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 section is given up to memories of prayer. The Psalmist describes the time and the manner of his supplication, and pleads with God for deliverance from his troubles. He who has been with God in the closet will find God with him in the furnace. If we have cried we shall be answered. Delayed answers may drive us to importunity; but we need not fear the ultimate result, since God's promises are not uncertain, but are "founded for ever.'" The whole passage shows us: How he prayed (verse 145). What he prayed for (146). When he prayed (147). How long he prayed (148). What he pleaded (149). What happened (151. How he was rescued (150). What was his witness as to the whole matter (152). May the Lord bless our meditations on this instructive passage!
"I cried with my whole heart.'" His prayer was a sincere, plaintive, painful, natural utterance, as of a creature in pain. We cannot tell whether at all times he used his voice when he thus cried; but we are informed of something which is of much greater con-sequence he cried with his heart. Heart-cries are the essence of prayer He mentions the unity of his heart in this holy engagement. His whole soul pleaded with God: his entire affections, his united desires, all went out towards the living God. It is well when a man can say as much as this of' his prayers: it is to be feared that :many never cried to God with their whole heart in all their lives. There may be no beauty of elocution about such prayers, no length of expression, no depth of doctrine nor accuracy of diction; but if the whole heart be in them they will find their way to the heart of Gold.
"Hear me, O LORD.'" He desires of Jehovah that his cries may not die upon the air, but that God may have respect to them. True supplicants are not satisfied with the exercise itself, they have an end and object in praying, and they look out for it. If God does not hear prayer we pray in vain. The term "hear'" is often used in Scripture to express attention and consideration. In one sense God hears every sound that is made on earth, and every desire of every heart; but David meant much more: he desired a kindly, sympathetic hearing, such as a physician gives to his patient when he tells him his pitiful story. He asked that the Lord would draw near, and listen with friendly ear to the voice of his complaint, with the view of pitying him and helping him. Observe, that his whole-hearted prayer goes to the Lord alone; he has no second hope or help. "Hear me, O Lord,'" is the full range of his petition and expectation.
"I will keep thy statutes.'" He could not expect the Lord to hear him if he did not hear the Lord, neither would it be true that he prayed with his whole heart unless it was manifest that he labored with all his might to be obedient to the divine will. His object in seeking deliverance was that he might be free to fulfil his religion, free to carry out every ordinance of the law, free to serve the Lord.
Note well that a holy resolution goes well with an importunate supplication: David is determined to be holy, his whole heart goes with that resolve as well as with his prayers. He will keep God's statutes in his memory, in his affections, and in his actions. He will not willfully neglect nor willingly violate any one of the divine laws.
"I cried unto thee.'" Again he mentions that his prayer was unto God alone. The sentence imports that he prayed vehemently, and very often; and that it had become one of the greatest facts of his life that he cried unto God.
"Save me.'" This was his prayer; very short, but very full. He needed saving; none but the Lord could save him; to the Lord he cried. "Save me,'" from the dangers which surround me, from the enemies that pursue me, from the temptations which beset me, from the sins which accuse me. He did not multiply words, but only cried "Save me.'" Men are never wordy when they are in downright earnest He did not multiply objects, but asked only for salvation. Men are seldom discursive when they are intent upon the one thing needful.
"And I shall keep thy testimonies.'" This was his great object in desiring salvation, that he might be able to continue in a blameless life of obedience to God, that he might be able to believe the witness of God, and also to become himself a witness for God. It is a great thing when men seek salvation for so high an end. He did not ask to be delivered that he might sin with impunity; his cry was to be delivered from sin itself, He had vowed to keep the statutes or laws of God; here he resolves to keep the testimonies or doctrines of God, and so to be sound of head as well as clean of hand. Salvation brings all these good things in its train. David had no idea of a salvation which would allow him to live in sin, or abide in error: he knew right well that there is no saving a man while he abides in disobedience and ignorance.
"I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried.'" He was up before the sun, and began his pleadings before the dew began to leave the grass. Whatever is worth doing :is worth doing speedily. This is the third time that he mentions that he cried. He cried, and cried, and cried again. His supplications had become so frequent, fervent, and intense, that he might hardly be said to be doing anything else from morning to night but crying unto his God. So strong was his desire after salvation that he could not rest in hi,; bed; so eagerly did he seek it that at the first possible moment he was on his knees.
"I hoped in thy word.'" Hope is a very powerful means of strengthening us in prayer. Who would pray if he had no hope that God would hear him? Who would not pray when he has a good hope of a blessed issue to his entreaties? His hope was fixed upon God's word; and this is a sure anchorage, because God is true, and in no case has he ever run back from his promise, or altered the thing that has gone forth from his mouth. He who is diligent in prayer will never be destitute of hope. Observe that as the early bird gets the worm, so the early prayer is soon refreshed with hope.
"Mine eyes prevent the night watches.'" Or rather, the watches. Before the watchman cried the hour, he was crying to God. He did not need to be informed as to how the hours were flying, for every hour his heart was flying towards heaven. He began the day with prayer, and he continued in prayer through the watches of the ,flay, and the watches of the night. The soldiers changed guard, but David did not change his holy occupation. Specially, however, at night did he keep his eyes open, and drive away sleep, that he might maintain communion with his God. He worshipped on from watch to watch as travelers journey from stage to stage.
"That I might meditate in thy word.'" This had become meat and drink: to him. Meditation was the food of his hope, and the solace of his sorrow: the one theme upon which his thoughts ran was that blessed " word'" which he continually mentions, and in which his heart so greatly rejoices. He preferred study to slumber, and he learned to forego his necessary sleep for much more necessary devotion. It is instructive to find meditation so constantly connected with fervent prayer: it is the fuel which sustains the flame. How rare an article is it in these days!
