Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalms 37-39

Psalm 37‑39  •  23 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Psa. 37 is very distinctly in connection with the display of the direct government of God in this world, as it will be made good when the meek shall inherit the land and the wicked be cut off. We have already seen that the epistles of Peter especially furnish to us the application of this to the Christian estate as far as it is so applicable. The beginning of Matt. 5 gives us also, only with a much fuller evangelical character, though not going farther than the kingdom of heaven, the application in the way of promise, as far as the temper pleasing to God goes. But there are some most interesting and instructive exhortations in the psalm as to the spirit in which the believer is to walk and the character of his confidence in God in the midst of the evil which surrounds him. For though the time of the direct display of God's government be not come, and no doubt the power of evil will be displayed more oppressively just before it is put down, still it is even now the time of patience, and the evil is there. Till Christ comes, it is in principle the evil day, and the patience and kingdom of Jesus Christ go together in the heart—not His own kingdom and glory. They are all founded on the certainty that after all Jehovah is above all the evil, loves judgment, does not forget the righteous and those who trust in Him, and that, in the end, His way would have the upper hand. Meanwhile, faith is exercised and all that is in the heart judged, which would, by self-will, mar the spiritual character and hinder the confidence in the Lord which becomes the saint.
The first exhortation is to peacefulness of spirit, (and it is general and applies to the state of the mind.) “Fret not thyself.” When self-will and the desire of present satisfaction mingles itself with the love of righteousness, when one desires righteousness and partly, sometimes, through fear of the power of evil, and is selfish though peace-loving interests, one is apt to fret oneself, because evil has its way. All this is the same spirit of unbelief as that of the wicked—God hath forgotten—though with other desires. But it is unbelief and self will. The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. We are neither to fret, which is distrust; nor be envious, which is even worse and self-interest. Then comes the positive direction in what spirit we are to walk. What is the resource against the power of evil? “Trust in Jehovah and do good.” You will reap the fruit of it according to promise. Next, delight thyself in Jehovah: He will give the desires of the heart. Holy desires, which have Himself for their object, will be satisfied. But opposition, shame, perhaps calumny, is there. “Commit thy way to Jehovah.” How true is this! He has always, as men speak, the last word if we have only faith to wait for it. He will bring the result the righteous heart desires and make evident its righteousness. Next, patient waiting for Jehovah in heart and desire, the surest character of trust. Circumstances may thus be in turmoil around one—violence and efforts. The soul waits for Jehovah's coming in when He will. The wicked may prosper; Jehovah has His own time, a time which is always right and sets all right. He may chasten for good, have plans bringing to maturity, patience Himself with the wicked, His own glory to bring out, which is our everlasting joy. Hence, no auger, no wrath, no fretting, no uneasiness. It leads to doing evil, indulging our own will in evil to meet evil. This is not the patience and faith of the saints. Evil doers shall be cut off (the saint must not be among the number). They that wait on Jehovah shall inherit the earth. So of the meek, so of such as are blessed of Jehovah. This is Jewish undoubtedly, but as we have seen, the government of God is still exercised, though not in public manifestation; and when the soul has waited on Him in patience, it has its blessing even here. The latter part of the psalm is a careful declaration of this sure government of the earth to he publicly manifested in connection with the Jews, more secretly carried on in the time of heavenly grace—still ever true. There are one or two points of blessing to note in it. The steps of a good man are ordered by Jehovah. This is a vast and precious blessing, to think that in this wilderness, where there is no way in the midst of confusion and wickedness, our Father directs our steps. A young Christian may, in confiding zeal, not so much see the value of this, but through how many experiences will he pass? But when one has seen the world, its snares, what a pathless wilderness of evil it is, it is beyond all price that the Lord directs our steps. Also the humble young Christian is directed through grace, if he waits on the Lord, though he may not see the wisdom of it, nor the greatness of the privilege and mercy, till afterward. But this is not all. Being so directed, the path is a good, a divine path. There is indeed no other, and the heart is directed in it. For the Christian is led by the spirit of God. His heart is in the ways; as Moses says, Show me thy way, not a way, but thy, that I may know thee. If I know a person's ways, I know him. God leads by His Spirit acting on and in the inner man and the word sanctifies. Then God has delight in the saint's way. He delights in seeing a divine path trodden by a man in this world of evil. This Christ did perfectly and God delighted in it. So far as we follow Him, the Lord delights in our way, has positive delight in it. It meets His heart.
