My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, so far from my words of groaning?
psalms. It has gathered round it the study of expositors of most diverse types - from those who see in it scarcely aught but a description beforehand of the Messiah's suffering and glory, to those who see in it scarcely any Messianic reference at all, and who acknowledge only one sense in which even the term "Messianic" is to be tolerated, even in the fact that light gleams forth after the darkness. Both these extreme views should be avoided, and we venture to ask for the careful and candid attention of the reader, as we move along a specific path in the elucidation of this psalm. The title of the psalm is significant; literally, it reads, "To the chief musician [or, 'precentor'] upon Aijeleth Shahar [or, 'the hind of the morning,' margin]. A Psalm of David" We accent the heading, here and elsewhere "a Psalm of David," unless adequate reason to the contrary can be shown. But what can be the meaning of the expression," the hind of the morning"? A reference to Furst's Lexicon will be found helpful. The phrase is a figurative one, and signifies, "the first light of the morning." In this psalm we see the light of early morn breaking forth after the deepest darkness of the blackest night. Hence the title given above to this homily. But then the question comes - Whose is the darkness, and whose is the light? We reply - Primarily, the writer's, whoever he may have been, whether David or any other Old Testament saint. For the psalm is not written in the third person, as is the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. There is no room here for the question, "Of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?" In Isaiah 53. the reference is to another; in this psalm the wail is declared to be the writer's own. Yet we have to take note of the fact that in the New Testament there are some seven or eight references to this psalm in which its words and phrases are applied to the Lord Jesus Christ. There are other phrases in the psalm which were literally true of our Lord, but yet are not quoted in the New Testament. We do not wonder at Bishop Perowne's remark. "Unnatural as I cannot help thinking that interpretation is which assumes that the psalmist himself never felt the sorrows which he describes... I hold that to be a far worse error which sees here no foreshadowing of Christ at all. Indeed, the coincidence between the sufferings of the psalmist and the sufferings of Christ is so remarkable, that it is very surprising that any one should deny or question the relation between the type and the antitype." To a like effect are the devout and thoughtful words of Orelli, "What the psalmist complains of in mere figurative, though highly coloured terms, befell the Son of God in veritable fact. Herein we see the objective connection, established of set purpose by God's providence, which so framed even the phrasing of the pious prayer, that without knowledge of the suppliant it became prophecy, and again so controlled even what was outward and seemingly accidental in the history of Jesus, that the old prophetic oracles appear incorporated in it." There is no reason to think, on the one hand, that the writer was a mere machine, nor yet, on the other, that he fully knew the far-reaching significance of the words he used. And this leads us to a remark which we make once for all, that there are two senses in which psalms may be Messianic - direct and indirect.
1. Direct. In these the reference is exclusively to the Messiah; every phrase is true of him, and of him alone, and cannot be so translated as not to apply to him, nor so that it can, as a whole, apply to any one else. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and also the second and hundred and tenth psalms are illustrations of this.
2. Indirect. In these the first meaning is historical, and applies to the writer himself; but many phrases therein have a second and far-reaching intent; of these the fullest application is to him who was David's Son and yet David's Lord. The psalm before us is an illustration of this indirect Messianic structure; and this not only, perhaps not so much, because in the first writing of the words the Spirit of God pointed forward to Christ, as because our Lord himself, having taken a human nature, and shared human experiences, found himself the partaker of like sorrows with the Old Testament saints, plunged into like horrible darkness, which found expression in the very same words, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Mr. Spurgeon, indeed, admits some possible application to David himself, but says that believers will scarcely care to think of his sufferings; they will rather fasten their gaze on those of their Lord. That is true, in a very touching sense. At the same time, we shall lose much of the comfort the psalm is adapted to afford, if we do not look very distinctly at the sufferings of David, in order to see, with equal distinctness, how completely our Lord shared his "brethren's" sorrows, darkness, and groans, when he took up their burdens and made them his own. Let us therefore deal with this psalm in a twofold outline - first, as it applies to the writer; and then as it it taken up by the Lord Jesus, and made his own (with such exceptions as that named in the first footnote below).
