Verse 34. When he slew them, then they sought him. Like whipped curs, they licked their Master's feet. They obeyed only so long as they felt the whip about their loins. Hard are the hearts which only death can move. While thousands died around them, the people of Israel became suddenly religious, and repaired to the tabernacle door, like sheep who run in a mass while the black dog drives them, but scatter and wander when the shepherd whistles him off.
And they returned and enquired early after God. They could not be too zealous, they were in hot haste to prove their loyalty to their divine King. "The devil was sick and the devil a monk would be." Who would not be pious while the plague is abroad? Doors, which were never so sanctified before, put on the white cross then. Even reprobates send for the minister when they lie a dying. Thus sinners pay involuntary homage to the power of right and the supremacy of God, but their hypocritical homage is of small value in the sight of the Great Judge.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 31-34. The Christian has more true pleasure from the creature than the wicked, as it comes more refined to him than to the other. The unholy wretch sucks dregs and all, dregs of sin and dregs of wrath, whereas the Christian's cup is not thus spiced. First, dregs of sin; the more he hath of the creature's delights given him, the more he sins with them. Oh, it is sad to think what work they make in his naughty heart! they are but fuel for his lust to kindle upon; away they run with their enjoyments, as the prodigal with his bags, or like hogs in shaking time; no sight is to be had of them, or thought of their return as long as they can get anything abroad, among the delights of the world. None so prodigiously wicked as those who are fed high with carnal pleasures. They are to the ungodly as the dung and ordure is to the swine which grows fat by lying in it; so their hearts grow gross and fat; their consciences more stupid and senseless in sin by them; whereas the comforts and delights that God gives unto a holy soul by the creature, turn to spiritual nourishment to his graces, and draw these forth into exercise, as they do others' lusts. Secondly, dregs of wrath. The Israelites had little pleasure from their dainties, when the wrath of God fell upon them, before they could get them down their throats. The sinner's feast is no sooner served in but divine justice is preparing to send up a reckoning after it, and the fearful expectation of this cannot but spoil the taste of the other. William Gurnall.
Verse 34-36. There are some if they come under afflictions, or if they fall in sickness, or a fever, and God shake death over their head; or if they be at some solemn ordinances, they will be at resolving and purposing, and readily bringing vows upon themselves, of personal covenanting with God; but as they are easily gotten, so they easily vanish: When he slew them, they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God. Several times our afflictions are like a gutter; when there is a great shower we will be running over with purposes after God. Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant: and yet when he slew them, they sought after him, and they early enquired after him: so that in deliberate actions and covenanting with God, as they are hastily begotten, they no less suddenly vanish; the action ought then to be deliberate when we indenture with the Cautioner, and oblige ourselves to more watchfulness, and more tenderness, or else it will soon vanish. Alexander Wedderburn, in "David's Testament, opened up in Forty Sermons." 1701.
Verse 34-37. In these words you see plainly that these people are very early and earnest in seeking God to take off his hand, to remove judgments that were upon them, but not that God would cure them of those sins that provoked him to draw his sword, and to make it drunk with their blood; for, notwithstanding the sad slaughters that divine justice had made among them, they did but flatter and lie, and play the hypocrites with God; they would fain be rid of their sufferings, but did not care to be rid of their sins. Ah! but a gracious soul cries out, Lord, do but take away my sins, and it will satisfy me and cheer me, though thou shouldest never take off thy heavy hand. A true Nathanael sighs it out under his greatest affliction, as that good man did, A me, me salva, Domine, (Augustine) deliver me, O Lord, from that evil man myself. No burden to the burden of sin. Lord! says the believing soul; deliver me from my inward burden, and lay upon me what outward burden you please. Thomas Brooks.
Verse 34-37. There are a sort of men that lie in the enmity of their natures, and in an unreconciled state, living in the visible church, who are not only much restrained, and bite their enmity in, but who, by means of an inferior work of the word and Spirit of God upon their hearts, are brought to seek unto God for friendship, yea, and do much for him in outward actions, and side and take part with his friends; and yet their hearts being unchanged, the cursed enmity of their nature remaining alive and not taken away, they lie still in the gall of bitterness. For instance, look to these in Psalms 78:34-37 . It is said that they `sought the Lord early as their Redeemer,' whilst he was slaying of them; yet they did but flatter him with their mouths, etc. A flatterer, you know, differs from a friend, in that he pretends much kindness, yet wants inward good will, doing it for his own ends. And so do many seek God, that yet he accounts as enemies; for they seek him whilst they are themselves in his lurch. Now, it is hard to discover these, because they pretend much friendship, and externally (it may be) do as many outward kindnesses as the true friends; as flatterers will abound in outward kindnesses as much as true friends, nay, often exceed them, because they may not be discovered. Now, if none of the former signs reach to them, nor touch them, then there is no better way left than to search unto the grounds of all they do, and to examine whether it proceeds from true, inward, pure, and constant good will, yea or no, or self respects? As now, when we see an ape do many things that a man doth, how do we therefore distinguish those actions in the one and in the other? Why, by the inward principles from whence they spring, by saying that they proceed from reason in the one, but not so in the other. If, therefore, it can be evinced, that all that any man seems to do for God, comes not from good will to him, it is enough to convince them to be persons unreconciled; for whereas all outward kindnesses and expressions of friendship proceed not from friend like dispositions and pure good will, but altogether from self respects, it is but feigned flattery, even among men; and when discovered once, it breeds double hatred. And there is much more reason it should do so with God, because he being a God that knows the heart, to flatter him is the greatest mockery; for that is it which chiefly provoketh men to hate such as dissemble friendship, because there is mockery joined with it. Now, that God accounts every one that doth not turn to him out of pure goodwill a flatterer is plain by these words in Psalms 78:36-37 : Notwithstanding, they did but flatter him, and dealt falsely in his covenant. If men's hearts be not inwardly for God, and with him, as a friend would be to a friend, in their actions he esteems them against him. "Thy heart," says Peter to Simon Magus, "is not right before the Lord," Ac 8:22, and therefore he tells him he was "still in the gall of bitterness." Thomas Goodwin.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 34-37. The hypocrite's feet, Psalms 78:34 . The hypocrite's memory, Psalms 78:35 . The hypocrite's tongue, Psalms 78:36 . The hypocrite's heart, Psalms 78:37 . Or, the hypocrite's cloak and the hypocrite's heart. C. D.