This Psalm, as the title sets forth, is a Maschil, that is, a Psalm of instruction. It contains, in an historical method of relation, God's gracious dealings with Israel as a people. In reading it the believer should have an eye to his own history, to mark the parallel between Israel and himself.
Maschil of Asaph.
This verse opens by way of preface to call up the attention of all concerned. It was the usual method observed by the prophets and messengers of the Lord, to proclaim their commission by the divine authority, and as such to demand respect. Isaiah 1:10; Proverbs 8:1-6.
I beg the Reader's attention to what is here said, and, by way of rightly explaining it, to turn to what our Lord himself saith; Matthew 13:34-35. Have we not authority from hence to believe, that what Asaph saith in this Psalm, he delivers by the spirit of prophecy, as in the person of Christ? And as a farther confirmation, may it not be observed, that what are parables and dark sayings, unintelligible to the wisdom of this world, are plain sayings to the children of the kingdom? Matthew 13:13-17.
Was not the gospel preached to our fathers in type and figure, as it is now in sum and substance? See Hebrews 4:2; Galatians 3:8.
How lovely is it to behold, even from the days of the patriarchs, the care and attention with which the fathers handed down the testimony they had received concerning the promised seed. Hence we find Abraham telling Isaac, and Isaac Jacob, and Jacob, when dying, holding forth to his children, the blessing of redemption by Christ, upon which their own souls had lived, and with which they were most familiarly acquainted. Genesis 49:1; Gen_50:24.
I venture to believe, contrary to the opinion of most commentators, that the testimony in Jacob, and the law in Israel here spoken of, had a reference to a much higher subject than the law on mount Sinai. Surely that testimony and that law was Christ himself, who is both the word and the testimony, and the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth. And seen in this point of view, it is most blessed indeed to behold Asaph singing this gospel Psalm with an eye to Christ. Here the latter generations indeed were most highly interested, and the children which were yet unborn. And, as the apostle very sweetly saith, the gospel which was preached to Abraham, and the covenant which was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was 430 years after, cannot disannul. Hence, therefore, this was the grand subject, and this the glorious theme, that the children which should be born should arise and declare. Galatians 3:16-17. To this one point, therefore, ministered all the ordinances, types, sacrifices, and offerings in the old church; and every observance of them pointed to Jesus: they were a shadow of good things to come, but the body was, and is, Christ. Colossians 2:17.
We need only refer to the history of Israel in the wilderness, to discover to what particular period of the church the prophet in these verses refers. Perhaps, as in several other parts of scripture, Ephraim, as one of the tribes of Israel, is put for the whole. Jeremiah 31:20; Hosea 11:8. But when the Reader hath paid all due respect to this interesting passage, considered as an history, I beg to call his attention to a subject, suggested from it, of an infinitely higher nature. Did the Lord lead Israel through the midst of the Red Sea? Did he go before them in a cloud, and give them drink from the rock? And are we not told by the Holy Ghost, that a sacramental design was in all these things? It is indeed expressly said, in so many words, that believers were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and that that rock which followed them was Christ. And what a sweet thought is it, that, while we read the church's history in this remote and distant period of it, the same, in reality, is going on now; for Christ is still present with his church and people; he goeth before his redeemed, whom he hath brought out of spiritual Egypt in the cloud of his Holy Spirit, and causeth them to have blessed enjoyments of his presence, by his visits and his protection. I pray the Reader to consult the whole of the first eleven verses of 1Co 10, in this place.
Here we have a full representation of Israel's unworthiness, as the preceding verses gave us a short relation of God's mercy. Reader, had you and I been present when, at the lifting up of the rod of Moses, water issued from a dry unpromising rock, could we have thought it possible that Israel would have again doubted God's power or his love? Pause. - Are we better than they? What hath not Jesus done for you, for me, for all his church and people? And do we not find rebellious murmurings, unbelief, and a thousand instances of a corrupt heart, breaking out continually? Oh! precious, precious Jesus, what would become of me, or what should I do with this wicked heart of mine, had I not thy perfect righteousness to trust in, and thy blood to cleanse me?
The history of this event is recorded at large, Numbers 11:1. But beside the history, I earnestly beg the Reader to keep his eye steadily upon the sacramental design of the whole. The despising here spoken of, concerning Israel, is evidently the taking up slight views of Christ. That portion of scripture which the Holy Ghost gave the church, by Paul, decidedly explains this; 1 Corinthians 10:8-10.
Our Lord's discourse (John 6:31-33) throws a complete light upon this passage, considered with reference to the typical and sacramental design of it, and plainly shows thy it was the slight that the Israelites manifested by unbelief of God's method of salvation by Christ, in which the greatness of their sin consisted.
What gracious instructions are read to us in these verses! See, my soul, how unsuitable and self-destroying would prove thy desires in numberless instances, if the Lord, in anger, granted them to thy impatient request. And as in Israel of old, so in Israel now, if chastisements do not soften and bring the heart to the Lord, they tend to harden and carry it farther from him. Oh! what a mass of evil is in our poor fallen nature! Well might the prophet declare the heart to be deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, and that none can know it. Jeremiah 17:9.
The history of Israel fully shows this. While under the divine chastisements, oh! how seemingly earnest they sought the Lord: but when the rod was taken off, they returned every man again to his evil way. But, Reader, was Israel singular in this? Whose heart is free from the same reproach? Precious Jesus, how blessed here again, as in every other view, is thy perfect soul justifying, and sin-atoning righteousness, to my meditation. Where should I look for help, if I had not thee to flee unto?
What precious views are these of covenant love and covenant faithfulness: and how they all run up to the fountain-head of all our mercies, in the everlasting, free, spontaneous, and unchangeable love of God in Christ to a nature like ours, that is crushed before the moth!