Remark that there is no way but Christ. Adam did not need a way: he had to abide, enjoying God's goodness where he was. In a sinful world there is no way—all is confusion and sin. But Christ was Himself, according to God, in the world, and in passing through it manifesting divine life and its path through the world when not of it. This was a wholly new thing, partially manifested in every saint in his walk of faith; but existing in itself and perfectly manifested in Christ. This is our path: We have to follow His steps and He is the way to the Father, and it is to Him we are going. It is an immense privilege to think our steps are ordered of the Lord, as a guarding from evil and guidance; and, then, that the Lord delights in our way. What a path in a world like this: How fast should we hold it, and seek none else, and seek to keep it! Here the precepts, as in Col. 3., or Eph. 4:55One Lord, one faith, one baptism, (Ephesians 4:5)., come so preciously in. There is another mercy—God watches over him. He may fall, i.e., in trials, not carnally, (comp. 2 Cor. 4:99Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; (2 Corinthians 4:9) and following,) but he is not utterly cast down; the Lord upholds him by His hand. It may be a part of this government of God that he should be brought low, set aside, but the Lord's hand is in it, not he out of it, and that hand upholds him. The vessel may be broken or put to dishonor by men, the power is of God.
There is a moral reason for God's ways—He loves judgment; besides that, there is the assurance of sovereign love. He loves his saints. They are preserved forever: but, then, according to the ways of this judgment, we have besides some traits of the righteous. He speaks wisdom, that is, the mind of God; and talks of judgment, the uprightness of the divine ways in God's sight, how God judges of right and wrong; his heart is in the walking in God's known will: his steps will not slide. We have then to wait on the Lord, and to keep His way. The end of the perfect and uprightness is peace. And so it is, practically, with a Christian; he may be chastened for particular faults, for God's ways are, through mercy, unbending and right; but when a man walks with upright purpose of heart in his life, that life closes if it close this side of glory—in peace. The fear of God and walking in His presence is a great means of peace. I speak not of peace for a sinner's conscience through the precious blood of Christ, but the peace of God filling the heart when all comes before Him. Finally, the Lord is the strength of the righteous in the time of trouble. That cannot fail. He shall help and deliver them, save them from their enemies because they trust in Him. This is always true.
Psa. 38 presents to us a special state of soul. The relationship of the heart with God is known and felt, and that even in confidence, as the soul pursues the expression of its feelings. “In thee, O Jehovah, do I hope. Thou wilt hear, O Lord my God.” Yet the soul is in the depth of sorrow and distress, and this looked at as the chastening of the Lord. It is under it, but deprecates it; that is, being in profound distress and sorrow, in loathsome disease, and friends abandoning, and enemies lively (as Job's state partially), Jehovah is looked to in it. The heart attributes it all to sin, but first of all looks to Jehovah and His hand. It is that shows faith and a right mind. The order of thought is thus remarkable. First, Jehovah judging, then sin as the cause, then personal misery, then abandonment of friends, then liveliness and of enemies, and the consciousness of all resulting in the heart confiding in Him that smote, turning to Him that smiteth it; and then comes out what at bottom was in the heart—hope in Jehovah, the consciousness of such belonging to Him as that the triumph of faith's enemies could not be, and that in the sense of the need of His intervention, because the poor sinning soul had no strength in self. All this leads to the expression of unfeigned integrity of heart; acknowledgment of sin, not merely owning it to be the cause of judgment, but judging self for it before a trusted Jehovah, and thus able freely to look for help from Him. The soul, in disengaging sin from itself, through grace, in judging it can disengage, so to speak, its enemies from the pressing judgments of Jehovah, and seeing them only in their own malice and hostility to the servant of Jehovah, and what was right, can now look for Jehovah's help against them. For the believer, though he had grievously sinned and been brought righteously low for it, yet really followed what was good. And though Jehovah used the malice of the wicked as a rod, it was not the evil which the wicked hated in the saints, but their connection with and owning the Lord. Yet the judgment was righteous. This will be the true history of the remnant when, under the terrible chastisement of Jehovah, they earnestly turn to what is right. But what an instruction also for us when under chastisement for what is wrong! Perhaps complicated chastisement for an extreme case is supposed here.
