Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalms 64-77

Psalm 64‑77  •  24 min. read  •  grade level: 6
(Psa. 64-77.)
Psa. 64 shows a peculiar course of things in the world, yet one with which every one exercised in the service of God in this world is familiar—that of the wicked, who hate righteousness, seeking to charge evil on the upright. This shows the universality and power of conscience, and another truth too—that the principles of those who trust God and confess His name are expected to produce what is purely good. This is really the strongest witness to the principles of faith on the one hand, and to the utter wickedness of the human heart on the other. The wicked recognize that faith ought to produce, and, as its own proper fruit, does produce, what is right and perfect, and expects it from him who walks by faith. But they show their hatred of that principle, and of those who cleave to the Lord by it, by searching out iniquity and inconsistency. This is a terrible proof of the wickedness of the world; and yet it is universal, not only found, yea, not so much found among the openly ungodly as in decent unbelievers. Here it is indeed in those who pursue iniquity willfully, not evident immorality, but wickedness, who are pursuing it in their secret counsels. Yet it is the spirit of evil in man. Plotting is characteristic of evil, but its extreme character. But there is concurrence of feeling and acting with a like mind when it has not gone so far as plotting, because a like spirit animates them. Then their tongues are the instruments of attack and injury. The saint has no outward defense or remedy; but as to this, as with regard to violence, God is his refuge. Remark, he speaks of the fear of the enemy. This malice tends to produce fear. The godly is no equal match for it, he can use no weapon against it. He leaves it to God in representing it to Him. God exercises His saints; but in result the wicked bring His judgment on their own heads, and even fear and see and own God's work. For that the godly must wait, and then joy will be complete, though their deliverance, being a divine one, must wait till the divine time of judgment arrive. So Abraham was kept a stranger and his descendants under oppression, “for the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full.” It may be that the trial is not complete for us, but in all events, when God intervenes, it will be the perfect time for us. But another thing than our deliverance results. The deliverance being in God's time, and so according to His perfect judgments, His ways are displayed in it. And God's judgment being in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. That is the full accomplishment; but even in particular cases, men glorify God in the day of visitation, and own that they who trusted God were right; that God, who seemed not to interfere, only awaited in His holy righteousness, and that He does care for the righteous, and thus His ways are perfect. And this is an immense gain. God is glorified.
Psa. 65 refers directly to the blessing of this creation, and the praise and joy which will spring forth when He sets aside the power of evil, but looks, as witnesses of it, to the present effect of His goodness. It looks, for the groaning creation waits, not only for Israel as here, but much more in order to its deliverance, for the manifestation of the sons of God, for the blessing of God's people, that this universal blessing may take place; but the heart is ready, and this leads us to a general principle instructive to us at all times. The readiness of heart to praise in the midst of trial, and the almighty power which is looked to, whose nature is to give blessing. But this psalm again applies only to the circumstances of the believer. The Christian is never, according to the Spirit, in a state of soul in which he cannot praise. His heart may have got away from God, so that the Spirit has to rebuke him and humble him, but then praise is not ready at all. Here the thought is, that though the heart be ready, circumstances do not furnish occasion to praise. Praise is silent, though there is the consciousness that praise belongs to God; the vow will be performed. This may be the Christian's case. He may say in trying circumstances, I am sure I shall yet praise and thank Him for deliverance. And this is a right spirit. As to our highest praise, this is always the case. In the heavenly courts our praise is yet silent, and we wait and long for it. Verse 4 plainly shows that is the Jewish form of it: this is the thought of the psalm. The general thought there is, We only await the blessing to be fulfilled for praise to break out. God's faithfulness and power are celebrated as assuring this. Here in judgment and for earthly blessings; but the Christian, whatever hindrances and adverse powers there may be, counts on this faithfulness and power of God to bring him into the heavenly city. Transgressions will not bar the way; through grace only, we say, “thou hast purged them away.” He hears our prayer and helps us. Further, it is a question of the necessary glory of the Lord, and even in the earthly part, but the principle is there. All flesh must come to Him. This the Jew looked to as a part of the glory. God's purposes must be accomplished to His glory, but He has in grace identified them with us. As Paul expresses it, by the Spirit, All the promises of God are in Him (Christ) yea, and in Him amen, to the glory of God by us. Hence faith, assured that God must be glorified, looks to our own glory and blessing in it. This marks faith, not believing that God is glorious, but connecting His glory with the blessing of His people. So Moses, “What wilt thou do to thy great name?” “The Egyptians will hear of it;” and so ever in his pleadings with God. What a source of security and ground for praise, that God should have thus identified His glory with our blessing and His promises to us in Christ!
