Verse 5. By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation. God's memorial is that he hears prayer, and his glory is that he answers it in a manner fitted to inspire awe in the hearts of his people. The saints, in the commencement of the Psalm, offered praise in reverential silence; and now, in the like awe stricken spirit, they receive answers to their prayers. The direct allusion here is, no doubt, to the Lord's overthrow of the enemies of his people in ways calculated to strike terror into all beholders; his judgments in their severe righteousness were calculated to excite fear both among friends and foes. Who would not fear a God whose blows are so crushing? We do not always know what we are asking for when we pray; when the answer comes, the veritable answer, it is possible that we may be terrified by it. We seek sanctification, and trial will be the reply: we ask for more faith, and more affliction is the result: we pray for the spread of the gospel, and persecution scatters us. Nevertheless, it is good to ask on, for nothing which the Lord grants in his love can do us any harm. Terrible things will turn out to be blessed things after all, where they come in answer to prayer. See in this verse how righteousness and salvation are united, the terrible things with the gracious answers. Where but in Jesus could they be blended? The God who saves may answer our prayers in a way which puts unbelief into a flutter; but when faith spies the Saviour, she remembers that "things are not what they seem," and she is of good courage. He who is terrible is also our refuge from terror when we see him in the Well beloved.
Who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth. The dwellers in the far off isles trust in God; those most remote from Zion yet confide in the ever living Jehovah. Even those who dwell in countries, frozen or torrid, where nature puts on her varied terrors, and those who see dread wonders on the deep, yet fly from the terrors of God and place their confidence in the God of terrors. His arm is strong to smite, but also strong to save.
And of them that are afar off upon the sea. Both elements have their elect band of believers. If the land gave Moses elders, the sea gave Jesus apostles. Noah, when all was ocean, was as calm with God as Abraham in his tent. All men are equally dependent upon God: the seafaring man is usually most conscious of this, but in reality he is not more so than the husbandman, nor the husbandman than anyone else. There is no room for self confidence on land or sea, since God is the only true confidence of men on earth or ocean. Faith is a plant of universal growth, it is a tree of life on shore and a plant of renown at sea; and, blessed be God, those who exercise faith in him anywhere shall find that he is swift and strong to answer their prayers. A remembrance of this should quicken our devotions when we approach unto the Lord our God.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 5. By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us. The reason why he answers thus is, because what God doth for his people, take one thing with another, is still in order to the crucifying of the flesh; and what more terrible than such a death? We pray for pleasing things, as we imagine, but as we are flesh as well as spirit; so the flesh hath still a part in every prayer, and what we beg is partly carnal, and upon the matter, in part, we beg we know not what. Now, the answer as it comes from God, take all together, is spiritual, which is a crucifying thing to sinful flesh; hence comes all the terror... You pray for pardon; that is a pleasing thing, yet rightly understand not pleasing to the flesh; it mortifies corruption, breaks the heart, engages to a holy life: every answer from our God to us, one way or the other, first or last, shall tend that way. God useth so to give good things unto his children, as withal to give himself, and show to them his heavenly glory in what is done... Now God is terrible to sinful flesh: so far as he appears, it dies. Jacob, therefore, whilst he conquered God in prayer, himself was overcome, signified by that touch upon his thigh put out of joint, where the chiefest stress in wrestling lies. When we are weak, then are we strong; because, as God appears, we die unto ourselves and live in him. William Carter, in a Fast Sermon entitled, "Light in Darkness." 1648.
Verse 5. God's judgments are these terribilia, terrible, fearful things; and he is faithful in his covenant; and by terrible judgments he will answer, that is, satisfy our expectation: and that is a convenient sense of these words. But the word which we translate righteousness here, is tzadok, and tzadok is not faithfulness, but holiness; and these terrible things are reverend things; and so Tremellius translates it, and well. Per res reverendas, by reverend things, things to which there belongs a reverence -- thou shalt answer us. And thus, the sense of this place will be, that the God of our salvation (that is, God working in the Christian church) calls us to holiness, to righteousness, by terrible things; not terrible in the way and nature of revenge, but terrible, that is, stupendous, reverend, mysterious; so that we should not make religion too homely a thing, but come always to all acts and exercises of religion with reverence, with fear, and trembling, and make a difference between religious and civil actions. John Donne.
