Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A BLESSED RETROSPECT.
1. He knows it is blessed, because, here the psalmist sets it down, he summons, in intensely earnest, varied, and emphatic way, all people to give thanks unto the Lord.
2. And he tells them wherefore they should hearken to his Word - because the Lord "hath remembered his covenant forever," etc. (ver. 8).
3. Then comes the covenant history. He tells what the covenant was (ver. 11), with whom it was made (ver. 9), and to whom confirmed (ver. 10). Then he tells of the apparent improbability of its fulfilment (ver. 12), yet how God guarded them (ver. 15). Then how strangely his work was carried on: sending dread famine (ver. 16), and making them exiles in Egypt; sending Joseph, whom he had wonderfully prepared to be their helper in Egypt (vers. 17-23). Then, when they were sufficiently multiplied, stirring up their nest there by means of the persecution they had to bear. Then came the mission of Moses and Aaron, and the ten plagues, so that at length Pharaoh was glad to let them go (ver. 38). Then the triumphant exodus and the perpetual help in the wilderness, ending in the promised Canaan when the people were prepared for it (vers. 44, 45). So did God lead his people by a right way, and so will he ever, though, as with Israel, the way may often seem very strange, unlikely, and the reverse of what we should have thought.
II. ITS LESSONS.
1. God's covenants ever come true, however unlikely and even impossible they may at times seem to be.
2. That it is a terrible thing to stand in opposition to them (vers. 14, 27-37). Let us beware how we hinder the work of God.
3. God knows where to find and how to prepare his ministers in this work. "He sent Joseph; he sent Moses" (vers. 17, 26). They who are to be chief in service have generally first to be chief in suffering.
4. The aim of God's covenant is the creation of a holy people (ver. 45).
5. The remembrance of God's leading will ever be blessed. - S.C.
plural, the prominent idea seems to be the duty of making the God of history, whose working is so evident in the Jewish history, known to the heathen. If we can read history aright, and see God's working in it, we must read it aloud, so that others may be helped to find what we have found. Reviews of history are always interesting, and were specially pleasing to the Jews, who regarded themselves as a specially favoured nation. History at first is but a collection of facts, then it becomes the estimate of relations, causes, and results, which we call the philosophy of history. But that philosophy is not complete or satisfactory which fails to recognize the overruling and modifying Divine force which moves history to preordained ends. He only reaches the true philosophy of history who finds God in history. In this psalm we have such a reading of the national history as the Jewish exiles would undertake when the prospect of return to Canaan was near. We have to see the special points of view from which they would conduct their review. The thing prominent in their minds was, that God was about to redeem them from captivity, and to restore them to their own land; so they read the story of their race to find God's redemptions. And they were easy to find when men looked for them in such a mood.
I. GOD'S REDEMPTION OF ISRAEL FROM THE EGYPTIAN FAMINE. This was at the very outset of the national history. The famine affected the neighbouring countries, and God made Egypt a refuge for his redeemed people. Deliverance by quiet providences.
II. GOD'S REDEMPTION OF ISRAEL FROM THE EGYPTIAN BONDAGE. For the place of refuge presently became a place of slavery. This deliverance was accompanied with displays of august power, which reached their climax in the death of the Egyptian firstborn. Deliverance by miraculous interventions.
III. GOD'S REDEMPTION OF ISRAEL FROM ITS OWN WILFULNESS. God's deliverance of a man is never complete while it deals exclusively with his circumstances and surroundings. A man is not redeemed until he is redeemed from his bad self. The nation was not redeemed until God's gracious working within it had been completed. We see this in scenes of the wilderness journey. We see it all through, up to the great Babylonish captivity. Redemption comes by Divine discipline. - R.T.
I. GOD HAS WONDERFULLY REVEALED HIMSELF IN HISTORY.
1. By his marvellous work of love. To the Jews and to the world. Christianity a grand historical embodiment and exhibition of the love of God.
2. By his everlasting faithfulness. As witnessed in the fulfilment of his promises and threatenings to the Jews and the Christian Church. God departs neither from his word nor his plan.
3. By his righteous judgments upon the wickedness of men and nations. His righteousness is the guarantee both for his rewards and his punishments. Doing right is as much a part of the Divine character as doing good; i.e. justice and beneficence are both necessary to a perfect being.
