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.
IN this section the trials of the way appear to be manifest to the Psalmist's mind, and he prays accordingly for the help which will meet his case, As in the last eight verses he prayed as a youth newly come into the world, so here he pleads as a servant, and a pilgrim, who growingly finds himself to be a stranger in an enemy's country. His appeal is to God alone, and his prayer is specially direct and personal. He speaks with the Lord as a man speaketh with his friend.
"Deal bountifully with thy servant.'" He takes pleasure in owning his; duty to God, and counts it the joy of his heart to be in the service of his God. Out of his condition he makes a plea, for a servant has some hold upon a master; but in this case the wording of the plea shuts out the idea of legal claim, since he seeks bounty rather than reward. Let my wage be according to thy goodness, and not according to my merit. Reward me according to the largeness of thy liberality, and not according to the scantiness of my service. The hired servants of our Father have all of them bread enough and to spare, and he will not leave one of his household to perish with hunger. If the Lord will only treat us as he treats the least of his servants we may be well content; for all his true servants are sons, princes of the blood, heirs of life eternal. David felt that his great needs required a bountiful provision, and that his little desert would never earn such a supply; hence he must throw himself upon God's grace, and look for the great things he needed-from the great goodness of the Lord. He begs for a liberality of grace, after the fashion of one who prayed, "O Lord, thou must give me great mercy or no mercy, for little mercy will not serve my turn.'"
"That I may live.'" Without abundant mercy he could not live. It takes great grace to keep a saint alive. Even life is a gift of divine bounty to such undeserving ones as we are. Only the Lord can keep us in being, and it is mighty grace which preserves to us the life which we have forfeited by our sin. It is right to desire to live, it is meet to pray to live, it is just to ascribe prolonged life to the favor of God. Spiritual life, without which this natural life is mere existence, is also to be sought of the Lord's bounty; for it is the noblest work of divine grace, and in it the bounty of God is gloriously displayed. The Lord's servants cannot serve him in their own strength, for they cannot even live unless his grace abounds towards them.
"And keep thy word.'" This should be the rule, the object, and the joy of our life. We may not wish to live and sin; but we may pray' to live and keep God's word. Being is a poor thing :if it be not well-being. Life is only worth keeping while we can keep God's word; indeed, there is no life in the highest sense apart from holiness: life while we break the law is but a name to live.
The prayer of this verse shows that it is only through divine, bounty or grace that we can live as faithful servants of God, and manifest obedience to his commands. If we give God service it must be because he gives us grace. We work for him because he works in us. Thus we may make a chain out of the opening verses of the three first octaves of this psalm: verse 1 blesses the holy man, verse 9 asks how we can attain to such holiness, and verse 17 traces such holiness to its secret source, and shows us how to seek the blessing. The more a man prizes holiness, and the more earnestly he strives after it, the more will he be driven towards God for help therein; for he will plainly perceive that his own strength is insufficient, and that he cannot even so much as live without the bounteous assistance of the Lord his God.
"Open thou mine eyes.'" This is a part of the bountiful dealing which he has asked for; no bounty is greater than that which benefits our person, our soul, our mind, and benefits it in so important an organ as the eye. It is far better to have the eyes opened than to be placed in the midst of the noblest prospects and remain blind to their beauty. "That I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.'" Some men can perceive no wonders in the gospel, but David felt sure that there were glorious things in the law: he had not half the Bible, but he prized it :more than some men prize the whole. He felt that God had laid up great beauties and bounties in his word, and he begs for power to perceive, appreciate, and enjoy the same. We need not so much that God should give us more benefits, as the ability to see what he has given.
The prayer implies a conscious darkness, a dimness of spiritual vision, a powerlessness to remove that defect, and a full assurance that God can remove it. It shows also that the writer knew that there were vast treasures in the word which he had not yet fully seen, marvels which he had not yet beheld, mysteries which he had scarcely believed. The Scriptures teem with marvels; the Bible is wonder-land; it not only relates miracles, but it is itself a world of wonders. Yet what are these to closed eyes? And what man can open his own eyes, since he is born blind? God himself must reveal revelation to each heart. Scripture needs opening, but not one half so much as our eyes do; the veil is not on the book, but on our hearts. What perfect precepts, what precious promises, what priceless privileges are neglected by us, because we wander among them like blind men among the beauties of nature, and they are to us as a landscape shrouded in darkness!
The Psalmist had a measure of spiritual perception, or he would never have known that there were wondrous things to be seen, nor would he have prayed, "Open thou mine eyes'"; but what he had seen made him long for a clearer and wider sight. This longing proved the genuineness of what he possessed, for it is a test mark of the true knowledge of God that it causes its possessor to thirst for deeper knowledge.
David's prayer in this verse is a good sequel to verse 10, which corresponds to it in position in its octave: there he said, "0 let me not wander'"; and who so apt to wander as a blind man? and there, too, he declared, "With my whole heart have I sought thee'"; and hence the desire to see the object of his search. Very singular are the interlacings of the toughs of the huge tree of this psalm, which has many wonders even within :itself if we have opened eyes to mark them.
