Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalms 55-58

Psalm 55‑58  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Psalm 55
Psa. 55 is the expression of intense distress of spirit. Outward enemies were there. This was the difficulty in which he stood; but it was but the occasion of what pressed upon his spirit. This was the hatred of those who stood in the closest relationship to him. This brought him into the presence of death, and divine judgment, because as special instruments of Satan they would bring the effect of guilt upon his soul between him and God. How completely the Lord Himself (though the psalm be not properly prophetic of Him) went through this, I need not say. They sought to bring the guilt upon Him and triumphed in His being forsaken of God, did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. Directly it is the remnant in the last day, but, as we have seen, in all their affliction He was afflicted. But this bringing iniquity on the soul by wicked men as instruments of Satan (which the Lord went through deeper than anyone could, because He took our iniquity) is a very solemn thing. It is not the wrath directly that Christ bore, and we never shall; but the bringing it on the soul by the power of Satan by wicked men. The Lord may see it needed, but it is only a special case with Christians. There is confidence in God, an expectation that His ear is open to the cry of the heart that trusts Him. But till the Lord is looked to, the power of wickedness, and the wickedness itself distress and bow dawn the soul. The existence and power of evil, of what is opposed to God, weighs on it. This is united with the deepest wounding of confidence in man, for it was not an open enemy, but a friend, who had done it. What in man was to be trusted when the nearest betrayed It gives isolation of heart. Nothing can be trusted. Now the Lord went through this power of evil. We only feel it when flesh is not broken down and has to be broken down. It is there but its power is broken by Him for faith. But inasmuch as we are sinners, this kind of power of Satan brings the character of judgment with it. We may get above this by grace and confide, for this it was that Christ prayed for Peter; and he was kept, when failing under the power of Satan, from going on to doubt the Lord's love, and despair. The most terrible thing here is wickedness coming as the power of evil. But the spirit itself shrinks from the heartlessness of it and would flee; for a gracious spirit would rest in peace when evil is all around. The heart meanwhile is conscious that it has no association with it, and would only flee away and be alone in quiet, for the condition is that it has none to trust in. But this casts the mind on the Lord, for after all it has not the wings of a dove in this world. The effect of this is to bring up the wickedness before the Lord, that is, in its full light. This necessarily brings (in the aspect in which all is looked at in the Psalms, of patience under evil, and righteousness which must view evil as evil; for though Christ's sufferings under it even to wrath are brought in, and so grace, in judgment, passed, yet, in general, as to the government of God)—this necessarily brings in the thought of judgment; for the judgment of evil and the deliverance of the oppressed are in the nature of God as governing and seeing all things. The heart groaning under oppression and suffering before, while thinking of evil sought to be charged on it, and so with horror and oppression of spirit, can now, as looking to the Lord, judge all the evil more calmly as to itself in its own character, and the judgment which must follow. And full confidence in Jehovah, a known covenant God springs pp. And then, free in spirit, one can, from verse 19, look calmly at it all and see the end. The full and blessed conclusion in the deepest sense of the most pressing evil is, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord and he shall sustain thee; he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” Here end all the exercises giving the ground of our constant faith. And although the psalm looks for judgment, if we take the principle of this declaration, it is the blessed sustainment of faith in all trial. There are two points in this. “Cast thy burden on the Lord.” Whatever the trial or difficulty may be, cast it upon the Lord. It is not that the trial goes always—here it would not till judgment came; but “He shall sustain thee.” It is better than the trials going. It is the direct coming in of God to ourselves, to our own souls, the sense of His interest in us, His favor, His nearness, that He comes to help us in our need. It is a divine condition of the soul, which is better than any absence of evil. God is a sure help to sustain us. The second point is the infallible faithfulness of God. He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. Tired they may be, but He cannot suffer evil in the world to prevail, nor will He. We may learn to trust by the evil, but in trusting we know the Lord will keep, and the extreme character of the evil only shows the rather that God must come in—makes His intervention necessary.