4. By the publication of his law to mankind. (Ver. 5.) "The judgments of his mouth" are the utterances of his moral law which he has given by the deliverances of Moses and of Christ.
II. HOW THIS REVELATION SHOULD BE RECEIVED.
1. With rejoicing gratitude and thanksgiving. This one of the highest parts of the worship of God. Joyful gratitude is love, and when this is followed by obedience, then God is worshipped most acceptably.
2. With devout meditation. Thought, meditation, is necessary to understand the smallest fact of life; but infinitely necessary to interpret the stupendous facts of redemption.
3. With a spirit of earnest inquiry. We have only just begun to understand the Divine work, and if "the angels desire to look into these things," how much more eager should we be to bend over them with inquiring thought! We are only in the incipient stages of spiritual intelligence. - S.
I. THE FIRST IS SEEKING THE LORD.
1. We are slow enough to do this. We will try. as did the writer of Ecclesiastes, almost everything ere we turn to the Lord.
2. But the Lord desires that we should. Hence the plain declarations of his Word. Also the orderings of his providence. God will not let us have rest outside of himself. He is ever stirring up our nest. Thus he would compel us to own our need of him.
3. And there is the Holy Spirit's convicting work. And when that is done, it leads to this first blessed step heavenward - seeking the Lord.
II. SEEKING HIS STRENGTH. For though it be difficult to persuade men to take the first step, it is yet more difficult to keep them trusting in and faithful to the Lord. The real test is whether we abide in Christ. And we shall not unless we seek God's strength. All the batteries of hell will be turned against us to destroy our soul life, and we shall indeed need to be strengthened "with all might by God's Spirit in our inner man." That strength will come to us as we are:
1. Diligent in prayer.
2. Faithful in confession of Christ.
3. Feeding upon the Divine Word.
4. Trying to save others.
5. Keeping on believing.
III. SEEKING HIS FACE EVERMORE.
1. This tells of the joy of the Lord which comes to us when his face shines upon us. Let us be children of the light; keep on the sunny side of the way. Let there be joy in our service, not mere duty, doing which gets to be very dull work after a while. The elder son in the parable (Luke 15.) was a mere duty doer, and he had no joy in his service, and therefore had no welcome for his poor prodigal younger brother.
2. If we would serve God effectually, pray for "the joy of God's salvation. (Psalm 51.) Then shall we teach transgressors, and get them converted to God.
3. All this is possible. We may have much of heaven before we get there. - S.C.
I. SEEKING THE LORD HIMSELF. This may be taken as referring to adequate knowledge of God. This is not in itself sanctifying; for men may know without loving. But it is the proper beginning. Seek to know God. Fearlessly take all his workings into account; both those easy to understand, and those difficult. Never shirk any facts. Only he who is willing to see the revelation of himself which God has made in history all round and all through, will ever get to know God worthily. So much mistake is made by deciding beforehand who and what God is, and then selecting, from the revelations of his Word and works, only what will support our prearranged conceptions. Few of us yet know worthily the unity of the many-sided God.
II. SEEKING THE LORD'S STRENGTH. Signs of the Divine power in history. Now, our impression of strength is but a small one while we keep in the material regions, and see only what a man can lift, what he can pull, or what he can carry. The really strong man is he who can master difficulties, put things straight, prove himself mightier than opposing forces, and even opposing forces in combination. This is the strength of the Lord God, of which we want to find signs; and precisely sirens of this - the Lord, the Overcomer, mastering all hostile forces - we find abundant in the Old Testament history.
III. SEEKING THE LORD'S FACE. The full face looking at us is the sign of favour. The downcast face is the sign of disapproval. What the child of God wants is to live with his Father's full open face smiling upon him. "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face, my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek." We may read God's dealings in such a spirit as to win God's favour in the reading. - R.T.
Psalm 103.); the marvels of God's handiwork in nature (Psalm 104.); the overrulings of Divine providence in the national history (Psalm 105.); and the causes for national humiliation (Psalm 106.). The leading idea before us, in this and the following psalm, is this. God and Israel entered into mutual covenant. Read the national story how you may, you will find that God has always been faithful to his pledges in that covenant, and the people have constantly been unfaithful. The marvel of mercy is that God's patient and persistent faithfulness triumphs at last over man's wilfulness and unfaithfulness.
