Verse 148. -- Mine eyes prevent the night watches. Or rather, the watches. Before the watchman cried the hour, he was crying to God. He did not need to be informed as to how the hours were flying, for every hour his heart was flying towards heaven. He began the day with prayer, and he continued in prayer through the watches of the day, and the watches of the night. The soldiers changed guard, but David did not change his holy occupation. Specially, however, at night did he keep his eyes open, and drive away sleep, that he might maintain communion with his God. He worshipped on from watch to watch as travellers journey from stage to stage.
That I might meditate in thy word. This had become meat and drink to him. Meditation was the food of his hope, and the solace of his sorrow: the one theme upon which his thoughts ran was that blessed "word" which he continually mentions, and in which his heart rejoices. He preferred study to slumber; and he learned to forego his necessary sleep for much more necessary devotion. It is instructive to find meditation so constantly connected with fervent prayer: it is the fuel which sustains the flame. How rare an article is it in these days.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 148. -- Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word. You will all admit that this is the language of an ardent, earnest, and painstaking student. David represents himself as "rising early, and late taking rest," on purpose that he might employ himself in the study of God's word. "He meditates in this word," the expression implying close and patient thought; as if there were much in the word which was not to be detected by a cursory glance, and which required the strictest application both of the head and the heart.
The Bible is a book in which we may continually meditate, and yet not exhaust its contents. When David expressed himself in the language of our text, Holy Writ -- the word of God -- was of course a far smaller volume than it now is, though, even now, the Bible is far from a large book. Yet David could not, so to speak, get to the end of the book. He might have been studying the book for years, -- nay, we are sure that he had been, -- and yet, as though he were just entering on a new course of reading, with volume upon volume to peruse, lie must rise before day to prosecute the study. "Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word."
The same remark may be made upon precepts which enjoin continued study of the Bible. Is there material for that study? Unless there be, the precepts will become out of place; the Scriptural student will have exhausted the Scriptures; and what is he to do then? He can no longer obey the precepts, and the precepts will prove that they cannot have been made for perpetuity -- for the men of all ages and all conditions...
Here is a servant of God, who, from his youth upward, has been diligent in the study of the Bible. Year after year he has devoted to that study, and yet the Bible is but a single volume, and that not a large volume. "Well, then," you might be inclined to say, "the study must surely by this time have exhausted the book! There can be nothing new for him to bring out; nothing which he has not investigated and fathomed." Ah, how you mistake the Bible! What a much larger book it must be than it seems! In place of having exhausted it, the royal student speaks as though there were more work before him than he knew how to compass. "Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word." -- Henry Melvill.
Verse 148. -- "Mine eyes prevent the night watches." The Hebrew word means a watch -- a part of the night, so called from military watches, or a dividing of the night to keep guard. The idea of the Psalmist here is, that he anticipated these regular divisions of the night in order that he might engage in devotion. Instead of waiting for their return, he arose for prayer before they recurred; so much did his heart delight in the service of God. The language would seem to be that of one who was accustomed to pray in these successive "watches" of the night; the early, the middle, and the dawn. This may illustrate what occurs in the life of all who love God. They will have regular seasons of devotion, but they will often anticipate those seasons. They will be in a state of mind which prompts them to pray; when nothing will meet their state of mind but prayer; and when they cannot wait for the regular and ordinary season of devotion; like a hungry man, who cannot wait for the usual and regular hour of his meals. The meaning of the phrase, "Mine eyes prevent," is that he awoke before the usual time for devotion. --Albert Barnes.
Verse 148. -- Mine eyes prevent the night watches, etc. His former purpose is yet continued, declaring his indefatigable perseverance in prayer. Oh, that we could learn of him to use our time well! At evening he lay down with prayers and tears; at midnight he rose to give thanks; he got up before the morning light to call upon the Lord. This is to imitate the life of angels, who ever are delighted to behold the face of God, singing alway a new song without wearying. This is to begin our heaven upon earth: Oh, that we could alway remember it! --William Cowper.
Verse 148. -- Night watches. The Jews, like the Greeks and Romans, divided the night into military watches instead of hours, each watch representing the period for which sentinels or pickets remained on duty. The proper Jewish reckoning recognized only three such watches, entitled the first, "or beginning of the watches" ( Lamentations 2:19 ), "the middle watch" ( Judges 7:19 ), and "the morning watch" ( Exodus 14:24 ; 1 Samuel 11:11 ). These would last respectively from sunset to 10 p.m.; from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.; and from 2 a.m. to sunrise. It has been contended by Lightfoot that the Jews really reckoned four watches, three only of which were in the dead of the night, the fourth being in the morning. This, however, is rendered improbable by the use of the term "middle," and is opposed to Rabbinical authority. Subsequently to establishment of Roman supremacy, the number of watches was increased four which was described either according to their numerical order, as the case of the "fourth watch" ( Matthew 14:25 ), or by the terms" midnight, cock crowing, and morning" ( Mark 13:35 ). These, terminated at 9 p.m., midnight, 3 a.m., and 6 a.m. Conformably to this, the guard of soldiers was divided into four relays ( Acts 12:4 ), showing that the Roman regime was followed in Herod's army. Watchmen appear have patrolled the streets of the Jewish towns ( Song of Solomon 3:3 5:7; Psalms 127:1 ) where for "maketh" we should substitute "watcheth"; Psalms 130:6 . --William Latham Beyan, in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, 1863.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 148. -- The Inexhaustibleness of the Bible. A sermon by Henry Melvill, at "The Golden Lecture." 1850.
Verse 148. -- Meditation. Appropriate time, and fruitful subject.
Verse 148. -- Meditation in the word well worth self denial and care on the part of the Christian.
- Without meditation reading is a waste of time and an indignity offered to the word.
- Meditation with prayer, but not prayer without meditation, will discover the sense of the word, when all other means fail; and it has this advantage, that the meaning sinks into the mind.
- Meditation extracts sweetness from the promises, and nourishment from the whole truth.
- Meditation makes a wise teacher and an efficient worker of one who has little natural skill or learning.
- Meditation subjects the soul to the sanctifying power of the word.
- Meditation is an invitation to the Holy Spirit to bless the soul, for he is closely associated with the truth, and delights to see the truth honoured. --J.F.