The Shadow of a Great Rock —Ps xvii ,


1 Hear the right, O Lord, attend unto my cry;

Give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.

2 Let my sentence come forth from thy presence; Let thine eyes behold the things that are equal.

3 Thou hast proved mine heart; thou hast visited me in the night; Thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing:

I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.

4 Concerning the works of men,

By the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer.

5 Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.

6 I have called upon thee; for thou wilt hear me, O God: Incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech.

7 Show thy marvellous loving-kindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand Them which put their trust in thee from those that rise up against them.

8 Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me under the shadow of thy wings,

9 From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass

me about

10 They are enclosed in their own fat: with their mouth they speak proudly.

11 They have now compassed us in our steps;

They have set their eyes bowing down to the earth;

12 Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey,

And as it were a young lion lurking in secret places.

13 Arise, O Lord; disappoint him, cast him down: Deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword:

14 From men which are thy hand, O Lord,

From men of the world, which have their portion in this life,

And whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure:

They are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes. 15 As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness:

I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.—Psalm Xv11.

There is deep truth in the remark of one that 'in explaining this and some of the other Psalms, the left eye must be so fixed on David that the right eye looks to Christ.' For without such steadfast 'looking to Jesus' we cannot either understand the plea, the petitions, or the hope of this 'Prayer of David.' In the form of supplication, or as applied to present circumstances and wants, it breathes the same spirit as Psalm xvi., so that some have even been inclined to consider the two as organically connected. We regard it as a firm and sure application of the gracious hopes which the believer cherishes in Christ. There is a twofold victory granted to our faith. We shall conquer, and we have conquered. For ' faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen! We have not only the certain hope of future deliverance, but we have already the enjoyment of felt superiority and happiness in the possession of Christ. The future is only an unfolding and application of the present, for Christ is not only the pledge but the firstfruits of the 'all things' which are ours. Therefore we 'rejoice always,' 'in tribulations also,' and that as in this Psalm, 'with joy unspeakable and full of glory.'

Beginning in ' the depths,' faith climbs here to the utmost height (ver. 15), and achieves its triumph by setting over against the inheritance of this world (ver. 14) that of the kingdom of God. Nor let us forget that this height is reached by the ladder of prayer. Its lowest step, however, is also on the Rock (ver. 1). There is neither hesitancy nor doubt about the petition. 'But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.' In fact, the general tenor of this Psalm sounds very much like James i., said on our knees. There is no self-righteousness in the plea, 'Hear, Jehovah, righteousness.' For ' the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.' God's people are righteous through the imputed righteousness of Christ; they are also righteous in another important sense, having cleansed themselves 'from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.' It were unbelief to pray in any other than the name of Jesus; it were blasphemy to pray for any other than the cause of 'righteousness.' Righteousness upon me, and righteousness within me, both of grace and through faith, are the conditions of all real prayer. Nor are such feelings inconsistent with the deepest sense of guilt. They are supplemented and further explained by another ' prayer' and ' Psalm of David' (cxliii. 2) : 'Enter not into judgment with Thy servant: for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.'

It almost seems as if the prayer to 'hear' were explained by the expression, ' my cry,' namely, of anguish and distress, and the term 'righteousness' by the addition, 'not out of feigned lips.' Inward truth is perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of sanctification. That what I profess and ask is really the expression of my convictions and feelings, or spiritual sincerity may be taken as a test of our religion. And yet it is very remarkable that just as He who cast out devils, and came to destroy the works of the devil, was called 'Beelzebub,' so God's people should be chiefly charged with hypocrisy. But in this case, also, a very important end is subserved by the Divine permission of so unfounded a calumny. For it points out the necessity of cultivating deep inward truthfulness, thoroughness of religion, and decision of religious bearing.

The feeling expressed in ver. 2 is couched in the original in the future tense, implying rather hope than prayer. The 'judgment' for which we look is to 'come forth from before Thy face.' There is something peculiarly awful as well as precious, in the idea of Jehovah so hearing and so beholding. For this are we content to wait. Meantime, trials have yet another effect. Through them, God, as it were, opens our hearts, looks into us, and leads us also to look into ourselves (ver. 3). A most searching probation and visitation this—the expression, ' Thou hast tried me,' being that used for the testing, melting, and purifying of precious metals. The result is the spiritual determination : ' Thou shalt find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.' The first effect of trial is to lead us to acknowledge His hand, the next to turn us inwards. And thus is there fruit unto holiness. Then the soul rises in earnest entreaty and strong faith to Him for deliverance. So far from any element of spiritual pride entering into this ' turning inside out' before God, we deeply realize that it is only 'by the word of Thy lips' that we keep ourselves from the paths of the destroyer. Sin is really destruction, literally, breaking through, tearing down;

and the only way to keep from it is to keep close to the Word. Then truly becomes it 'a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.' 'Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.' Finally, in opposition to all self-reliance, this section closes most appropriately with the prayer of ver. 5.