I. GOD MADE COVENANT WITH HIS PEOPLE IN OLD TIMES. It is not only that God made promises the marvel of Divine grace is, that God should condescend to stand on man's platform, and join with man in putting himself under solemn pledge. Covenant making is an idea of early tribal times, when legal documents could not be written and signed. Illustrate God's covenant with Abraham, which was renewed again and again. Dwell on the fact that there were two persons, and two sets of conditions, in a covenant; and each was released if the other broke his terms. Lead on to show how the name is preserved in relation to the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. GOD WAS ALWAYS FAITHFUL TO HIS PLEDGES IN COVENANT. This the psalmist treats as an unquestionable historical fact. God was true to Abraham, Isaac, Israel in Egypt, Joseph. True to covenant in dealing with Pharaoh, Israel's oppressor. True in bringing Israel at last to the promised land. Providences are only rightly read as God's fulfilment of his covenant. That which is true of Israel is true of our persona lives. God has been to us Provider, Guide, Ruler, and Overruler.
III. GOD MAY BE FULLY TRUSTED TO PROVE FAITHFUL IN NEW SCENES. This is the appeal which the psalmist makes to the returning exiles. God has ever been faithful to your fathers; he will be faithful to you. So our trust is in what we know God to be; and we know him by what he has done, and does. He is the "faithful Promiser;" we may fully trust him. - R.T.
1 Peter 3:20; cf. also Nehemiah 2:12). And see the beginnings of the Christian Church. Small like a grain of mustard seed. Now we are prone to be much discouraged when we see only a few caring for the things of God; and we are much elated when we see crowds of people, multitudes, uniting themselves with the professing Church. We may be wrong in both cases. Certainly we are when the fact of mere fewness casts us down. Let such despondents remember -
I. THAT IT IS QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY, THAT IS TO BE CONSIDERED. A living dog is better than a dead lion. Bigness is not strength. See the composition of the Bible. What great space is given to a little insignificant people, and the stories of their ancestors - a people who inhabited a mere shred and corner of the world, and who were just nothing at all compared with the vast empires that stretched themselves out on all sides of them! But it was because in this little handful of people the Divine life had its home, and that in them, under God, the kingdom of God on earth depended, that, therefore, their history is all-important, and a special providence watched over them. And do not we know, in our experiences, the blessed force which a few, and even less than a few, thorough and wholly consecrated Christians exert, compared with what a crowd of the common sort ever accomplish?
III. THE REALIZATION OF OUR OWN WEAKNESS, WHICH COMES TO US WHEN THERE ARE BUT A FEW, IS ONE OF THE CONDITIONS OF GOD'S WORKING. Our Lord had to make Peter feel what a poor creature he was before he could be used as an apostle; and hence came Peter's fall.
IV. A FEW BECOME A HOST IF GOD LEAD. We may be but a row of ciphers; but if God stand at our head, then they are no longer mere ciphers. And this is not a mere figure of speech, but an actual fact demonstrated over and over again (cf. the vision, 2 Kings 6:17).
V. HIS SPECIAL PROMISES ARE FOR THE FEW. "Where two or three are gathered," etc. (Matthew 18:20). And that promise has constantly been fulfilled.
VI. THE FEW ARE HIS ESPECIAL CARE. (See vers. 12-15.) And in the history of missions, the little handful who have gone to this country and that, though persecuted, and their ranks thinned by disease and death, yet have they been strengthened to hold on until they have won the battle God sent them to wage. What may not one God filled soul do? Read the history of Gideon to show this. And a company of them. If, then, "where there were but a few," there was no failure in the purpose and promise of God, let us rest assured that in like circumstances now there will be no failure. And let us stir ourselves up to lay hold on God. - S.C.
Genesis 20:7.) The psalmist had some special instances in his mind, which he regarded as representative of the Divine defence that is always overshadowing God's faithful people. They are cases in which the three great patriarchs moved into the territory of alien or alienated people, and were preserved from all harm.
I. DIVINE DEFENCE OF ABRAHAM IN CANAAN, EGYPT, AND GERAR. Journeying into Canaan, which was then occupied by several nations, we might have expected his coming to have excited jealousy, it not fear. His tribe was large, his flocks and herds were abundant; he must have eaten up the land as he passed through it. But the Divine defence was over him, and his course was practically unhindered. He never had to fight for any position. God made his way. In Egypt, and again in Gerar, he was placed in much anxiety, and in some peril, by the licentious customs of the age. But the Divine defence was over him and his - no evil befell him; and even the seeming evil proved to be for his own moral good, and for other people's.