Psalm 56
Psa. 56—The soul has got out of the depth of inward distress in which it was in psalm 55. For, though the faithful one's enemies lie in wait for him, it is not the unfaithfulness and treachery of friends. They are enemies who seek to wrong him. He is afraid, more than distressed, and looks through the difficulties to God. Faith is readily in activity. In the previous psalm his spirit was inwardly deeply depressed. Here he is only tried. Hence he soon can trust in God, and His word is the testimony of certain deliverance to him. In psalm 55 it is only at the 19th verse and at the end he can bring God in. Here God is at once before his soul. In truth outward trials are little compared with inward breaches on the spirit. The spirit [even] of a man will bear his infirmities, but a wounded spirit who can bear? The saint's trust, then, is in God. But this trust in God is not without some revelation of God. Hence, when the soul can look at Him and trust, that by which He has revealed His mind, the testimony which in His love He has given to us, becomes at once the guide and confidence of the soul. It is a blessed thing to have it. God cannot but make it good. These two points are the hinges of thought in this psalm—God Himself and His word. “In God will I praise his word.” His word gives us the sure witness of what He will be, what He is for us. But if it be God, what can flesh do? This is the conclusion that the soul comes to. It has enemies, perhaps mighty and strong ones, nor is it insensible to them. They hide themselves and plot against the faithful one; and he has no resource in flesh. All this is good for him. It makes him know the world he is in and weans him from flesh. But what can he do? He can do nothing. This casts him then on God, and this is as positively blessed as it is useful. In truth, if God be for us, what can flesh do? The worldly man may have fleshly resources against flesh. The saint cannot have recourse to these. It would take him away from God, just when God is leading him wholly to Him. He cannot say “confederacy” to all to whom the people weak in faith say confederacy. But he is not to fear their fear neither, not be afraid, but sanctify the Lord of Hosts Himself; and He shall he for a sanctuary. It is out of the occasion of fear that the faithful one looks out to God here. Then what can flesh do? God disposes of everything and has His plans, which he will certainly bring to pass. But there is another blessing accompanies this and a deep one. The soul is in trial, the wicked plotting against it. But God is with it in the sorrow and takes account of it all. He tells the wanderings of the saint, for he inhere looked at as deprived of outward privileges, with God's people and in His house; but God counts all this up, and the saint can look, as it is beautifully expressed, to His putting every tear into His bottle. Every sorrow of the saint is in His book. It is a blessed thought. So the heart confides in Him and knows that when it cries to Him all its enemies will be turned back; then, as it praised His word in faith in the midst of its fears and sorrows, looking to it, sustained by it, counting on it. Oh that saints knew how to do it! So now the soul will do it in counting on deliverance by His sure intervention. Another principle is found in this psalm (in a Jewish form of course) connected with these exercises of heart, and which are ever found in them, and indeed one great object of them as coming from God, the sense of belonging to, and being given up to, consecrated to God. “Thy vows are upon me.” It will be in the sense of praise and rendered in praise when delivered, but the heart learns in these trials what we are apt to forget, that we do not belong to ourselves. It is, in its lowest stage, connected with the want of deliverance; in the highest, with the joy that God owns us for His own. The foundation being the redemption which has made us wholly His in fact, as indeed Israel was externally as redeemed from Egypt. Hence praises are in the heart of the oppressed one already. He receives what he prays for, believing. But the soul uses mercies and deliverances to count for more. It has been delivered from death; hence it looks to be kept from falling. It was under the power and oppression of the enemy, him that has the power of death, the devil—it is set fret; but now it has to walk without stumbling and falling in the way, but it has learned its dependence in the trial and it looks to God for this. Wilt thou not deliver my feet from falling? But the soul has learned more in its distress, the comfort of walking before God in the light of His favor and the safety of His presence. It looks to this as the object of its being kept. It does look for its own peace and comfort, but it looks for it before God. The light of the living was the light of divine preserving favor for Israel. It is not the highest order of joy here, but it is the soul's looking out of distress and oppression to that faithful goodness of God which shall make it walk before Him in safety and in peace.
Psalm 57
In Psa. 57 there are the same trials, but more confidence. But his eye seeing more brightly God's power and help, it sees more of the evil and wickedness of its enemies and less of its own oppression, and this is constantly true. We have to watch this, for our heart is treacherous. If it gets out of its own oppression and fear, it is apt to dwell too much on the wickedness of its enemies. Looking more at God, it must see this more. That is not the evil, but dwelling on it. It is dangerous to merge evil and go on comfortably, but it is injurious also to dwell on evil. It does not nourish the soul—how should it?—and a spirit contrary to the gospel grows up. We shall see it, if we are near God, but we shall soon be occupied with God and not with the evil. He is above it all.
Thus there is progress in these three psalms. Between psalms 56 and 57 the first verse shows the difference: the former “for man would swallow me up;” the second, “for my soul trusteth in thee.” There he was trusting God's word, here he is looking for the accomplishment of it by the hand of God, and trusts under the shadow of His wings till the tyranny be overpast. Hence he is able to look out to God's exalting Himself above the heavens and His glory above all the earth. It is not that the power of evil is not there as much as it was. It is, and the soul is bowed down through it, but the mind rests more on God. Remark, too, that there is no thought of resisting the evil and getting rid of it by one's own strength. It waits on God, and this it must do to have its own path perfect. And this Christ did. The former psalm felt more God's entering into the sorrow. This looks more to its own escape out of it, but by God's sending from heaven and accomplishing deliverance. He sees, too, the evil taken in their own plannings. There is no thought of counter planning. But casting himself wholly on God, he sees their own plans to be their ruin, and this is a striking way of judgment and confirmation of faith. He gets through faith, so to speak, praise ready; and in the Ammim and Leummim—peoples and tribes: it is not, specially among the heathen as adverse and opposed. His trials are within the people, the men he was associated with; and it is not triumph over adversaries, but deliverance where he could only bow down his heart. But the result was praise among men in a wider sphere than that he had been tried in; and so it ever is, for He who delivers is great. In fact he looks out to millennial glory, when all will be gathered together in one in Christ. But I use it now as seen here in God's ways.
Psalm 58
On Psa. 58, very few words will suffice. The force of the psalm is this: the wicked as such are hopeless as to amendment, but God will judge them; so that men will see that there is a reward for the righteous and a God that judgeth the earth. Is there upright, just judgment among men) is the question. There is wickedness in their hearts: they plan and plot in it. It is in their nature and will, and characterizes itself by falsehood. It is of the serpent, in its nature devilish; and they refuse any and every attracting power and influence, whatever it may be. God comes in and Jehovah judges, let their power and strength be as lions. They melt away to nothing when His hand comes in. Vengeance—and this explains the joy in it—does come in, vindicates the just man and shows him right, however he may have seemed helpless and been oppressed, and God righteous, and that there is a judge in spite of oppression.