Prospect and Retrospect.

Psalm 65, Psalm 66.

1866 163 How different oftentimes is the anticipation from the result! Conjuring up bright visions of the future, man looks forward with eagerness to what fades away as he approaches it, like the mirage of the desert; or, if the event expected really happens, the reality falls far short of the conception. The happiness anticipated either eludes the grasp, or comes alloyed with some bitterness, the fruit of man's sin. Eve desired the fruit of the tree to make her wise. She got it, and discovered her nakedness. Gehazi carried home the garments and talents, and found himself and his house burdened with the leprosy of Naaman for ever. Judas received his price, but found life insupportable. God "gave Israel their request, and sent leanness into their soul." (Psalm cvi. 15.) Yet we are to live in anticipation of the future. There is more to be enjoyed than we have yet entered into. "We are saved in hope." (Rom. viii. 24.) The Lord would have His sorrowing disciples embrace the hope of His return to sustain them during His absence. And this, the expectancy of a future of blessing, has characterised God's people in all ages. Man's visions of the future are often visionary indeed. What God has promised will surely come to pass. For though "eve hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man what God hath prepared for them that love him," He has revealed them by his Spirit. There is a future then before His saints; they have a prospect, not a mere creature of the imagination, a phantom conjured up by the brain, but a solid substantial reality. What the joy of it will be who can express? But the hope is none the less sure for that. So with the remnant of Israel in the latter day, but with this difference: their blessings are on earth — so can be described in words; ours are in heaven — so what language can express them? We may enter into their joy at going up to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, chanting His praises in Zion, without fear of man. But who can yet enter into the joy of being in the Father's house? Separated by God's Spirit acting on their hearts from the apostasy around them, the remnant are taught by the same Spirit what to desire; and, their expectation being according to God, they pour out their hearts in full confidence to Him about it. This is what we have in Psalm lxv. Psalm lxvi. is the telling out to the earth, and all that fear God, how fully He has responded to their desires. From the one we learn their prospect, in the other we have a retrospect.

As the righteous in Israel, their first thoughts are for God and His house. "Praise is silent for thee, O God, in Zion." Such is the condition of matters in the city of the Great King. A change will, however, come. "Unto thee shall the vow be performed." We learn in Psalm lxiii. how the soul can be filled with marrow and fatness even in the wilderness. But present personal enjoyment of God is not all that the godly soul desires. Has not God confided to such a one His counsels? Shall the soul, made the depositary of such knowledge, be content till all is accomplished? In the wilderness it may find refreshment as it remembers Him; but what of His honour, His glory, and the place associated with the display of His power? Till all that God has spoken of in connection with His manifestation as King over the earth is fulfilled, the godly soul cannot rest satisfied. The altar profaned, the house desolate, the worship of God stopped, are no light matters, even though he may realise the presence of the Lord where He is. Is there not something here for believers of the present day? Is my soul's salvation the ultimate end to be desired? Am I then to be satisfied, or am I also to wait God's time, but wait, expecting till the Lord takes His place on His own throne? In a word, am I to be content with knowing I am delivered from wrath, or am I to look forward desiring the advent of His kingdom, that He should have His place, His inheritance?

To return. How chequered had been the history of God's house in Mount Moriah? Often had the sound of praise been heard there, chorus answering chorus, the trumpets, cymbals, and harps joining in the melody. Now it lay waste. First shut in the days of Ahaz, it lay waste for seventy years after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it. Rebuilt by the remnant in the days of Zerubbabel and Ezra, the voice of praise to God was hushed in the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, and all sacrifice and worship of God forbidden by royal authority. Again reopened, it was destroyed by the Romans after the remnant had crucified the Messiah, and rejected the testimony of the Holy Ghost. From Scripture we gather it will rise again from its ashes, to be broken down and burnt once more, ere the glory of the Lord shall be seen returning to it by the "way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east." (Psalms 74:3-8; 79:1; Ezekiel 43:1-8.) It is probably of the time of its last destruction — yet future — that this psalm speaks. "Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion." It is silent now (see margin), but "unto thee the vow shall be performed." They look for this. For in Jerusalem alone, the place which the Lord had chosen in which to put His name, could their vows be paid. They might make them, as we read they will (Psalm lxvi. 13, 14), when far off in the land of Jordan and the Hermonites; but to pay them, they must be at Jerusalem, and the house be rebuilt.

