Verse 12. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads. They stormed, and hectored, and treated us like the mire of the street. Riding the high horse, in their arrogance, they, who were in themselves mean men, treated the Lord's people as if they were the meanest of mankind. They even turned their captives into beasts of burden, and rode upon their heads, as some read the Hebrew. Nothing is too bad for the servants of God when they fall into the hands of proud persecutors.
We went through fire and through water. Trials many and varied were endured by Israel in Egypt, and are still the portion of the saints. The fires of the brick kiln and the waters of the Nile did their worst to destroy the chosen race; hard labour and child murder were both tried by the tyrant, but Israel went through both ordeals unharmed, and even thus the church of God has outlived, and will outlive, all the artifices and cruelties of man. Fire and water are pitiless and devouring, but a divine fiat stays their fury, and forbids these or any other agents from utterly destroying the chosen seed. Many an heir of heaven has had a dire experience of tribulation; the fire through which he has passed has been more terrible than that which chars the bones, for it has fed upon the marrow of his spirit, and burned into the core of his heart; while the waterfloods of affliction have been even more to be feared than the remorseless sea, for they have gone in even unto the soul, and carried the inner nature down into deeps horrible, and not to be imagined without trembling. Yet each saint has been more than conqueror hitherto, and, as it has been, so it shall be. The fire is not kindled which can burn the woman's seed, neither does the dragon know how to vomit a flood which shall suffice to drown it.
But thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place. A blessed issue to a mournful story. Canaan was indeed a broad and royal domain for the once enslaved tribes: God, who took them into Egypt, also brought them into the land which flowed with milk and honey, and Egypt was in his purposes en route to Canaan. The way to heaven is via tribulation.
"The path of sorrow and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown."
How wealthy is the place of every believer, and how doubly does he feel it to be so in contrast with his former slavery: what songs shall suffice to set forth our joy and gratitude for such a glorious deliverance and such a bountiful heritage. More awaits us. The depth of our griefs bears no proportion to the height of our bliss. For our shame we have double, and more than double. Like Joseph we shall rise from the prison to the palace, like Mordecai we shall escape the gallows prepared by malignity, and ride the white horse and wear the royal robe appointed by benignity. Instead of the net, liberty; instead of a burden on the loins, a crown on our heads; instead of men riding over us, we shall rule over the nations: fire shall no more try us, for we shall stand in glory on the sea of glass mingled with fire; and water shall not harm us, for there shall be no more sea. O the splendour of this brilliant conclusion to a gloomy history. Glory be unto him who saw in the apparent evil the true way to the real good. With patience we will endure the present gloom, for the morning cometh. Over the hills faith sees the daybreak, in whose light we shall enter into the wealthy place.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 12. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads. The agents are men. Man is a sociable living creature, and should converse with man in love and tranquillity. Man should be a supporter of man; is he become an overthrower? He should help and keep him up; doth he ride over him and tread him under foot? O apostasy, not only from religion, but even from humanity! Quid homini inimicissimum? Homo. (Seneca.) The greatest danger that befalls man comes whence it should least come, from man himself. Caetera animantia, says Pliny, in suo genere, probe degunt, &c. Lions fight not with lions; serpents spend not their venom on serpents; but man is the main suborner of mischief to his own kind...
Verse 12. (first clause). The time was when the Bonners and butchers rode over the faces of God's saints, and madefied (Madefy, to moisten, to make wet) the earth with their bloods, every drop whereof begot a new believer. Thomas Adams.
Verse 12. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads. This verse is like that sea (Mt 8:24) so tempestuous at first, that the vessel was covered with waves; but Christ's rebuke quieted all, and there followed a great calm. Here are cruel Nimrods riding over innocent heads, as they would over fallow lands; and dangerous passages through fire and water; but the storm is soon ended, or rather the passengers are landed. Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place. So that this strain of David's music, or psalmody, consists of two notes -- one mournful, the other mirthful; the one a touch of distress, the other of redress: which directs our course to an observation of misery and of mercy; of grievous misery, of gracious mercy. There is desolation and consolation in one verse: a deep dejection, as laid under the feet of beasts; a happy deliverance, broughtest us out into a wealthy place. In both these strains God hath his stroke; he is a principal in this concert. He is brought in for an actor, and for an author; and actor in the persecution, and author in the deliverance. Thou causest, etc; Thou broughtest, etc. In the one he is a causing worker; in the other a sole working cause. In the one he is joined with company: in the other he works alone. He hath a finger in the former; his whole hand is in the latter. We must begin with misery before we come to mercy. If there were no trouble, we should not know the worth of a deliverance. The passion of the saints is given, by the hearty and ponderous description, for very grievous; yet it is written in the forehead of the text, "The Lord caused it." Thou causest men to ride, etc. Hereupon, some wicked libertine may offer to rub his filthiness upon God's purity, and to plead an authentic derivation of all his villainy against the saints from the Lord's warrant: He caused it. We answer, to the justification of truth itself, that God doth ordain and order every persecution that striketh his children, without any allowance to the instrument that gives the blow. God works in the same action with others, not after the same manner. In the affliction of Job were three agents -- God, Satan, and the Sabeans. The devil works on his body, the Sabeans on his goods; yet Job confessed a third party: "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away." Here oppressors trample on the godly, and God is said to cause it. He causeth affliction for trial (so Psalms 66:10-11 : Thou hast tried us, etc.); they work it for malice; neither can God be accused nor they excused. Thomas Adams.
