not only that, but “nigh to them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” Then there is a path marked out by God as the path of peace in a world like this; not simply in itself the path of spiritual power, but of quietness and peace in this world, going peaceably through it under God's eye. And that is very precious for us. Grace is a means of doing it, as the heart is elsewhere than in idleness and passion. The feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. As far as in us lies, we live peaceably with all men. This is true even of unconverted men. Those who walk in this way, in general, see good days, because such is the consequence of the public government of God. It becomes the Christian so to do, but others may do it. This government of God is always true, as we see in Job; only the saint should understand it. But there is yet a word which remains. This government is not such now as that the righteous should not suffer (comp. 1 Peter 3:14-1714But 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: 16Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. 17For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. (1 Peter 3:14‑17)), still more for the name of Christ. But Jehovah watches over him. Not a sparrows falls to the ground without our Father. It seems strange to us to hear, “Some of you shall they put to death; but there shall not a hair of your head perish.” But the government of God now is, not the public government applied to the suppression of all evil, but to the case of the righteous under and through the power of evil. When Christ appears, there will be this suppression of evil. In general, they who live peaceably will live in peace; but in a world where Satan's power is, the righteous will suffer—have many afflictions, but none without the watchful care of the Lord. And in some way deliverance will come. Who would have said that, in the seemingly unbridled rage of men, when all, Jew, priests, or Gentile, were united against Christ—when, to appearance, they had all their own way, this psalm should be literally fulfilled in Christ? Not a hair of our head but is counted. I doubt that this verse, 20, in the psalm is exactly a prophecy, though literally accomplished in Christ. I should rather suppose that the passage in John's Gospel referred to Ex. 12:4646In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof. (Exodus 12:46). But Christ is a perfect example in any case of the declaration made in the psalm, as a great general principle, if the passage be not cited. God's care never fails, and is shown in the smallest circumstances, and in spite of all man's thoughts, though God may allow many afflictions to come upon those that trust Him. These, too, will surely be a blessing. The soul, thus learning the Lord's ways and trusting Him, can bless Him at all times. Christianity, indeed, can teach us deeper fruits of spiritual life in this respect. But it is precious to know the Lord as one that watches thus over us in love—a Father's tender care, in which we can confide, and in which we can walk peaceably in this world, seeking the good of those around us.
Psa. 35 is the direct demand for judgment of the Spirit of Christ in the remnant, so that I have not much to remark upon it. But Himself was the first to suffer what here will be judged; but, as we have seen, never personally looks for judgment. Still this psalm shows us the spirit in which judgment is demanded. It was after patience and unwearied grace, and when this grace was of no avail, when there was no self-revenging, but casting themselves on the Lord, that at the end the Lord is looked to for deliverance. This is important to remark, as regards the judgment looked for. (See verses 12-14.) And it was only when he would be swallowed up that he looks to the Lord Himself to interfere, and so He will. The poor will not always be forgotten, nor is it right that heartless, unjust, and cruel evil should always have the upper hand unhindered. It is right that the saint should be patient, bear all till the Lord Himself interferes; and this is the spirit of this psalm, and then it rejoices in the Lord's salvation. There is a righteous feeling that the Lord's recompensing the cruel wickedness is right, and so it is; besides this, what we have is the character and way of the wicked, and the preceding entirely gracious walk of him who found the wicked too strong for him. Verses 26 and 27 have a special application to Christ, but the whole psalm, in the mouth of any one forward in faithfulness, was to bring the tide of evil on himself. I would refer to one or two passages to show the working of this spirit, and how far the Lord points to it as to the remnant. As to Himself, save to prophesy the fact, He did not ask for it. He never does. See 1 Sam. 24; 25; 26—the spirit in which David was kept, though weak, yet still, then, the instrument specially fitted by grace to attune the mind of Christ in these psalms to the circumstances in which the remnant, cast out like him, will be, and rising up, when God pleased, to the prophetic declaration of what Christ Himself should pass through, and provide words, wonderful honor! in which Christ could express Himself, (see particularly 24:11-13, and the end of 26.,) for so many of the psalms. So Abigail keeps him in this spirit through mercy, but there is no self-avenging, but casting himself on the Lord.
The way in which the Lord directs His disciples in Matt. 10. marks the spirit, too, in which the remnant are to bear witness for His commission, and goes on to His return. (ver. 13-15. Comp. Psa. 35:1313But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom. (Psalm 35:13).) It is important that the Christian should understand that while the Spirit of Christ in his own walk in the world was quite different, and so ought the Christian's, from the desire of judgment expressed in the psalms, yet that that desire is righteous and right in its place, and that the desire of judgment is not self-vengeance, but an appeal to a delivering and righteous God after the perfect patience of the heart under unrighteous oppression, as bowing to the will of God, and learning the lesson He had to teach. (Comp. Psa. 94:1212Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law; (Psalm 94:12), and following.) Still the Christian is on quite different ground. In this point of view this psalm is an important one. It is one in which the spirit of the remnant is exercised before God by trial, and, inwardly subdued, is cast upon God to look for deliverance, according to the way in which it was promised to Israel and to the remnant under the divine government revealed in the law and the prophets.
