A Living God and a Living People.

Psalms 115, 116.

1867 371  A living God, to whom all praise and glory is due, and a living people to praise Him, might fitly be the titles of these two psalms. Psalm cxv. speaks of the living God, and Psalm cxvi. of the living people. By whom they were written we are not told. That they are the utterances of one under the immediate guidance of the prophetic Spirit is clear, for they refer to days yet to come, and speak of a time of tribulation which has not yet dawned upon the earth.

Psalm cxv. speaks of the living God. "Not unto us, O Jehovah, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and for thy truth's sake." What a combination have we here. Mercy and truth have met together. We can sing of this now. Israel will one day sing of it; for of them, not the Church (as verse 9 shows), the psalm speaks. Brought in consciously guilty before God, having failed to stand before Him on the ground of their own righteousness, the godly remnant will sing of this, and turn to give Him all the praise and the glory. Jerusalem made a praise in the earth, the Jews (so long despised and ill-treated) the nation to whom others will seek to join themselves (Isaiah lxii. 7; Zech. viii. 33); all this, blessed though it will be, will afford them no ground for boasting, but full ground on which to ascribe all praise and glory to Jehovah.

As yet, however, for them it is a walk of faith. The salvation of Israel has not come out of Zion. In the land, an earnest that all will be accomplished concerning them, but not yet freed from troubles, the Gentiles not humbled, nor idolatry cast out of Canaan, they notice the taunt of the heathen, "Where is now their God?" Where was He? None of them had seen Him. Of His mighty acts His people might treasure up a remembrance, but these acts had been displayed on behalf of their forefathers. His aim — where was it? What was His likeness, His appearance? Where could the heathen see Him? Man by nature cannot understand faith in divine things. The world cannot receive the Holy Ghost, because it sees Him not. The unconverted heathen will not believe in the God of Israel, till He makes bare His arm and confounds those opposed to Him. To the taunt of the heathen, faith, however, has an answer: "As for our God, he is in the heavens." To those who walked by sight this might seem a poor reply. If He was God, why did He not appear to rescue His servants? If He was the living God, how could He allow His own to be persecuted to death? If He was the only God, why did He not prove it by entering into conflict with all those who claimed to be God? He was in the heavens was faith's answer. In one sense this seemed but little to say; in another sense it was a great deal, for it claimed for Jehovah to be in that place, which all acknowledge is God's proper place — heaven. Saying this, the faithful can wait for Him. He will come. Psalm 50:3 has affirmed it. They do not, however, ask him to come. They await His time, for they know Him, and though unseen, they know He is conscious of all that goes on. All that they have suffered from others they accept as from Him. "He hath done whatsoever he pleased." A God in heaven, acting in sovereign will and power, such was their God. How beautiful is their simple confession regarding Jehovah. "He hath done whatsoever, or all, that he pleased." Bitter indeed was their lot, but it was God's will. No murmur escapes their lips. Present ease might have been purchased by apostasy, but then they would have forsaken the only help and shield — the living and the true God. "He hath done whatsoever he pleased," is their stay under their trying circumstances. He held the reins of government. The blessing for His people not having come (verse 12 speaks of it as future), they wait for it. What but divine power could keep these souls faithful in the time of abounding iniquity? But kept by God, their eye single, they have light to see what is around them, and discern what the heathen did not.

These heathen who taunted them — what were they? what were their gods? God Jehovah was unseen, yet seeing all that went on. These gods could be seen, but could not see. God was the living God, who dwelt in heaven. These had the form of living creatures, but without life, and were found on earth. He acted as He pleased. These could not at all. They had their origin in the craftsman's imagination, and owed their form to the artificer's skill. "Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands" — worthless objects, except for the value of the metal of which they were made. The work of men's hands, what could they do for man? How could a dying creature make a living God to save him? What need of a God for the one who could make one? What mockery, what delusion was all this! Man could mould the metal into human form, shape it according to the noblest of God's creatures on earth but where was the life, where the will, where the power? "They have a mouth, but they speak not; they have eyes, but they see not; they have ears, but they hear not; a nose have they, but they smell not; hands, but they handle not; feet, but they walk not; they speak not through their throat." Mouth, eyes, ears, nose, hands, feet, throat, all were there. Outwardly, there was nothing wanting. Yet they lacked one thing, the breath of life. That came from God; and man with all his will could not impart it. Like a corpse, with all the members complete, there was no life. In one respect they differed from a corpse. The corpse had lived; God had imparted life to it. These never had lived; for man was their creator, not God. Such were their gods. To see them was sufficient, if the eye was single, to discern what they were. But what of the heathen who made them? "They that make them are like unto them." They too might outwardly have the appearance of being living souls, whilst in reality they were dead. Nor they only, but also "all they that trust in them." Such was faith's judgment about God, the idols, and their devotees. Poor, feeble, persecuted might be those who looked up to God; rich, powerful, prosperous, those who worshipped the idols; but these latter were really dead before God, however devoted, and apparently good they might be. To make the idol or to trust in the idol, proclaimed the person to be destitute of spiritual life.

