Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Asaph was the leader and superintendent of the Levitic choirs appointed by David (1 Chronicles 16:4, 5; cf. 2 Chronicles 29:30). He and his sons presided over four out of the twenty-four groups, consisting each of twelve Levites, who conducted, in turn, the musical services of the temple." "It is remarkable," says Hengstenberg, "that the voice against the false estimate of the external worship of God proceeded from the quarter which was expressly charged with its administration. Asaph, according to 1 Chronicles 6:24, was of the tribe of Levi." a But let the human penman have been whosoever he may, there is in this psalm so much of the sublime grandeur of a stern and inflexible righteousness, that we have therein, manifestly, the writing of one who was borne along by the Holy Ghost to utter words for God that should be suited for all Churches and all the ages throughout all time; so that it behoves us to listen to them as to the words of the living God, declaring the principles of eternal judgment. "In a magnificent vision the prophet to whom this psalm is due beholds the Almighty denouncing a solemn judgment against the degradation of his Name, and setting forth the requirements of a spiritual religion." In opening up this psalm, therefore, the expositor may well yearn to unfold it, "not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the Word of God." In that spirit, and with that aim, we hope to deal with it now. There are some ten questions to be asked and answered concerning this disclosure of judgment which the psalm so sublimely sets before us.
I. TO WHOM DOES THE OFFICE OF JUDGE BELONG? In the sixth verse we read, "God is Judge himself." He allows none but himself to sit in judgment on others; for none else has the authority or the ability to do it. But he, whose great Trinity of names is given here, keeps all in infinite hands. "God," the Supreme Ruler; El-Elohim, the God of gods; Jehovah, the covenant God of Israel; - he it is who is thus enthroned and speaks with his voice, on the eternal principles which are the basis of his throne.
II. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THAT OFFICE? As here indicated, it includes the expression of his mind and will, as to the worship he requires, the conduct he approves or disapproves, the decisions he forms, the sentences he pronounces, the destinies he assigns. For long God may have seemed to keep silence hereon (ver. 21), but he will not be silent always (ver. 3).
III. WHEN DOES THE JUDGMENT TAKE PLACE? It can scarcely be questioned that the remarkable words in ver. 3 point to a specific time when God shall come to judgment, and when attendant on the judgment there will be great signs and wonders in the heaven above and the earth beneath (see vers. 1, 3, 4). But three or four distinctive forms of God's judgment are indicated in Scripture.
1. The judgment at the last day. This is brought before us in Matthew 25:31-46.
3. The judgments that are brought upon Christian Churches that are unfaithful. These are plainly enough shown us in the epistles to the seven Churches
4. The judgment that is ever going on in every visible Church - a judgment by One whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and who walks in the midst of the golden lamps. This is God's "eternal judgment" (Hebrews 6:1), the principles of which never, never vary. What they will be seen to be at the last day they are now, seen or unseen.
IV. WHO ARE THE JUDGED? (Ver. 5.) The heavens and the earth are called to be witnesses of God's judgment "of the covenant people" (Cheyne). "This psalm," says Dickson, "is a citing of the visible Church before God... to compear before the tribunal of God, now in time while mercy may be had, timously to consider the Lord's controversy against the sinners in his Church, that they may repent and be saved." "The psalm," says Perowne, "deals with 'the sinners and the hypocrites in Zion,' but it reaches to all men, in all places, to the end of time." It contains the message of Divine indignation to those in Israel who were not of Israel; it specifies:
1. The superstitious - those who brought offerings of slain beasts in sacrifice, thinking that God accepted them as such, or who even, perhaps, stooped to the pagan notion that such sacrifices were "food for the gods." Hence, though there is no rebuke over any offerings withheld (ver. 8), yet there is severe indignation against the low conceptions of God and his worship with which these offerings were brought (vers. 9-13).
2. There were the scribes (see Matthew Poole), who expounded the Law, but kept it not (ver. 16).
3. There were those whose service was but a form - who vowed to God, but did not pay (ver. 14).
4. There were the openly wicked, who sought by profession of religion to cloak their wickedness (vers. 17-20). Think of such a heterogeneous mass being collected together in one visible Church! Is it any wonder that "judgment must begin at the house of God"?
V. WHAT IS THE BASIS OF JUDGMENT? (Ver. 2.) "Out of Zion God hath shined." As from Mount Sinai he declared his will in the legislation of Moses, so from Zion he hath declared his will in the proclamations of prophet, apostle, saint, and seer; and according to those principles of truth and righteousness thus proclaimed is God's judgment ever being exercised; according to them will it finally proceed. And according to the measure of light granted to men, will be the standard by which they will be tried. Fuller light on this theme comes to view in the New Testament. Peter's words (Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 3:18 - 4:6), Paul's words (Romans 2:16; Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10), throw a flood of light hereon, showing us that ere the final judgment comes every soul will come to know its relation to the Lord Jesus, and that according to its response will be its destiny.