Thus, between alternate confession and profession has the prayer advanced, till full wide before it opens a view of the faithfulness and covenant mercy of our God. The path has now become 'plain,' and all we need is to be led in it. Accordingly, this forms the burden of the next stanza. It opens with an emphatic assertion of allegiance in the past and confidence for the future ; the expression, '/ have called upon Thee,' being equivalent to, 'But as for me,' and used in opposition to the men of the world. The reason of our giving ourselves to prayer is the conviction of an answer :' for Thou wilt hear me, O God.' And this, in turn, leads to more earnest pleading: 'Incline Thine ear unto me, and hear my speech.' It is not easy to persevere in prayer, when answer seems so much delayed. How many of God's saints may have wept, believed, hoped, joyed, and prayed through this Psalm! The great day alone will show how many plants of righteousness have sprung up by each of these water-courses, and been nourished by them. The first point here is inward establishment and assurance in the Lord. Then, in God's own time, outward deliverance comes. And thus we reach the very kernel of this 'prayer,' which is for grace and deliverance. 'Show Thy marvellous loving-kindness' (make distinguished, exhibit as marvellous Thy grace),' O Thou that savest by Thy right hand them which put their trust in Thee' (or, flee for refuge to Thee), ' from those that rise up against them.' So then it is sovereign grace, marvellous in its character, and distinguishing in its manifestations, for which David and the Church pray. And what' name' and 'memorial' is this by which our God is known, as the Saviour of believers!' The name of Jehovah is a strong tower; the righteous fleeth into it and is safe.' 'Flee to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope ;' 'who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.' And this prayer do we mark for ourselves whenever our danger is peculiar or our hope becomes weak. If I have no other plea, let me have the prayer: 'Show Thy marvellous loving-kindness ;' let it be a kind of miracle, Thou Saviour of the trustful. I have fled to Thee for refuge, and I do so flee. All appearances are against me; but the age of miracles is not past, so long as the God of miracles liveth. I have nothing, am nothing, can do nothing; but Thou hast all things, art all things, canst do all things. Then let it be grace, marvellous manifestation of grace, Thou Saviour Jesus. And God putteth honour upon such faith. The relation which in grace He has condescended to establish between Himself and us is of the closest and tenderest description. 'Keep me as the apple of the eye.' The mode of expression in the original is peculiar and difficult, and perhaps implies even more than the obvious but wonderful truth which it contains. 'Keep me' (or watch over me, guard me) literally, 'as the little man, the daughter of the eye.' The term ' little man' is commonly applied to the eye, because the image of another is reflected upon it. But in that case it seems difficult to account for the addition of the other and different simile,' daughter of the eye.' Possibly it may mean, 'Guard me as the little image on the retina;' and if so, the fulness of truths implied in the verse would be most strikingly brought out in the expression. Both this and the succeeding petition in ver. 7 are based on the promises, Deut. xxxii. 10, 11, and point forward to the words of the Saviour, Matt. xxiii. 37. The one petition refers to the tender care of Him in whose eye our image is always painted (as the names of the tribes were engraven on the high priest's breastplate); the other points to the perfect safety of believers. Nay, besides this, it implies cool, delicious shade, or comfort, under His outstretched wings. The relationship thus established enables us to take an estimate of our enemies different from the common (vers. 9-12). It finds appropriate utterance in the prayer of ver. 13: 'Arise, Jehovah, meet his face' (stand forth, or rush forth, before his face, interpose Thyself between me and that lion), 'cast him down' (literally, make him kneel down): 'deliver my soul' (literally, let my soul escape) 'from the wicked, Thy sword' (either in the sense, O Thou sword, or in that, 'by Thy sword')} The description of the heart lessness of enemies,' they have shut up their fat' (equivalent to the expression, 1 John iii. 17, comp. Ps. cxix. 70; Isa. vi. 10); of their proud boastfulness, of their zealous hostility, and of their cruel determination (' they have set their eyes for the purpose of casting to the earth,' and again, ver. 12) has been only too frequently and strikingly verified in all ages of the Church. But most clear is the final appeal of ver. 14, where the contrast with the world is so fully marked. Resuming the argument of ver. 13, the suffering and waiting believer cries out for escape 'from men—who are Thy hand, O Jehovah! —from the men of the world' (the idea conveyed being that of temporal in opposition to the spiritual and eternal) 'whose portion is in this life.' This world is their home, their desire, and their possession. To love the world, to take ease, to eat and drink, forgetful of the warning, ' Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee,' has always been characteristic of the carnal mind. There was a Church within the church in the days of David, as there is m the latter days. Jacob's 'portion' is not like theirs; and herein appears the separation between the Church and the world.