II. DIVINE DEFENCE OF ISAAC IN PHILISTIA. From a similar anxiety to that which Abraham had experienced, and from the strife which arose about the wells that Isaac digged. It is well to notice that, in the matter of the wells, the Divine defence worked along with Isaac's wise self-restraint, and refusal to make quarrels.
III. DIVINE DEFENCE OF JACOB IN SYRIA, AND IN ESAU'S COUNTRY. Laban of Syria was far more of an enemy than a friend to Jacob. How much the patriarch had to endure! But God ever watched over him. The supreme peril of Jacob's life was that return to Canaan which involved his meeting the justly offended Esau. Even then we find him within the Divine defence. - R.T.
I. JOSEPH WAS DISCIPLINED SO AS TO SAVE HIS FAMILY. A man must gain the mastery of himself before he can gain true power to serve others. See the providences which brought Joseph into circumstances which provided moral discipline.
1. The trust Potiphar placed in him.
2. The moral temptation to which he was exposed.
3. The delay in the vindication of his innocence.
The effect of that delay is given by the figure, "the iron entered into his soul." We can see that this mastery he gained over himself prepared him to master the hatred he must have felt towards the brethren, who planned his murder, and accomplished his enslaving. The greatness of the disciplinary triumph can only be fairly judged in view of the intense, uncontrolled feelings of vengeance characteristic of that age.
II. JOSEPH SAVED HIS FAMILY IN THEIR TIME OF PERIL. Had the famine been only a temporary one, due to a single failure of the Nile, Joseph might have sent supplies to Canaan; but only the position and power he had gained in Egypt enabled him to meet the case of seven years' famine.
III. JOSEPH'S SALVATION BROUGHT HIS FAMILY INTO A SPECIAL DIVINE DISCIPLINE. And so worked out the providential designs concerning the race. Joseph's personal experiences in Egypt were, in a way, repeated in his race. They came into severe Egyptian discipline, by means of which they were prepared to exchange the wandering tribal for the settled national life. Impress, that God works moral ends through disciplinary experiences. - R.T.
I. THAT THE LORD HAS A WORD OF RICH PROMISE FOR EACH ONE OF HIS PEOPLE. Joseph had his word; so likewise have all like him. We may not be able to discern it so clearly as Joseph did, but our lives reveal it more and more, and ultimately we shall clearly know what all along it has been.
II. THAT MUCH TIME MAY ELAPSE, AND MANY OBSTACLES HAVE TO BE OVERCOME, ERE THAT WORD REFULFILLED. See this in history of Joseph. Years had to roll by, and everything seemed to say that his word never could come true. And so of the promise of the kingdom of God, whether in one individual soul or in the world at large. How long it is in coming, and how hopeless it often seems!
III. AND UNTIL THAT WORD COME TO PASS IT IS A SORE TRIAL. For in the case of Joseph, that word tried him.
1. By being the cause of his trial. If the Lord had never sent those dreams, none of his troubles would have come. And when the word of God's grace comes to a soul now, how often it stirs up a very hornet's nest, both of inward and outward trial! "I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword." How true that word has ever been!
2. By deepening the trial. What a bright, joyous picture that was which Joseph saw before his eyes when the word of the Lord came to him in his dreams! But when stripped of his coat of many colours, then flung into a pit, then sold to the Ishmaelites, then horribly because so falsely accused, then imprisoned, - what a contrast all this! How the light of the glad word made more dense the darkness of his dungeon!
3. By embittering it. What keenness of disappointment, what anguish of heart, the iron entered into his soul!
4. By the dreadful doubts which its non-fulfilment could not but occasion. How hard to keep believing under so hard and undeserved a lot!
5. And yet more, mot only his faith, but his love to God, would be tried. Could it be that God loved him if he let all this shame and sorrow come upon him. (cf. Psalm 42.)?
6. Then he was tried by being led to almost wish that he had sever received such a word. Would it not have been better if he had been like the rest of his brothers, to whom no such word came?