I. ISRAEL'S KING PASSES THROUGH DEEPEST DARKNESS TO THE LIGHT. Here let us answer by anticipation a remark with which we have frequently met, to the effect that we cannot fasten on any incident in the career of David which would lead to such extreme anguish as that indicated here. Who that has any knowledge of the horrors to which sensitive souls are liable, could raise any difficulty over this? Far more depends on subjective condition than on outward incident. Why, the saints of God now do pass through times of indescribable anguish, of which no outward incident affords even a glimmer of explanation. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness." Let the outer occasion have been whatsoever it may, here at any rate is:
1. A saint in terrible darkness. In the midst of his woe, he remembers his transgressions, and it may have been, as is so often the case, that the writer attributes his anguish to his numberless transgressions (ver. 1, LXX.). The details of his intensity of sorrow are manifold.
(1) Prayer rises from his heart day and night without relief (ver. 2).
(2) He is despised (vers. 6-8). His enemies laugh and mock.
(3) His foes, wild, fierce, ravenous, plot his ruin (vers. 12, 13).
(4) His strength is spent with sorrow (ver. 15).
(5) There are eager anticipations of his speedily being removed out of the way (ver. 18).
(6) And, worst of all, it seems as if God, his own God, whom he had trusted from childhood (vers. 9,10),
had now forsaken him, and given him up to his foes. How many suffering saints may find solace in this psalm, as they see how God's people have suffered before them? Surely few could have a heavier weight of woe than the writer of this plaintive wail 2 The woe is freely told to God There may be the stinging memory of bygone sin piercing the soul, still the psalmist cleaves to his God.
(1) The heart still craves for God; even in the dark; yea, the more because of the darkness.
(2) Hence the abandonment is not actual. However dense the gloom may be, when the soul can cry, "My God," we may be sure the cry is not unreciprocated.
(3) Such a cry will surely be heard. Past deliverances assure us of this. Yea, even ere the wail in the dark is over, the light begins to dawn. "One Sunday morning," said Mr. Spurgeon, in an address at Mildmay Hall, June 26, 1890, reported in the Christian of July 4, "I preached from the text, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' I could not tell why I should be made to preach it. I felt while preaching as if I were myself forsaken. On the sabbath evening, there came into the vestry a man of about sixty, whose eyes were bright with a strange lustre. He took my hand, and held it, and cried. He said to me, 'Nobody ever preached my experience before. I have now been for years left, deserted, in a horrible gloom of great darkness; but this morning I learned that I was not the only man in the darkness, and I believe I shall get out!' I said, ' Yes; I have got out; but now I know why I was put in.' That man was brought back from the depths of despair, and restored to joy and peace. There was a child of God, dying in darkness. He said to the minister who spoke with him, 'Oh, sir, though I have trusted Christ for years, I have lost him now. What can become of. a man who dies feeling that God has deserted him?' The minister replied, ' What did become of that Man who died saying," My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Is he not on the highest throne of glory even now? 'The man's mind changed in a moment, and he began to say, ' Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit;' and he died in peace.
3. The light dawns at last. The everlasting covenant" does not fail; it has been "ordered in all things," and remains sure and steadfast; and oftentimes, even while the saint is on his knees, he will scarce have ended his groaning 'ere his sigh is turned to a song (cf. Psalm 27:12-14). Hence the last ten verses of the psalm are as joyous as the others are sad. "The darkest hour is before the dawn," and the brightness of morning shall chase away the gloom of night. So it is here.
(1) The saint who takes his groans to God alone, shall yet sing his praises in the assemblies of the saints. Having told the rest to his God, he will "give others the sunshine."
(2) The rehearsal of this story shall be the joy of other hearts in day to come (vers. 25-27).
(3) The outcome of all will be that God will vindicate his own honour, and that the generation yet unborn will praise him and declare his righteousness.
II. WORDS OF A SUFFERING SAINT ARE APPROPRIATED BY A SUFFERING SAVIOUR. The Lord Jesus Christ, in all things "made like unto his brethren," takes up words from this psalm into his own lips. If we were dealing only with the Messianic aspect of the psalm, we should open it up in the following order:
(1) The Saviour's suffering.
(2) The Saviour's inquiry: "Why?"
(3) The Saviour's joy.
