Verse 46. How long, Lord? The appeal is to Jehovah, and the argument is the length of the affliction endured. Chastisement with a rod is not a lengthened matter, therefore he appeals to God to cut short the time of tribulation.
Wilt thou hide thyself for ever? Hast thou not promised to appear for thor servant -- wilt thou then for ever forsake him?
Shall thy wrath burn like fire? Shall it go on and on evermore till it utterly consume its object? Be pleased to set a bound! How far wilt thou go? Wilt thou burn up the throne which thou hast sworn to perpetuate? Even thus we would entreat the Lord to remember the cause of Christ in these days. Can he be so angry with his church as to leave her much longer? How far will he suffer things to go? Shall truth die out, and saints exist no more? How long will he leave matters to take their course? Surely he must interpose soon, for, if he do not, true religion will be utterly consumed, as it were, with fire.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 46-47. This undoubtedly sounds like the voice of one who knows no hereafter. The Psalmist speaks as if all his hopes were bound by the grave; as if the overthrow of the united kingdom of Judah and Ephraim had bereft him of all his joy; and as if he knew no future kingdom to compensate him with its hopes. But it would be doing cruel injustice to take him thus at his word. What we hear is the language of passion, not of sedate conviction. This is well expressed by John Howe in a famous sermon. "The expostulation (he observes) was somewhat passionate, and did proceed upon the sudden view of this disconsolate case, very abstractly considered, and by itself only; and the Psalmist did not, at that instant, look beyond it to a better and more comfortable scene of things. An eye bleared with present sorrow sees not far, nor comprehends so much at one view, as it would at another time, or as it doth presently when the tear is wiped out and its own beams have cleared it up."
It would be unwarrantable, therefore, to infer from Ethan's expostulation, that the saints who lived under the early kings were strangers to the hope of everlasting life. I am inclined to go further, and to point to this very complaint as affording a presumption that there was in their hearts an irrepressible sentiment of immortality. The bird that frets and wounds itself on the bars of its cage shows thereby that its proper home is the free air. When inveterate sensuality has succeeded in quenching in a man's heart the hope of a life beyond the grave, the dreary void which succeeds utters itself, not in solemn complaints like Ethan's, but in songs of forced mirth -- dismal Anacreontic songs: "Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die."
"It is time to live if I grow old,
It is time short pleasures now to take,
Of little life the best to make,
And manage wisely the last stake."
(Anacreon's Age, as translated by Cowley.) --William Binnie.
Verse 46. Shall thy wrath burn like fire? An element that hath no mercy. -- William Nicholson.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 46. -- The hand of God is to be acknowledged.
- In the nature of affliction. "Wilt thou hide thyself", etc.
- In the duration of affliction. "How long, Lord?"
- In the severity of affliction. Wrath burning like fire.
- In the issue of affliction. How long? for ever? In all these respects the words are applicable both to Christ and to his people.
Verse 46. Remember. The prayer of the dying thief, the troubled believer, the persecuted Christian.