"I am a stranger in the earth.'" This is meant for a plea. By divine command men are bound to be kind to strangers, and what God commands in others he will exemplify in himself. The Psalmist was a stranger for God's sake, else had he been as much at home as worldlings are: he was not a stranger to God, but a stranger to the world, a banished man so long as he was out of heaven. Therefore he pleads, "Hide not thy commandments from me.'" If these are gone, what have I else? Since nothing around me is mine, what can I do if I lose thy word? Since none around me know or care to know the way to thyself, what shall I do if I fail to see thy commands, by which alone I can guide my steps to the land where thou dwellest? David implies that God's commands were his solace in his exile: they reminded him of home, and they showed him the way thither, and therefore he begged that they might never be hidden from him, by his being unable either to understand them or to obey them. If spiritual light be withdrawn, the command is hidden, and this a gracious heart greatly deprecates. What would be the use of opened eyes if the best object of sight were hidden from their view? While we wander here we can endure all the ills of this foreign land with patience, if the word of God is applied to our hearts by the Spirit of God; but if the heavenly things which make for our peace were hid from our eyes, we should be in an evil case in fact, we should be at sea without a compass, in a desert without a guide, in an enemy's country without a friend.
This prayer is a supplement to "Open thou mine eyes,'" and as the one prays to see, the other deprecates the negative of seeing, namely the command being hidden, and so out of sight. We do well to look at both sides of the blessing we are seeking, and to plead for it from every point of view. The prayers are appropriate to the characters mentioned: as he is a servant, he asks for opened eyes that his eyes may ever be towards his Lord, as the ,eyes of a servant should be; as a stranger, he begs that he may not be strange to the way in which he is to walk towards his home. In each case his entire dependence is upon God alone.
Note how the third of the second octave (11) has the same keyword as this third of the third octave: "Thy word have I hid,'" "Hide not thy commandments from me.'" This invites a meditation upon the different senses of hiding in and hiding from.
True godliness lies very much in desires. As we are not what we shall be, so also we are: not what we would be. The desires of gracious men after holiness are: intense; or they cause a wear of heart, a straining of the mind, till it feels ready to snap with the heavenly pull. A high value of the Lord's commandment leads to a pressing desire to know and to do it, and this so weighs upon the soul that it is ready to break in pieces under the crush of its own longings. What a blessing it is when all our desires are after the things of God! We may well long for such longings. God's judgments are his decisions upon points which else had been in dispute. Every precept is a judgment of the highest court upon a point of action, an infallible and immutable decision upon a moral or spiritual question. The word of God is a code of justice from which the. re is no appeal.
David had such reverence for the Word, and such a desire to know it, and to be conformed to it, that his longings caused him a sort of heartbreak, which he here pleads before God. Longing is the soul of praying, and when the soul longs till it breaks, it cannot be long before the blessing will be granted. The most intimate communion between the soul and its God is carried on by the process described in the text. God reveals his will, and our heart longs to be conformed thereto. God judges, and our heart rejoices in the verdict. This is fellowship of heart most real and thorough.
Note well that our desire after, the mind of God should be constant; we should :feel holy longings "at all times.'" Desires which cart be put off and on like our garments are at best but mere wishes, and possibly the), are hardly true enough to be called by that name, they are temporary emotions born of excitement, and doomed to (tie when the heat which created them has cooled down. He who always longs to know and do the right is the truly right man. His judgment is sound, for he loves all God's judgments, and follows them with constancy. His times shall be good, since he longs to be good[ and to do good at all times.
Remark how this fourth of the third eight chimes with the fourth of the fourth eight. "My soul breaketh;'" "My soul melteth.'" There is surely some recondite poetic art about all this, and it is well for us to be careful in studying What the Psalmist was so careful in composing.
"Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed.'" This is one of God's judgments: he is sure to deal out a terrible portion to men of lofty looks. God rebuked Pharaoh with sore plagues, and at the Red Sea "the foundations of the world were discovered at thy rebuke, O Lord.'" In the person of the haughty Egyptian he taught all the proud that he will certainly abase them. Proud men are cursed men: nobody blesses them, and they soon become a burden to themselves. In itself, pride is a plague and torment. Even if no curse came from the law of God, there seems to be a law of nature that proud men should be unhappy men. This led David to abhor pride; he dreaded the rebuke of God and the curse of the law. The proud sinners of his day were his enemies, and he felt happy that God was in the quarrel as well as he.
"Which do err from thy commandments.'" Only humble hearts are obedient, for they alone will yield to rule and government. Proud men's looks are high, too high to mark their own feet and keep the Lord's way. Pride lies at the root of all sin: if men were not arrogant they would not be disobedient.
