Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
actual journey towards Zion is represented as accompanied with ideal blessings of peace and refreshment. The poet has thought of the blessedness of those who dwell constantly in God's house. Now he thinks of the blessedness of those who are permitted to go there, and to tarry there for a while. And this leads him to recall what happy times he had known, even in the journeys to Jerusalem. Perowne says of the pilgrims to Zion, "Every spot of the familiar read, every station at which they have rested, lives in their heart. The path may be dry and dusty, through a lonely and sorrowful valley, but nevertheless they love it. The pilgrim band, rich in hope, forget the trials and difficulties of the way; hope changes the rugged and stony waste into living fountains." The valley of Baca was the valley which led up from Jordan toward Jerusalem, and whose famous balsam trees wept balms. The thought for our consideration is this - the hearts that are truly set on God, and filled with desire to join in God's worship, will cheerfully bear, and successfully master, all the difficulties that may be in their way. They make the very "valley of Baca" refreshing as a spring.
I. THE CHRISTIAN PILGRIM FINDS HIS WAY LIES THROUGH VALLEYS OF BACA. Two explanations of this valley are given. Some say it means "wet, marshy places;" others say, "dry, sandy places." Clearly it means something trying and difficult for pilgrims. We know well that there are difficulties in the way of our effort to live the godly life; valleys of Baca in our pilgrim route to the eternal temple of the holy.
1. There are valleys of weeping; sorrows, both outward and inward (valleys of balsam, or weeping).
2. Valleys of unrelieved want; desert places. Illustrate the ever-varied, ever-unquenchable thirst of the spiritual life.
II. A BRAVE, EARNEST SPIRIT WILL MAKE A WAY THROUGH THESE VALLEYS OF BACA. Times of trouble we must have, but everything depends on the spirit in which we approach them, and deal with them. The true heart is helped to triumph over the difficulties of the way, by keeping ever in mind the end it has in view. Lead on to show how the heaven of established holiness, and near communion with God, becomes the inspiration to overcoming the difficulties of the way.
III. GOD RESPONDS TO THE EARNEST MAN IN THE VALLEYS OF BACA. If they dig pools in the desert, God will be sure to fill them with his genial rains. God is to us in blessing as we are to him in trust. - R.T.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee.
Homilist.I. IT SPRINGS FROM A SPECIAL CONNECTION WITH GOD. "Whose strength is in Thee." In what does a soul's strength consist?
1. Disinterested love.
2. Sympathy with right. The stronger the sympathy with right, the more mighty.
3. Concentration of faculties.
4. Uplifting hope. All these elements are to be found in God, must come from Him; and where they are there is strength of soul, the sublimest Strength of all.
II. IT CHANGES THE UNPROPITIOUS IN CIRCUMSTANCES INTO BLESSINGS. "Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well."
III. IT INVOLVES A PROGRESS IN THE JOURNEY OF LIFE. "They go from strength to strength." The nearer the pilgrim advanced towards the Temple, the more strength he got, by companionship, exercise, and resolution.
IV. IT ENABLES THE SOUL TO REACH AT LAST THE VERY PRESENCE OF THE ETERNAL. "Every one of them in Zion appeareth before God."
In whose heart are the ways
I. THE WAY OF REPENTANCE. The work of grace begins with this.
II. THE WAY TO HEAVEN. But when we speak of a thing being in the heart we mean more than that it is known to us; we mean that we love it. And in this sense the way to heaven is in the believer's heart. Every child feels happy when he is on his way home, and so does every true husband, and every true wife, and every true parent, and so does every pious pilgrim feel as he journeys to his home in the skies.
III. THE WAY OF HOLINESS.
IV. THE WAY OF PRAYER. Just as the quickened seed seems to know to grow upwards, or, at least, is drawn upwards, and gently finds its way through the soil, so the heart, quickened by grace, rises heavenward.
Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well.
I. WE MAY SEE THIS IN THE INCREASED INTEREST WHICH SPIRITUAL RELIGION IMPARTS TO THE IDEA OF LIFE, AND THE VIEW OF THE PRESENT WORLD. What the sun is to the earth, God is to the souls of His rational creatures. The soul has an atmosphere which behoves to be filled with Heaven's own sunlight. We cannot be blessed without Him. It is the opening of the eye upon His glory that changes the aspect of existence (Psalm 36:9).
II. WE MAY TRACE THIS FURTHER, IN REFERENCE TO THE EXERCISES AND DUTIES OF RELIGION. See Hannah — with what joy she anticipated the day when she should perform her vow. See that student in a far-off land toiling at the acquisition of a foreign and sometimes barbarous tongue, presenting little when acquired to gratify his taste, and nothing to gain for him the world's renown, but one in which he may be able to "preach "among the heathen the "unsearchable riches of Christ!"
