No doubt now exists that the "tree" of life should be substituted in this verse for the "book" of life. The words "and from" should, moreover, be omitted from the last clause. That is, "the things which are written in this book" are the tree of life and the holy city; and these two things, when interpreted, signify Christ (who as risen from the dead is the tree of life), and the church as the bride of Christ. (See Rev. 21:9, 10.) The penalty therefore incurred by "any man" who "shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy" is exclusion from Christ and the church. But the question put is, Could this in any way apply to a real believer? This is to confound what is said with the question of salvation, and consequently to lessen the solemnity of the warning here given. From many scriptures we learn that the Lord will never lose one of those given to Him by the Father; that no one is able to pluck one of His sheep either out of His or out of His Father's hand; and that no one can ever separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We also learn as unmistakably, that there are rewards bestowed in the kingdom for service, that some will have different places of exaltation. (Matthew 19:28; Luke 19:7-9), and that some will suffer loss. (1 Cor. 3:15; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 John 8.) If therefore the words "God shall take away his part out of the tree of life," etc., mean eternal severing from Christ and the church, it could only refer to one who had part in Christ and the church by profession; and this, as we judge, is the right interpretation, as taking away from the words of the prophecy of this book implies will and hostility. It must also be remembered that it is John's characteristic to speak of things in their absolute nature, and hence there are no modifications adapted to special cases and conditions. This fact in no wise alleviates the solemnity of the case of one who is a child of God acting as here described, although deceived and in ignorance. It is a very bad sign when believers are tempted to turn aside the warnings of God by a reference to the truth that they cannot be lost. The question may well be raised with such, whether they have ever been brought out of darkness into God's marvellous light. Assuredly it is a very serious thing to reject any part of the word of God, or to be associated with those who are seeking, in every possible way, to undermine, if not destroy, its authority. Such a scripture as this, therefore, should always possess its full force in our consciences.
The meaning of this scripture must be sought for in the context and in the subject of the Psalm. As has been written, "The Psalms of degrees are the progress of Israel in the land, out of sorrow and through sorrow, to the full blessing in Zion, which forms the crowning result, Jehovah being there"; that is, they represent or embody the experiences of Israel after their restoration to the land until their glorious Messiah has taken up His abode in Zion, and the destruction of their last Gentile oppressor. A striking indication of the period is found in Psalm 127, where it is said, "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it." The reference is most probably to the temple which will be erected in unbelief, after the restoration of the Jews; and concerning which faith says, as it rises, knowing that the Lord Himself will build His own temple for the kingdom (Zech. 6:12), "They labour in vain that build it." In Psalm 132, the true temple is built, and ready for its divine occupation, as seen from the prayer in verse 8, "Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest: Thou, and the ark of Thy strength." The consummation of Israel's hopes has therefore arrived; and the remarkable thing is, that the establishment of Messiah's temple is connected with, if not looked upon as the fruit of, David's first desire to "find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob." (v. 5.) The allusion is not so much to his thought of building the temple (a thought he was not permitted to realize), as to his bringing up the ark, and setting it "in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it" (1 Chron. 16:1) in Mount Zion. The ark was thus prominent in David's mind, the ark as identified with Jehovah as the place where He dwelt between the cherubim; and it is of the ark, we judge, that the remnant speak in verse 6, as they look back and identify themselves with David's earnest purpose of heart to establish a dwelling-place for Jehovah in the city which He had chosen. (v. 13.) When they say, therefore, "Lo, we heard of it (the ark) at Ephratah," they speak of Bethlehem (the city to which David belonged), where David must have first heard of the capture of the ark by the Philistines; and their language shows, at the same time, that David, even at that early period of his life, had identified himself with the ark in its sorrowful experiences through the sins of Israel. The last clause of the verse refers to another period, but one doubtless connected in David's heart with the former. After the Philistines had sent the ark back to Bethshemesh, it found a temporary resting-place, in consequence of the judgment visited upon the men of Bethshemesh for daring to look into the ark, at Kirjath-jearim (1 Chron. 13:5, 6); and it was from thence David fetched it, on the occasion when God made a breach upon His people in the death of Uzzah, because they sought Him not after the due order. (1 Chron. 15:13.) It was thus at Kirjath-jearim that David "found" the ark. The word "Kirjath-jearim" signifies "city of the woods;" and there can scarcely be a doubt that "the fields of the wood" refer to this, and hence that the remnant also identify themselves with the act of David in searching out the ark in order to bring it up to Zion. If this interpretation be correct, David's love for Jehovah's dwelling-place was begotten in early life, was nourished through all the years of his adversity, and at last found expression as described in this Psalm. The Lord's presence, in the midst of those gathered to His blessed name, is what now answers on earth to Jehovah dwelling between the cherubim, though its fullest correspondence and realisation is in the holiest in the heavenly sanctuary; and happy are those who are characterised as David was by intense affection for the place where the Lord displays Himself in all His power and glory to the hearts of His people. (See Psalm 63:2.)