But what instruction for us when discipline comes upon us, where to look, where to begin! There may be the sense of God's chastening hand for sin and deserved wrath, but the reference of the heart to God's faithful love in relationship with us will lead just to deprecate wrath and His hot displeasure. There is a government of God according to His nature, and though the chastening hand of God does not destroy the faith and knowledge of our relationship, (to us of Father,) nor the reflective certainty that there can be no imputation to the believer, yet the soul does not quiet itself with this under the. sense of the governmental hand of God in it. It is of immense consequence; no doubt, and is at the basis of confidence, is a real sustaining directing power to the soul, but it is not directly objectively thought of. God's holy nature, with whom we have communion, and what He is necessarily as regards sin, is before the soul. And the government of God is according to that nature; which indeed has been glorified by the work of redemption as to the imputation of sin. And though this last be true, the former point is what is rightly felt at the time: not a doubt of redemption but a sense of the way God, in His very nature and as Lord in His government, looks at sin with wrath, not reasoning about it, but because one has a nature that knows Him and an awakened conscience, one feels it, and feels it as to self, the goodness of God making self judgment more terrible. It is not despair, it is not doubting justification: but it is not using this to screen the soul from the sense of the aspect sin has in the sight of God. It deprecates, because it knows the Lord, wrath and hot displeasure, which its sin had deserved, and, because it knows Him, looks to Him of whom it has deserved it. In the circumstances of the trial one looks to the hand and thoughts of Him who inflicts it, and interprets the ways of God because all comes from His hand, and looks to His thoughts in it. And hence, the conscious relationship being present, the heart gets into the power of it as a purifying, more than a wrathful, process. It can say, Lord, all my desire is before thee, my groaning is not hid from thee. This introduction of the Lord into His own chastisements, according to the full love and the relationship in which He is to us, is very beautiful. He is, according to these, the key for the heart of His own ways. And the heart recovers its equilibrium, as we see in the end of the Psalm, where there is the consciousness of God being for it, as its resource against what before pressed on it, and as to which, in the sense of the sin which had caused it, it was deprecating wrath and hot displeasure. This is the effect of looking straight to Him, and confessing simply, and in true depth of soul, the evil as against Himself, settling it between the soul and God; then it settles matters between the heart and the enemies with God. The secret of all is looking directly to God Himself as He is in relationship with us, and this is the true confession of sin, but looking to and casting all on Himself. Confidence in Jehovah is the spring of every thought in all these psalms. The relationship of Father in which God stands to us, and which is realized by faith, modifies, in a measure, the kind of feeling which the heart has. We have more sense of tenderness and graciousness in His thoughts towards us when we look towards Him, more of compassion and love; but this does not hinder its being substantially the same, and God as a God of government, according to the holiness of His nature, being before the soul and conscience, though This love be trusted. It will be remarked that the soul, with its desire before God, is entirely submissive, and silent as to the mischief and wrong of the enemy; and that because it referred to God and hoped in Him, trusted in Him as having carried the whole matter in the spirit of confession to Him, and looks at it as coming from His hand. It would not otherwise have put him between itself and the enemies. (Ver. 13 and following.)