Psa. 66 There is one point in this psalm as to its moral force which is of great interest to notice: the way in which, when deliverance comes, all is ascribed to God. And God is seen all through. It goes back to original redemption, the unequivocal source of all (verse 6), while the final blessing of God's people is the blessing of the world. Even when all seemed to have been darkness, it is now seen His power was above all. He rules by His power forever. His eyes behold the nations. Woe to him that exalts himself. But not only this God is seen in the trouble itself, and as the author of it; though our failures may have been the occasion of it. This is the true test of the heart being right—what is called (as to Israel, in Leviticus), accepting the punishment of our iniquity. Two things are seen in it: God brought them into the trouble; He held their soul in life through it. So with Job in both points. Nor did He suffer their feet to be moved out of the divine path of faith by the trial. Verses 10, 11, recognize this; and if instruments were employed, yet they were but instruments. The trial was, and they see and feel it, very great; but it was God's doing. Nor was this all. God has a positive purpose in this: a path, a place of love which He carries through, and of which the trial was a part to fit the soul for the place of so great blessing. “Thou broughtest me out into a wealthy place.” God sends the trouble, preserves the soul in it, purges the soul by it as silver, brightens its hope which rests more entirely on Him, and looks with purer eye for what He has promised, and then brings out into a wealthy place. But some other points come out as to the state of the soul meanwhile. The trouble had cast the soul on God. And though to us all such things as vows are wrong, yet the reference of the heart to Him, the turning of it to Him as the source of hope in a better way, though under chastisement, is just what hoping in Him produces. Have confidence in, and wait on Him when tried and chastened; till the will is broken, we cannot; when it is, we can, though conscious the sorrow is the fruit of our fault. This supposes integrity; it issues in thanksgiving. The heart can then, too, bear testimony for God to others; it has known what He has been for itself. It cried and He heard. This, says the apostle, is the confidence we have in Him. For what is here learned through sorrow, should be the constant state of the soul without it. Still the governing feeling of the soul is its own thankfulness, and so it will be. It will turn back to that, that is, to God—to the secret of its own thankfulness to Him, which is the joy of the heart. The force of the psalm is recognizing all this after deliverance; but what it produces when received into the heart, is answering faith when the trouble is there.
On Psa. 67 I have only a remark to make. The glory of God is the spring of the desire of the heart for blessings even on His people. Then blessings flow out and praise goes up to God. This psalm explains Rom. 11:1515For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15).
On psalm 68, striking and interesting as the psalm is, I have, for our present object, little to say. A remark or two, by the by, present themselves to me. It is specially God's character as regards the Jews in grace, but in His own sovereign grace, not in covenant relationship, but as establishing them, as once in Sinai, only now in grace and power. Jah is not the same as Jehovah, I am fully persuaded. It is the absolute existence of God, not His continuous existence, so as to reckon on His faithfulness, who was, and is, and is to come. He is here, lives forever and ever. He is only called Jehovah in the psalm when He speaks of His dwelling on the mountain of Zion and His abiding. Because there He takes His covenant place and name. We have Jah, verses 4-18; but, Lord, elsewhere in the psalm, is Adonai. It seems to me to connect Christ with the restoration of Israel, to give Him the place of Lord, but more associated with His being also Jehovah than Psa. 110. Verse 18 is naturally the center of this only, where, as He is Jehovah in Zion, according to promise, here ascended, on His rejection, He receives gifts as man. He is beyond all Jewish promises. Yet it applies to Jews, the rebellious. But there it is not Jehovah, but Jah Elohim. Christ's exaltation will bring back God in sovereign grace into the midst of Israel.