To whom then should Israel trust, but in Jehovah? Strange it might be thought that such an exhortation should be needed. Could not all see the idols, and learn what they were? Had not their forefathers suffered for idolatry? Had they not for centuries abjured it? All true. Yet we read that the majority of the nations will return to this sin, and again worship idols. (Isa. ii. 20; Isa. xvii. 7, 8; Isa. xxx. 22; Isa. xxxi. 7; Hosea xiv. 3). And the exhortation to trust in Jehovah will be the more needed, because in that day those who apostatise will be outwardly prosperous, having more than heart could wish, and the waters of a full cup wrung out to them. (Psalm lxxiii. 3–12.) How truly therefore will it be a word in season, "O Israel, trust thou in Jehovah. He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust ye in Jehovah, he is their help and their shield." And, since Jehovah, the true God, is the help and shield of those that trust in Him, such favours are not confined to Israel. So the exhortation takes a wider range, "Ye that fear Jehovah, trust ye in Jehovah, He is their help and their shield." It is the day of faith for all, whether Jews or Gentiles, who fear God, not the bright joyous time of deliverance. It is the time to trust, but to trust in Him, who is at once a help and a shield.

Language suited to saints surely this is. But what right had these to take it up? Were they not sinners themselves? Were they not suffering for their forefathers' sins in rejecting the Messiah of God? How then could they exhort each other, and the Gentiles, to trust in Jehovah? Their confidence is based on what He has done. "Jehovah hath been mindful of us." He had remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He had remembered, too, the land. Their forefathers had forgotten Jehovah. He has remembered their children. "He will bless." They are hopeful, nay, sure. "He will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron." Nor does the blessing stop there. "He will bless them that fear him, both small and great." Israel, as God's earthly people, have a special place before Him. Aaron's house, as the earthly priesthood, have peculiar privileges from Him. (Ezek. xl. 46; Ezek. xliv. 16.) But Gentiles as well as Jews shall be blessed. None shall be overlooked in that day. How often have deserving people been neglected by the great ones of the earth! Jehovah will bless all who fear Him. That Israel should be blessed on earth by Him was nothing new to witness. He blessed them richly under David and Solomon. But the Gentiles are to be blessed likewise. Simeon predicted the revelation of the Gentiles (Luke ii. 22, Greek) as one result of the Lord's incarnation. How, as we know, they were blessed when brought into the Church. By and by they will be blessed, when Israel are again owned as God's people. God will bring them to His holy mountain, and make them joyful in His house of prayer, accepting their burnt-offerings and sacrifices on His altar. (Isa. lvi. 6, 7.) Ezekiel also speaks of this when announcing that the stranger shall have an inheritance in the midst of the tribes of Israel. (Ezek. xlvii. 23.) Full, indeed, will that blessing be, for "Jehovah," the Psalmist says, "will increase you more and more, you and your children." How clear is it that we are here occupied with an earthly people in millennial days! Not your children after you, but "you and your children," both together. And how complete must that blessing be, when the Creator of heaven and earth pours it down on them!

If any doubt the accuracy of the statement, that we have here an earthly people, not the Church, nor those who will form part of any company of the heavenly saints, the psalm is explicit on the subject. "The heaven even the heavens are for Jehovah, but the earth hath he given to the children of men." Earth, not heaven, is man's appointed place, and the sphere on which those spoken of are to move. They speak of the dead as those apart from them, and preservation on earth, not resurrection, as the hope they have embraced. "The dead praise not Jehovah, neither any that go down into silence. But we will bless Jehovah from this time forth and for evermore. Hallelujah." What an answer can they give to the heathen who know not God! Jehovah will bless His people, and they alive for evermore will praise Him. For them there is no death.