When do we meet with any who spend nights in meditation? Have we done so ourselves?
"Hear my voice according unto thy lovingkindness:' Men find it very helpful to use their voices in prayer; it is difficult long to maintain the intensity of devotion unless we hear ourselves speak; hence David at length broke through his silence, arose from his quiet meditations, and began crying with voice as well as heart unto the Lord his God. Note, that he does not plead his own deservings, nor for a moment appeal for payment of a debt on account of merit; he takes the free-grace way, and puts it, "according unto thy lovingkindness.'" When God hears prayer according to his lovingkindness he overlooks all the imperfections of the prayer, he forgets the sinfulness of the offerer, and in pitying love he grants the desire though the suppliant be unworthy. It is according to God's lovingkindness to answer speedily, to answer frequently, to answer abundantly, yea, exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or even think. Loving-kindness is one of the sweetest words in our language. Kindness has much in it that is most precious, but lovingkindness is doubly dear; it is the cream of kindness.'"
"O Lord, quicken me according to thy judgment? This is another of David's wise and ardent prayers. He first cried, "Save me;'" then, "Hear me;'" and now, "Quicken me.'" This is often the very best way of delivering us from trouble to give us more life, that we may escape from death; and to add more strength to that life, that we may not be overloaded with its burdens. Observe, that he asks to receive quickening according to God's judgment, that is, in such a way as should be consistent with infinite wisdom and prudence. God's methods of communicating greater vigor to our spiritual life are exceedingly wise; it would probably be in vain for us to attempt to understand them; and it will be our wisdom to wish to receive grace; not according to our notion of how it should come to us, but according to God's heavenly method of bestowing it. It is his prerogative to make alive as well as to kill, and that sovereign act is best :left to his infallible judgment. Hath he not already given us to have life, and to have it more abundantly? In this gift "he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.'"
"They draw nigh that follow after mischief.'" He could hear their' footfalls close behind him. They are not following him for his benefit:, but for his hurt, and therefore the sound of their approach is to be dreaded.
They are not prosecuting a good object, but persecuting a good man. As if they had not enough mischief in their own hearts, they are hunting after more. He sees them going a steeple-chase over hedge and ditch in order to bring mischief to himself, and he points them out to God, and entreats the Lord to fix his eyes upon them, and deal with them to their confusion. They were already upon him, and he was almost in their grip, and therefore he cries the more earnestly.
"They are far from thy law.'" A mischievous life cannot be an obedient one. Before these men could become persecutors of David they were obliged to get away from the restraints of God's law. They could not hate a saint and yet love the law. Those who keep God's law neither do harm to themselves nor to others. Sin is the greatest of all mischiefmakers. David mentions the character of his adversaries to the Lord in prayer, feeling some kind of comfort in the fact that those who hated him hated God also, and broke the law when they sought to work him ill. When we know that our enemies are God's enemies, and ours because they are his, we may well take comfort to ourselves.
"Thou art near, O Lord.'" Near as the enemy might be, God was nearer: this is one of the choicest comforts of the persecuted child of God. The Lord is near to hear our cries, and to speedily afford us succor. He is near to chase away our enemies, and to give us rest and peace.
"And all thy commandments are truth.'" God neither commands; a lie, nor lies in his commands. Virtue is truth in action, and this is what God commands. Sin is falsehood in action, and this is what God forbids. If all God's commands are truth, then the true man will be glad to keep near to them, and therein he will find the true God near to him. This sentence will be the persecuted man's protection from the false hearts that seek to do him mischief: God is near and God is truer therefore his people are safe. If at any time we fall into danger through keeping the commands of God, we need not suppose that we have acted unwisely: we may, on the contrary, be quite sure that we are in tile right way; for God's precepts are right and true, and for this very reason wicked men assail us. False hearts hate the truth, and therefore hate those who do the truth. Their opposition may be our consolation; while God's presence upon our side is our glory and delight.
David found of old that God had founded his testimonies of old, and that they would stand firm throughout all ages. It is a very blessed thing to be so early taught of God that we know the substantial doctrines of the gospel even from our youth. Those who know the eternal truth in their early days will look back upon such knowledge with pleasure in their riper years.
Those who think that David was a young man when he wrote this :psalm will find it rather difficult to reconcile this verse with their theory; it is much more probable that he was :now grown grey, and was looking back upon what he had known long before. He knew at the very first that the doctrines of God's word were settled before the world began, that they had never changed, and never could by any possibility, be altered. He had begun by building on a rock, by knowing that God's testimonies were "founded,'" that is, grounded, laid as foundations, settled and established; and that they were thus settled with a view to all the ages that should come, and all the changes that should happen. It was because David knew this that he had such confidence in prayer, and was so importunate in it. It is sweet to plead immutable promises with an immutable God. It was because of this that David learned to hope: a man cannot have much expectation from a changing friend, but he may well have confidence in a God who cannot change. It was because of this that he delighted in being near the Lord,. for it is a most blessed thing to keep up close intercourse with a Friend who never varies. Let those who choose follow at the heels of the modern school and look for fresh light to break forth which will put the old light out of countenance; we are satisfied with the truth which is as old as the hills, and as fixed as the great mountains. Let "cultured intellect'" invent another god, more gentle and effeminate than the God of Abraham; we are well content to worship Jehovah, who is eternally the same. Things everlastingly established are the joy of established saints. Bubbles please boys, but men prize those things which are solid and substantial, with a foundation and a bottom to them which will bear the test of the ages.