Psa. 34, while spoken in connection with what is a very great trial, is yet, and indeed, for that very reason, full of very deep comfort. The trial is this, that the ways of the wicked prove to the heart of the servant of God that there is no restraint of conscience, nothing to reckon on in them, no check to malice by the fear of God. Flattering himself in his own sight, he is devising mischief; has no abhorrence of evil. How often does this, alas! come before the saint when in conflict with the power of the enemy. It is hard to believe this absence of conscience and planning mischief; malice reflected or advisedly; yet so it is. The heart knows it is true. The word points it out as characteristic. But then the consolation is very great and blessed, while it casts the soul entirely on a faithful and all gracious God, who is above all schemes of man, so that we can be perfectly peaceful. “Thy mercy, O Jehovah, is in the heavens.” What can malice do, then? Its schemes cannot reach there, nor frustrate the plans of government which are established there, nor come between the soul and their effect. Mercy is out of the reach of the wicked's devices. But there is another quality in God—faithfulness. Mercy is the spring of and disposes His doings. That is a comfort. Upon his faithfulness I can count. It lifts its head above the machinations of the wicked. The immutable principle of God's government in faithful love, His dealing in righteousness, is as firm and towering in strength as the mountains; his ways of judging and dealing as profound but as mighty as the great deep. Not fathomable beforehand by us as to how or why, He is working above the power of evil, but beyond the reach of puny man, so that He can bring about His purposes of blessing by the malice of men. He preserves man and beast. The moment we introduce the Lord so known, all the effect of the malice of men, unrestrained though it be by the conscience of God in the wicked, is to make us trust God and not man. This is a real trial, but it is perfect peace; a breach with man, i.e., of the saint with man, as alienated from God, but a knitting of him to God in confiding cleaving of heart. And this has the highest moral effect. This effect is unfolded in verses 7, 8. “How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God.” It is not merely now a defense against unconscientious malice that is found, but the positive goodness of Him in whom it is found. The children of men put their trust under the shadow of God's wings, because His loving kindness is excellent. This is the right and fitting condition of the creature, but yet supposes evil and the need of this goodness, but this goodness as a resource. But this carries the saint yet further. The goodness which has sheltered and protected him becomes his portion. Such is the blessed effect of being entirely cast on God and driven away from man. Brought under the shadow of God's wings, they enjoy the fatness of His dwelling place. “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.” There are joys and pleasures that belong to God's house, yea, to God Himself. This is characteristic of the joy of the saints, and can only be when we are made partakers of the divine nature. This must have its joys where God has His; and this is the special proper blessedness of the saints. And God gives us this in the fullest way. He gives us His own presence, He gives us Christ. How rich is this blessing, to receive a nature capable of enjoying divine joys, and these having the fullest divine objects in every way, for it is in every way to enjoy! Looking up, our calling is to be holy and without blame before Him in love, to enjoy God and be His delight according to the divine nature imparted to us, and in relationship to be adopted as sons to Himself; our place of inheritance God's own house, our home: and as heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, all that is subject to Him. But this is the inferior part; but as it is as redeemed and made perfectly happy under Christ, it is a divine joy. We have it, too, in fellowship one with another. All this the Christian enjoys in the highest way, because Christ is become his life, and that in the highest and nearest relationship with the Father. Hence—and that through the power of the Holy Ghost—we have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. Our joy is full. I have referred to this on Christian ground. The principle is stated in the psalm, and, in principle, it is true of all saints, though not in the Christian degree, God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. But in principle it is true. The psalms continues, “With thee is the fountain of life, and in thy light shall we see light.” Up to this it has spoken rather of what God is for us, looked at as shelter, and protection, and comfort—in a word, a resource; but having brought us into the fatness of His house and the rivers of his pleasures, it refers to what God is more intrinsically in Himself in blessing; still more as what He is for us than in us—that belongs by the Holy Ghost to Christians. What is in us is here seen in Him as its source. “With thee is,” says the psalm; “it shall be in him,” says the Lord of the Christian. God is that, however, and so revealed here and known. With Him is the fountain of life—the word of great import, though never fully revealed till Christ came. In Him was life. There was a tree of life of which man never eat, an instrumental ordinance of man's life. In the patriarchal times life is not the subject, but what the Almighty is to His beloved and blessed ones. The law connects life as a promise with man's doing, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was to be one. Life is a living connection with the source of blessing, or at least a living enjoyment of His favor—not necessarily heaven. No law could give it or was it. God promised it to him who kept the law. God is the fountain of it, but the law given to a sinner on the principle of his responsibility could be no means of life, but a ministry of death and condemnation. It spoke of life—was with life in view, as promise on obedience; but in fact was found to be unto death. The psalms are where, though heavenly things are spoken of, the connection of the heart of the remnant with