Verse 17. The dead praise not the LORD -- So far as this world is concerned. They cannot unite in the Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with which the church delights to adore her Lord. The preacher cannot magnify the Lord from his coffin, nor the Christian worker further manifest the power of divine grace by daily activity while he lies in the grave.
Neither any that go down into silence. The tomb sends forth no voice; from mouldering bones and flesh consuming worms there arises no sound of gospel ministry nor of gracious song. One by one the singers in the consecrated choir of saints steal away from us, and we miss their music. Thank God, they have gone above to swell the harmonies of the skies, but as far as we are concerned, we have need to sing all the more earnestly because so many songsters have left our choirs.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 17. The dead praise not the LORD, etc. David considers not here what men do, or do not, in the next world; but he considers only that in this world he was bound to propagate God's truth, and that he could not do so if God took him away by death. Now there is a double reason given of David's and other holy men's deprecation of death in the Old Testament; one in relation to themselves, qui promissiones obsurae, because Moses had conveyed to those men all God's future blessings, all the joy and glory of heaven, only in the types of earthly things, and said little of the state of the soul after this life. And therefore the promises belonging to the godly after this life, were not so clear that in the contemplation of them they could deliver themselves confidently into the jaws of death: he that is not fully satisfied of the next world, makes shift to be content with this. The other reason was quia operarii pauci, because God had a great harvest in hand, and few labourers in it, they were loath to be taken from the work; and this reason was not in relation to themselves, but to God's church, since they would not be able to do God's cause any more good here. This was the other reason that made those good men so loath to die. Quid facies nomini tuo? says Joshua in his prayer to God. If the Canaanites come in to destroy us, and blaspheme thee, what wilt thou do unto thy mighty name? What wilt thou do unto thy glorious church, said the saints of God under the Old Testament, if thou take those men out of the world, whom thou hast chosen, enabled, and qualified, for the edification, sustanation, and propagation of that church? Upon this account David desired to live, not for his own sake, but for God's glory and his church's good; neither of which could be advanced by him when he was dead. Abraham Wright.
Verse 17. The dead praise not the LORD, etc. Who are here meant by "the dead"? I cannot rest in the view taken by those who consider this verse simply as a plea by those who use it, that they may be saved from death. They are words provided for the church at large, as the subsequent verse proves By "the dead," then, I understand those who descend to the silence of eternal death, who have not praised God, and never can. For them the earth might seem never to have been given. W. Wilson.
Verse 17. Into silence. Into the grave -- the land of silence. Psalms 94:17 . Nothing is more impressive in regard to the grave than its utter silence. Not a voice, not a sound, is heard there, -- of birds or men -- of song or conversation -- of the roaring of the sea, the sighing of the breeze, the fury of the storm, the tumult of battle. Perfect stillness reigns there; and the first sound that shall be heard there will be the archangel's trump. Albert Barnes.
Verse 17-18. The people of God cannot die, because the praise of God would die with them, which would be impossible. E. W. Hengstenberg.
Verse 17-18. It is not to be overlooked that there do occur, in certain Psalms, words which have the appearance of excluding the hope of eternal life ( Psalms 6:5 30:9 88:10,12 89:47 115:17)... Yet it is a very significant fact, that in all the Psalms in question, there is an earnest solicitude expressed for the glory of God. If death is deprecated, it is in order that the Lord may not lose the glory, nor his church the services which a life prolonged might furnish. This is well exemplified in the hundred and fifteenth, which I the rather cite because, being the sole exception to the rule, that the dark views of death are found in Psalms of contrition and deep sorrow; it is the only Psalm to which the preceding observations are inapplicable. It is a tranquil hymn of praise.
- It is not the dead who praise Jah: Neither any that go down into silence. 18. But WE will bless Jah, From this time forth and for evermore. Hallelujah!
The Psalm thus closed, was one of the Songs of the Second Temple.
What we hear in it is the voice of the church, rather than of an individual soul. And this may assist us in perceiving its entire harmony with faith in the heavenly glory. It much concerns the honour of God that there be continued, on the earth, a visible church, in which his name may be recorded from generation to generation. That is a work which cannot be performed by the dead. Since, therefore, the uppermost desire of the church ought ever to be that God's name may be hallowed, his kingdom advanced, and his will done in the earth; it is her duty to pray for continued subsistence here, on the earth, to witness for God. And it is to be carefully observed, that not only in this passage, but in all the parallel texts in which the Psalmists seem to speak doubtfully or disparagingly of the state of the departed, it is in connection with the interest of God's cause on the earth. The thought that is uppermost in their hearts is, that "in death there is no commemoration" of God -- no recording of his name for the salvation of men. This single circumstance might, I think, suffice to put the reader on his guard against a precipitate fastening on them of a meaning which would exclude the hope of eternal life. It goes far to show that what the Psalmist deprecates, is not death simply considered, but premature death. Their prayer is, "O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days." Psalms 102:24 . And I do not hesitate to say that there are men so placed in stations of eminent usefulness, that it is their duty to make the prayer their own. William Binnie.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- Missing voices -- "The dead praise not."
- Their stimulus upon ourselves -- "But we."
- Their cry to others -- "Praise ye the Lord." Let us make up for the silent voices.
- They who do not praise God here will not praise him hereafter. No reprieve therefore from punishment.
- They who praise God in this life will praise him for evermore. Hallelujah for this. "Praise the Lord." G.R.
Verse 17-18. A new year's sermon.
- A mournful memory -- "the dead."
- A happy resolve -- "but we will bless the Lord."
- An appropriate commencement -- "from this time forth."
- An everlasting continuance -- "and for evermore."