VI. WHAT ARE THE PRINCIPLES ON WHICH JUDGMENT WILL PROCEED? Five of these are indicated in the psalm.
1. That merely formal offerings are offensive to God (vers. 8-13).
2. That no measure of religiousness will be accepted if iniquity has prevailed in the heart and life (ver. 16).
3. That the truly acceptable worship is a life of consecration, fidelity, prayer, and praise (vers. 14, 15).
4. That whosoever has ordered his life after the revealed will of God, will see God's salvation (ver. 23).
5. That wherever the life has been one of forgetfulness and neglect of God, the guilty one will be confounded (ver. 22).
VII. WHAT ARE THE COMPLAINTS MADE BY THE GREAT JUDGE? One is negative, viz. the absence of the worship of the heart; another is positive - hypocrisy and guilt screened under a profession of religion, and the thought being cherished all the while that they would never be detected (ver. 21).
VIII. WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE SOVEREIGN JUDGE? A life of
(1) praise (ver. 23);
(2) thanksgiving (ver. 14);
(3) loyalty (ver. 14);
(4) prayer (ver. 15);
(5) glorifying God (ver. 15);
(6) a good and upright conversation (ver. 23).
Who does not see how infinitely such a life rises above that of merely formal lip-service?
IX. WHAT WILL BE THE ISSUE OF THE JUDGMENT? Under varied forms of expression, the results are declared to be twofold, according to the main drifts of character and life.
1. For those in the wrong, rejection, sin set in order, brought home, exposed, condemned (vers. 21, 22).
2. For those who are in the right - the salvation of God (Acts 10:35; Acts 15:8, 9, 11). Thus under every head, though in archaic form, and with light less full, the very same truths are declared by the psalmist that were afterwards brought out more fully by Jesus Christ and his apostles.
X. TO WHOM IS THE CALL ADDRESSED TO HEAR ALL THIS, AND WHY? (Vers. 1, 4.) The whole earth is called on to witness and to watch the severely discriminating judgments of God on his visible Church; and every one is called upon to hearken, because it is God who speaketh. The Apostle Peter raises a momentous question in 1 Peter 4:17, 18. Whether we are ready to face the last judgment depends on how we stand in relation to that judgment which is going on every hour. Mote: After studying such a psalm as this, how vain does the question put by Roman Catholics appear, "Where can I find God's true Church?" For this whole psalm is addressed to God's true Church. Yet whoever, even "in Zion," is at ease, or formal, or corrupt, will find that not even membership in any visible Church will save him. Only those will be saved whose hearts are purified by faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. - C.
I. THAT GOD WILL JUDGE ALL MEN. Even now there is judgment. Every act of our lives has its moral character, and carries its consequences of good or evil. But this judgment is but partial and incomplete. Reason, conscience, and Holy Scripture proclaim a judgment to come which will be perfect and final. The supreme Judge of all men is God. He and he alone has the right and the power. Be has perfect knowledge, and cannot err; he has absolute righteousness, and cannot do injustice; he has almighty power, and cannot be prevented from carrying his judgments into effect. In the psalm the vision seems gradually to unfold itself till the great God stands before us in awful majesty and glory, "the Judge of the quick and the dead."
II. THAT GOD'S JUDGMENT WILL SETTLE FOR EVER THE DESTINIES OF MEN. God comes to us now, but it is in mercy. He has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but would rather that all should turn from their evil ways and live. But there is a great crisis near, when he will come as a Judge, and when all men shall be brought consciously before him for judgment. The judgment will be universal: not only Israel, but all the earth; but it will begin at the house of God. Unavoidable: there will be no possibility of eluding the officers of justice, or of evading the testimony of the witnesses. Conclusive: it is the last judgment, from which there can be no appeal, whose sentences are irreversible and eternal.
III. THAT GOD WILL SETTLE THE DESTINIES OF MEN ON THE GROUNDS OF ETERNAL JUSTICE. There is a hint as to the principles on which the judgment will be based in ver. 7. Everything may be said to turn on the kind of religion which we have. This is shown negatively (vers, 8-13), then positively (vers. 14-23). True religion is not outward, but inward; not formal, but spiritual; not conventional, but personal; not in privileges, not in professions, not in ceremonial observances, but in the sincere obedience of the heart and life. It implies that God's love is supreme in the heart, and God's law is supreme in the life. Such a religion can only be obtained for sinners through Jesus Christ the Saviour. Where it really exists there is not only the form, but the power of godliness - in grateful thanksgiving and joyous obedience and adoring prayer (ver. 23). - W.F.
