PSALM 41 OVERVIEW
Title. To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. This title has frequently occurred before, and serves to remind us of the value of the Psalm, seeing that it was committed to no mean songster; and also to inform us as to the author who has made his own experience the basis of a prophetic song, in which a far greater than David is set forth. How wide a range of experience David had! What power it gave him to edify future ages! And how full a type of our Lord did he become! What was bitterness to him has proved to be a fountain of unfailing sweetness to many generations of the faithful.
Jesus Christ betrayed by Judas Iscariot is evidently the great theme of this Psalm, but we think not exclusively. He is the antitype of David, and all his people are in their measure like him; hence words suitable to the Great Representative are most applicable to those who are in him. Such as receive a vile return for long kindness to others, may read this song with much comfort, for they will see that it is alas! too common for the best of men, to be rewarded for their holy charity with cruelty and scorn; and when they have been humbled by falling into sin, advantage has been taken of their low estate, their good deeds have been forgotten and the vilest spite has been vented upon them.
Division. The psalmist in Psalms 41:1-3 , describes the mercies which are promised to such as consider the poor, and this he uses as a preface to his own personal plea for succour: from Psalms 41:4-9 he states his own case, proceeds to prayer in Psalms 41:10 , and closes with thanksgiving, Psalms 41:11-13 .
Verse 1. Blessed is he that considereth the poor. This is the third Psalm opening with a benediction, and there is a growth in it beyond the first two. To search the word of God comes first, pardoned sin is second, and now the forgiven sinner brings forth fruit unto God available for the good of others. The word used is as emphatic as in the former cases, and so is the blessing which follows it. The poor intended, are such as are poor in substance, weak in bodily strength, despised in repute, and desponding in spirit. These are mostly avoided and frequently scorned. The worldly proverb bequeaths the hindmost to one who has no mercy. The sick and the sorry are poor company, and the world deserts them as the Amalekite left his dying servant. Such as have been made partakers of divine grace receive a tenderer nature, and are not hardened against their own flesh and blood; they undertake the cause of the downtrodden, and turn their minds seriously to the promotion of their welfare. They do not toss them a penny and go on their way, but enquire into their sorrows, sift out their cause, study the best ways for their relief, and practically come to their rescue: such as these have the mark of the divine favour plainly upon them, and are as surely the sheep of the Lord's pasture as if they wore a brand upon their foreheads. They are not said to have considered the poor years ago, but they still do so. Stale benevolence, when boasted of, argues present churlishness. First and foremost, yea, far above all others put together in tender compassion for the needy is our Lord Jesus, who so remembered our low estate, that though he was rich, for our sakes he became poor. All his attributes were charged with the task of our uplifting. He weighed our case and came in the fulness of wisdom to execute the wonderful work of mercy by which we are redeemed from our destructions. Wretchedness excited his pity, misery moved his mercy, and thrice blessed is he both by his God and his saints for his attentive care and wise action towards us. He still considereth us; his mercy is always in the present tense, and so let our praises be.
The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The compassionate lover of the poor thought of others, and therefore God will think of him. God measures to us with our own bushel. Days of trouble come even to the most generous, and they have made the wisest provision for rainy days who have lent shelter to others when times were better with them. The promise is not that the generous saint shall have no trouble, but that he shall be preserved in it, and in due time brought out of it. How true was this of our Lord! never trouble deeper nor triumph brighter than his, and glory be to his name, he secures the ultimate victory of all his blood bought ones. Would that they all were more like him in putting on bowels of compassion to the poor. Much blessedness they miss who stint their alms. The joy of doing good, the sweet reaction of another's happiness, the approving smile of heaven upon the heart, if not upon the estate; all these the niggardly soul knows nothing of. Selfishness bears in itself a curse, it is a cancer in the heart; while liberality is happiness, and maketh fat the bones. In dark days we cannot rest upon the supposed merit of alms giving, but still the music of memory brings with it no mean solace when it tells of widows and orphans whom we have succoured, and prisoners and sick folk to whom we have ministered.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. The Syriac says, "It was a Psalm of David, when he appointed overseers to take care of the poor." Adam Clarke.
Whole Psalm. A prophecy of Christ and the traitor Judas. Eusebius of Caesarea, quoted by J. M. Neale.
