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.
Here, it seems to me, we have the Psalmist in trouble bewailing the bondage to earthly things in which he finds his mind to be held. His soul cleaves to the dust, melts for heaviness, and cries for enlargement from its spiritual prison. In these verses we shall see the influence of the divine word upon a heart which laments its downward tendencies, and is filled with mourning because of its deadening surroundings. The word of the Lord evidently arouses prayer (25-29), confirms choice (30), and inspires renewed resolve (32): it is in all tribulation, whether of body or mind, the surest source of help.
This portion has D for its alphabetical letter: it sings of Depression, in the spirit of Devotion, Determination, and Dependence
"My soul cleaveth unto the dust.'" He means in part that he was full of sorrow; for mourners in the east cast dust on their heads, and sat in ashes, and the Psalmist felt as if these ensigns of woe were glued to him, and his very soul was made to cleave to them because of his; powerlessness to rise above his grief. Does he not also mean that he felt ready to die? Did he not feel his life absorbed and fast held by the grave's mould, half choked by the death-dust? It may not be straining the language if we conceive that he also felt and bemoaned his earthly-mindedness and spiritual deadness. There was a tendency in his soul to cling to earth which he greatly bewailed. Whatever was the cause of his complaint, it was no surface evil, but an affair of his inmost spirit; his soul cleaved to the dust; and it was not a casual and accidental falling into the dust, but a continuous and powerful tendency, or cleaving to the earth. But what a mercy that the good man could feel and deplore whatever there was of evil in the cleaving! The serpent's seed can find their meat!in the dust, but never shall the seed of the woman be thus degraded. Many are of the earth earthy, and never lament it; only the heaven-born and heaven-soaring spirit pines at the thought of being fastened to this world, and bird-limed by its sorrows or its pleasures.
"Quicken thou me according to thy word.'" More life is the cure for all our ailments. Only the Lord can give it. He can bestow it, bestow it at once, and do it according to his word, without departing from the usual course of his grace, as we see it mapped out in the Scriptures. It is well to know what to pray for -David seeks quickening: one would have thought that he would have asked for comfort or upraising; but he knew that these would come out of increased life, and therefore he sought that blessing which is the root of the rest. When a person is depressed in spirit, weak, and bent towards the ground, the main thing is to increase his stamina and put more life into him; then his spirit revives, and his body becomes erect. In reviving the life, the whole man is renewed. Shaking off the dust is a little thing by itself; but when it follows upon quickening, it is a blessing of the greatest value,; just as good spirits, which flow from established health, are among the choicest of our mercies. The phrase, "according to thy word,'" means according to thy revealed way of quickening thy saints. The word of God shows us that he who first made us must keep us alive; and it tells us of the Spirit of God who through the ordinances pours fresh life into our souls: we beg the Lord to act towards us in this his own regular method of grace. Perhaps David remembered the word of the Lord in Deuteronomy 32:39, where Jehovah claims both to kill and to make alive, and he beseeches the Lord to exercise that life-giving power upon his almost expiring servant. Certainly, the man of God had not so many rich promises to rest upon as we have; but even a single word was enough for him, and he right earnestly urges "according to thy word.'" It is a grand thing to see a believer in the dust and yet pleading the promise, a man at the grave's mouth crying, "quicken me,'" and hoping that it shall be done.
Note how this first verse of the 4th octonary tallies with the first of the third (17), " That I may live'".... "Quicken me.'" While in a happy state he begs for bountiful dealing, and when in a forlorn condition he prays for quickening. Life is in both cases the object of pursuit: that he may' have life, and have it more abundantly. Truly this is wisdom. Fools hunger for mere:, and yet lose life; but the wise man knows that the life is more than meat. To pine for riches and neglect the soul is the common sin of unbelievers, and. to seek true riches in an increase of life is the prudent course of the believer. Life, eternal life, this is true treasure. Our Lord has come not only that we may have life, but that we may have it more abundantly.. Lord, evermore pour thy life-floods into us, that we may be quickened to the fullness of our manhood, and filled with all the fullness of God.