Psa. 69 is so fully prophetical of Christ that I make no remark on it here. It is a full description of His sorrows in life and death. I have spoken of it fully elsewhere.
Psa. 70 calls for only one remark. The willingness to be anything—poor, needy, despised—provided the people of God be happy and in a condition which draws forth their praise. The Lord's blessing is not despised, but for it the Lord is waited for. But the heart set on the happiness and blessing of God's people—this is the true spirit of faith in the saint.
Psa. 71 will not detain us either. It rests on two points. God's righteousness—the psalmist claims nothing on the ground of his own; but God will be consistent with Himself—not desert or abandon him. Hence he counts on His faithfulness.
Psa. 72 is Christ's glory as Solomon, so as not to call for our remarking anything here on its contents.
Although Psa. 73, which begins the third book of Psalms, refers directly to the temporal judgment of God in Israel, as satisfying the anxieties of heart among the faithful; yet, as these anxieties are of all times, we shall find something to note here. We see the ungodly having their way, so that God seems to have forgotten, and the heart is envious. But it shows, in our case, too often, that the heart would yet have its portion here—at least a portion here as well as one to come. The sorrow at the power of evil in the world is right, but it mingles itself in our minds with liking to have one's own way and judgment in setting it aside. When the will mixes itself up with the sense of the success of evil, it is either irritated or disheartened so as to give up perseverance in good. The ungodly prosper in the world. What a riddle! Where is God's government? What is the use of good? No doubt it was more directly trying where temporal blessings had been made a sign of divine favor. But Christians are seldom separated enough from this world not to feel the success of wickedness, and a desire to take vengeance on it. Mere indifference to it is utterly evil. Thus the path is narrow, and grace must work in the heart to lead us in it, to feel the evil in itself, to feel God's glory cast in the dust by it; but to bide God's time and way, as Christ did when He suffered. There is no place of learning but in the sanctuary. There the will is bowed—there God is known—there the eye is not obscured by the passions of the world, and an ignorance of how to do what God alone could not do—make allowance for any good, have perfect patience with evil, so that judgment shall be simply on evil, and be true judgment on evil without excuse. Our impatience would be nothing of this, even where the evil as such is justly judged. But in the sanctuary will is silent and God is listened to. His ways are right, and we see things with His eye. The evil is worse, the compassion right, the patience adorable, yet the judgment sure; so that the sense of righteousness is not crossed in the heart, though the will of vengeance is; for the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. The judgment is righteous because patience is perfect—far more terrible because there is no passion in it. It refers to God. When we desire that fire may come down from heaven, self is in it. We do not know what manner of spirit we are of. Yet, in one sense, they really deserved it. When God awakes, in His own just time, they are as a dream. Their pride, pretensions—all is as a departed image. Faith has to believe this, and leave them there.
But another blessed truth comes out here. He had been foolish, ignorant— “as a beast,” as he says, “before God;” yet there had been integrity and conscience. If he had let his thoughts loose when half disposed to say godliness was no use, he would have offended against the generation of God's children. This checked him. How beautiful to see in the waywardness of man's will these holy affections, this conscience of putting a stumbling-block in the path of the weakest of God's children, check the heart, and show where the affections really are, and that fear of God which shows He is lovingly known—that the new nature is there! It is a great mark of good that God is owned. But what he knows of himself is that he was as a beast in his heart's reasoning as it did. But, then, mark what is seen. He comes to see that, in spite of all this, while owning his folly, he was continually with God. O how the full knowledge of self, when we know as we are known, will show the patient, unvarying grace of God waiting on us all the way in adorable love and interest in us! Through all his foolishness he was continually with God, and God had holden him by his right hand. Blessed grace! God loves us, cares for us, watches over us, is interested in us; because of His sovereign love, we are necessary to His satisfaction. He withdraweth not His eyes from the righteous. This is a wondrous thought of constant grace. But He is God, and not man. And so the heart here counts on Him. Up to this, through all his shortcoming in faith, he could say, “Thou hast holden:” now he says, as in communion, “Thou wilt guide me by thy counsel.” This is not merely holding up unconsciously; it is the mind and will of God guiding us in communion. Hence it is seen when he has judged himself and is in communion, it is not that God does not guide us, make