III. THE SAME PRINCIPLE APPLIES TO THE SADNESS AND SUFFERING THROUGH WHICH GOD MAY LEAD. The very thought is sustaining, that affliction, instead of "rising out of the dust, or springing forth out of the ground," comes from the hand of God. But this is not all. Piety, devout feeling towards God, looks at the ends to be attained by Divine dealings. It is to pass through the crucible of the Almighty refiner. It is to receive the discipline of "the Father of Spirits."
IV. THIS EXTENDS ALSO TO THE HOUR OF DEATH. Humanity shrinks from dissolution; but religious feeling sustains even there, for now the aspect of death is changed. It is dissolution to the body, but it is emancipation to the soul. And it is the passage to life. It is the gateway home to God, to the fatherland, to the joys unutterable and eternal.
(E. T. Prust.)
1. The state of their souls before God.(1) Strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.(2) Thoughts and affections interested with Divine and spiritual subjects; conversation in heaven.
2. The general tenor of their conduct in the world. To all such men this barren wilderness becomes a place of spiritual refreshment and purification.(1) They cordially believe the assurance that, "though the Lord causes grief, yet doth He not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men; that He chastens us only for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness." Under this impression they are mainly solicitous that their afflictions should produce in them the benefit which is designed.(2) The mercies and comforts which God bestows, they receive with devout and thankful hearts, as designed to cheer and support them on their way, and to inspire them with a thirst for more exalted blessings.
II. THE SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS WHICH ATTEND THEM (ver. 7).
1. Their successful progress. Whether the way be rough or smooth; whether their road now lies through the valley of weeping, or whether they are permitted to drink of the cup of heavenly consolation; in any case, we are commissioned to say to the righteous, that at least it is well with their souls. They are instructed how to derive spiritual support and nourishment from every circumstance of life; as the bee extracts its honey even from the most unsavoury flowers.
2. The happy termination of their journey. They may be scattered far and wide from each ether, as they pass along their destined course: they must be prepared, from time to time, to lose for a season their friends and companions by the way. Some will get before, and leave us weeping in the vale. But still they all shall meet again.
(E. Whieldon, M. A.)
I. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE PILGRIM-SPIRIT. "Amplius," the dying Xavier's word, "further afield," is the motto of all noble life — scientist, scholar, artist, man of letters, man of affairs: all come under the same law, that unless there is something before them which has dominated their hearts, and draws their whole being towards it, their lives want salt, want nobility, want freshness, and a green scum comes over the pool. To live is to aspire; to cease to aspire is to die. Well then, looking all round our horizon, there stands out one path for aspiration which is clearly blessed to tread. There are needs in all our hearts, deep longings, terrible wounds, dreary solitudes, which can only be appeased and healed and companioned when we are pressing nearer and nearer God, that Infinite and Divine Source of all blessedness, of all peace and good. To possess God is life; to feel after God is life, too. For that aim is sure, as we shall see, to be Satisfied.
II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE PILGRIM'S EXPERIENCE. "Passing through the valley of weeping they make it a place of springs, the rain also covereth it with blessings." .No doubt the poet is referring here to the actual facts of the pilgrimage to Zion. No doubt, on some one of the roads, there lay a gloomy gorge, the name of which was the Valley of Weeping; either because it dimly commemorated some half-forgotten tragedy long ago, or, more probably, because it was and and frowning and full of difficulty for the travellers on the march. The psalmist uses that name with a lofty imaginative freedom, which itself confirms the view that there is something deeper in the psalm than the mere external circumstances of the pilgrimages to the Holy City. If we have in our hearts, as our chief aim, the desire to get closer to God, then our sorrows and our tears will become sources of refreshment and fertility. Ah! How different all our troubles, large and little, look when we take as our great aim in life what is God's great purpose in giving us life, viz. that we should be moulded into His likeness and enriched by the possession of Himself. But that is not all. If, with the pilgrims' hearts, we rightly use our sorrows, we shall not be left to find refreshment and fertilizing power only in ourselves, but the benediction of the rain from heaven will come down, and the great Spirit of God will fall upon our hearts, not in a flood that drowns, but broken up into a beneficent mist that falls quietly upon us, and brings with itself the assurance of fertility. And so the secret of turning the desert into abundance, and tears into blessings, lies in having the pilgrim's heart.
III. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE PILGRIM'S ADVANCE. "They go from strength to strength." I do not know whether the psalmist means to use that word "strength" in the significance which it also has in old English, of a fortified place, so that the metaphor would be that from one camp of security, one fortress, to another, they journey safe always, because of their protection; or whether he means to use it rather in its plain and simple sense, according to which the significance would be that these happy pilgrims do not get worn out on the journey, as is the wont of men that set out, for instance, from some far corner of India to Mecca; and come in battered and travel-stained, and half dead with their privations, but that the further they go the stronger they become; and on the road gain more vigour than they could ever have gained by ease and indulgence in their homes. But, whichever of these two meanings we may be disposed to adopt, the great thought that comes out of both of them is identical — viz, that this is one of the distinguishing Joys of a Christian career of pressing forward to closer communion and conformity with our Lord and Master, in whom God is manifested — viz, that we grow day by day in strength, and that effort does not weaken, but invigorates.
