Originally each division and verse began with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the Hebrew, each verse begins with the respective Hebrew letter/name for that division. There are 22 divisions
of 8 verses each, for 176 verses. Naming goes as follows:
ALEPH, BETH, GIMEL, DALETH, HE, VAU, and on
for 22, completing the Hebrew alphabet.
This portion of the gigantic psalm sees the Psalmist in extremis. His enemies have brought him to the lowest condition of anguish and depression; yet he is faithful to the law, and trustful in his God. This octave is the midnight of the psalm, and very dark and black it is. Stars, however, shine out, and the last verse gives promise of the dawn. The strain will after this become more cheerful; but meanwhile it should minister comfort to us to see so eminent a servant of God so hardly used by the ungodly. Evidently in our own persecutions, no strange thing has happened unto us.
"My soul fainteth for thy salvation.'" He wished for no deliverance but that which came from God: his one desire was for "thy salvation.'" But for that divine deliverance he was eager to the last degree up to the full measure of his strength, yea, and beyond it, till he fainted. So strong was his desire that it produced prostration of' spirit. He grew weary with waiting, faint with watching, sick with urgent need. Thus the sincerity and eagerness of his desires were proved. Nothing else could satisfy him but deliverance wrought out by the hand of God; his inmost nature yearned, and pined for salvation from the God of all grace, and he must have it or utterly fail. "But I hope in thy word.'" Therefore he felt that salvation would come; for God cannot break his promise, nor disappoint the hope which his own word has excited: yea, the fulfillment: of his word is near at hand when our hope is firm and our desire fervent. Hope alone can keep the soul from fainting by using the smelling-bottle of the promise. Yet hope does not quench desire for a speedy answer to prayer; it increases our importunity, for it both stimulates ardor and sustains the heart under delays. To faint for salvation, and to be kept from utterly failing of the hope of it, is the frequent experience of the Christian man. We are "faint yet pursuing.'" Hope sustains when desire exhausts. While the grace of desire throws us down, the grace of hope lifts us up again.
His eyes gave out with eagerly gazing for the kind appearance of the Lord, while his heart in weariness cried out for speedy comfort. To read the word till the eyes can no longer see is but a small thing compared with watching for the fulfillment of the promise till the inner eyes of expectancy begin to grow dim with hope deferred. We may not set times to God, for this is to limit the Holy One of Israel; yet we may urge our suit with importunity, and make fervent inquiry as to why the promise tarries. David sought no comfort except that which comes from God; his question is, "When wilt thou comfort me?'" If help does not come from heaven it will never come at all: all the good man's hopes look that way, he has not a glance to dart in any other direction. This experience of waiting and fainting is wellknown by full-grown saints, and it teaches them many precious lessons; which they would never learn by any other means. Among the choice results is this one that the body rises into sympathy with the soul, both heart: and flesh cry out for the living God, and even the eyes find a tongue, "saying, When wilt thou comfort me?'" It must be an intense longing which is not satisfied to express itself by the lips, but speaks with the eyes, by those eyes failing through intense watching. Eyes can speak right eloquently; they use both mutes and liquids, and can sometimes say more than tongues. David says in another place. The Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping'" (Ps. 6. 8). Specially are our eyes eloquent when they begin to fail with weariness and woe. A humble eye lifted up to heaven in silent prayer may flash such flame as shall melt the bolts which bar the entrance of vocal prayer, and :so heaven shall be taken by storm with the artillery of tears. Blessed are the eyes that are strained in looking after God. The eyes of the Lord will see to it that such eyes do not actually fail. How much better to watch for the Lord with aching eyes than to have them sparkling at the glitter of vanity!