Bright as that day will be, they look for something else. A great change will then take place. They anticipate it. "O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come." Jerusalem, the centre to which their eyes turn, shall become the centre for all flesh then. The way to Zion, so often trodden by their forefathers, will be filled with others besides the remnant of the seed of Israel. The prophets have predicted this. (Isa. 2:2, 8; Isa. 66:23; Zech. 14:16.) The remnant, we see, expect it. With this another feature in the prospect is brought out. Who is worthy to appear before the Lord? They own that certainly they are not. "Iniquities prevail against me." Whatever others may think, however much men may attempt to excuse their offences as venial faults, slight indiscretions, the godly in Israel at all events are alive to the heinousness of their sins. There is the sense of individual transgressions, and the consciousness of inability to amend their condition. They "prevail against me." Can there be a way of escape? The answer comes, "As for our transgressions, thou wilt purge them away" (literally, make atonement for them). And so complete will be the work, that they look forward to the blessedness of dwelling in God's courts, and being satisfied with the goodness of God's house. The moral character of those who shall ascend to God's holy hill had been described in Psalm xv. Now, in the prospect of it, they speak of the blessedness such will enjoy. They will "dwell in thy courts." Anna the prophetess, who departed not from the temple, but served God with fasting and prayer night and day, knew something of this blessedness; but these will enter into it in a fuller way, for the Lord will be king, and the heathen have perished out of His land.

What a picture does this bring before us! — "satisfied with the goodness of thy house." Had the nation only valued its blessing, it had never left its land. Had Jerusalem known the time of her visitation, she would have been standing to this day. (Luke xxi. 44.) Their blessings were justly forfeited, the temple laid waste, strangers ruled over them, the city of the sepulchres of their fathers laid low in the dust; and now, after centuries of oppression, reproaches, and wandering, they look to be satisfied with the goodness of God's house. Had the hopes of the remnant been raised only to be for ever disappointed, after that the Beast and Antichrist showed themselves in their true colours? They yet look for the fulfilment of their desires. Psalm xxxvi. had announced that the righteous should be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of God's house. Here is something more specific from those who have been mourning their sins. They speak with confidence, not merely of the righteous, but, of themselves. "We shall be satisfied." The blessing will come in their day. With the word of God before them, what else could they expect? It is grace indeed, but God had beforehand announced it. It is not a taste of goodness, a slight sense of what God could give, that they look for now, but to be satiated, as Jeremiah so beautifully expressed it: "I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord." (Jer. xxxi. 14.) How different is the heart of the remnant from that of their ancestors! They turned from the fountain of living waters to broken cisterns, which can hold no water. These turn to God and His house to be satisfied. This shows a thorough change of heart wrought in them: it shows too God's grace to them. Before, however, they can reach that house, there is a work to be done. They must cease to be strangers in the land of their fathers. Who is sufficient for this but God? Here again He is 'brought in on their behalf. The God whom their fathers had forsaken is their hope, The very One whom their ancestors crucified (for as Psalm lxviii. tells us, it is Adonai) will undertake their cause. "By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation, who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are far off in the sea." The God of salvation is their God. Moreover He is the God of creation. His works attest His strength; the sea owns His might; the nations shall be subdued under Him.

Worship to be restored in Jerusalem — all flesh to come there to God — the transgressions of His people to be purged away — the poor persecuted flock to be satisfied with the goodness of God's house and to dwell in His courts — God interposing in righteousness on their behalf against their enemies: such is the prospect their hearts contemplate. Moreover it will be made good: they believe in their day. On what is their confidence founded? Jeremiah had sung of a day when "they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock, and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden, and they shall not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow." (Jer. xxxi. 12, 13.) Ages have passed since these words were written. Generations have come and gone, yet these promises are unfulfilled. How, then, can they feel sure it will be fulfilled to them, in their day? This they proceed to explain: "Thou hast visited the earth and watered it." Their eyes see this. In the land as the restored remnant, though outside Jerusalem, they have witnessed the renewed fertility of the soil so long, comparatively speaking, uncultivated, keeping its sabbath. It once more yields its fruit abundantly. God has remembered the laud according to His promise. (Lev. xxvi. 42.) And this same word which speaks of that has a word of comfort for the people likewise, for He will remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This renewed fertility is, therefore, expressly connected with the restoration of the people in blessing. (See Ezek. xxxvi. 8-13.) The mountains of Israel shall shoot forth their branches, and yield their fruit to God's people Israel; "for they are at baud to come." Again, Amos (Amos ix. 13-15) speaks of the time when the ploughman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed, and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt. But that time is connected with Israel's return, and replanting upon their land to dwell there for ever. That the land has been visited the remnant perceive. God has smiled on it. He has crowned or encircled the year with His goodness. It is not merely a fruitful season has been enjoyed, but the whole year bears witness to God's care of the laud. His eye is manifestly on it. The flocks have clothed the pastures once more, the grass on the hills revives, the valleys produce corn abundantly. Beholding this taking place around them, the fulfilment of God's word about the land, they look forward with certainty to its fulfilment as regards themselves. Nor are they in this disappointed, as Psalm lxv. makes plain.

