Verse 20. Have respect unto the covenant. Here is the master key, -- heaven's gate must open to this. God is not a man that he should lie; his covenant he will not break, nor alter the thing that hath gone forth out of his lips. The Lord had promised to bless the seed of Abraham, and make them a blessing; here they plead that ancient word, even as we also may plead the covenant made with the Lord Jesus for all believers. What a grand word it is! Reader, do you know how to cry "Have respect unto thy covenant"?
For the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. Darkness is the fit hour for beasts of prey, and ignorance the natural dwelling place of cruelty. All the world is in a measure dark, and hence everywhere there are cruel enemies of the Lord's people; but in some places a sevenfold night of superstition and unbelief has settled down, and there rage against the saints reaches to madness. Has not the Lord declared that the whole earth shall be filled with his glory? How can this be if he always permits cruelty to riot in dark places? Surely, he must arise, and end the days of wrong, the era of oppression. This verse is a most telling missionary prayer.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 20. Have respect. The word, in the original signification of it, imports a fastening of the eyes upon some object, that a man desires to look into. Hence, by a metaphor, it is transferred to the eyes of the mind, and signifies a serious weighing and consideration of a thing. God is said to "wink at the times of ignorance," or not to regard it, Acts 17:30 . God's people here look at God, as if he did wink at his covenant, and neither look at it, nor them in their miseries. The psalmist desires him that he would be mindful of it for his people's deliverance. Francis Taylor, in "A Sermon preached before the House of Commons," entitled "God's Covenant the Churches Plea." 1645.
Verse 20. Have respect unto the covenant. This presseth the Lord more than the former; this is the close grappling, as it were, with him in the words of Jacob: "I will not let thee go till thou hast blessed me." This is the throwing out of the greatest sheet anchor in the tempest, for it lays hold on God's faithfulness, and truth, and fatherly goodness. If they be not in covenant with God, it may be charged upon them. -- "You have violated my holy law, you have incensed my wrath against you by your perverse ways, therefore I will not help you, but give you up;" but now the souls that be in covenant with God will not be put off so (be it spoken with holy reverence), but will cry out, O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, yet have respect unto thy covenant. Yet be sure you walk uprightly before the Lord...With what face can any one say, Lord, have respect unto thy covenant, when he casts his own covenant behind his back, and cannot say with the prophet David, "I have a respect to all thy commandments"? How canst thou say, "Deliver me not up to the many beasts without," when thou art not afraid to be delivered up to thy vile, bestial lusts and affections that are within? Thou hypocrite, first labour the subduing of the monsters that are within thee, then a fair way will be open to have thine enemies subdued round about thee. John Langley.
Verse 20. Have respect unto the covenant. Those persons and preachers who decline to think and speak of gospel mercies and free salvation as secured by covenant, deprive themselves and others of much of the blessed comforts of God's word. Such was not the manner of the inspired psalmist. William S. Plumer.
Verse 20. God seems to his people to neglect his covenant, when they are oppressed by ungodly men. So Asaph complains. After an acknowledgment that God was the Shepherd of Israel, and so in covenant with his people, and accordingly had wonderfully brought them out of Egypt, and made them flourish marvellously in the land of Canaan, he attributes their misery to God's neglect. Many reasons may be given of this unkind carriage of God's people to him. As, first, because their misery blinds them; and blind men when they are smitten suspect every man that comes near them. Secondly, self love makes us suspect any rather than ourselves, yea, even God himself. The people should have reflected upon themselves that were innocent, but in their sorrows they reflect upon God that was innocent. We are all Adam and Eve's children. When Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit, she tacitly lays the fault upon God: "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." Genesis 3:13 . Hadst thou not made a subtil serpent I had not broken thy commandment. Adam lays it openly upon God: "The woman who thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." Genesis 3:12 . Hadst thou not given me such a companion to betray me, I had been innocent. So we their posterity, when trouble is upon us, suspect God's breaking covenant, rather than our own. Thus our nurses beat the stone when children stumble through their own neglect. Thirdly, in time of need we most commonly suspect such as are best able to help us. The sick man, if he be in danger of death, suspects not his ignorant neighbours, but his skilful physician. He that is oppressed in his estate, when the sentence goes against him, suspects none more than the advocate, or the judge. We know God is best able to help us; our corruption, therefore, makes us to suspect him most, if our troubles continue. Fourthly, we most suspect those who, as we think, have most reason to help us in our miseries, and do it not. If the servant wants meal or apparel, he complains not of his fellow servants but of his master, who is tied by covenant to provide for him; if the child be wronged by the servants, he lays not the fault upon his brethren but upon his father, who by bands of nature is obliged to take care of him. So we, being in covenant with God, wonder not much if others fail us, but complain heavily if God seems to neglect us. Francis Taylor.