I. THE ACCUSATION. (Vers. 7-13.)
1. They had forgotten the spiritual relations between them. (Vers. 5-7.) They were "his saints," "his people; he was God, even their God." And he had to testify against them. They had not acted up to the spirit of that relation.
2. They brought him unspiritual sacrifices. Their heart did not go with their offerings. He did not complain of the offering in itself, but of the spirit in which it was brought.
3. What they brought was no gift of their own. (Vers. 10-12.) Their offerings were his possessions, which he had in abundance.
4. They had forgotten his spiritual nature arid requirement. (Ver. 13.) The flesh and blood of animals could not please or satisfy a spiritual nature.
II. THE REQUIREMENT. (Vers. 14, 15.)
1. Thanksgiving. The gratitude and praise of the heart - a spiritual offering.
2. The paying of vows. The vows that are upon us in consequence of our covenant with God - or fidelity, faithfulness.
3. Prayer. "Call upon me in the day of trouble;" not only then, but specially then.
III. THE REWARD OF SPIRITUAL SERVICE. (Ver. 15.) "I will deliver thee in the day of trouble, and thou shalt praise me." - S.
true religion and its counterfeits.
I. SUPERSTITION. (Ver. 7.) Nothing in religion can be real and true but what is based on faith in the living God. What springs from fear without knowledge degenerates into the basest idolatries.
II. FORMALISM. (Vers. 8-14.) The heading of this psalm in our Bibles is very true and suggestive. "The pleasure of God is not in ceremonies, but in sincerity of obedience." To this all the prophets bear witness. Even ceremonies appointed by God himself become not only worthless, but odious, when they are observed without faith and love (Isaiah 1:11-17).
III. HYPOCRITICAL PROFESSION. (Vers, 16-21.) There is much of this always in the world - false profession, insincere obedience, unloving service. The evil effect on individuals, families, and society is terrible. With what righteous indignation are such hypocrites arraigned! and with what stern, resistless argument is the inconsistency and enormity of their conduct denounced! - W.F.
I. HERE IS A DAY THAT WILL COME TO ALL. You may not have hitherto known "trouble;" if so, be thankful, but prepared. The immunity of the past is no protection. Sooner or later it will be said to you, as Eliphaz said to Job, "Now it is come upon thee" (Job 4:5). And this is well. To be without trouble would be to lack one of the chief disciplines of life, and to lay us under the suspicion of being "bastards, not sons."
II. HERE IS A DUTY URGED UPON ALL. "Call upon me."
1. This duty is agreeable to our nature. In trouble we crave sympathy and help. As the child instinctively cries to its mother, so should we call upon God.
2. This duty is prompted by our circumstances. "Trouble" not only causes pain, but fear. Under the pressure of need we come to the throne of grace for mercy and grace.
4. This duty is urged by God our heavenly Father. He anticipates our needs; he lovingly invites our confidence; he assures us of his readiness to give us help and comfort (Isaiah 43:1, 2).
III. HERE IS A PROMISE ENCOURAGING TO ALL. The promise and the duty are connected, and both are to be taken together with what goes before (ver. 14). It is when we have been living near to God, and have been daily performing our vows to him with praise and thanksgiving, that we are best prepared for the duty of prayer and the fulfilment of the promises. This promise implies what God will do for us, and what return we should then make to God. Calling upon God in trouble has an elevating effect; it brings us into nearer fellowship with God in heart and will and life. We will "glorify" God for being with us in trouble, as delivering us from trouble, as making trouble work for our good. - W.F.
I. THEY MADE PROFESSION OF RELIGION, WHICH THEIR LIVES CONTRADICTED. (Vers. 16-20.)
1. They treated the Divine Law with open contempt. (Ver. 17.) Because they "hated" the control that it imposes.
2. They were guilty of the grossest violations of that Law. (Vers. 18-20.) Theft, adultery, and false witness, not only against their neighbour, but against their own brothers, showing that they had lost even natural affection. Observe the gradual, progressive power which sin has to corrupt the whole man.
II. EVIL MEN MISINTERPRET THE FORBEARANCE OF GOD. (ver. 21.) "Because sentence against an evil man is not speedily executed," etc. (Romans 2:1-4).
III. GOD WILL ASSUREDLY ENTER INTO JUDGMENT WITH MEN. (Vers. 21, 22.) Men are solemnly called upon to consider and remember this truth, that they may repent, and so escape destruction.
IV. THE ONLY TRUE WAY OF SALVATION IS DECLARED. (Ver. 23.)
1. The love of a grateful heart. This glorifies God.
2. And the love of an obedient life. This only is salvation - obedience out of love. "He that hath my Word and keepeth it, he it is that loveth me," etc. - S.