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.
"I have done judgment and justice.'" This was a great thing for an Eastern ruler to say at any time; for these despots mostly cared more for gain than justice. Some of them altogether neglected their duty, and would not even do judgment at all, preferring their pleasures to their duties; and many more of them sold their judgments to the highest bidders by taking bribes, or regarding the persons of men. Some rulers gave neither judgment nor justice; others gave judgment without justice; but David gave judgment and justice, and saw that his sentences were carried out. He could claim before the Lord that he had dealt out even-handed justice, and was doing so still. On this fact he founded a plea with which he backed the prayer " Leave me not to mine oppressors.'" He who, as far as his power goes, has been doing right, may hope to be delivered from his oppressors when attempts are made by them to do him wrong. If I will not oppress others, I may hopefully pray that others may not be permitted to oppress me. A course of upright conduct is one which gives us boldness in appealing to the Great Judge for deliverance from the injustice of wicked men. Nor is this kind of pleading to be censured as self-righteous; it is most fit and acceptable. When we are dealing with God as to our shortcomings, we use a very different tone from that with which we face the censures of our fellowmen. When untruthful accusers are in the question, and we are guiltless towards them, we are justified in pleading our innocence. Moral integrity is a great helper of spiritual comfort. If we are right in our conduct, we may be sure that the Lord will not leave us at all, and certainly will not leave us to our enemies.
This was the cry of Job and of Hezekiah, and it is the cry of every soul which believes in the great Intercessor and Daysman. Answer for me. Do not leave thy poor servant to die by the hand of his enemy and thine. Take up my interests and weave them with thine own, and stand for me. As my Master, undertake thy servant's cause, and represent me before the faces of haughty men till they see what an august ally I have in the Lord my God. Our greatest salvation comes from the divine suretyship. The Son of God as our Surety has smarted for us, and thereby he has brought good to us, and saved us from our proud oppressor, the arch-enemy of souls. In this verse we have not the law mentioned under any of its many names, and this is the only instance in the whole Psalm in which a verse omits mention of the Word of the Lord. Yet this is no exception to the spirit of the rule; for here we find mention of our Surety, who is the fulfillment of the law. Where the law fails we have Christ, the surety of a better covenant. This suretyship is always for good, but how much of good no tongue can tell.
"Let not the proud oppress me.'" Thine interposition will answer the purpose of my rescue: when the proud see that thou art my advocate, they will hide their heads. We should have been crushed beneath our proud adversary the devil if our Lord Jesus had not stood between us and the accuser, and become a surety for us. It is by his suretyship that we escape like a bird from the snare of the fowler. What a blessing to be able to leave our matters in our Surety's hands, knowing that all will be well, since he has an answer for every accuser, a rebuke for every reviler!
Good men dread oppression, for it makes even a wise man mad, and they send up their cries to heaven for deliverance; nor shall they' cry in vain, for the Lord will undertake the cause of his servants, and fight their battle, s against the proud. The word "servant'" is wisely used as a plea for favor for himself, and the word "proud "as an argument against his enemies. It seems to be inevitable that proud men should become oppressors, and that they should take most delight in oppressing the true servants of God. Their oppressions will soon be put down, because they are oppressions, because the workers of them are proud, and because the objects of them are the Lord's servants.
"Mine eyes fail for thy salvation.'" He wept, waited, and watched for God's saving hand, and these exercises tried the eyes of his faith till they were almost ready to give out. He looked to God alone, he looked eagerly, he looked long, he looked till his eyes ached. The mercy is, that if our eyes fail, God does not fail, nor do his eyes fail. Eyes are tender things, and so are our faith, hope and expectancy: the Lord will not try them above what they are able, to bear. "And for the word of thy righteousness'": a word that would silence the unrighteous words of his oppressors. His eyes as well as his ears waited for the Lord's word: he looked to see the divine word come forth as a fiat for his ,deliverance. He was "waiting for the verdict'" the verdict of righteousness itself. How happy are we if we have righteousness on our side! for then that which is the sinners' terror is our hope, that which the proud dread is our expectation and desire. David left his reputation entirely in the Lord's hand, and was eager to be cleared by the word of the Judge, rather than by any defense of his own. He knew that he had done right, and, therefore, instead of avoiding the supreme court, he begged for the sentence which he knew would work out his deliverance. He even watched with eager eyes for the judgment and the deliverance, the word of righteousness from God which meant salvation to himself.