"I have declared my ways.'" Open confession is good for the soul. Nothing brings more ease and more life to a man than a frank acknowledgment of the evil which has caused the sorrow and the lethargy. Such a declaration proves that the man knows his own condition, and is no longer blinded by pride. Our confessions are not meant: to make God know our sins, but to make us know them. "And thou heardest me.'" His confession had been accepted; it was not lost labor; God had drawn near to him in it. We ought never to go from a duty till we have been accepted in it. Pardon follows upon penitent confession, and David felt that he had obtained it. It is God's way to forgive our sinful way when we from our hearts confess the wrong.
"Teach me thy statutes.'" Being truly sorry for his fault, and having obtained Full forgiveness, he is anxious to avoid offending again, and hence he begs to be taught obedience. He was not willing to sin through ignorance, he wished to know all the mind of God by being, taught it by the best of teachers. He pined after holiness. Justified men always long to be sanctified. When God forgives our sins we are all the more fearful of sinning again. Mercy, which pardons transgression, sets us longing for grace which prevents transgression. We may boldly ask for more when God has given us much; he who has washed out the past stain will not refuse that which will preserve us from present and future defilement. This cry for teaching is frequent in the Psalm; in verse 12 it followed a sight of God, here it follows from a sight of self. Every experience should lead us thus to plead with God.
"Make me to understand the way of thy precepts.'" Give me a deep insight: into the practical meaning of thy word; let me get: a clear idea of the tone and tenor of thy law. Blind obedience has but small beauty; God would have us follow him with our eyes open. To obey the letter of the word is all that the ignorant can hope for: if we wish to keep God's precepts in their spirit we must come to an understanding of them, and that can be gained nowhere but at the Lord's hands. Our understanding needs enlightenment and direction: he who made our understanding must also make us understand. The last sentence was, "teach me, thy statutes,'" and the words, "make me to understand,'" are an instructive enlargement and exposition of that sentence: we need to be so taught that we understand what we learn. It is to be noted that the Psalmist is not anxious to understand the prophecies, but the precepts, and he is not concerned about the subtleties of the law, but the commonplaces and every-day rules of it, which are described as "the way of thy precepts.'"
"So shall l talk of thy wondrous works.'" It is in talking of what we do not understand. We must be taught of God till we understand, and then we may hope to communicate our knowledge to others with a hope of profiting them. Talk without intelligence is mere talk, and idle talk; but the words of the instructed are as pearls which adorn the ears of them that hear. When our heart has been opened to understand, our lips should be opened to impart knowledge; and we may hope to be taught ourselves when we feel in our hearts a willingness to teach the way of the Lord to those among whom we dwell.
"Thy wondrous works.'" Remark that the clearest understanding; does not cause us to cease from wondering at the ways and works of God. The fact is, that the more we know of God's doings the more we admire them, and the more ready we are to speak upon them. Half the wonder in the world is born of ignorance, but holy wonder is the child of understanding. When a man understands the way of the divine precepts he never talks of his own works, and as the tongue must have some theme to speak upon, he begins to extol the works of the all-perfect Lord.
Some in this place read "meditate'" or "muse'" instead of'" talk;'" it is singular that the words should be so near of kin, and yet it is right that they should be, for none but foolish people will talk without thinking. If we read the passage in this sense, we take it to mean that in proportion as David understood the word of God he would meditate upon it more and more. It is usually so; the thoughtless care not to know the inner meaning of the Scriptures, while those who know them best are the very men who strive after a greater familiarity with them, and therefore give themselves up to musing upon them.
Observe the third verse of the last eight (19), and see how the sense is akin to this. In that place he described himself as a stranger in the earth, and here he prays to know his way; there, too, he prayed that the word might not be hid from himself, and here he promises that: he will not hide it from others.
"My soul melteth for heartiness.'" He was dissolving away in tears. The solid strength of his constitution was turning to liquid, as if molten by the furnace-heat of his afflictions Heaviness of soul is a killing thing, and when it abounds, it threatens to turn life into a long death, in which a man seems to drop away in a perpetual drip of grief. Tears are the distillation of the heart; when a man weeps he wastes away his soul. Some of us know what great heaviness means, for we have been brought under its power again and again, and often have we felt ourselves to be poured out like water, and near to being like water spilt upon the ground, never again to be gathered up. There is one good point in this downcast state, for it: is better to be melted with grief than to be hardened by impenitence.