"For I am become like a bottle in the smoke,'" The skins used for containing wine, when emptied, were hung up in the tent, and when the place reeked with smoke the skins grew black and sooty, and in the heat they became wrinkled and worn. The Psalmist's face through sorrow had become dark and dismal, furrowed and lined; indeed, his whole body had so sympathized with his sorrowing mind as to have lost its natural moisture, and to have become like a skin dried and tanned. His character had been smoked with slander, and his mind parched with persecution; he was half afraid that he would become useless and incapable through so much mental suffering, and that men would look upon him as an old wornout skin bottle, which could hold nothing, and answer no purpose. What a metaphor for a man to use who was certainly a poet, a divine, and a master in Israel, if not a king, and a man after God's own heart! It is little wonder if we, commoner folks are made to think very little of ourselves, and are filled with distress of mind. Some of us know the inner meaning of this simile, for we, too, have felt dingy, mean, and worthless, only fit to be cast away. Very black and hot has been the smoke which has enveloped us; it seemed to come not alone from the Egyptian furnace, but from the bottomless pit; and it had a clinging power which made the soot of it fasten upon us and blacken us with miserable thoughts.
"Yet do I not forget thy statutes.'" Here is the patience of the saints and the victory of faith. Blackened the man of God might be by falsehood, but the truth was in him, and he never gave it up. He was faithful to his King when he seemed deserted and left to the vilest uses. The promises came to his mind, and, what was still better evidence of his loyalty, the statutes were there too: he stuck to his duties as well as to his comforts. The worst circumstances cannot destroy the true believer's hold upon his God. Grace is a living power which survives that which would suffocate all other forms of existence. Fire cannot consume it, and smoke cannot smother it. A man may be reduced to skin and bone, and all his comfort may be dried out of him, and yet he may hold fast his integrity and glorify his God. It is, however, no marvel that in such a case the eyes which are tormented with the smoke cry out for the Lord's delivering hand, and the heart, heated and faint, longs for the divine salvation.
"How many are the days of thy servant?'" I cannot hope to live long in such a condition; thou must come speedily to my rescue or I shall die. Shall all my short life be consumed in such destroying sorrows? The brevity of life :is a good argument against the length of an affliction. Lord, since I am to live so short a time, be pleased to shorten my sorrow also. Perhaps the Psalmist means that his days seemed too many since they were spent in such distress. He half wished that they were ended, and therefore he asked in trouble, "How many are the days of thy servant?'" Long life now seemed a calamity rather than a benediction. Like a hired servant, he had a certain term to serve, and he would not complain of what he had to bear; but still the time seemed long because his griefs were so heavy. No one knows the appointed number of our days except the Lord, and therefore to him the appeal is made that he would not prolong them beyond his servant's strength. It cannot be the Lord's mind that his own servant should always; be treated so unjustly; there must be an end to it; when would it be?
"When wilt thou execute judgment on them that persecute me?'" He had placed his case in the Lord's hands, and he prayed that sentence might be given and put into execution. He desired nothing but justice, that his character might be cleared and his persecutors silenced. He knew that God would certainly avenge his own elect, but the day of rescue tarried, the hours dragged heavily along, and the persecuted one cried day and night for deliverance.
As men who hunt wild beasts are wont to make pitfalls and snares;, so did David's foes endeavor to entrap him. They went laboriously and cunningly to work to ruin him, "they digged pits'"; not one, but many. If one would not take him, perhaps another would, and so they digged again and again. One would think that ,tach haughty people would not have soiled their fingers with digging; but they swallowed their pride in hopes of swallowing their victim. Whereas they ought to have been ashamed of such meanness, they were conscious of no shame, but, on the contrary, were proud of their cleverness; proud of setting a trap for a godly man. "Which are not after thy law.'" Neither the men nor their pits were according to the divine law: they were cruel and crafty deceivers, and their pits were contrary to the Levitical law, and contrary to the command which bids us love our neighbor. If men would keep to the statutes of the Lord, they would lift the fallen out of the pit, or fill up the pit so that none might stumble into it; but they would never spend a moment in working injury to others. When, however, they become proud:, they are sure to despise others; and for this reason they seek to circumvent them, that they may afterwards hold them up to ridicule.