Verse 1. Blessed is he that considereth the poor. Interpreters are generally of opinion that the exercise of kindness and compassion, manifested in taking care of the miserable, and helping them, is here commended. Those, however, who maintain that the psalmist here commends the considerate candour of those who judge wisely and charitably of men in adversity, form a better judgment of his meaning. Indeed, the participle, (lkvm), maskil, cannot be explained in any other way. At the same time it ought to be observed on what account it is that David declares those to be blessed who form a wise and prudent judgment concerning the afflictions by which God chastises his servants ... Doubtless it happened to him as it did to the holy patriarch Job, whom his friends reckoned to be one of most wicked of men, when they saw God treating him with great severity. And certainly it is an error which is by far too common among men, to look upon those who are oppressed with afflictions as condemned and reprobate ... For the most part, indeed, we often speak rashly and indiscriminately concerning others, and, so to speak, plunge even into the lowest abyss those who labour under affliction. To restrain such a rash and unbridled spirit, David says, that they are blessed who do not suffer themselves, by speaking at random, to judge harshly of their neighbours; but discerning aright the afflictions by which they are visited, mitigate, by the wisdom of the spirit, the severe and unjust judgments to which we naturally are so prone. John Calvin.
Verse 1. Blessed is he that considereth the poor. As Christ considered us in our state of poverty, so ought we most attentively to consider him in his; to consider what he suffered in his own person; to discern him suffering in his poor afflicted members; and to extend to them the mercy which he extended to us. He, who was "blessed" of Jehovah, and "delivered in the evil day" by a glorious resurrection, will "bless" and "deliver" in like manner, such as for his sake, love and relieve their brethren. George Horne.
Verse 1. Blessed is he that considereth the poor. Not the poor of the world in common, nor poor saints in particular, but some single poor man; for the word is in the singular number, and designs our Lord Jesus Christ, who, in the last verse of the preceding Psalm, is said to be poor and needy. John Gill.
Verse 1. Blessed is he that considereth the poor. I call your attention to the way in which the Bible enjoins us to take up the care of the poor. It does not say in the text before us, Commiserate the poor; for, if it said no more than this, it would leave their necessities to be provided for by the random ebullitions of an impetuous and unreflecting sympathy. It provided them with a better security than the mere feeling of compassion -- a feeling which, however useful to the purpose of excitement, must be controlled and regulated. Feeling is but a faint and fluctuating security. Fancy may mislead it. The sober realities of life may disgust it. Disappointment may extinguish it. Ingratitude may embitter it. Deceit, with its counterfeit representations, may allure it to the wrong object. At all events, Time is the little circle in which it in general expatiates. It needs the impression of sensible objects to sustain it; nor can it enter with zeal or with vivacity into the wants of the abstract and invisible soul. The Bible, then, instead of leaving the relief of the poor to the mere instinct of sympathy, makes it a subject for consideration -- "Blessed is he that considereth the poor," a grave and prosaic exercise, I do allow, and which makes no figure in those high wrought descriptions, where the exquisite tale of benevolence is made up of all the sensibilities of tenderness on the one hand, and of all the ecstasies of gratitude on the other. The Bible rescues the cause from the mischief to which a heedless or unthinking sensibility would expose it. It brings it under the cognisance of a higher faculty -- a faculty of sturdier operation than to be weary in well doing, and of sturdier endurance than to give it up in disgust. It calls you to consider the poor. It makes the virtue of relieving them a matter of computation, as well as of sentiment, and in so doing puts you beyond the reach of the various delusions, by which you are at one time led to prefer the indulgence of pity to the substantial interest of its object; at another, are led to retire chagrined and disappointed from the scene of duty, because you have not met with the gratitude or the honesty that you laid your account with; at another, are led to expend all your anxieties upon the accommodation of time, and to overlook eternity. It is the office of consideration to save you from all these fallacies. Under its tutorage attention to the wants of the poor ripens into principle ...
It must be obvious to all of you, that it is not enough that you give money, and add your name to the contributions of charity. You must give it with judgment. You must give your time and your attention. You must descend to the trouble of examination. You must rise from the repose of contemplation, and make yourself acquainted with the object of your benevolent exercises ... To give money is not to do all the work and labour of benevolence. You must go to the poor man's sick bed. You must lend your hand to the work of assistance. This is true and unsophisticated goodness. It may be recorded in no earthly documents; but, if done under the influence of Christian principle, in a word, if done unto Jesus, it is written in the book of heaven, and will give a new lustre to that crown to which his disciples look forward in time, and will wear through eternity. From a Sermon preached before the Society for Relief of the Destitute Sick, in St. Andrew's Church, Edinburgh, by Thomas Chalmers, D.D. and L.L.D. (1780-1847.)
Verse 1. Blessed is he that considereth the poor. A Piedmontese nobleman into whose company I fell, at Turin, told me the following story: "I was weary of life, and after a day such as few have known, and none would wish to remember, was hurrying along the street to the river, when I felt a sudden check, I turned and beheld a little boy, who had caught the skirt of my cloak in his anxiety to solicit my notice. His look and manner were irresistible. No less so was the lesson he had learnt -- `There are six of us, and we are dying for want of food.' `Why should I not,' said I, to myself, `relieve this wretched family? I have the means, and it will not delay me many minutes. But what if it does?' The scene of misery he conducted me to I cannot describe. I threw them my purse, and their burst of gratitude overcame me. It filled my eyes, it went as a cordial to my heart. `I will call again tomorrow,' I cried. `Fool that I was to think of leaving a world where such pleasure was to be had, and so cheaply!'" Samuel Rogers (1763-1855) in "Italy."