"Strengthen thou me, according unto thy word.'" He had found out an ancient promise that the saints shall be strengthened, and here he pleads it. His hope in his state of depression lies not in himself, but in his God; if he may be strengthened from on high he will yet shake off his heaviness and rise to joy again. Observe how he pleads the promise of the word, and asks for nothing more than to be dealt with after the recorded manner of the Lord of mercy. Had not Hannah sung, "He shall give strength unto his King, and exalt the horn of his anointed'" God strengthens us by infusing grace through his word: the word which creates can certainly sustain. Grace can enable us to bear the constant fret of an abiding sorrow, it can repair the decay caused by the perpetual tear-drip, and give to the believer the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Let us always resort to prayer in our desponding times, for it is the surest and shortest way out of the depths. In that prayer let us plead nothing but the word of God; for there is no plea like a promise, no argument like a word from our covenant God.
Note how David records his; inner soul-life. In verse 20 he says, "My soul breaketh'"; in verse 25,'" My soul cleaveth unto the dust'"; and here, "My soul melteth.'" Further on, in verse 81, he cries, "My soul fainteth;"' in 109, "My soul is continually in my hand'"; in 167, "My soul hath kept thy testimonies'"; and lastly, in 175, "Let my soul live.'" Some people do not even know that they have a soul, and here is David all soul. What a difference there is between the spiritually living and the spiritually dead!
"Remove from me the way of lying.'" This is the way of gin, error, idolatry, folly, self-righteousness, formalism, hypocrisy. David would not only be kept from that way, but have it kept from him; he cannot endure to have it near him, he would have it swept away from his sight, He desired to be right and upright, true and in the,. truth; but he feared that a measure of falsehood would cling to him unless the Lord took it away, and therefore he earnestly cried for its removal. False motives may at times sway us, and we may fall into mistaken notions of our own spiritual condition before God, which erroneous conceits may be kept up by a. natural prejudice in our own favor, and so we may be confirmed in a delusion, and abide under error unless grace comes to the rescue. No true heart can rest in a false view of itself; it finds no anchorage, but is tossed to and fro till it gets into the truth and the truth into it. The true-born child of heaven sighs out and cries against a lie, desiring to have it taken away as much as a man desires to be set at a distance from a venomous serpent or a raging lion.
"And grant me thy law graciously.'" He is in a gracious state who looks upon the law itself as a gift of grace. David wishes to have the law opened up to his understanding, engraved upon his heart, and carried out in his life; for this he seeks the Lord, and pleads for it as a gracious grant. No doubt he viewed this as the only mode of deliverance from the power of falsehood: if the law be not in our hearts the lie will enter. David would seem to, have remembered those times when, according to the', eastern fashion, he had practiced deceit for his own preservation, and he saw that he had been weak and erring on that point; therefore he was bowed down in spirit and begged to be quickened and delivered from transgressing in that manner any more. Holy men cannot review their sins without tears, nor weep over them without entreating to be saved from further offending. There is an evident opposition between falsehood and the gracious power of God's law. The only way to expel the lie is to accept the truth. Grace also has a clear affinity' to truth: no sooner do we meet with the sound of the, word "graciously'" than we hear the footfall of truth: "I have chosen the way of truth.'" Grace and truth are ever linked together, and a belief of the doctrines of grace is a grand preservative from deadly error. In the fifth verse of the preceding octave (21) David cries out against pride, and here against lying these are much the same thing. Is not pride the greatest of all lie?
"I have chosen the way of truth.'" As he abhorred the way of lying, so he chose the way of truth: a man must choose one or the other, for there cannot be any neutrality in the .case. Men do not drop into the right way by chance; they must choose it, and continue to choose it, or they will soon wander from it. Those whom God has chosen in due time choose his way. There is a doctrinal way of truth which we ought to choose, rejecting every dogma of man's devising; there is a ceremonial way of truth which we should follow, detesting ;all the forms which apostate churches have invented; and then there is a practical way of truth, the way of holiness, to which we must adhere, whatever may be our temptation to forsake it. Let our election be made, and made irrevocably. Let us answer to all seducers, "I have chosen, and what I have chosen I have chosen.'" O Lord, by thy grace lead us with a hearty free-will to choose to do thy will; thus shall thine eternal choice of us bring forth the end which it designs.