1 If not too bold, we might venture to imitate the abruptness of the original by thus rendering it literally :—

Jehovah, O arise:
Forward! against his face,
And make Thou him kneel down.
Let Thou my soul escape
From the wicked, thou sword!

It almost appears as if this critical moment of decision brought out with greater clearness than ever the hope of the believer. 'But as for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness, I shall satiate myself (the original meaning being to drink in to the full, to overflowing) 'in awakening with Thy likeness.' This refers, unquestionably, to death and the resurrection. After the brief and troubled night of this life and dispensation, a future awaits us, so glorious that tongue cannot tell, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for His people. Yet our delights will in the main be of the same character as at present, only infinitely higher in degree. Besides, we shall be in His immediate presence, and free from the encumberment of sin, from the world, and from death, with all the evils which they represent,—justified, sanctified, glorified, beholding His glory, and on awakening satisfied to the full with His likeness! Well may such conviction uphold us, and, writing it as our portion over against that of the world, lead us to ' purify ourselves' unto Him 'a peculiar people, zealous of good works.'

1. In all my difficulties let me have immediate recourse to the Lord. However low I maybe brought,or fierce and powerful the opposition be, two things are left me—a prayer and a conviction. The prayer is, 'Show Thy marvellous lovingkindness;' the conviction, 'Thou Saviour of the trustful.' It may not be ordinary grace or deliverance which I may require. But there are marvels of grace, nay, grace itself is a marvel. Here, then, I am encouraged to ask all things. There is not a case conceivable which is not included in this petition. And as I may ask all things, so I may believe all things. For there is not a difficulty too great for 'the Saviour of the trustful.' Thus, it is alike my duty and my privilege to 'pray without ceasing,' and to look up in perfect confidence. There cannot be presumption in giving glory to God.

2. This day let me apply those blessed truths, and rise to the enjoyment of God's provision in Christ Jesus my Saviour. 'Faithful is He, who also will do it.' The Lord Himself will fight for us. We comfort ourselves in Him. He keeps and guards us as the image painted on the eye; we have sweet shelter in the shadow of His wings. Let me consider what I have, and to what I owe it. Not better than others, Thou hast called me by distinguishing grace, and led me to find refuge in Thee. And all that I possess, however sweet and precious, is only a foretaste of what Thou wilt give. This is the children's portion. We envy not the world, nor do we enumerate their riches with murmuring voice. But beyond all this grace which we now experience, is ' the glory to be revealed.' 'In awakening,' 'Thy likeness,' and 'satisfying to the full,' all this, and Thyself,—Lord, what more is needed, for Thy glory or my good?

3. But in thus pleading, waiting, trusting, and hoping, I must remember that holiness is the badge of adoption. God not only takes us to be His children, but makes us to be His children. These things must work out to me an 'exceeding and eternal weight of glory.' 'If I regard sin in my heart, God will not hear me.' There is such an exercise as that of holy vowing unto the Lord, 'I have purposed: my mouth shall not transgress.' Let me cultivate spiritual sincerity; let me seek to be wholly His who has wholly given Himself for me. Let me follow Jesus, and for this purpose let me cultivate more spiritual converse with 'the word' of His 'lips.' Let me receive it as fresh from His lips. May the Spirit speak it anew into my heart. Thus only shall I keep myself from 'the paths of the destroyer.' And this converse of God with me let it be accompanied by converse on my part with God. Let me seek daily grace to have ' my goings' upheld in His paths. 'But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.'