us go according to His own counsels, when we are not in communion—holding our mouths with bit and bridle; for He does. But the soul does not understand it—then cannot speak, as here, in the knowledge of His doing it by His counsel. This He does. Here we meet, in the full force of the passage, the plain distinction of the Jewish position. “After the glory, thou wilt receive me.” It has been altered to make more of it for Christian ideas, and the true meaning lost. (Comp. Zech. 2:88For thus saith the Lord of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye. (Zechariah 2:8).) After the glory, when that is set up, Israel will be received; but in that glory we shall come with Christ. The heart is now set right by this visit to the sanctuary: “Whom in heaven but the Lord.” We, indeed, may have our thought expanded by the knowledge of the Father and the Son; still, the truth abides only better known. Who in heaven but God, the center and source and all of blessing. On earth, where, with such as we not thus fixed on God, there might be distracting desires, there is no source of delight with Him; that is, He is the only one. Singleness of eye is complete. As we are in the world, it does make us feel alone, but alone with God. So the blessed Savior. “All ye shall be offended in me this night and shall leave me alone; but I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” In one sense the heart accepts the dominancy of evil and is blessedly abstracted from all to God. See thus the blessing of this seeming evil. Were all peaceful and good, prosperous in the present and imperfect state of things, the heart would sink into that imperfect state and be really worldly; but the prevalence of evil, though pressing on the spirit, the will checked by the feeling that one cannot dissociate oneself from God's people, drives to the sanctuary of God. The heart is weaned from this world, and, in a world where evil does prevail, looks up to God, has Himself for its portion alone in heaven, and so nothing along with Him on the earth. He holds the one sovereign place in the heart. Nothing competes with Him at all as in the New Testament. “Christ is all.” But this brings in another blessing. This endures. Heart and flesh fail. Surely they do. God is the strength of my heart. He stays with divine strength and goodness and sustains the heart, and is not only a present stay, but an everlasting portion, our portion forever. This leads to a sweet and earnest conclusion. It is good for me to draw near to God. There we learn truth; there we find comfort. He has put his trust in the Lord Jehovah, in One, sovereign in power, abiding and faithful in promise. He who does will surely have to declare all His wondrous works. He will be in the place to see and experience them, have the heart to notice and understand them, the joy of testifying the faithfulness of One the heart has trusted. In verse 20 we have only sovereign power; in the last verse, covenant faithfulness also.
As to psalm 74, for our present purpose I have only one remark to make. We find in it confidence in the faithfulness of God, when as to outward circumstances, the power of the enemy seemed to make all hopeless and on the ground of confidence in Himself. But then what He is for His people. Redemption has proved His deep and profound interest in them. They are His own. He has, though taking them in sovereign grace, now bound Himself up (though in grace) with them. And the heart says, “Arise, O God, plead thine own cause.” This is very blessed. So Moses continually. “Thou halt brought them out.” Hence if the people be brought utterly low and the tumult of enemies rise higher and higher, this is only an additional motive, because it is grace, and faithful grace; and power over all things is with Him. The heart calls on God to remember the attacks and reproaches of the enemy instead of being alarmed by them, for the reproach is on His name. And this is true. For the world's enmity is really against the Lord in being against His people. Were they not His people, they would not trouble their heads much about them. God's people have to remember the same thing, and in their own weakness to remember what is in question.
Psa. 75 is the certainty and righteous government of Christ's kingdom. Only remark, faith gives thanks before it is set up, warning the presumptuous wicked, for God is the judge. Human pretension is no use against Him. Remark, too, that when Christ takes the kingdom, all is confusion, the earth and its pillars are dissolved. Our hearts should even say, God's name (for us the Father) is near. That is all in which He reveals Himself—is close to us. So that we can ever trust and not be afraid. The ways and dealings of God are according to His name. We believe in His name of Almighty and Most High, and that He will avenge the persecuted church on Babylon and its power, but it is not God's name directly with us. That, as I have said, is Father. Hence, save of His children, it is not government. Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. All the power that is in that name so displayed, or all the grace and faithfulness of it for those who are risen with Him and loved as He is, is that which is ever near to us; and that wondrous work of Christ's resurrection declares it, were death itself upon us.