Verse 12. Thou hast placed men over our heads. Thus Jerome renders, although the Hebrew noun fwga, is in the singular, the word itself denotes an obscure, mean man, who is mentioned with indignity, but ought to be buried in oblivion. The singular noun is taken collectively, and so also is wgfar, with the affix. Such were the Egyptian and Babylonish idolaters, whom the Hebrew served. To place any one over the head of another, or, as the Hebrew word tbkrh means, to ride, to be superior to, to subdue to oneself and subject, and to sit upon and insult, just as the horseman rules with the rein, and spur, and whip the beast which he rides. Lorinus.
Verse 12. To ride over our heads. This is an allusion to beasts of burden, and particularly to camels, whose heads the rider almost sits over, and so domineers over them as he pleases. Thomas Fenton, in "Annotations on the Book of Job, and the Psalms." 1732.
Verse 12. We went through fire and through water. The children of Israel when they had escaped the Red Sea, and seen their enemies the Egyptians dead, they thought all was cocksure, and therefore sang Epicinia, songs of rejoicing for the victory. But what followed within a while? The Lord stirred up another enemy against them from out their bowels, as it were, which was hunger, and this pinched them sorer, they thought, than the Egyptian. But was this the last? No; after the hunger came thirst, and this made them to murmur as much as the former; and after the thirst came fiery serpents, and fire and pestilence, and Amalekites, and Midianites, and what not? Thus hath it been with the church not only under the law, but also under Christ, as it might be easily declared unto you. Neither hath it been better with the several members thereof; they likewise have been made conformable to the body and to the Head. What a sight of temptations did Abraham endure? So Jacob, so Joseph, so the patriarchs, so the prophets? Yea, and all they that would live godly in Christ Jesus, though their sorrow in the end were turned to joy, yet they wept and lamented first. Though they were brought at the length to a wealthy place, yet they passed through fire and water first. Miles Smith, 1624.
Verse 12. We went through fire and through water. There was a great variety of such perils; and not only of several, but of contrary sorts: We went through fire and through water, either of which singly and alone denotes an extremity of evils. Thus, through water ( Psalms 69:1-2 ): "Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me." Or, through fire ( Ezekiel 15:7 ): "And I will set my face against them; they shall go out from one fire, and another fire shall devour them; and ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I set my face against them." But when through both successively, one after the other, this denotes an accumulation of miseries, or trials, indeed: as we read Isa 43:2, with God's promise to his people in such conditions: "When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." Which promise is here, you see, acknowledged by the psalmist to have been performed: God was with the three children when they walked through the fire, in the very letter of Isaiah's speech; and with the children of Israel when they went through the water of the Red Sea. Thomas Goodwin.
Verse 12. We went through fire and through water. In allusion, probably, to the ordeal by fire and water, which is of great antiquity. On the question who had interred the body of Polynices:
Offering, in proof of innocence, to grasp
The burning steel, to walk through fire, and take
Their solemn oath they knew not of the deed." Sophocles. From T. S. Millington's "Testimony of the Heathen to the Truths of Holy Writ." 1863.
Verse 12. Fire and water. The Jewish law required both these for purification of spoil in war, where they could be borne. Numbers 31:23 : "Everything that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified through the water of separation." God's saints are, therefore, subject to both ordeals. C. H. S.
Verse 12. But thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place. Every word is sweetly significant, and amplifies God's mercy to us. Four especially are remarkable: --
So there is the deliverer, aliquid celsitudinis, Thou; in the delivery, certitudinis, broughtest out, in the delivered, solitudinis, us; in the happiness, plenitudinis, into a wealthy place. There is highness and lowness, sureness and fulness. The deliverer is great, the deliverance is certain, the distress grievous, the exaltation glorious. There is yet a first word, that like a key unlocks this golden gate of mercy, a veruntamen: -- BUT. This is vox respirationis, a gasp that fetcheth back again the very life of comfort. But thou broughtest, etc. We were fearfully endangered into the hands of our enemies; they rode and trod upon us, and drove us through hard perplexities. But thou, etc. If there had been a full point or period at our misery, if those gulfs of persecution had quite swallowed us, and all our light of comfort had been thus smothered and extinguished we might have cried, Periit spes nostra, yea, periit salus nostra. -- Our hope, our help is quite gone. He had mocked us that would have spoken, Be of good cheer. This same but is like a happy oar, that turns our vessel from the rocks of despair, and lands it at the haven of comfort. Thomas Adams.
Verse 12. (second and third clause).
Verse 12. (last clause). Thou, O God, with the temptation hast given the issue. Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.
Verse 12. A wealthy place. The hand of God led them in that fire and water of affliction through which they went; but who led them out? The psalmist tells us in the next words: Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place; the margin saith, into a moist place. They were in fire and water before. Fire is the extremity of heat and dryness; water is the extremity of moistness and coldness. A moist place notes a due temperament of heat and cold, of dryness and moistness, and therefore elegantly shadows that comfortable and contented condition into which the good hand of God had brought them, which is significantly expressed in our translation by a wealthy place; those places flourishing most in fruitfulness, and so in wealth, which are neither over hot nor over cold, neither over dry not over moist. Joseph Caryl.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 11-12. The hand of God should be acknowledged.
- In our temptations: Thou broughtest us.
- In our bodily afflictions: Thou laidest, etc.
- In our persecutions: Thou hast caused, etc.
- In our deliverances: Thou broughtest us out, etc. G. R.
Verse 12. Fire and water. Varied trials.
Verse 12. (first clause). The rage of oppression. Thomas Adam's Sermon.
Verse 12. (last clause). A plentiful place, free from penury; a pleasant place, void of sorrow; a safe place, free from dangers and distresses. Daniel Wilcocks.
Verse 12. (last clause). The victory of patience, with the expiration of malice. Thomas Adams' Sermon.
Verse 12. (last clause). The wealth of a soul whom God has tried and delivered. Among other riches he has the wealth of experience, of strengthened graces, of confirmed faith, and of sympathy for others.