"Thy judgments have I laid before me.'" What he had chosen he kept in mind, laying it out before his mind's eye. Men do not become holy by a careless wish: there must: be study, consideration, deliberation and earnest inquiry, or the way of truth will be missed. The commands of God must be set before us as the mark to aim at, the model to work by, the road to walk in. If we put God's judgments into the background we shall soon find ourselves going back from them.
Here again the sixth stanzas of the third and fourth octaves ring out a similar note. "I have kept thy testimonies'" (22), and "Thy judgments have I laid before me.'" This is a happy confession, and there is no wonder that it is repeated.
"I have stuck unto thy testimonies,'" or, I have cleaved; for the word is the same as in verse 25. Though cleaving to the dust of sorrow and of death, yet he kept fast hold of the divine word. This was his comfort, and his faith stuck to it, his love and his obedience held on to it, his heart and his mind abode in meditation upon it. His choice was so heartily and deliberately made .that he stuck to it for life, and could not be removed from it by the reproaches of those who despised the way of the Lord. What could he have gained by quitting the sacred testimony? Say rather, what would he not have lost if he had ceased to cleave to the divine word? It is pleasant to look back upon past perseverance and to expect grace to continue equally steadfast in the future. He who has enabled us to stick to him will surely stick to us.
In these days, when so many make their boast of "advanced thought,'" it may sound singular to speak of sticking to God's testimonies ;; but whether singular or not, let us imitate the man of God. Perseverance in the truth when it is unfashionable is the test of a real believer. The faith of God's elect wears constancy as its crown. Others may gad abroad after the novelties of human opinion; but the true-born child of God glories in saying to his heavenly Father "I have stuck unto thy testimonies.'"
"O LORD, put me not to shame!"' This would happen if God's promises were unfulfilled, and if the heart of God's servant were suffered to fail. This we have no reason to fear, since the Lord is faithful to his word. But it might also happen through the believer's acting in an inconsistent manner, as David had himself once done, when he fell into the way of lying, and pretended to be a madman. If we are not true to our profession we may be left: to reap the fruit of our folly, and that will be the bitter thing called "shame.'" It is evident from this that a believer ought never to be ashamed, but act the part of a brave man who has done nothing to be ashamed of in believing his God, and does not mean to adopt: a craven tone in the presence of the Lord's enemies. If we beseech the Lord not to put us to shame, surely we ought not ourselves to be ashamed in the presence of the adversary.
The prayer of this verse is found in the parallel verse of the next section (39):'" Turn away my reproach which I fear.'" It is evidently a petition which was often on the Psalmist's heart. A brave heart is more wounded by shame than by any weapon which a soldier's hand can wield.
"I will run the way of thy commandments.'" With energy, promptitude, and zeal he would perform the will of God, but he needed more life and liberty from the hand of God. "When thou shalt enlarge my heart,'" Yes, the heart is the master; the feet soon run when the heart is free and energetic. Let the affections be aroused and eagerly set on divine things, and our actions will be full of force, swiftness and delight. God must work in us first, and then we shall will and do according; to his good pleasure. He must change the heart, unite the heart, encourage the heart, strengthen the heart, and enlarge the heart, and then the course of the lift will be gracious, sincere, happy and earnest; so that: from our lowest up to our highest state in grace we must attribute all to the free favor of our God. We must run; for grace is not an overwhelming force which compels unwilling minds to move contrary to their will: our running is the spontaneous leaping forward of a mind which has been set free by the hand of God, and delights to show its freedom by its bounding speed.
What a change from verse 25 to the present, from cleaving to the dust to running in the way! It is the excellence of holy sorrow that it works in us the quickening for which we seek:, and then we show the sincerity of oar grief' and the reality of our revival by being zealous in the ways of the Lord.
For the third time an octave closes with, "I will.'" These "I wills'" of the Psalms are right worthy of being each one the subject of study and discourse.
Note how the heart has been spoken of up to this point: "whole heart'" (2), "uprightness of heart'" (7), "hid in mine heart'" (2), "enlarge my heart.'" There are many more allusions further on, and these all go to show what heart-work David's religion was. It is one of the great lacks of our age that heads count for more than hearts., and men are far more ready to learn than to love, though they are by no means eager in either direction.