Psalm 55:6

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 6. And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. If he could not resist as an eagle, he would escape as a dove. Swiftly, and unobserved, on strong, untiring pinions would he h away from the abodes of slander and wickedness. His love of peace made him sigh for an escape from the scene of strife.

"O for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumour of oppression and deceit
Might never reach me more."

We are all too apt to utter this vain desire, for vain it is; no wings of doves or eagles could bear us away from the sorrows of a trembling heart. Inward grief knows nothing of place. Moreover, it is cowardly to shun the battle which God would have us fight. We had better face the danger, for we have no armour for our backs. He had need of a swifter conveyance than doves' pinions who would outfly slander; he may be at rest who does not fly, but commends his case to his God. Even the dove of old found no rest till she returned to her ark, and we amid all our sorrow may find rest in Jesus. We need not depart; all will be well if we trust in him.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 6. And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Wherever the psalmist cast his eye, the inscription was vanity and vexation. A deluge of sin and misery covered the world, so that like Noah's dove he could find no rest for the sole of his foot below, therefore does he direct his course toward heaven, and say, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest; but rest is not a denizen of this world, nothing but the heaven of heavens is at rest, and here does he fix only. Thomas Sharp (1630-1693), in "Divine Comforts."

Verse 6. Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. King David, though for innocency not only a dove, but the phoenix of doves, and so a notable type of Christ, upon whom the Holy Ghost descended in the shape of a dove, yet was his whole life nothing else but bellum sine induciis, a perpetual persecution without intermission. Such was also the portion of Christ the Lord of David; and such to the world's end will ever be the lot of those that are the heritage of Christ. My text imports no less; which, taken historically, is the voice of David pursued by his enemies; prophetically, the voice of Christ at his passion; mystically, the voice of that mystical dove, the innocent soul, surrounded and environed with the snares of death; even generalis quoendam querela (saith Pellican), a general complaint of the malice of the wicked persecuting the righteous. For (alas that it should be! yet so it is) --

"Non rete accipitri tenditur, neque milvio,
Qui male facinunt nobis; illis qui nil faciunt tenditur." Terence.

"The net is not pitched for ravenous birds, as are the hawk and the kite; but for poor harmless birds, that never meditate mischief." And

"Dat veniam corvis, vexat censura columbas."

"The dove shall surely be shot at, when the carrion crow shall go shot free." Juvenal.

It will then be no news unto you, that here the faithful soul, the spouse, the dove of Christ, when trouble and heaviness take hold upon her, and the floods of Belial compass her about, Tanquam avis e cave liberari cupit as St. Austin speaks of the cloistered monks in his time), "Desireth like a bird to be loosed out of her cage." Or, that as Jonas (by interpretation a dove, after three days' and three nights' imprisonment in the whale's belly, could not but long after his enlargement. So the dove like soul of man, when not three, but many days, and months, and years, she hath been imprisoned in the body, hath a longing desire to be enlarged, and to fly unto God that made her; and so mourning like a dove in devout supplication, and mounting like a dove in divine speculation, breaks forth into these sad elegies: "Oh that I had wings!" and "Alas, that I have not wings! Woe is me that I am constrained to dwell with Mesech, and to have mine habitation among the tents of Kedar. Like as the hart desires the water brook, so longeth my soul to be with thee, O God. I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ. Who will give me wings?" etc. Which is as if the poor distressed soul, pathetically bemoaning her forlorn estate of pilgrimage, should thus more plentifully enlarge herself. "My spouse is already ascended higher than the winds, than the clouds, than the highest heavens, and I, poor soul, as a husbandless widow, as a tutorless orphan, as a comfortless exile, am left desolate and disconsolate in this valley of tears; none to care for me, none to comfort me, till I have regained him whom I love, and in whom I live. Nay (which worse is), this mine own familiar friend, this nearest and dearest companion of mine, my body, is even a burden unto me. The weight of it, and oft the sins that hang so fast on it, doth so clog and shackle me, so glue and nail me to the earth, that I cannot raise or rear up myself towards heaven. Or let him therefore descend to relieve me, being fila, sponsa, soror, his daughter, and spouse, and sister; or let him give me wings wherewith I may ascend to him, under the shadow of whose wings I shall surely rest in safety." Psalms 16:4 . "I must confess it was the very bitterness of extremity that first compelled me to love him, though of himself no less lovely than love itself. It was the sharp sauce of affliction that gave edge to mine affections, and sharpened mine appetite to that `sweet meat that endureth to everlasting life.' But now, having had some little foretaste of him, I am even in an holy ecstasy, so ravished, so transported with a fervent desire of him and of his presence, that ubi sum, ibi non sum; ubi non sum, ibi animus est:" "where I am, there I am not; and where I am not, there am I." For, anima est ubi amat, non ubi animat: (Erasmus). "The soul is where it loveth, not where it liveth." Now sigh I not so much for the present dangers, I would decline, as because of my absent love, whom I most desire. Who will give me wings? etc. In the scanning of which verse, ye will observe with me,