God is brought out, and all its throbs and beatings in its need, and what God is for it are felt; and that according to the working of the Spirit of Christ, though temporal deliverances are, as for the remnant, the main desire. Life and resurrection as the hope of faith necessarily come in, though it be but in the depth of their most intimate thoughts; and they will meet the need of those who may be slain. It is not life and incorruptibility brought to light by the gospel; life in a man, the Son of God, a quickening Spirit; life in us by His becoming our life. Still as Christ's Spirit speaks in the Psalms, He who had life was sure of the path of it in this world; and, as it lead through death in the purpose for which He came into this world, of the resurrection too, that His soul would not be left in hades nor His flesh see corruption—but here in dependence on God as being man. So here, where the saint's heart is separated from man, as wholly separated himself even from the fear of God, not only protection and lovingkindness are looked for, but the fountain of life is seen to be with God. We know death is overcome, its power rendered void, κατηργουμενη. We know that the eternal life which was with the Father is come down from heaven. We know it is communicated to us, that Christ is our life, that having the Son we have life, that we are quickened and made alive according to the exceeding greatness of His power, according to the working of His might power, in which He raised Christ from the dead and set Him at This own right hand in the heavenly places; so that life for us and in us, (for Christ is our life,) is final triumph over death, and reaches into heavenly places. This has been brought to light by the gospel, John giving us life descending and manifested here in Christ and communicated to us; and Paul life more fully completed in result up there, according to the divine counsels in glory. All this, of course, is not here entered into, and could not be till Christ's resurrection. There could have been even no righteousness in it. Who had a title to be in a heavenly place till Christ entered into it? In whom could it be displayed in glory till the Head so entered into it? Still the principle, source, root of it is seen and revealed here. The Psalms are not law, though law be yet owned; but the working of the Spirit of Christ and of life, in those who are under it or in Christ Himself, and in those too who have to confess themselves sinners under it, could not hope for life therefore by it, but whose eye is opened on mercy, forgiveness, and grace, if not on heaven, though this, so far as the sense of the joy of God's presence expresses it, is reached while life is must fully expressed, as in Psa. 16 Hence the source of life is seen—a blessed thought—when all was condemnation and death under law. They could not say, The life has been manifested, and we have seen it; still less, our life is hid with Christ in God; but they could say, and are taught to say, and know, With thee is the fountain of life. Hence, there is a drinking of the river of His pleasures. For where should this life be satisfied, or the cravings of the heart even unconsciously animated by it, if not at that river, the river that makes glad the city of God? We have in us who have drank, come to Christ and drank, have drank of the water He gives, a well of water in us, springing up into everlasting life; yea, through the Spirit, rivers flow out from us, and that from the inmost consciousness of blessing. But all this is the power of life in the Spirit. But it is equally precious to know its nature is divine. I have remarked else where, that what is spoken of as life and nature in Colossians, is referred to the Holy Ghost in Ephesians. Here we have God as the fountain, a blessed expression: blessed to know that the fountain is God Himself. The Father hath life in Himself; that is true of Christ as man; then we that have the Son have life. It shows, I think, that it is looked at something flowing forth. What our hearts have to rest on is, God being the source of life, that we may feel and know what life is—how divine a joy it is, that, having a life which is divine in its nature, this is capable of rejoicing. It is its nature to rejoice in what is divine. It can, indeed, enjoy naught else, save, as the expression of it, in goodness or truth, but finds its joy in these rivers which flow unexhausted from divine love, and in which we drink the blessedness which is in His nature—in a nature which, being Virtually the same, must and can enjoy it according to that nature itself in its own perfectness. We joy in God.
But there is another thing. “In thy light we shall see light.” God shines out, as well as He is a source. He has life in Himself, but with Him is the fountain of it. He is light, but He shines forth, gives light. So Christ; in Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And even we, Christ is our life, and we are light in the Lord. Here, no doubt, light is looked at more as comfort in the darkness of trial, when man, under Satan's power, was in the fullest sense manifested darkness; but this as we have seen, has led to the discovery of what God is Himself. In the abstract principle, nothing indeed in the Psalms leads us more to what was fulfilled in Christ. Only here it is seen in Jehovah as its source, and the one in whom it is displayed. But this gives it its divine perfectness. “In thee is the fountain of life, and in thy light shall we see light.” It is the confidence, in the midst of darkness and trial, that Jehovah in grace was a source of life, and that in His light they would see light. In Christ we get every way deeper truths; because, when the life was the light of men, not for mere outward help, but shining in moral darkness of this world, the darkness was darkness still, did not comprehend it. As long as He was in the world, He was the light of the world. Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. The closing verses return to the present hopes of deliverance by the government of God, and the assurance of its accomplishment. What characterizes the righteous here, is the knowledge of Jehovah and uprightness in heart—the enemies, pride and wickedness. He sees them, by faith, all fallen and unable to rise.