Psa. 39 is more the nothingness of man in presence of all the evil, and the pretensions of power in which it showed itself, the heart referring itself to Jehovah. The heart kept a check on itself in the presence of the wicked, lest it should speak foolishly so rise up against it, as if it had strength, too, where are all in man was vanity. Then God's hand is seen in what the heart was undergoing, and He is looked to for deliverance, and all the pretensions of the wicked disappear, so to speak. Jehovah was correcting for iniquity. The believer in this world is a stranger, sojourning with God—for how long He alone can say. It does not depend on, nor is it to be vexed by, the bustling pretensions and arrogance of the wicked in their success. This would be to make ourselves of this world with a claim to something in it. Is that true Ver. 12 takes this place of Abraham and David, and all the walkers by faith, though looking, as the believing Jew would, for present sparing, though of God and as from God, and this is in chastening, (see 9, 10,) the soul can now do. As to the government and ways of God, it is a New Testament wish.
Psa. 40 In all these psalms we have had the failing saint (the remnant) looking to a God known in relationship and faithful grace, though in failure. In psalm xl. we have Christ taking the place of patience without failure, and so furnishing a ground for confidence even for those who failed, by taking His place with them (who, after all, were the saints upon the earth, the excellent) in their sorrows, and the path of integrity on the earth. Nor does He fail in this to place Himself under the burden of evil and sins under which Israel had brought itself. We, though this be in every sense true for the redemption of Israel, know it in yet a deeper way—such a glorifying of God as gives a heavenly place. This is not looked at here; but the way in which Christ identifies Himself with Israel, though in the integrity of the upright remnant, is profoundly instructive, and leads us into a wonderful apprehension of a special part of His sorrows. His death, and the sorrows of His death, are not viewed as atoning, bearing of wrath, but as sorrows and suffering and grief. And so they were; though, besides that, atonement was in them, viewed as the drinking the cup of wrath. But there Christ does not bear sorrow with, but for His people; here God. is viewed as helping Christ when in sorrow, in which He is, and in which He waits on the Lord. It lay on the remnant, as in Israel's opposition, because of their faults and departure from God. Christ, who had been, as He states in this psalm, faithful to God in everything, enters into this sorrow in heavenly grace. It is not His own relationship to God, but His entering into the remnant's as connected with Israel. His own had been perfect: theirs, though founded on Jehovah's faithfulness on one side, actually the fruit of sin. It is further at the close of His life. It is morally closed as to service. During that He had being doing God's will in the body prepared for Him, and faithfully declaring God's righteousness in the great congregation, i.e., publicly in Israel. Now, and as regards man, (and so it will be with the remnant: their trials will come upon them from the proud, because of their faithfulness and testimony, only they will have deserved it, as themselves involved in the sins of the people,) because of this faithful testimony, the evils come upon him. So we know it was with Christ historically. His hour was come for it—the hour of His enemies and of the power of darkness. Here (as it is not the atoning character of His suffering and sorrow, but His association with the remnant—with, as I have said, not for), we have not, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” as in psalm 22., where the foundation of righteous grace was to be laid. It is Christ's perfect life, and sorrows at the close of it, in which He refers to the faithfulness and goodness of Jehovah, so as to lead His people to confide in it, instructing them in this in which His perfection was shown. “I waited patiently for Jehovah;” patience had its perfect work—an immense lesson for us. Flesh can wait long, but not till the Lord comes in, not in perfect submission; and confiding in His only strength and faithfulness so as to be perfect in obedience and in the will of God. Saul waited nearly seven days, but the confidence of the flesh was melting away—his army; the Philistines, the proud enemies were there. He did not wait out till the Lord came in with Samuel. Had he obeyed and felt he could do nothing, and had only to obey and wait, he would have said, I can do nothing, and I ought to do nothing till the Lord comes by Samuel. Flesh trusted its own wisdom, and looked to its own force, though with pious forms. All was lost. It was flesh tried and which failed. Christ was tried: He waited patiently for Jehovah. He was perfect and complete in all the will of God. And this is our path, through grace.