Since, however, we are seeking to expound the psalm in both its aspects, we rather indicate four lines of thought, the pursuing of which will throw light on the wonder of the appropriation of the words of a suffering saint by a suffering Saviour; while some look at the fierce cry with which this psalm beans as intended to set forth the woes of the coming Messiah, that cry seems to us far more touching when we find that our dear Redeemer uses the words of an ancient sufferer as his own! Observe:
1. There is no depth of sorrow through which the saint can pass, but Jesus understands it all. How many causes of woe are enumerated here! But in all points Jesus felt the same. The writer endured
(1) the cutting remarks of many;
(3) reproach and scorn;
(4) the plotting of foes;
(5) the treachery of friends; and, worst of all,
(6) the sense of separation form God.
Every one of these forms of hardship and ill pressed sorely on Jesus; and though we may meditate continuously and with ever-deepening wonder on each of them, yet all the rest fade away into insignificance compared with the anguish that arose from the hiding of the Father's face. Every trouble can be borne when the Father is seen to smile; but when his face is hidden in a total eclipse, what darkness can be so dreadful as that? There was, as it were, a hiding of the face from him (Isaiah 53:3). Let those saints of God who have to pass through seasons of prolonged mental anguish remember that, however severe the conflict may be, the Saviour has passed through one still more terrible than theirs.
2. If even the saint asks "why?" even so did the Saviour. The "why?" however, applies only to the opening words - to the hiding of God's face. There may be mystery therein, even when (as in the case of every saint) there are transgressions to be bemoaned. But our Saviour has an unfathomable woe, "yet without sin. The why?" then, imperatively requires an answer. In the tire, at the faggot, and at the stake, martyrs have sung for joy. Why is it that at the moment of direst need the sinless Sufferer should have felt aught so dreadful as abandonment by God? Not that the abandonment was real. The Father never loved the Son more than when he hung bleeding on the cross. But our Saviour endured the sense of it. Why was this? He did not deserve it. But he had laden himself with our burden. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all." Nor do we know that we can put the pith and essence of the atonement in fewer words than these:
(1) sin separates from God;
(2) Jesus bore our sin; therefore
(3) Jesus endured the sense of separation.
We can understand that, coming as Man into the midst of a sinful race, all the suffering which a holy nature must endure in conflict with sinful men would be his. But the sense of desertion by God while doing his Father's will can only be accounted for by the amazing fact that "he sent his Son to be the Propitiation for our sins."
3. In passing through his manifold experience of sorrow, the Saviour learned to suffer with the saint, and was being made perfect as the Captain of salvation. (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:2, 7, 8, 9.) Our Saviour was
(1) to lead many sons unto glory;
(2) to be One who could sympathize, soothe, and succour in every case of woe (Hebrews 2:18);
(3) to be One who by his sympathetic power could inspire his hosts; and
(4) to teach them that, as they were destined to follow him in his heavenly glory, they must not be surprised if they have first to follow him in the pathway of woe. "The disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord." Objection: "But how can the sympathy of Jesus with me be perfect? He was without sin, and I am not. So the parallel fails." Good people who urge this objection forget that it is the presence of sin in each of us which makes our sympathy with each other so imperfect. Because Jesus was without sin, he can draw the line exactly between defects that are due to infirmity and such as are traceable to sin. The second he forgives; the first be pities. Is not this the very perfection of sympathy?
III. THE WORDS OF THE SAINT EMERGING FROM HIS GLOOM ARE APPROPRIATE TO THE SAVIOUR IN HIS EXALTATION AND TRIUMPH. With the Saviour, as with the psalmist, the darkest night was the prelude to the brightness of day. The brightness which marks the last ten verses of the psalm is a declaration that the kingdom of David shall be established for ever and ever, and that, though David may have to pass through fire and flood, his kingdom shall abide through age after age; and thus we find the phraseology of these verses applied to the after-career of David's Son and David's Lord in Hebrews 2:11, 12. Whence five points invite attention. The Holy Ghost, inditing the psalmist's words so that they forecast the issue of Messiah's sufferings as well as his own, shows us our Saviour
(1) emerging from the conflict;
(2) joining with his people in songs of rejoicing;
(3) declaring the Father's Name to his "brethren;"
(4) gathering home the severed tribes of mankind;
(5) bringing in the victorious kingdom (vers. 21-31).
It is not, it is not for nought that the Messiah endured all his woe (Isaiah 53:11; Hebrews 12:1, 2; Philippians 2:11). It behoved him to suffer, and then "to enter into his glory." And as with the Master, so with the servant. "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." He hath said, "Where I am, there shall also my servant be." Following him in sharing his cross, we shall follow him in sharing his crown. - C.
Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of Thine anger.
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