Such was their confidence. But what was their position? This psalm (Ps. cxvi.) brings it out. "I have loved, for Jehovah hears my voice, my supplication." Confidence in Him, from the knowledge that He hears, draws out the heart's affection. The object of the saint's love is unexpressed. There was no need to express it. All would understand who it must be by the context — "Jehovah hears my voice, my supplication." The commandment to love the Lord, however often repeated, will not awaken any love to Him within the soul; but the grace shown will awaken desires and evoke affections which have not previously been seen. So the saint says, "I have loved," not because he was so commanded, though the commandment was surely before his eyes, but because Jehovah has done something for him. "He hears his supplications." It is not the voice of praise and thanksgiving; in verse 17 that comes in. It is the voice of supplication, of one in trouble, Jehovah hears. How can he feel sure of that before the full answer comes? "Because he hath inclined his ear unto me." Past answers and preservation to the present tell that He has inclined His ear. He is a God who bears the cry of distress, so he will call on Him as long as he lives. "And while I live [lit. "in my days"], I will call." The need was great. "The sorrows of death have compassed me, and the pains of hell have got hold of me; I find trouble and sorrow." Death staring him in the face, trouble and sorrow his present experience, in Jehovah alone is his confidence. How different was his position to that of the heathen! He was learning the value of his God, a firm stay in time of trouble. The heathen had gods in plenty, but not one could hear or answer. Which of them had inclined their ears to the supplications of their devotees? But Jehovah, though unseen, had really hearkened to His servant. The end, however, had not yet come; so he adds, "And on the name of Jehovah I will call," and then gives the substance of his prayer, "I beseech thee, O Jehovah, deliver my soul" (i.e., save me alive, for this is the desire of his heart). And the character of Jehovah emboldens him to do this. "Gracious is Jehovah and righteous, yea, our God is merciful." Gracious and merciful He had proclaimed Himself before Moses (Ex. xxxiv.); righteous is He in all His acts. Daniel (Dan. ix. 47) and Nehemiah (Neh. ix. 33) owned He was righteous in casting his people out of their land. Ezra could speak of His righteousness (Ezra ix. 15) in preserving a remnant according to His promise. The godly in Israel will yet have cause to own He is righteous, when He acts in accordance with the vindication of Himself expressed in Ezekiel xviii. 27. He had declared if the wicked forsook his way, and should do that which is lawful and right, he should save his soul alive. Was not the godly one an instance of this? Then God would act according to His character, and keep him alive on the earth.

Moreover, Jehovah was characterized by preserving the simple. As He has acted, He can act. What a resource it is to find shelter and confidence in the very character of God Himself! He is faithful; He cannot deny Himself. Faith lays hold of this, and buoys the heart up in the midst of troubles that would otherwise as a water-flood completely overwhelm it. "I have been brought low," he adds, "but he will save me." And fortified with the confidence which God's actions in past times inspire, he can say, whilst in verse 4 he cries to Jehovah for deliverance, in verse 7, "Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for Jehovah hath dealt bountifully with thee." Much had He done in preserving him already, as verse 8 recounts, He will do (he feels sure) all that is requisite: "I shall walk before Jehovah in the lands of the living." Over-confident, some might say, but what less could he look for? "I have believed, therefore I speak." Fully assured of what Jehovah will do, he speaks of it openly. He would walk before Jehovah in the lands of the living. Appearances might belie his expectations, but God would not fail to perfect the deliverance of His saints. Greatly had he been afflicted. He had said in "his haste, All men are liars." Now believing on Jehovah, he gives utterance to what he is assured of; and, putting himself in the position of one already delivered, goes on to tell out what he will do for the Lord.

What then could he do for One who needs no help from His creatures (see Ps. 50:12), and for whom "all the forests of Lebanon are not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering?" (Isa. 40:16.) How could he recompense Him? There could be but one way — to receive the cup of salvation and call on the name of Jehovah. He could not add one ray to God's glory. He was to receive from Him and so glorify Him. What a position is this to be placed in! He had said in verse 4, he would call on His name for salvation. When saved, he will not forget Him. "My vows will I pay to Jehovah now in the presence of all his people." Worship comes in when deliverance is completed. As delivered, and because delivered, not to be delivered, does he worship. Publicly saved, he will publicly own it. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." He learns this by being kept alive on the earth; for it is of saints kept alive, not of saints who die, that this verse speaks, as the context shows. Revelation 14:13 will afford comfort for those who die during the tribulation. Here it is one preserved alive who speaks. We have something analogous to this in Psalm 72:14. "He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence, and precious shall their blood be in his sight." God will not allow it to be shed. So here he looks to be preserved from death. And hence he prays, "O Jehovah, I beseech thee. I am thy servant, I am thy servant, the son of thine handmaid. Thou hast loosed my bonds." All will be accomplished, and he will stand before Jehovah in the courts of His house at Jerusalem. The heathen might, as they surely will, destroy the temple, and besiege Jerusalem; but the courts of the Lord's house shall again resound with the voice of joy and praise proceeding from a ransomed people. For the king shall build the temple of the Lord, as Solomon did in his day (Zech. 6:13), and Jerusalem be publicly owned as the city where Jehovah is (Ezek. 48:35) — a full answer to the taunt of the heathen, which elicited from the godly remnant, that "He was in heaven."

A translation of part of Psalm 116 is subjoined.

I have loved, because Jehovah hears my voice, my supplication, because He has inclined His ear unto me, and in my days (i.e., while I live) I will call. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold of me; I find trouble and sorrow. And on the name of Jehovah I will call; O Jehovah, I beseech thee, deliver my soul (i.e., life): gracious is Jehovah, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. Jehovah preserveth the simple. I was brought low, but He will save me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for Jehovah hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, my feet from falling. I will walk before Jehovah in the lands of the living. I have believed, therefore I speak.