Verse 20. The psalmist moves God in prayer to look to his covenant by this argument: For the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty; that is, of cruel men, or of men so full of cruelty, that they deserve rather to be called cruelty than cruel: this sort of men inhabit and fill up all those places where the light of holy truth doth not shine. Now, if they who want the light, or have no true knowledge of God among them, are hereby prepared for the acting of all manner of wickedness, how much more are they prepared for the acting of wickedness who have thrust the light from them, and are in dark places of their own making? The prophet Hosea shows ( Hosea 4:1 ), that where there is no knowledge of God in a land, for want of means, there is no truth nor mercy (that is, there is none exercised) in that land, but oppression, deceit, and falsehood bear down all: how much more must it be so when there is no knowledge of God in a land, because of the contempt of means, and rebellion against the light? What wickedness will not they do in the dark, who put out the candle that they may not see what they do? Joseph Caryl.
Verse 20. (second clause). This might have some literal meaning. The dark places of the earth, some have thought, may here describe in the first instance, the caves, the dens, and the woods of the land; for there are many such (as travellers testify) in the land of Judaea, and in unsettled times they have often been the abode of robbers and murderers, who have thence sallied forth to molest and cut off the travellers, to ravish peaceful villages, to waylay and plunder the merchant, to commit all sorts of crimes, and then to return in impunity to these dark retreats, where they laugh at all law, human or divine; they quaff, with horrid pleasure, the recollection of the widow's tears, and listen with inhuman joy to the echoing remembrances of the orphan's moan and the dying father's shriek. But what a land thus infested would be, is but a faint image of the heathen world. Wherever heathenism spreads itself, there are the dark places of the earth. The Scripture often tells us that. John Hambleton. 1839.
Verse 20. The dark places. An allusion, as sometimes interpreters conceive, to the dens of wild beasts, wherein they hide themselves to seize upon their prey, Psalms 104:21-22 . To these cruel men are compared. Psalms 10:8-9 . "He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent. He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor." Such places oppressors and robbers choose. Others take it for an allusion to prisons and dark dungeons void of light. As the prophet, Isaiah 42:7 , describes a prison: "To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." So trouble in Scripture is compared to darkness, and prosperity to light; because darkness is irksome, and light comfortable: "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;" and then the sorry hiding places whither God's people went to hide themselves are here meant. Yet, could they not there be quiet, but were pursued, found out, and spoiled by their adversaries. Others take dark places for obscure and mean places, as dark men, in the original, are called mean men in our translation, Proverbs 22:29 . And then it may either signify that the meanest men did oppress God's people, or that the poorest and meanest of God's people were not spared. Such usage have we found in our time, when the poor cottages of our foes have sent out pillagers, and no cottagers of ours have escaped spoiling in diverse places. Francis Taylor.
Verse 20. Cruelty. Heathenism is cruel. It is not changed in character since the days when parents made their children to pass through fire to Moloch. At this very day, for instance, infanticide prevails in China; and the "law," says a book of authority -- "the law, otherwise so rigorous, does not take the slightest cognisance of that crime, nor ever subject those guilty of it to punishment. Every morning before it is light, waggons traverse the different quarters of the city of Pekin to receive the dead infants." Well may they go "before it is light;" "the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty." "The missionaries of that city obtained details, which justify belief that the number of infants (chiefly females) destroyed there is upwards of three thousand annually." Think of this same proportion, extended throughout that densely peopled empire. Among the same people suicide is also of frequent occurrence. What a contrast with the religion which stays the rash hand, and calls out, "Do thyself no harm!" We might pass to India; and there the flames of the funeral piles, on which so many widows were annually burnt, had hardly expired, when we were shocked, only a few years since, with other proofs of the cruelty of heathenism. What painful details were those, which our government brought to light respecting the secret murderers of India! What think you of a vast fraternity of murderers, consisting of many thousands of persons, which has existed from generation to generation, which has been ramified over the whole country from Cape Comorin to the Himalayan mountains, which has flourished alike under Hindu, Mahometan, and British rulers, and which has every year destroyed multitudes of victims -- and all this under the sanction of religion? The murderous system, they say, has been enjoined them by the goddess Kalee, who is represented as having made a grant of half the human race to her votaries, (to be murdered, that is) according to certain prescribed forms. John Hambleton.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- The title given to heathen nations: dark places of
the earth. Not without the light of nature, or of
reason, or of natural conscience, or of philosophy,
as of Greece and Rome; but without the light of
- Their condition: full of, etc.: cruelty in their
public, social, and private relationships. See
Romans 1: "without natural affection, implacable,
Their part in the covenant. This is known from their
part in its promises, and in prophecies: I will give
thee the heathen, etc.
IV. The prayer of others on their behalf: Have
respect, etc.; Oh send forth thy light, etc.
The conversion of the world will be in answer to the prayers of the church.