Fellowship With The Holy One
In this series of Psalms the holiness of God in grace and in judgment is specially emphasized. That is something I think we should all understand clearly. Everything that God does or everything that He permits is in accordance with His own holy nature. God will not allow anything either in the way of grace to sinners or in the way of trial to His people or in the way of judgment falling upon the ungodly that is contrary to the holiness of His nature. Only today somebody said to me, “I do not believe in the God of the Old Testament; I love the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ but the God of the Old Testament is a God of judgment and vengeance and hatred, and I cannot believe in that God.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. He is the exact expression of His character and I do not see how any thoughtful person can fail to observe in reading the four accounts of the life of the Lord Jesus that the same things that are predicated of Jehovah in the Old Testament are seen in the Jesus of the New Testament. The Lord Jesus pronounces stern words of judgment. It is He who says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” It is He who says of the cities in which the greatest of His mighty works had been done, “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21). He invokes judgment upon those cities because they rejected the light. And then it is He who speaks of the “worm that dieth not,” “the fire that is not quenched,” the wicked going “into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” These expressions used by our Lord Jesus Christ are stronger than the ordinary expressions used of the judgment by the God of the Old Testament. And then again as far as vengeance is concerned we must remember when we think of God as a God of vengeance that we do not mean a revengeful God but we mean that “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7), and our Lord Jesus Christ insists upon the same thing. If men live in sin and wickedness and corruption, they are going to reap the results. God is going to take vengeance upon the wicked for their ungodly deeds. And if you say the God of the Old Testament is a God of hatred, so our Lord Jesus Christ has His hatreds too. The God of the Old Testament hated sin, He hated everything that was unholy, and our Lord Jesus Christ hates sin with a perfect hatred and loves holiness and loves purity. So it is all nonsense to try to differentiate between a God of the Old Testament and of the New. The God of the Old Testament said, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3) and the God of the New Testament said, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And so as we turn to these three Psalms we see God’s way of grace and judgment shown to be in perfect accord with His infinite holiness.
In the 35th Psalm we have the soul in distress appealing to divine power for help, God recognized as the source of all blessing. Somebody has said, and I think rightly, that we may read this Psalm as the musings of the heart of Jesus as He stood before Pilate’s judgment seat. Read it at your leisure with that thought in mind. Say to yourself, “I am going to think of this as though these words were uttered by the Lord Jesus as He stood before Pilate.” And I think you will see how aptly they would fit just such a case. Of course there are certain expressions in it that our Lord Jesus Himself could not use but the Psalm as a whole might well be a vehicle for expressing the thoughts of His heart. And we may think of it as a prayer which any tried saint, persecuted and misunderstood, might offer to God.
In the first six verses you have the soul’s plea, “Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help. Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.” Can you not see how aptly the Lord Jesus could speak like this to the Father in that hour of trial? Can you not see how it would suit the lips of any troubled saint, persecuted and distressed, or how it fitted the lips of David when he was being hunted like a partridge on the mountain with Saul seeking his life. There is not necessarily any evil feeling in the heart, no unkind feeling when one in such a case calls upon God to confound his enemies. Would you not say the same today if in the circumstances of some of God’s suffering people in China, if you had to flee from your home and had a wife and children with you and the enemy coming upon you? Do you not see how without any thought of hatred toward the people as such but for the sake of those you love you could pray, “Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt. Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the Lord chase them.” Is that not beautiful? “Let the angel of the Lord chase them.” I am not going to take vengeance into my own hands but by Thy angels, O God, come between me and my foes and undertake for me!
Beginning with verse 7 and going on to verse 10 you have the troubled one pleading for help on the ground of conscious rectitude. When you have a good conscience toward God, when it is not accusing you, when you do not feel that the suffering you are going through is chastisement because of your own wrong doing, when you are clear in your own mind that you have been seeking to do the will of God, it gives you perfect confidence when you pray. And so the soul pleads like this, “For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul.” Remember how the Lord quoted similar words from another Psalm, “They hated me without a cause.” There He was, the Holy One who had come with heart and hands full of blessing and yet men turned upon Him with all their hatred and bitterness but He could look up into the face of the Father and say, “O my Father, they hated me without a cause” and so He pleads for judgment, “Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall. And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord: it shall rejoice in his salvation.” Somebody may say, “Is that the New Testament spirit, to rejoice in the destruction of the enemy?” It is not that He is rejoicing in the destruction of the enemy but it is that He rejoices in the deliverance from the enemy. Take for instance that book, “A Thousand Miles of Miracles in China.” When that dear missionary and his wife were fleeing from bandits, could they not pray like this and if at last word came that the enemy had been destroyed would they not cry out with gladness, “My soul shall be joyful in the Lord: it shall rejoice in His salvation?” One is grateful for the deliverance and of course in certain circumstances that deliverance necessarily means the destruction of the enemy. “All my bones shall say, Lord, who is like unto thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him?”
