the whole psalm in all its bearings while we may not feel called on to justify every expression therein, we shall feel bound to regard fairly those circumstances of extreme hardship by which such expressions were called forth. We may have the case before us, if we "open up' the contents of the psalm in the following threefold order.
I. THE CASE SHOULD BE ADEQUATELY STUDIED. Beyond all question, it is a hard one, almost more than flesh and blood could bear. We will look at it:
1. As between David and his enemies. A bare enumeration of its main features (of which there are seven) will suffice. He was waylaid without cause (ver. 7). False witnesses spake maliciously against him (ver. 11). They actually rewarded evil for good (ver. 12). In their trouble David had behaved himself as their friend or brother (vers. 13, 14). In his trouble the enemies manifested a malicious joy (vers. 15, 16). Their malice was not against him only, but against others also (ver. 20). And not only so, but against the entire cause of righteousness of which David was the representative, their rage and hatred were directed (ver. 22). Now let us look at the case:
2. As between David and his God. How does he plead with Jehovah? He prays that God himself would interpose, and come into conflict with those who thus afflicted him (vers. 1, 2, 3, 17, 22, 23); that God would manifest himself as David's Deliverer (ver 3); that the wicked might be thoroughly put to shame; that their way might be dark and slippery, etc. (vers. 4, 5, 6, 8, 26); that God would reveal his delivering grace (ver. 10); that David and those who favoured his righteous cause might rejoice in God's salvation (ver. 9); that God would execute righteousness and judgment (ver. 24); that he would not permit the malicious joy of the enemy to continue (vers. 19, 25); that the righteous might yet shout for joy at the triumph of their cause (ver. 27); and that with their joy David himself might blend his own (ver. 28). Now, when we thus set the whole psalm before us, and note how grievous is the case which was thus laid before God, and how varied are the forms of petition in which that is done, we cannot but feel amazed at the harsh estimate of David in which some of his critics have indulged. If David was too harsh in speaking of the wicked, his critics are afortiori far too harsh in their treatment of him. Let us therefore note
II. THE CASE SHOULD BE FAIRLY ESTIMATED. Let us look at it:
(1) The words of this psalm are not the words of God to man, but words of man to God: this is an all-important distinction to make in dealing with the Psalms.
(2) No man can, no man ever could, pray beyond the level of his own spiritual attainment.
(3) Hence it is not necessary that we should attempt to justify every word in the ending of an Old Testament saint, any more than we should attempt to do so in the prayers of God's people now. But it may be said, "David was a prophet." True, and when he professed to give out God's word to him, we accept such word implicitly. But that is not the case here. He is not praying as a prophet, but as a troubled saint.
(4) This prayer, with the imprecations it contains, is by no means illustrative of the spirit of the Mosaic dispensation, but only of the degree to which a man who could pray like this, actually fell below the spirit of the dispensation under which he lived. Here we are compelled to differ sharply from Bishop Perowne and others who regard this psalm as indicative of the contrast between the morality of the Old Testament and New Testament dispensations. Though in the Scriptures, revelation is progressive, yet the morality enjoined in the Old Testament is precisely the same as that enjoined in the New. So our Lord teaches (Matthew 22:36-40; Matthew 5:17, 18). In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord tears off the wrappings with which "they of old time" had concealed the teachings of the Mosaic Law, and restores that Law to its pristine integrity and glory, on his own authority. But in the psalm before us we have not Old Testament morality as given by God, but Old Testament morality as far as attained by the writer. Many a modern representative of religion would sanction the cutting down of Zulus by the thousand in war. What should we say if any one declared that to be New Testament morality, when it was only that individual presenting his own view of it? So with this and other imprecatory psalms; they give us, not God's precept, but man's defective prayers. At the same time, while we do not justify these maledictions of David, we are bound in all fairness also to put the matter:
(1) Here is a case of extreme provocation.
(2) David was a king.
(3) As such, he was not a merely private individual, but the representative of God's cause.
(4) Hence his petitions are not those of personal vindictiveness; they are the passionate cries of one who yearns for God's vindication of the right. For we see at once the reason why, and the limit within which, he prays for vengeance on his enemies.
(5) Whoever, owing to an inadequate study of the psalm, cherishes sympathy with David's enemies rather than with him, is grievously unjust. But we can not only free the case from being any stumbling-block to faith, we may even turn it to good account. Form
III. THE CASE MAY BE HELPFULLY UTILIZED. We gather from it:
1. How great is the mercy that wronged saints can look up to God as the Avenger of their cause (Luke 18:1-8)!
2. There is a very great difference between a private feeling of vindictiveness, and the indignation felt at a great public wrong. It would be wicked of us to cherish the first; it would be wicked of us not to cherish the second.
3. Whatever the case of wrong we have to lay before God, we may tell it to him just as we feel it. He is a loving Friend to whom we may unburden everything without any danger of being misunderstood.
4. If in our putting of the case before God, we say anything wrong or wrongly, God will forgive what is wrong in our prayers, and will answer them in his own way, often doing "exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think."
5. Hence we may leave the method of vindicating the right and of shaming the wrong, entirely in the hands of God. Such expressions as those in Vers. 4, 5, 6, 8 would ill become us (cf. Romans 12:19, 20).
6. Nevertheless, it is perfectly true that severity to evil-doers is sometimes the greatest mercy to the Church of God (Acts 5:1-11).
8. If we do not so far sympathize with the spirit of this and other imprecatory psalms as to yearn to see righteousness triumphant and wickedness put to shame, we are fearfully guilty before God, and are sinking immeasurably below the morality and public spirit of those very psalms which are so unfairly criticized and so thoughtlessly condemned. To plead for the victory of righteousness and for the crushing and shaming of iniquity is a necessity of a good man's nature. He cannot help it. Yea, one petition in the Lord's Prayer involves the whole, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." And more than this, no one understands the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, who looks at it as providing only for the present forgiveness of individual souls: it is a grand and glorious plan for the inbringing of universal and everlasting righteousness; and when the Saviour's blood moistened earth's soil, it guaranteed that earth should be rescued from the destroyer, that the hosts of ill should be exposed and put to shame, and that Christ should wear the everlasting crown. - C.
O fear the Lord, ye His saints.
(G. Matheson, D. D.)
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