Verse 5. God's deliverance of his church and people by terrible things is in righteousness. The meaning of the point is this: God in all the deliverances of his people by terrible things, doth therein manifest his righteousness. He doth therein nothing but what is according to righteousness and justice. To clear this, consider that there is a double righteousness, the righteousness of his word, which is the righteousness of his faithfulness, and the righteousness of his works, or his just acts of righteousness. And God doth manifest both these in his deliverance of his people by terrible things. John Bewick. 1644.
Verse 5. But what is the meaning when they say, wilt thou answer us? Us, who are inhabitants of Zion, who are constituted thy people, and truly worship Thee; us, moreover, in contact with enemies, who stirred up strife against us, and wished us ill; us, lastly, who aim at and seek the stability of the Kingdom and Church, and every kind of felicity and safety; with such things wilt thou answer us, it says, that is, for our advantage and benefit, and according to our vows, and therefore by pleading our cause, and deciding in our favour, and satisfying our desires; and in this way rendering us happy and establishing us, and subduing and confounding our foes. Hermann Venema.
Verse 5. Who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth. How could God be the confidence of all the ends of the earth, if he does not reign and constantly work? The stability of the mountains is ascribed not to certain physical laws, but to the power of God. The noise of the seas is stilled not by laws without a powerful agent, but by the immediate influence of the Almighty Ruler. Human laws also may be the means of restraining persecution, but they are only means; and it is God who stilleth the tumult of the people. It is God who maketh the outgoings of the morning and evening to sing. The Scriptures, in viewing the works which God does through means, never lose sight of God himself. God visits and waters the earth: God prepares the corn. Without his own immediate power, the laws of nature could not produce their effect. How consoling and satisfactory is this view of Divine Providence, compared with that of an infidel philosophy, that forbids us to go further back than to the power of certain physical laws, which it grants, indeed, were at first established by God, but which can now perform their office without him. Alexander Carson. (1776-1844.)
Verse 5. All the ends of the earth. God is in himself potentially, The confidence of all the ends of the earth. Hereafter he will be recognised by all to be so ( Psalms 23:27-28 ), of which the Queen of Sheba's coming to Solomon "from the uttermost parts of the earth" is a type. Matthew 12:42 . A. R. Faussett.
Verse 5. And of them that are afar off upon the sea. We must beseech God in the words of this Psalm, that since He stands upon the shore, and beholds our perils, he would make us, who are tossed on the turbulent sea, secure for his name's sake, and enable us to hold between Scylla and Charybdis, the middle course, and escaping the danger on either hand, with a sound vessel and safe merchandise, reach the port. Lorinus (from Augustine).
Verse 5-8. The divine watering of the earth is obviously symbolical of the descent of the Holy Spirit after Christ's ascension; and when on the great day of Pentecost the devout Jews, "out of every nation under heaven," heard the apostle speaking in their several tongues the wonderful works of God, it was a testimony that God was beginning spiritually to make the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice. To God, which stilleth the noise of the waves and the tumult of the people, the apostles betook themselves in prayer after their first conflict with Jewish authorities, the first conflict of the infant Christian community with the powers of this world: the language of the Psalm (Ps 65:5), O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea, is reflected in the opening words of their prayer on that occasion ( Acts 4:24 ), "Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is;" and if, when they prayed, "the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost," it was no idle sign that by terrible things in righteousness were they being answered by the God of their salvation. These are, of course, mere illustrations of the inner harmony of Scripture; but, as such, they may not be without their value. Joseph Francis Thrupp.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 5. Treat the first clause experimentally, and show how prayers for our own sanctification are answered by trial; for God's glory, by our persecution; for our babes' salvation, by their death; for the good of others, by their sickness, etc.