And then in the next section, verses 11 to 18, we have the expression of the soul’s absolute confidence in God. Perhaps there is no part of the Psalm that could more fully express the heart of the Lord Jesus as He stood before Pilate than these words, “False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not. They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother. But in mine adversity they rejoiced, and gathered themselves together: yea, the abjects gathered themselves together against me, and I knew it not; they did tear me, and ceased not.” Think of the Lord Jesus when they took up stones to stone him and He said, “For which good work do ye stone me?” In other words, “I have been among you doing nothing but good; I have sought only your blessing; why are you stoning me?” And when they came to arrest Him in the garden He said, “When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:51). And yet He had gone about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil. There was no reason, from the human standpoint, why men should turn against Him and yet they hated him because His holiness caused their sinfulness and wickedness to stand out in such a glaring light.
Again you hear Him speak, “With hypocritical mockers in feasts, they gnashed upon me with their teeth.” The gnashing of teeth expressed hatred. “Lord, how long wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions, my darling from the lions. I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.”
In the next group of verses, from 19 to 23, the soul now speaks to God of the sin, the wickedness of the adversary which in the very nature of things calls for judgment. We are so sentimental sometimes we forget that sin is the most hateful thing in all God’s universe and if sinners will not be separated from their sin they must be judged in and with their sin. And so we find here the Spirit of God speaking through that tried saint calling down judgment on the wicked. “Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate men without a cause.” These words definitely refer to the Lord Jesus.
“For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land,”—they who are doing nothing to deserve such treatment. “Yea, they opened their mouth wide against me, and said, “Aha, aha, our eye hath seen it. This thou hast seen, O Lord: keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me. Stir up thyself, and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and my Lord.”
And then in verses 24 to 28 the soul is at perfect peace as he leaves everything with God. Whatever comes, Lord, I turn it all over to Thee. It is a great thing to come to that place where you can truly trust and say, “I will trust and not be afraid.” “Judge me, O Lord my God, according to thy righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me. Let them not say in their hearts, Ah, so would we have it: let them not say, We have swallowed him up. Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion together that rejoice at mine hurt: let them be clothed with shame and dishonor that magnify themselves against me. Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favor my righteous cause: yea, let them say continually, Let the Lord be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant. And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.”
The next Psalm seems to fit in so aptly immediately following the 35th. It is also a Psalm of David. I do not know when he wrote it or under what circumstances but he evidently had been musing on the different conditions of the wicked and the righteous and so undertakes in this Psalm to depict the sad state of the one and the joyous condition of the other. It seems to divide into just three parts. From verse 1 to 4 we have the estate of the wicked: “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.” That is the thing that makes for wickedness, when men have absolutely cast off the fear of God. “For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit: he hath left off to be wise, and to do good. He deviseth mischief upon his bed; he setteth himself in a way that is not good; he abhorreth not evil.” It is a very graphic description of the ungodly. Then in contrast to this we have the goodness of God toward the righteous. “Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O Lord, thou preservest man and beast. How excellent is thy loving kindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.”
While the wicked never find that which they are seeking for, never find peace, never find satisfaction, how different is the state of the righteous! “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.” What is the river of God’s pleasures? I think it is really the Holy Spirit’s testimony to the preciousness of Christ. Did you ever drink of that river? Did you not get a wonderful draught?
Let us trace that river a bit through the Psalms. Look at Psalm 46:4, “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the most High.” It is that refreshing stream that comes down from heaven to cheer and gladden the souls of those who drink. Then turn to Psalm 65:9, “Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enriches it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou prepares them corn, when thou hast so provided for it.” And then you pass from the Psalms and get over to the book of Ezekiel and see that river flowing forth beneath the throne and the altar, the river of blessing to the whole world in millennial days. And then go to the book of Revelation and read, “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1), that wonderful river of which “if a man drinks he lives forever.” “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). And the fountain of life is the Word of God made good to the soul by the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said to that woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a fountain—not merely a well as we have it in our version—of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13–14). David drank of this fountain and we today who are saved enjoy the same blessing.
In the closing verses we see faith calling on God for complete deliverance, “O continue thy loving kindness unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart. Let not the foot of pride come against me, and let not the hand of the wicked remove me. There are the workers of iniquity fallen: they are cast down, and shall not be able to rise.” And yet perhaps as he wrote that he was still surrounded by his foes but faith speaks of the things which are not as though they are. I can trust God and the enemy will have no power against me.