(a). The efficient or author of these wings
-- God. Who will give me? Who? that it, who but
God?
(b) The matter of the wish -- wings. "Who
will give me wings?"
(c) The form of those wings -- dove like.
Who will give me wings like unto a dove?
(d) The end mediate -- flying. Then would I
fly away.
(e) The end ultimate -- resting. And be at
rest.

  1. "Who will give me?" There's Christian humility.
  2. "Who will give me wings?" There's prudent celerity.
  3. "Wings like unto a dove." There's innocent simplicity.
  4. "Then would I fly away." There's devout sublimity.
  5. "And be at rest." There's permanent security.

John Rawlinson, in "The Dove like Soule. A Sermon preached before the Prince's Highness at Whitehall," Feb. 19, 1618.

Verse 6. Oh that I had wings, etc. Some of the most astounding sermons ever delivered have been preached on this text, which was a very favourite one with the old divines. They ransacked Pliny and Aldrovandus for the most outrageous fables about doves, their eyes, their livers, their crops, and even their dung, and then went on to find emblems of Christians in every fact and fable. Griffith Williams, at considerable length, enlarges upon the fact that David did not desire wings like a grasshopper to hop from flower to flower, as those hasty souls who leap in religion, but do not run with perseverance; nor like an ostrich which keeps to the earth, though it be a bird, as hypocrites do who never mount towards heavenly things; nor like an eagle, or a peacock, or a beetle, or a crow, or a kite, or a bat; and after that he has shown in many ways the similarity between the godly and doves, he refers us to Hugo Cardinalis, and others, for more. We do not think it would be to edification to load these pages with such eccentricities and conceits. This one single sentence, from Bishop Patrick is worth them all, "He rather wished than hoped to escape." He saw no way of escape except by some improbable or impossible means. C. H. S.

Verse 6. When the Gauls had tasted the wine of Italy, they asked where the grapes grew, and would never be quiet till they came there. Thus may you cry, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. A believer is willing to lose the world for the enjoyment of grace; and he is willing to leave the world for the fruition of glory. William Secker.

Verse 6. Wings like a dove. The pigeon, or dove, is one of the swiftest of birds. The Religious Tract Society's "Book of Psalms, with Preface and Explanatory Notes."

Verse 6. An old writer tells us that it would have been more honourable for him to have asked for the strength of an ox to bear his trials, than for the wings of a dove to flee from them. William Jay, 1769-1853.

Verse 6. Dove. The reference is to the turtle dove, I suppose. Their low, sad complaint may be heard all day long at certain seasons in the olive groves, and in the solitary and shady valleys among these mountains; I have, however, been more affected by it in the vast orchards round Damascus than anywhere else -- so subdued, so very sorrowful among the trees, where the air sighs softly, and little rills roll their melting murmurs down the flowery aisles. These birds can never be tamed. Confined in a cage they droop, and like Cowper, sigh for

"A lodge in some vast wilderness -- some boundless contiguity of shade."

and no sooner are they set at liberty than they flee, as a bird, to their mountain. Psalms 11:1 . David refers to their habits in this respect when his heart was sore pained within him: Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. And there you will meet these timid birds far away from the haunts of cruel hunters, of whose society they are peculiarly suspicious. W. M. Thomson, in "The Land and the Book," 1859.

Verse 6. Oh that I had wings, etc. --

At first her mother earth she holdeth dear,
And doth embrace the world and worldly things;
She flies close by the ground, and hovers there,
And mounts not up with her celestial wings.
Yet under heaven she cannot light on ought
That with heavenly nature doth agree;
She cannot rest, she cannot fix her thought,
She cannot in this world contented be:
Then as a bee which among weeds doth fall,
Which seem sweet flowers, with lustre fresh and gay;
She lights on that, and this, and tasteth all,
But pleased with none, doth rise and soar away;
So when the Soul finds here no true content;
And like Noah's dove, can no sure footing take,
She doth return from whence she first was sent,
And flies to him that first her wings did make. Sir John Davies, 1569-1626.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

None.