Jehovah has fulfilled His promise. Adonai has given the word. All the earth is summoned to make his praise glorious. Terrible, things had God done for them of old. (Deut. x. 21; Isaiah lxiv. 3.) Terrible things had they looked for Him to do again. (Ps. xlv. 4; Ps. lxv. 5.) Their expectations have been answered, and all the earth is exhorted to confess it before Him. "Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works." Who can withstand Him? The heart may be unchanged, but the knee must bow. For "through the greatness of thy power," they add, "shall thine enemies yield feigned obedience unto thee." (See margin.) "He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet." Not that all will submit in heart. Some, as we all see, will yield only a feigned obedience, ready when the opportunity presents itself to rise up against Him. (Rev. xx. 8, 9.)

But what are the terrible doings all are called to behold? All that He will do for them has not yet taken place. The ten tribes probably have not yet re-entered the land. Gog and Magog with their armies have not invaded the country. But the train of events has begun to unfold which usher in the final blessing of the people. "He has turned the sea into dry land." They add, "They shall go through the river on foot, there shall we rejoice in him." Part is accomplished. They look for the whole. When God brought His people out of Egypt, a Pharaoh pursued after them: the Red Sea owned His power. When Israel entered Canaan under Joshua, Jordan was driven back. Is it of these events they speak? A day is coning when their second deliverance shall be uppermost on men's minds. (Jer. xvi. 14, 15.) Is it not of this rather that they now speak, the recent intervention in power predicted by Isaiah (Isa. xi. 15, 16), the utter destruction of the tongue of the Egyptian sea? With that the prophet connects the smiting of the Euphrates, that men may go over dry-shod, in order that the outcasts of Israel should be assembled, and the dispersed of Judah gathered together. "They shall go through the river on foot." The deliverance of Judah and Benjamin precedes, it would seem, the return of the ten tribes. Isaiah in the passage speaks of what is needed for the return of both. Does the psalm distinguish between them? His power displayed in their deliverance, the world will know Him as King, "ruling by his power for ever." Such is the character in which He will be displayed to the Gentiles, "His eyes behold them. Let not the rebellious exalt themselves." If such the admonition addressed to them, how cheering is the note His ransomed ones raise: "Bless our God, ye nations, make the voice of his praise to be heard." And why? Because there is another character in which He has been displayed to His own, "Holding our soul in life and suffering not our feet to be moved." This was their experience. Tried they had been, and that by God; purified too as silver in the fire. Zechariah had spoken beforehand of this. (Zech. xiii.) Brought into the net, they had been conversant with affliction. Men had ridden over their heads, for God had permitted it. (See Isaiah li. 23.) Fire and water had they passed through. But they have the same tale to tell about all. Jehovah had preserved them (Isaiah xliii. 1-3) and placed them in a wealthy place.

God had done great things for them, what shall they do for Him? This now occupies their attention. To His house they will go, for it is open to them; the way to Jerusalem is no longer barred against them. Each individual of the remnant will gladly tread His courts, and pay their vows. "I will go into thy house with burnt-offerings, and pay thee my vows." And this in no scanty, niggard way. Burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams, they will offer with bullocks and goats — all the animals of the flock and herd which the law allowed. What sacrifice too costly from those who have received so much? What offering too great for Him who has done so much? Yet all is not done that they can do. The earth was exhorted to see God's terrible acts. They that fear Him are exhorted to come and hear what He has done for His people. The poor and afflicted had cried to God in their extremity, and He had heard. Sinful they were, but He had answered them, a proof of righteousness in their walk, and acceptance before Him. But it was all of grace. "Blessed be God who hath not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me." What a tale have they to tell of God? Looking back on what they had passed through, they rest not till all who fear Him are acquainted with it. When the Lord was on the earth, one only of the ten lepers returned to give glory to God; now all the ransomed ones desire to make known His praise. This occupies the heart so much that they look, by God's mercy and blessing, to be displayed towards them, that the nations, the peoples, the Gentiles should share in it. Through their blessing shall God's way be known on earth, His salvation among all the Gentiles (Psalm lxvii. 2.) Nations, yea all nations, shall praise Him; peoples shall rejoice and be glad; for God will judge nations in uprightness, and give rest to the people on the earth. What a change does this indicate in the political world resulting from the blessings of Israel! Their thoughts in harmony with God's mind run on to this. For the earth has given her increase (Psalm lxvii. 6), not "will," but "has." They see the earnest in this of all that follows. Israel shall be restored, the ten tribes be brought back to join their brethren now in the land. God's word must have its accomplishment. "He shall bless us, and all the ends of the earth shall fear him." Who would have thought that the seed of the houseless, homeless Jacob should ever be a blessing to the world? God promised it when to outward eyes Jacob's fortunes were at the lowest ebb. (Gen. xxviii. 14.) God will fulfil it, however great the vicissitudes which may intervene.