Psa. 76. The general subject is still judgment executed in connection with Israel. But there is a general principle we may notice. First, that the seat of God's blessing and throne, or its manifestation on earth, low as it may fall, is more excellent than all the might and violence of man. At God's rebuke these fall and man has no strength. When God arises, what can man do? But God's execution of judgment on the earth has an immediate effect and purpose—the deliverance of the meek. He saves all the meek of the earth. His love and faithful goodness are even here in exercise. Then comes another principle, applicable at all times by faith, and an encouraging and consoling principle. God makes the wrath of man to praise Him. He turns everything to His own glory and purpose, and then stops all the rest. Where faith is in exercise, it counts on God, through all, sure that God will have the last and final word in the matter.
In Psa. 77 we have some instructive points to notice. The complaint goes further, perhaps, than that of any Christian ought to go. The seventh verse for us would be simple unbelief; whereas for the Jew, whose people are cast off as regards all their privileges, the question justly arises, as in Rom. 11, “I say then hath God cast away His people?” But if we keep this in mind, there is much to instruct us as regards the time of deep trouble, as when the pressure of very adverse circumstances, or even our own fault, may have brought the soul into deep distress, as to that which surrounds it. The subject of this psalm is that he actually and actively sought the Lord. It was a direct appeal of the heart, not merely a wish nor submission. He went with his voice to God about it. This is more important than we are apt to suppose. I do not think it altogether just, “that prayer is the soul's sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed.” I surely admit that there may be a sigh or a groan where the Holy Ghost's intercession is, and that the lifting up of the heart to God will never find repulse or coldness there. All that I admit; but there is an actual carrying a known want or trouble to God, the expression of the need we are in. The heart expresses itself in a distinct application. Thus it brings itself before God, and this is very important in our relationship with God. There is truth in the inward parts, and true confiding dependence. Up to this there was gnawing trouble, the working of the heart on the trouble, the soul refusing to be comforted. The will was at work, and could not get what it wanted. The soul thinks of God, but no comfort was there. There was but its own thoughts of Him; there was complaint, not prayer, and the spirit overwhelmed. So when awake, he cannot be occupied naturally with ordinary matters, he is silent through trouble. It is a strong picture of a thoroughly distressed soul, only fully realized when a soul, through the chastening hand of God, has lost the sense of divine favor, or does not know peace, but which in degree may be with any one. But the soul turns to God. It has enjoyed mercy and songs in the night. Would the Lord cast off forever? For the Christian this question has no place, but when the shield of faith is down, and the fiery darts of the wicked have reached the heart—a terrible and sore chastisement. The only thing like it is when a soul has lightly received the Gospel in its mercy (without, however, being insincere), and the work of conscience goes on afterward. When, instead of communing with self and reasoning with its own misery, it looks to God, the heart sees all this is in itself, not in God. This is the turning point. But the Christian does not go back to former mercies (as the Jew would, and rightly would), because he always stands in present favor, even if Satan have got hold of his mind for a time and he returns into the sunshine of it, when the cloud that arose out of his own heart is passed. The Jews had early sovereign blessings, and are right to remember it when they had been cast off, though it be not forever. The Christian is never cast off. Hence he has not to remember but enters again into the enjoyment of divine favor which has never ceased. In the rest of the psalm the Christian learns God's way is in the sanctuary. Let His favor be ever so unchangeable, His way is always according to His own holiness, though for the very same reason—according to His own faithful love. Whenever Israel turns back, it is to sovereign grace and redemption. God's way is in the sea—untraceable and in power. All the movements and power of what seems ungovernable and not to be got through are in His hand. On the whole, the psalm is the contrast between the working of the soul in restless anxiety in thus indulging its own thoughts, and turning, when it has recollected God, to cry to Himself. If the Christian apply it interrupted favor, he is all wrong. But he may learn in respect to overwhelming sorrow when the will is at work, that there is no rest till the soul remembers God and cries to Him.