Here, by way of remembrance, the prophet carries back the subject to the period of the church's deliverance at the time of the Egyptian bondage, and gives some of the striking examples of the Lord's dealings with their oppressors, by way of showing his mercy to them. Reader, it is one of the most blessed offices of the Holy Ghost, when, as the Remembrancer of Christ Jesus, he turns back at anytime the leaves of our own experience in the deliverances that are past, and which the Lord hath brought us through, to bring our forgetful hearts to a proper recollection of his grace and our undeservings. The Lord recommends this to his people, and it is always profitable, Isaiah 51:1.
Here a sweet contrast is drawn, in the view of divine love and compassion, notwithstanding human ingratitude. The sacred writer takes up the subject in tracing the history of the church even into Canaan, and shows that even here, in the land flowing with milk and honey, as well as in a wilderness, a corrupt and fallen nature carries about with it its corruptions still. And what doth the whole of such representations of our nature teach, but the same as we are taught now, that all have sinned, and come short of God's glory; and that by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified before God. Oh! how precious here again is the contemplation of Him who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens. And oh! how rapturous the thought, that he who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
God may be said to hear when the cry of a sinful land comes up before him for judgment. So in the case of Cain's murdering his brother: The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. Genesis 4:10. And as in judgment, so in mercy; when the Lord would heal a barren land, made barren for the wickedness of them that dwell therein, he is said to hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth. The earth wants the rain, and crieth to the heavens for it; but the heavens cannot send it, until the Lord commands. Hosea 2:21-22. God's forsaking Shiloh is an awful example of what sinful nations, professing, but not possessing, godliness, may tremble to behold. The covenant in Christ is eternal; but the gospel, which proclaims that covenant, is as a candlestick in God's house, a moveable, that may be taken from one nation and given to another, for the wickedness of a land or people. Lord, grant, if it be thine heavenly will, that this our sinful land may never, never lose the light of thy divine word to the latest posterity!
The history of the church is pursued through all these verses. But we must look farther than the history, and particularly in the close of the Psalm, which ends with a view of David as the chosen of God to the throne of Israel; behold the Christ, the chosen of God, of whom David was a type, as set forth in these features of character. It is Jesus, who is the great Shepherd of Israel, who was all along pointed at, as leading Joseph like a sheep; and he, and he only, as the one who could carry the lambs in his arm, and cause them to recline in his bosom. Yes, blessed Jesus! it may be truly said of thee, that thou hast fed them, and that thou dost still feed them, according to the integrity of thine heart, and guidest them by the skillfulness of thine hand: for thou art still the Lamb in the midst of the throne. Thou art feeding the church above, and leading them to fountains of living waters. And thou art watchful of thy church below, from whence thou art bringing them through the wilderness, and in the mean time preserving them, so that they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of thine almighty hand. Lord, give me to see that thou art my Shepherd, and I shall not want.
READER, let us make a solemn pause over the perusal of this most interesting Psalm. And when we have taken a careful survey of its precious contents, let us beg of God the Holy Ghost, the almighty Author of it, to give us grace so to read, and so to improve it to our own use and benefit, that his gracious design may be accomplished, in having caused it to be written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of this world are come.
And to this end, Lord, we would pray that we may have a clear and distinct apprehension of the sacramental design of thy grace all along in tended from the church's history. Didst thou bring thy people by thine own power, and with a stretched out arm, from Egypt? Didst thou lead them through the wilderness, manifest thy grace to them all the way, and finally settle them in Canaan? And hast thou not, by the sovereignty of the same wonders in redeeming love, brought thy church now out of spiritual Egypt, and art thou not leading thy people home to thyself in the everlasting Canaan, which is above, through all the wilderness dispensations with which they are exercised, while thy presence is ever with them, and thine arm conducting them along in safety? - Were thy redeemed blessed with the visible symbols of thy divine presence, the pillar of cloud going before them by day, and the pillar of fire protecting them by night; manna from heaven for their food, and the rock to give water for their thirst? And dost thou teach us that these were so many sacraments, types, and figures of the Spirit, the Holy Ghost, shedding his illuminating, guiding, protecting grace; the manna of heaven, even Jesus the living bread, and the rock, even Christ the living water, to supply every need? Oh! Lord, grant, we beseech thee, that our souls, like the Israelites bodies, amidst the dust of a wilderness, the serpents and scorpions of a sultry soil, may thirst with a vehement thirst, as the hart for the cooling streams, panting, longing, and looking to Jesus, the only one to assuage the thirst of our souls. Didst thou, blessed Jesus, in the day-time lead them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire; oh! then, give us to see that thou art still with thy church, still loving, still protecting, still feeding, and wilt never leave them nor forsake them, until thou hast brought them home unto thyself, that where thou art there they may be also. And do thou keep us, Lord, from the awful examples here set before us. Oh! for grace to believe the record God hath given of his Son! and, above all sins, preserve us from that dreadful, dreadful sin of a Christ-despising generation! May we never tempt Christ; never doubt either his power to save, or his willingness to redeem; nor murmur, as some of them murmured, lest, like them, we be destroyed of the destroyer; but with an eye to thee, in all thy rich dispensations, view thy sacramental designs in all the eventful history. Yes, blessed Jesus! our desire is to thee, and to the remembrance of thy name. May we eat of the same spiritual meat, and drink of the same spiritual drink; yea, may we drink deep into the full assurance of that blessed truth, that we are now, by faith, as much as the church of old, drinking of that spiritual rock that followed them, convinced that that Rock was Christ.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Psalms 78". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29