Christian Friend vol. 18, 1891, p. 253.
A comparison is sometimes instituted between this and Psalm 84. The difference is, that in the latter it is rather the tabernacles - the house - which are the object of the Psalmist's desire, whereas here it is God Himself, God as He has been pleased to make Himself known to the soul. The tabernacles, of course, are only beloved (amiable) because they are the dwelling-place of God, and because of the blessedness flowing from His worship, "for a day in thy courts is better than a thousand"; still in our psalm God alone is the object - God in all that He is as the soul's satisfying portion. And there is nothing beyond this, even in the New Testament, except it be connected with the revelation of the Father, and relationship with Him as such, known and enjoyed through the Spirit of adoption.
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The superscription of the psalm gives its position: It is a psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah, when therefore he was cast out from the privileges of Israel, and debarred from all access to God, as dwelling in the midst of His people. He became in this way the type and the mouthpiece of the remnant of a later day, cast out of Jerusalem, while the city is given up to the power and rule of wickedness. The correspondence of this position with that of the Christian is on this very account only the more marked. He too is in the wilderness, and longs after God, as revealed in Christ, in the place where He dwells. Substitute heaven for Jerusalem, and the believer now can with a fuller and deeper meaning adopt the language of this psalm.
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The first two verses give the subject of the psalm, and are the foundation of all that follows. The soul has been made to realise that it is a dry and thirsty land, where no water is. How long it often takes us to learn that this is the character of the scene through which we are passing! But the lesson must be apprehended (and God, by His various discipline, is ever seeking to enforce it upon us) if we would know, in any measure, what God is in Himself - that He alone, beyond all the blessings He bestows, is the portion of our inheritance and of our cup. (See Psalm 16:5.) It is in proportion as we surrender everything here, and accept death upon all that might attract and enchain us, that we discover what boundless resources we have in God Himself; while it is also true that the power for refusal of things here comes from knowing what we have in Christ. But the moment the soul can write "no water" upon this scene, it is set free to enjoy God. If it can truly say, "I have nothing here," God will immediately step in and say, "Now I will be everything to you."
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Understanding this, the language of verse 1 will be at once explained: "O God, thou art my God." Faith is in exercise as seen in its appropriating power - my God; so that the utterance of this one word "my" becomes the doorway into all the blessedness that follows. Thereon there are 'seeking,' 'thirsting,' and longing' - words which all tell of intensity of desire after Him, who has become the soul's absorbing object. And all this longing desire is "to see Thy power and Thy glory, so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary." The recollection of past displays of God's power and glory in His dwelling-place inflamed his desire for further manifestations. It is ever so. The more we know, the more we have apprehended, the more we desire to know. We have seen God's power and glory displayed in the exaltation of Christ at His right hand. Christ there is both the power and the glory of God, and we are permitted to behold it. And when we do really behold it, the desire is to behold it again. In other words, five minutes thus spent in occupation with Christ will produce in us the desire for ten; and so we should increase in longing of soul after Him, whose glory has thus been revealed to us without a veil, until nothing short of being with Him where He is would satisfy us.
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Now the effects of having God as the alone portion of the soul are given. They are introduced in vv. 3 and 7 by the word "because." The first, then, is, "Because thy loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee." This is exceedingly beautiful. "He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." The Psalmist had "lost" his life here; there was no water, no springs of life in the dry and thirsty land through which he passed as a pilgrim; but he had found that God's loving-kindness, God known in grace, was better than life. Praise, perpetual praise, was thus produced. Until indeed we are brought to understand the revelation of God in grace, we cannot be in the liberty of soul for praise and adoration. His soul moreover would be satisfied as with marrow and fatness. A worshipping, a praiseful soul is always a satisfied soul; for it is only when it is satisfied that it overflows in praise. Hence the Psalmist repeats that he will continue to praise, and even by night. Songs in the night, when all else was still, should mark him, as well as praise by day. He might have truly said
"Each thought of thee doth constant yield
Unchanging fresh delight."
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Another consequence is introduced in v. 7: "Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice." The principle is - the more we learn of God the more confidently we trust in Him. The Psalmist had experienced again and again that the Lord was his helper, and now he will rejoice only in the shadow of His wings. When, for example, he fled from Absalom his son, there were many, he tells us, who said, "There is no help for him in God." But turning to God, he said, "Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head"; and the Lord justified his confidence, smote all his enemies upon the cheekbone, and made His servant confess, "Salvation belongeth unto the Lord." Well therefore might he say, "The Lord has been my help," and that, on this account, his trust should be in the shadow of God's wings; the wings that overspread the mercy-seat upon the ark - His throne and dwelling-place; His sanctuary. How blessed for the soul to trust and to rejoice alone in God's sure protection and care! Let every experience of His succour then but lead us to more restful confidence in Him.
In the next verse he gives us the practical result of these blessed experiences: "My soul followeth hard after Thee." It is the attraction of the knowledge of God and His loving-kindness which makes him a devoted disciple, and draws him irresistibly onward, because it produces all the deep desires which he expresses in the first verse. This is the secret of real consecration, and of holiness of walk. It is the truth of Philippians 3, where the apostle, absorbed in the contemplation of a glorified Christ, says, "I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." So here the Psalmist, having seen God in the sanctuary, is filled with the ardent desire to see His power and His glory, and is thus drawn on to follow hard after Him. Such is the effect of the revelation of God to his soul, but if he follows hard after God he is upheld in this path by God's right hand. Observe how completely the power is from God. It is God's power that draws onward, and it is God's power that upholds. We need to learn the lesson, that, knowing our own utter weakness, we may cease to expect anything from ourselves, and may look for everything from God.
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The last three verses present a sad contrast. If it is the remnant in this Psalm, it is yet the Spirit of Christ speaking through them, and hence it is, "Those that seek my soul to destroy it shall go into the lower parts of the earth." The enemies of Christ and of His people must, when the kingdom is established in righteousness, be smitten with judgment. But the King, God's King, the Messiah, shall rejoice in God. His delight shall be in God Himself. It is probably a contrast to verse 1. There it is longing after God; here God, so to speak, is possessed, and found to be the eternal source of joyful blessedness. We speak thus by way of application, because if we take the King to be Christ, He always rejoiced in God. Every one, moreover, that "sweareth by Him "shall glory; for He will bring all His followers to share with Him in His own exaltation and blessing. "But the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped"; for, as we read in another Psalm, "He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight" (Psalm 101:7); and, as we also learn from another scripture, "Whosoever loveth and maketh a lie," will be for ever excluded from the blessedness of the holy city, new Jerusalem. (Rev. 22:15.)