"Deal with thy servant according unto thy mercy.'" Here he recollects himself: although before men he was so clear that he could challenge the word of righteousness, yet before the Lord, as his servant, he felt that he must appeal to mercy. We feel safest here. Our heart has more rest in the cry, "God be merciful to me,'" than in appealing to .justice. It is well to be able to say, "I have done judgment and justice,'" and then to add, in all lowliness, yet "deal with thy servant according unto thy mercy.'" The title of servant covers a plea; a master should clear the character of his servant if he be falsely accused, and rescue him from those who would oppress him; and, moreover, the master should show mercy to a servant, even if he deal severely with a stranger The Lord condescendingly deals, or has communications with, his servants, not spurning them, but communing with them; and this he does in a tender and merciful way, for in any other form of dealing we should be crushed into the dust. "And teach me thy statutes.'" This will be one way of dealing with us in mercy. We may expect a master to teach his own servant the meaning of his own orders.
Yet since our ignorance frequently arises from our sinful stupidity, it is great mercy on God's part that he condescends to instruct us in his commands. For our ruler to become our teacher is an act of great grace, for which we cannot be too grateful Among our mercies this is one of the choicest.
"I am thy servant.'" This is the third time he has repeated this title in this one section: he is evidently fond of the name, and conceives it to be a very effective plea. We who rejoice that we are sons of God are by no means the less delighted to be his servants. Did not the firstborn Son assume the servant's form and fulfil the servant's labor to the full? What higher honor can the younger brethren desire than to be made like the Heir of all things?
"Give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies'" In the previous verse he sought teaching; but here he goes much further, and craves for understanding. Usually, if the instructor supplies the teaching, the pupil finds the understanding; but in our case we are far more dependent, and must beg for understanding as well as teaching: this the ordinary teacher cannot give, and we are thrice happy that our Divine Tutor can furnish us with it. We are to confess ourselves fools, and then our Lord will make us wise, as well as give us knowledge. The best understanding is that which enables us to render perfect obedience and to exhibit intelligent faith, and it is this which David desires "understanding, that I may know thy testimonies'" Some would rather not know these things; they prefer to be at ease in the dark rather than possess the light which leads to repentance and diligence. The servant of God longs to know in an understanding manner all that the Lord reveals of man and to man; he wishes to. be so instructed that he may apprehend and comprehend that which is taught him. A servant should not be ignorant concerning his master, or his master's business; he should study the mind, will, purpose, and aim of him whom he serves, for so only can he fulfil his service; and as no man knows these things so well as his master himself, he should often go to him for instructions, lest his very zeal should only ,serve to make him the greater blunderer.
It is remarkable that the Psalmist does not pray for understanding through acquiring knowledge, but begs of the Lord first that he may have the gracious gift of understanding, and then may obtain the desired instruction. All that we know before we have understanding is apt to spoil us and breed vanity in us; but if there be first an understanding heart, then the stores of knowledge enrich the soul, and bring neither sin nor sorrow therewith. Moreover, this gift of understanding acts also in the form of discernment, and thus the good man is preserved from hoarding up that which is false and dangerous: he knows what are and what are not the testimonies of the Lord.