IV. BUT THOUGH THE WORD BE DELAYED, IT WILL COME TO PASS. It did so for Joseph; it does for all like him. Wherefore be of good cheer. And the more, because -
V. ALL THAT WEARY TIME WAS WELL-SPENT TIME. It was a discipline indispensable if he were to fitly fill the high station for which God had designed him. And so it ever is. - S.C.
I. ALL HUMAN LIFE IS DISCIPLINARY. It is precisely this that ennobles human life, and distinguishes it from the life of the brute. The events and relations of life do nothing for the animal save complete its animal nature. The events and relations of life mould and train man. He is the better or the worse, morally, forevery incident of his career, and forevery person with whom he comes in contact. To say that a thing is testing, or trying, is to say that it has a culturing force in it; it has a moral aim. Self-mastery can only be won through discipline.
II. DISCIPLINE COMES THROUGH THINGS THAT ARE GOOD. Here, in the case of Israel, our attention is directed to that swift increase of population which is the best idea of national good (ver. 24). It is representative of the successes which God often gives men. But the disciplinary feature of world success is not sufficiently recognized. No severer strain is put on men's characters than that which comes by letting them succeed. Gaining wealth or fame has overstrained many a man. Moral character failed under the strain.
III. DISCIPLINE COMES THROUGH THINGS THAT ARE MYSTERIOUS. The sphere of the mysterious enlarges as we grow in knowledge and experience. The young student can explain everything. The grey-haired professor can explain nothing. Discipline comes by finding that we cannot know. It tests whether we can believe, and let faith give its tone to life. Science boasts that it knows, but science can do nothing without the scientific imagination; and that brings in the element of uncertainty.
IV. DISCIPLINE COMES THROUGH THINGS THAT ARE EVIL. This is true in both senses of the word "evil," which may mean "wicked" or "calamitous." Israel was disciplined through the hatred of Pharaoh, and also through the sufferings of their lot. The sanctifying power of affliction for Christians is often dwelt on; the disciplinary power of hard and trying circumstances, forevery one, needs fuller and wiser treatment. - R.T.
I. WHAT ARE DIVINE JUDGMENTS TO THOSE WHO ENDURE THEM? Such the plagues were to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Observe that the question really at issue was, the relative claim and ability of the Egyptian gods and Israel's God. Then it is easy to see (and Dean Stanley, in his 'Jewish Church,' vol. 1. p. 102, helps us to illustrate) that the plagues demonstrated the helplessness of the idols, and the supreme power of Jehovah. And that is the proper issue of all Divine judgments. They are intended to break us off from all forms of self-trust, and to convince us of the supreme authority and power of God, who is "known by the judgments that he executeth." "When his judgments are abroad in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness."
II. WHAT ARE DIVINE JUDGMENTS TO THOSE WHO WATCH THEM? Such were the Israelites, whose territory of Goshen was not affected by the plagues. But they were in danger of taking up with the idolatry of Egypt; they found it hard to keep true to the unseen Jehovah. So the judgments they did but observe, and did not feel, exerted a similar influence on them. They convinced them of the utter helplessness and uselessness of the Egyptian gods. They proved that the unseen Jehovah-God was practically effective in the actual scenes of nature and life. They even saw more than this. The judgments which thus fell on those who held them in bondage, were plainly beginnings of God's deliverance for them. If they seemed to tighten the Egyptian hold, they really loosened it. And when the series of judgments reached their climax, Pharaoh and his Egyptians were ready enough to thrust them out. So, while to those who come under Divine judgments they prove humblings; to those who watch and learn, they seem to be Divine deliverances. - R.T.
I. SEE THIS SIN IN THE LIGHT OF WHAT GOD IS. Take the attributes, and show that God must both know, and be able to do, what is every way wisest and best. Who understands our real needs as God does? Who controls all things as God does? Take the Father name which we are permitted to use for God, and show how wrong children are who attempt to dictate to their father as to what he shall provide.
II. SEE THIS SIN IN THE LIGHT OF WHAT GOD HAD DONE. All Jehovah's relations with his people had been gracious and considerate. They had never wanted any good thing. Defence had been close alongside danger, and provision ready for all need. Signs of distrust and murmuring were most unbecoming.
III. SEE THIS SIN IN THE LIGHT OF WHAT THE PEOPLE WERE. Had they any right to the confidence that they knew what was good for them butter than God did? Their past should have taught them submissiveness and humility. - R.T.