IV. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE PILGRIM'S ARRIVAL. "Every one of them in Zion appeareth before God." Then there is one road on which whosoever travels is sure to get to his goal. On all others caravans get lost, overwhelmed in a sandstorm, or slain by robbers; and the bleached bones of men and camels lie there on the sand for centuries. This caravan always gets there. For no man ever wanted God that did not possess Him, and the measure of our desire is the prophecy of our possession.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)1. Some have said that Baca is a real place — bearing, down even to modern times, a somewhat similar designation — a plain now called Wady Baker, lying in Northern Palestine, on the direct route of the pilgrims who came up to the Passover Feasts. In explanation of the name, which certainly means "weeping," they tell the story of a Bedouin who, fleeing before his enemy, lost here his favourite dromedary, and fell into tears, not only because of his broken attachment, but because of his inevitable capture in the deprivation of his means of escape.
2. Others have said that the reference is to any valley of Baca-trees, or mulberries. These would be of frequent occurrence on any line of travel around Jerusalem, and would be sought for defence in the middle of the day, when the sun's rays were hottest, and for the encampment at night, when the company made a halt. And in order to explain the allusion in the name, they remind us of the fact that the mulberry-tree, whenever any one of its twigs or leaves is wounded, exudes from the cut copious drops of thick sap, falling like tears on the sward beneath.
3. Still others say that this language is wholly figurative. There may, or may not, be an indirect allusion to some locality or some familiar landscape; but the meaning is simply tropical. It is intended to present an image of human life. The old Latin Vulgate, and all the ancient versions, render the expression — in valle lachrymarum. There originated our common metaphor, when we call this world "a vale of tears."
I. EVERY TRUE CHRISTIAN MUST EXPECT TO HAVE HIS OWN PRIVATE "VALLEY OF BACA." No two believers can see or travel the same path. Every Christian has his personal path of experience. But even this shows the intelligence which is resident in our trials. Nothing happens; all is ordered. And one of our arguments to prove we are in the true way is found in the discovery that it leads through roughness and confusion. If it ever grows easy and luxurious, we may fear we have wandered. And this is the way along which our Saviour went before us. He was a "Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."
II. EVERY TRUE CHRISTIAN MUST EXPECT "TO PASS THROUGH HIS VALLEY OF BACA." Jerusalem lay on the top of a hill. It was surrounded with mountains, traversed by ravines and gorges. Straight up over them the festival-pilgrims forced their advance. And these were the times when they sang their cheerfullest psalm — this one among them. There is no mountain without its valley. Our finest off-looks of experience are found when we have risen to the summit of the hardest passes, "And felt upon our foreheads bare the benedictions of the air." And by the grace of God rests have been allowed by the way. Notable seasons of remembrance have we all of halts for refreshment we have already enjoyed.
III. EVERY TRUE CHRISTIAN MUST EXPECT TO FIND A "WELL "IN EACH VALLEY OF BACA." In every sorrow there is some mitigation. Sometimes, again, trouble opens sluices of joy in our experience quite new. It was one of the incidents in the Crimean war, that a soldier lay famishing with thirst, and complaining bitterly, as a cannon-ball tore past him, that he was still left under fire. Meantime the missile of iron buried itself in the cliff-side behind him, splintered the rock, disclosed a spring, and sent close to his hot lips a full stream of water for his refreshment. Most of us have watched almost breathlessly as some tremendous providence shattered hope, or health, or comfort, or home, and yet found we were still alive afterwards, and indeed surrounded with blessings of which we never knew the existence before, and never felt the power till now.
IV. EVERY TRUE CHRISTIAN MAY FORCE EVEN THE VALLEY OF BACA TO BECOME HIS WELL. The moment any Christian in simple-hearted confidence commits himself to Divine providence, he discovers the absolutely limitless reach of that statement with which this wonderful old psalm closes: "The Lord God is a sun and shield," etc. This positive self-surrender is one of the conditions of forcing sorrow to minister comfort. It is compelling the weapon, which slays thousands of Philistines, to pour forth a fountain for our thirst. And the other condition is habitual repose on Divine wisdom. Trust in God cannot be exercised by fits and starts. It is not a thing of impulse, but of steady, every-day principle. With these two conditions met, any believer can turn his valleys of weeping into fountains of refreshment always.
V. EVERY TRUE CHRISTIAN WILL FIND HIS VALLEY OF BACA ENDING ON THE MOUNT OF GOD (ver. 7). Then he will understand it at last. It may not have been what he would have chosen; but its discipline was profitable, and now its end is peace — eternal, sacred, sure.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
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