Verse 23. Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord. God sleepeth not, but the psalmist puts it so, as if on no other theory he could explain the divine inaction. He would fain see the great Judge ending oppression and giving peace to the holy, therefore does he cry "Awake;" he cannot understand why the reign of tyranny and the oppression of virtue are permitted, and therefore he enquires "Why sleepest thou?" Arise. This is all thou needest to do, one move of thine will save us. Cast us not off for ever. Long enough hast thou deserted us; the terrible effects of thine absence are destroying us; end thou our calamities, and let thine anger be appeased. In persecuting times men are apt to cry, Where is the God of Israel? At the thought of what the saints have endured from their haughty enemies, we join our voices in the great martyr cry and sing with the bard of Paradise: --
"Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;
Even those who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep."
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 23. Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? and Psalms 121:4 , "Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." If God at no time sleep, why doth the church call on him so often to awake? If he must be awakened from sleep, why doth the psalmist say he never sleeps? Are not these places contradictory?
ANSWER: It is one thing what the afflicted church cries in the heat of her sufferings, another thing what the Spirit of truth speaks for the comfort of the saints. It is ordinary for the best of saints and martyrs, during the storm, to go to God as Peter did to Christ at sea (sleeping in the stern of the ship), with such importunity in prayer as if the Lord were no more sensible of their agony than Jonah was of the mariners' misery, ready to perish in the turbulent ocean, and he cried out, What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise! Saints are so familiar with God in prayer, as if they were at his bedside. THE SOUL'S APPLICATION. -- O thou never slumbering Watchman of the house of Israel, carest not thou that we perish? Awake, awake! put on strength, gird thyself, O thou arm of God! I know thou art up, but what am I the better except thou help me up? I know thou sleepest not as man doth, but what advantage hath my soul by that, except thou show thyself, that I may know thou art waking? Oh, it is I that am asleep! You seem to sleep only to awaken me. O that I could watch with thee one hour, as you bid me; I should soon perceive that thy vigilance over me for ever. William Streat in "The Dividing of the Hoof." 1654.
Verse 23. Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? etc. The weakness of our faith is open to the temptation of supposing that God regards not the situation of his people in the world; and the Spirit, who knows our infirmities, provides a petition suited to this trial, which expresses at the same time an expectation that God will arise to claim his people as his own. W. Wilson.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 23. The cry of a church in sad circumstances. The complaint of a deserted soul.