- He that considereth the poor: --
An ardent spirit dwells with Christian love,
The eagle's vigour in the pitying dove.
It is not enough that we with sorrow sigh,
That we the wants of pleading man supply,
That we in sympathy with sufferers feel,
Nor hear a grief without a wish to heal:
Not these suffice -- to sickness, pain, and woe,
The Christian spirit loves with aid to go:
Will not be sought, waits not for want to plead,
But seeks the duty -- nay, prevents the need;
Her utmost aid to every ill applies,
And plants relief for coming miseries. George Crabbe, 1754- 1832.
Verse 1. How foolish are they that fear to lose their wealth by giving it, and fear not to lose themselves by keeping it! He that lays up his gold may be a good jailer, but he that lays it out is a good steward. Merchants traffic thither with a commodity where it is precious in regard of scarcity. We do not buy wines in England to carry them to France, spices in France to carry them to the Indies; so for labour and work, repentance and mortification, there is none of them in heaven, there is peace and glory, and the favour of God indeed. A merchant without his commodity hath but a sorry welcome. God will ask men that arrive at heaven's gates, ubi opera? Re 22:12. His reward shall be according to our works. Thou hast riches here, and here be objects that need thy riches -- the poor; in heaven there are riches enough but no poor, therefore, by faith in Christ make over to them thy moneys in this world, that by bill of exchange thou mayest receive it in the world to come; that only you carry with you which you send before you. Do good while it is in your power; relieve the oppressed, succour the fatherless, while your estates are your own; when you are dead your riches belong to others. One light carried before a man is more serviceable than twenty carried after him. In your compassion to the distressed, or for pious uses, let your hands be your executors, and your eyes your overseers. Francis Raworth, Teacher to the Church at Shore-ditch, in a Funeral Sermon, 1656.
Verse 1,3. It is a blessed thing to receive when a man hath need; but it is a more blessed thing to give than to receive. Blessed (saith the prophet David) is he that considereth the poor. What? to say, alas, poor man! the world is hard with him, I would there were a course taken to do him good? No, no; but to so consider him as to give; to give till the poor man be satisfied, to draw out one's sheaf, aye, one's very soul to the hungry. But what if troubles should come? were it not better to keep money by one? Money will not deliver one. It may be an occasion to endanger one, to bring one into, rather than help one out of trouble; but if a man be a merciful man, God will deliver him, either by himself, or by some other man or matter. Aye, but what if sickness come? Why, the Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing; and, which is a great ease and kindness; God, as it were, himself will make all his bed in his sickness. Here poor people have the advantage: such must not say, Alas, I am a poor woman, what work of mercy can I do? for they are they who best can make the beds of sick folk, which we see is a great act of mercy, in that it is said, that the Lord himself will make their bed in their sickness. And there are none so poor, but they may make the beds of the sick. Richard Capel.
Verse 1,5. He that considereth. Mine enemies. Strigelius has observed, there is a perpetual antithesis in this Psalm between the few who have a due regard to the poor in spirit, and the many who afflict or desert them. W. Wilson, D.D.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. (first clause). The incidental blessings resulting from considering the pious poor.
- We learn gratitude.
- We see patience.
- We often remark the triumphs of great grace.
- We obtain light on Christian experience.
- We have their prayers.
- We feel the pleasure of beneficence.
- We enter into communion with the lowly Saviour.
Verse 1. The support of the Small pox Hospitals recommended. Bishop Squire, 1760. Scores of sermons of this kind have been preached from this text.
WORKS WRITTEN ABOUT THE FORTY-FIRST PSALM IN SPURGEON'S DAY
"David's Evidence; or, the Assurance of God's Love: declared in seven Sermons upon the three last verses of the Forty-first Psalme. By WILLIAM BURTON. Minister of the Word at Reading in Berkshire ... 1602." 4to.
The ancient Rabbins saw in the Five Books of the Psalter the image of the Five Books of the Law. This way of looking at the Psalms as a second Pentateuch, the echo of the first, passed over into the Christian church, and found favour with some early fathers. It has commended itself to the acceptance of good recent expositors, like Dr. Delitzsch, who calls the Psalter "the congregation's five fold word to the Lord, even as the Thora (the Law) is the Lord's five fold word to the Congregation." This mat be mere fancy, but its existence from ancient times shows that the five fold division attracted early notice. William Binnie, D.D.
God presented Israel with the Law, a Pentateuch, and grateful Israel responded with s Psalter, a Pentateuch of praise, in acknowledgment of the divine gift. J. L. K.
HERE ENDETH THE FIRST BOOK OF THE PSALMS