We have seen many times how one Psalm links with another. Look at the 12th verse of the 36th Psalm and then look at the first verse of Psalm 37. Psalm 37 is God’s answer to His people’s cry. In these two Psalms we have had His people crying out to Him and in the last verse of Psalm 36 we read, “There are the workers of iniquity fallen: they are cast down, and shall not be able to rise.” Now look at the first verse of Psalm 37, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.” The very same term that is used in the last verse of the previous Psalm is used in the first verse of the next Psalm. The troubled saint says, “Lord, I believe you are going to handle these workers of iniquity,” and then the Lord answers and says, “Don’t you fret, you have turned it over to me; I will take charge of you and will deal with them.”
I wish we could depict this 37th Psalm as it is in the Hebrew. It is an alphabetical Psalm. Many people know that we have one marvelous alphabetical Psalm, the 119th. There are twenty-two sections and every verse in each section begins with the same letter and in the twenty-two sections you have all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, every verse, for instance, of the first section begins with Aleph which answers to our “A.” We can easily see that because we get the names of the letters in the headings. But the 37th Psalm is also an alphabetical Psalm but here it is about every fourth line that begins with a different letter and this runs through the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. We will just take some of the outstanding features.
We have the Spirit’s answer to the troubled soul and so first in verses 1 to 11 we have blessing promised to the righteous. They are not to fret. God will deal with them. Verse 3 says, “Trust in the Lord, and do good”—that is your part. “So shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” Notice the definite command, “Trust in the Lord; delight thyself in the Lord; commit thy way unto the Lord; rest in the Lord; fret not thyself.” You have often seen the little motto, “If you worry you do not trust; if you trust you do not worry.” Somebody has written a beautiful little monograph entitled, “Why Worry When You can Pray?”
The average person would rather worry than pray and it is our own fault that we worry so much for it is because we do not pray more. If we would hand it over to Him, commit our way unto the Lord, it would be so different. But now again, “Trust in the Lord.” My attitude of heart must be right. “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil,” and it will not be long before the wicked will disappear; God will deal with them. All the heaven they are ever going to know they get in this world and all the trouble God’s saints will know they are getting here. When you leave this scene the trouble will be left behind. Why not just thank Him and praise Him for all His delivering grace?
“But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” When the day comes that God shall manifest His loving favor to the righteous and they have entered at last into their reward what about the wicked? Look at verses 12 to 15, “The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming. The wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright conversation. Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.” It is another way of saying, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
In verses 16 to 20 you have the portion of the righteous and you know, God can take a very little that His dear people have and make it an abundance for them. “A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.” As long as you have a good conscience toward God and realize you are walking so as to please Him you can be happy even bereft of everything the worldling thinks he must have. Poor unsaved men have nothing but judgment ahead of them but the children of the Lord have nothing but glory. “The Lord knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied. But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.”
In verses 21 to 29 you have the character of the righteous and the wicked again contrasted, and now let us see if we are not getting down to some rather serious things. What characterizes wicked people? Oh, you may say, cheating or lying or living immorally or getting drunk. Yes, but look at verse 21, “The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous showeth mercy, and giveth.” I am afraid there are a lot of people that God calls wicked that we have not been thinking of as wicked. There is something very practical here. God looks for practical righteousness between men and women and dishonesty is characteristic of the wicked. Then look a the next verse, “For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.”
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” Somebody picked up George Mueller’s Bible once and happened to thumbing it over and came to this Psalm and noticed he had written something in the margin of verse 23. He found this, “The steps”—and in the margin he had written, and the stops—“of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Mr. Mueller had been meditating on it and the thought came that it is not only the steps but the stops too that are ordered by the Lord. Sometimes you do not do any stepping, sometimes the Lord puts you on your back and says, “Now you glorify Me here.” We can rest in the will of the Lord under all circumstances. “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.”
And now David gives a lovely testimony. I know that temporal blessing was the promise of the Old Testament and spiritual blessing is the promise of the New Testament and very often the most devoted saints in this New Testamnet dispensation are left with very little of temporal blessing but on the other hand I am sure that where people learn to commit everything to God and walk in righteousness before Him He is going to undertake for them. And so David’s testimony is not without value to us. “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” Somebody may say, “Well, I do not like that because it makes me feel very bad. I have been in very difficult circumstances and I have actually had to go and ask for help. I do not like to be put in the category of the wicked.” This is not the case for in our dispensation we do not have the same promise of temporal prosperity. But many of us fail to appropriate the privileges that are really ours in this age of grace. “Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). I believe that Christians would never have to beg for bread if they talked to God more. If we learned to depend on the living God and to go to Him we would be amazed to find how He can undertake for us. God is the living God and He will undertake if you will only trust Him. Is it not strange that we seem to be able to trust men more than we can trust Him? And yet we often get so disappointed in people but we are never disappointed in Him if walking with Him. So David says, “I have been young, and now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”
In verses 30 to 40 you have divine government. In verse 34 we read, “Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.” But the wicked seem to prosper in a way we do not. Yes, David says, they do, “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.”
Now look at the contrast. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.” And so he closes the Psalm with these words, “The Lord shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.”