This is the great personal instruction of this psalm, save that Christ's own perfectness is always the greatest of all. Here He gives Himself as the pattern. “I waited patiently for the Lord” —for the Lord—that is, till Jehovah Himself came in. his own will never moved, though fully put to the test. Hence it was perfectness. He would have no other deliverance but His. His heart was wholly right—would not have a deliverance which was not the Lord's. This is a very important point as to the state of the heart. It would not have another than the Lord's. Besides, it knows that there is no other, and that the Lord is perfectly right, when His moral will has been perfectly made good, and His righteousness vindicated when needed. There is the known perfectness of His will—His only title, and then perfectness of submission and the desire of only Him. As this is a pattern for the saints, trial is looked at as such, and death is not spoken of save as it may be trial—a horrible pit, miry clay—images of distress, terror, and, humanly speaking, danger. The resource was a cry to Jehovah, and He was heard in that He feared. Here Christ speaks in His own person, but in verse 3, deliverance enables Him to speak to the remnant— “a new song in my mouth” —even for deliverance from what had come upon them because of their sins. “Praise unto our God,” “many shall see it and fear, and put their trust in Jehovah.” This would let in Gentiles. God had come in to deliver out of the effect of evil, and set His feet upon a rock above it and all its effects. This sure faithfulness of grace—the deliverance of God manifested in one who had gone to the depths of trial, would be a resting place for the faith of others, the rather as He had gone into it as the consequence of the state of the people in the sight of God. Hence it is applied to the condition of the remnant, though thus true of every saint in trial by others' wickedness and the power of evil, perhaps brought on himself. “Blessed is the man that maketh Jehovah his trust, and respecteth not the proud,” the high pretensions of man, and apparently successful wickedness, “nor such as turn aside to lies,” abandon God for other false refuges, and the falsehoods of infidelity. Then, as man, Christ begins to recite how this most excellent proof of God's faithfulness to His people came in, though owning them to all others. They were numberless towards His people, “to us-ward.” He puts Himself with them. Verse 6, the special and glorious One comes in view, He who could discourse with Jehovah in eternity. The Son and Word, who was with God and was God and in the beginning with God, according to what was written in the roll of the book, has the place of obedience prepared for Him, ears dug, a body prepared, and, according to the divine counsels (and love for us), freely and willing undertakes the same place, the place of obedience; His delight when He has taken it and is man—has taken the form of a servant, is to do God's will. God's law is within His heart. Such is Christ as man; obedient; who in free-will had come, taking the body prepared for Him, and entered into the willing servant's place, the place of willing and glad obedience. Verse 6 presents the thought and counsels of God, ver. 7. His willing corning to do God's will according to these counsels. But we must remember He speaks when man, and verses 6 and 7 are the revelation of what passed in the everlasting world (wonderful thought!) telling us how He became a man. But, as in verse 5, so again in 8, Christ speaks again as actually in the place on earth. “I delight to do thy will, O God; thy law is in my heart;” that is, His perfectness as man. In ver. 9, 10, we have the perfectness of His service. He has preached righteousness before the whole people of Israel; He has not shrunk from it, nor hid it within His heart—a lesson to all of us, though to be used with divine guidance. It was God's righteousness, His ways, nature, judgments, judgment of evil, what He was in judging it, His faithfulness, too, and salvation—for Jehovah was this to Israel—His lovingkindness and truth. He had preached righteousness to man, and that perfectly; and he had fully declared what Jehovah was, in all the perfectness of His nature and character towards Israel. All this was accomplished. He appeals to its full accomplishment. But now, He who had freely undertaken this service for God's glory towards Israel, finds Himself in another position. It has brought the hatred of the nation upon Him, the wishers of evil against Him. But this great controversy, and the need for the saints' deliverance, raised the question of the state in God's sight of those that were to be delivered. And without entering here on the ground of atonement, the governmental expression of the view God took of Israel's sin, in which the remnant had been involved, comes pressing on the soul of Christ, as it will really on the remnant; the iniquities of Israel will take hold upon them as reaping what they have sowed—not condemnation (the burden of that Christ indeed underwent for them in atonement,) but trial, distress, and felt (or, rather, making them to feel the) displeasure of God, but in which true faith looks for the lovingkindness, and truth proclaimed and trusted—in the righteousness proclaimed is felt as a witness against sin, through the distress flowing from it, as Joseph's brothers before Joseph.