David was a servant, and therefore it was always his time to work: but being oppressed by a sight of man's ungodly behavior, he feels that his Master's hand is wanted, and therefore he appeals to him to work against the working of evil. Men make void the law of God by denying it to be his law, by promulgating commands and doctrines in opposition to it, by setting up tradition in its place, or by utterly disregarding and scorning the authority of the lawgiver. Then sin becomes fashionable, and a holy walk is regarded as a contemptible puritanism; vice is styled pleasure, and vanity bears the bell. Then the saints sigh for the presence and power of their God. Oh for an hour of the King upon the throne with the rod of iron in his hand! Oh for another Pentecost with all its wonders, to reveal the energy of God to gainsayers, and make them see that there is a God in Israel! Man's extremity, whether of need or sin, is God's opportunity. When the earth was without form and void, the Spirit came and moved upon the face of the waters; should he not come when society is returning to a like chaos? When Israel in Egypt were reduced to the lowest point, and it seemed that the covenant would be void, then Moses appeared and wrought mighty miracles; so, too, when the church of God is trampled down, and her message is derided, we may expect to see the hand of the Lord stretched out for the revival of religion, the defense of the truth, and the glorifying of' the divine name. The Lord can work either by judgments which hurl down the ramparts of the foe, or by revivals which build up the walls of his own Jerusalem. How heartily may we pray the Lord to raise up new evangelists, to quicken those we already have, to set his whole church on fire, and to bring the world to his feet I God's work is ever honorable and glorious; as for our works it is as nothing apart from him.
As it was God's time to work, so it was David's time to love. So far from being swayed by the example of evil men, so as to join them in slighting the Scriptures, he was the rather led into a more vehement love of those divine revelations. He loved not only the doctrines, but the commandments. As he saw the commandments slighted by the ungodly, his heart was in sympathy with God, and he felt a burning affection for his holy precepts. It is the mark of a true believer that he does not depend upon others for his religion, but drinks water out of his own well, which springs up even when the cisterns of earth are all dried. Amid a general depreciation of the law, our holy poet felt his own esteem of it rising so high that gold and silver sank in comparison. Wealth brings with it so many conveniences that men naturally esteem it, and gold as the symbol of it is much set by; and yet, in the .judgment of the wise, God's laws are more enriching, and bring with them more comfort, than all the choicest treasures. The Psalmist could not boast that: he always kept the commands; but he could declare that he loved them; he was perfect in heart, and would fain have been perfect in life. He judged God's holy commands to be better than the best earthly thing gold; yea, better than the best sort of the best earthly thing fine gold; and this esteem was confirmed and forced into expression by those very oppositions of the world which drive hypocrites to forsake the Lord and his ways.
A miser watches his treasure all the more eagerly when he hears that there are thieves abroad who are in league to deprive him of it, The more men hate the eternal verities, the more do we prize them. We can truly say
"Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right.'" Because the ungodly found fault with the precepts of God, therefore David was all the more sure of their being right. The censure of the wicked is a certificate of merit; that which they sanction we may justly suspect, but that which they abominate we may ardently admire. The good man's delight in God's law is unreserved, he believes in all God's precepts concerning all things. We state our faith all the more broadly in proportion to the opposition of the foe. To carping criticism we oppose a fearless faith. When confidence in God is counted vile, we purpose to be viler still.
"And I hate every false way.'" Love to truth begat hatred to falsehood. He that prizes a robe abhors the moth which would devour it. This godly man was not indifferent to anything in the moral and spiritual world; but: that which he did not love he hated. He was no chip in the porridge without flavor; he was a good lover ,or a good hater, but he was never a waverer.
He knew what he felt, and he expressed it plainly. He was no Gallio, caring for none of these things. His detestation was as unreserved as his affection; he had not a good word for any practice which would not bear the light of truth. The fact that such large multitudes follow the broad road had no influence upon this holy man, except to make him more determined to avoid every form of error and sin. May the Holy Spirit so rule in our hearts that our affections may be in the same decided condition towards the precepts of the word l May we take our place on the side of God and righteousness, and never bear the sword in vain! We would not be pugnacious, but we dare not be sinfully indifferent. All sin we must hate; for any one of the whole tribe will be our ruin if it be indulged. To arms! To arms! ye soldiers of the cross.