God rebukes pride even when the multitudes pay homage to it, for he sees it in rebellion against his own majesty, and the seeds of yet further rebellions. It is the sum of sin. Men talk of an honest pride; but if they' were candid they would :see that it is of all sins the least honest, and the least becoming in a creature, and especially in a fallen creature: yet so little do proud men know their own lame condition under the curse of God, that they set up to censure the godly, and express contempt for them, as may be seen in the next verse. They are themselves contemptible, and yet they are contemptuous towards their betters. We may well love the judgments of God, when we see them so decisively leveled against the haughty upstarts who would fain lord it over righteous men; and we may well be of good comfort under the rebukes of the ungodly, since their power to hurt us is destroyed by the Lord himself. "The Lord rebuke thee'" is answer enough for all the accusations of men or devils.
In the fifth of the former octave the Psalmist wrote, "I have declared all the judgments of thy mouth,'" and here he continues in the same strain, giving a particular instance of the Lord's judgments against haughty rebels. In the next two portions the fifth verses deal with lying and vanity, and pride is one of the most common form, of those evils.
"Remove from me reproach and contempt.'" These are painful things to tender minds. David could bear them for righteousness' sake, but they were a heavy yoke, and he longed to be free from them. To be slandered, and then to be despised in consequence of the vile accusation, is a grievous affliction. No one likes to be traduced, or even to be despised. He who says, "I care nothing for my reputation,'" is not a wise man; for in Solomon's esteem "a good name is better than precious ointment.'" The best way to deal with slander is to pray about it: God will either remove it or remove the sting from it. Our own attempts at clearing ourselves are usually failures: we are like the boy who wished to remove the blot from his copy, and by his bungling made it ten times worse. When we suffer from a libel it is better to pray about it than go to law over it, or even to demand an apology from the inventor. O ye who are reproached, take your matters before the highest court, and leave them with the Judge of all the earth. God will rebuke your proud accuser; be ye quiet, and let your advocate plead your cause.
"For I have kept thy testimonies.'" Innocence may justly ask to be cleared from reproach. If there be truth in the charges alleged against us, what can we urge with God?. If, however, we are wrongfully accused, our appeal has a locus standi in the court and cannot be refused. If through fear of reproach we forsake the divine testimony we shall deserve the coward's doom; our safety lies in sticking close to the true and to the right. God will keep those who keep his testimonies. A good conscience is the best security for a good name; reproach will not abide with those who abide with Christ, neither will contempt remain upon those who remain faithful to the ways of the Lord.
This verse stands as a parallel both in sense and position to verse 6, and it: has the catchword of "testimonies,'" by which it chimes with verse 14.
"Princes also did sit and speak against me'" David was high game, and the great ones of the earth went a-hawking after him. Princes saw in him a greatness which they envied, and therefore they abused him. On their thrones they might have found something better to consider and speak about, but they turned the seat of judgment into the seat of the scorner. Most men covet a prince's good word, and to be spoken ill of by a great man is a great discouragement to them; but the Psalmist bore his trial with holy calmness. Many of the lordly ones were his enemies, and made it their business to speak ill of him, they held sittings for scandal, sessions for slander, parliaments of falsehood, and yet he survived all their attempts upon him.
"But thy servant did meditate in thy statutes.'" This was brave indeed. He was God's servant, and therefore he attended to his Master's business; he was God's servant, and therefore felt sure that the Lord would defend him. He gave no heed to his princely slanderers; he did not even allow his thoughts to be disturbed by a knowledge of their plotting in conclave. Who were these malignance that they should rob God of his servant's attention, or deprive the Lord's chosen of a moment's devout communion? The rabble of princes were not worth five minutes' thought, if those five minutes had to be taken from holy meditation. It is very beautiful to see the two sittings: the princes sitting to reproach David, and David sitting with his God and his Bible, answering his traducers by never answering them at all. Those who feed upon the word grow strong and peaceful, and are by God's grace hidden from the strife of tongues.
Note that in the close of the former octave he had said, "I will meditate'"; and here he shows how he had redeemed hi,; promise, even under great provocation to forget it. It is a praiseworthy thing when the resolve of our happy hours is duly carried out in our seasons of affliction.
They were not only themes for meditation, but "also'" sources of delight and means of guidance. While his enemies took counsel with each other, the holy man took counsel with the testimonies of God. The fowlers could not drive the bird from its nest with all their noise. It was their delight to slander and his delight to meditate. The words of the Lord serve us for many purposes; in our sorrows they are our delight, and in our difficulties they are our guide; we derive joy from them and discover wisdom in them. If we desire to find comfort in the Scriptures we must submit ourselves; to their counsel, and when we follow their counsel it must not be with reluctance, but with delight This is the safest way of dealing with those who plot for our ruin; let us give more heed to the true testimonies of the Lord than to the false witness of our foes. The best answer to accusing princes is the word of the justifying King;.
In verse 16 David said, "I will delight in thy statutes,'" and here he says, "They are my delight'": thus resolutions formed in God's strength come to fruit, and spiritual desires ripen into actual attainments. Oh that it might be so with all the readers of these lines!