It was well for David that his enemies were God's enemies, and that their attacks upon him had no sanction from the Lord. It was also much to his gain that he was not ignorant of their devices, for he was thus put upon his guard, and led to watch his ways lest he should fall into their pits. While he kept to the law of the Lord he was safe, though even then it was an uncomfortable thing to have his path made dangerous by the craft of wanton malice.
"All thy commandments are faithful.'" He had no fault to find with God's law, even though he had fallen into sad trouble through obedience to it. Whatever the command might cost him, it was worth it; he felt that God's way might be rough, but it was right; it might make him enemies, but still it was his best friend. He believed that in the end God's command would turn out to his own profit, and that he should be no loser by obeying it.
"They persecute me wrongfully.'" The fault lay with his persecutors, and neither with his God nor with himself. He had done no injury to anyone, nor acted otherwise than according to truth and justice; therefore he confidently appeals to his God, and cries, "Help thou me.'" This is a golden prayer, as precious as it is short The words are few, but the meaning is full. Help was needed that the persecuted one might avoid the snare, might bear up under reproach, and might act so prudently as to baffle his foes. God's help is our hope. Whoever may hurt us, it matters not so long as the Lord helps us; for if indeed the Lord help us, none can really hurt us. Many a time have these words been groaned out by troubled saints, for they are such as suit a thousand conditions of need, pain, distress, weakness, and sin. "Help, Lord,'" will be a fitting prayer for youth and age, for labor and suffering, for life and death... No other help is sufficient, but God's help is all-sufficient, and we cast ourselves upon it without fear.
"They had almost consumed me upon earth.'" His foes had almost destroyed him so as to make him altogether fail. If they could they would have eaten him, or burned him alive; anything so that they could have made a full end of the good man. Evidently he had fallen under their power to a large extent, and they had so used that power that he was well-nigh consumed. He was almost gone from off the earth; but almost is not altogether, and so he escaped by the skin of his teeth. The lions are chained: they can rage no further than our God permits. The Psalmist perceives the limit of their power: they could at the utmost only consume him "upon the earth:'" they could touch his earthly life and earthly goods. Upon earth they almost ate him up, but he had an eternal portion which they could not even nibble at.
"But I forsook not thy precepts.'" Neither fear, nor pain, nor loss, could make David turn out of the plain way of God's command. Nothing could drive him from obeying the Lord. If we stick to the precepts we shall be rescued by the promises. If ill-usage could have driven the oppressed saint from the way of right:, the purpose of the wicked would have been answered, and we should have heard no more of David: but through divine grace he was not overcome of evil. If we are resolved to die sooner than forsake the Lord, we may depend upon it that we shall not die, but shall live to see the overthrow o! them that hate us.
"Quicken me after thy lovingkindness.'" Most wise, most blessed prayer l If we are revived in our own personal piety we shall be out of reach of our assailants. Our best protection from tempters and persecutors is more life. Lovingkindness itself cannot do us greater service than by making us to have life more abundantly. When we are quickened we are able to bear affliction, to baffle cunning, and to conquer sin. We look to the lovingkindness of God as the source of spiritual revival, and we entreat the Lord to quicken us, not according to our deserts, but after the boundless energy of his grace. What a blessed word is this "lovingkindness'"! Take it to pieces, and admire its double force of love.
"So shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth.'" If quickened by the Holy Ghost we shall keep God's testimony by a holy character. We shall also be faithful to sound doctrine when the Spirit visits us and makes us faithful. None keep the word of the Lord's mouth unless the word of the Lord's mouth quickens them. We ought greatly to admire the spiritual prudence of the Psalmist, who does not so much pray for freedom from trial as for renewed life that he may be supported under it. When the inner life is vigorous all is well. David prayed for a sound heart in the closing verse of the last octave, and here he seeks a revived heart; this is going to the root of the matter, by seeking that which is the most needful of all things. Lord, let it be heart-work with us, and let our hearts be right with thee.