For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.
~ Isaiah 29:10-12
And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.
~ Isaiah 29:18
I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad.
~ Psalm 119:96
And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.
~ Genesis 47:9
For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.
~ 1 Chronicles 29:15
Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding.
~ Job 39:17
Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
~ Proverbs 13:12
Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness at all times.
~ Psalm 106:3
Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.
~ Exodus 18:11
Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him. Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place.
~ Job 40:11-12
But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments,
~ Nehemiah 9:16
An Exposition of Psalm 119:19-21, by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “The Treasury of David”.
Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me. My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times. Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from thy commandments. Remove from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept thy testimonies.
— Psalm 119:19-22
Ver. 18. 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 l 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 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 Psalms 119:10, which corresponds to it in position in its octave: there he said, “O 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 boughs of the huge tree of this Psalm, which has many wonders even within itself if we have opened eyes to mark them.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS.
Ver. 18. Open thou mine eyes. Who is able to know the secret and hidden things of the Scriptures unless Christ opens his eyes? Certainly, no one; for “No man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” Wherefore, as suppliants, we draw near to him, saying, “Open thou mine eyes, “etc. The words of God cannot be kept except they be known; neither can they be known unless the eyes shall be opened, hence it is written, “That I may live and keep thy word”; and then, “Open thou mine eyes.” Paulus Palanterius.
Ver. 18. Open thou mine eyes. “What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?” was the gracious inquiry of the loving Jesus to a poor longing one on earth. “Lord! that I may receive my sight, “was the instant answer. So here, in the same spirit, and to the same compassionate and loving Lord, does the Psalmist pray, “Open thou mine eyes”; and both in this and the preceding petition, “Deal bountifully with thy servant, “we see at once who prompted the prayer. Barton Bouchier.
Ver. 18. Open thou mine eyes. If it be asked, seeing David was a regenerate man, and so illumined already, how is it that he prays for the opening of his eyes? The answer is easy: that our regeneration is wrought by degrees. The beginnings of light in his mind made him long for more; for no man can account of sense, but he who hath it. The light which he had caused him to see his own darkness; and therefore, feeling his wants, he sought to have them supplied by the Lord. William Cowper.
Ver. 18. Open thou mine eyes. The saints do not complain of the obscurity of the law, but of their own blindness. The Psalmist doth not say, Lord make a plainer law, but, Lord open mine eyes:blind men might as well complain of God, that he doth not make a sun whereby they might see. The word is “a light that shineth in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). There is no want of light in the Scripture, but there is a veil of darkness upon our hearts; so that if in this clear light we cannot see, the defect is not in the word, but in ourselves.
The light which they beg is not anything besides the word. When God is said to enlighten us, it is not that we should expect new revelations, but that we may see the wonders in his word, or get a clear sight of what is already revealed. Those that vent their own dreams under the name of the Spirit, and divine light, they do not give you mysteria, but monstra, portentous opinions; they do not show you the wondrous things of God’s law, but the prodigies of their own brain; unhappy abortives, that die as soon as they come to light. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). The light which we have is not without the word, but by the word.
The Hebrew phrase signifieth “unveil mine eyes.” There is a double work, negative and positive. There is a taking away of the veil, and an infusion of light. Paul’s cure of his natural blindness is a fit emblem of our cure of spiritual blindness: “Immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith” (Acts 9:18). First, the scales fall from our eyes, and then we receive sight. Thomas Manton.
Ver. 18. The Psalmist asks for no new revelation. It was in God’s hand to give this, and he did it in his own time to those ancient believers; but to all of them at every time there was enough given for the purposes of life. The request is not for more, but that he may employ well that which he possesses. Still better does such a form of request suit us, to whom life and immortality have been brought to light in Christ. If we do not find sufficient to exercise our thoughts with constant freshness, and our soul with the grandest and most attractive subjects, it is because we want the eye sight. It is of great importance for us to be persuaded of this truth, that there are many things in the Bible still to be found out, and that, if we come in the right spirit, we may be made discoverers of some of them. These things disclose themselves, not so much to learning, though that is not to be despised, as to spiritual sight, to a humble, loving heart.
And this at least is certain, that we shall always find things that are new to ourselves. However frequently we traverse the field, we shall perceive some fresh golden vein turning up its glance to us, and we shall wonder how our eyes were formerly holden that we did not see it. It was all there waiting for us, and we feel that more is waiting, if we had the vision. There is a great Spirit in it that holds deeper and even deeper converse with our souls.
This further may be observed, that the Psalmist asks for no new faculty. The eyes are there already, and they need only to be opened. It is not the bestowal of a new and supernatural power which enables a man to read the Bible to profit, but the quickening of a power he already possesses. In one view it is supernatural, as God is the Author of the illumination by a direct act of his Spirit; in another it is natural, as it operates through the faculties existing in a man’s soul. God gives “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, that the eyes of man’s understanding may be enlightened.” (Ephesians 1:17) It is important to remember this also, for here lies our responsibility, that we have the faculty, and here also is the point at which we must begin action with the help of God. A man will never grow into the knowledge of God’s word by idly waiting for some new gift of discernment, but by diligently using that which God has already bestowed upon him, and using at the same time all other helps that lie within his reach. There are men and books that seem, beyond others, to have the power of aiding insight. All of us have felt it in the contact of some affinity of nature which makes them our best helpers; the kindred clay upon the eyes by which the great Enlightener removes our blindness (John 9:6). Let us seek for such, and if we find them let us employ them without leaning on them. Above all, let us give our whole mind in patient, loving study to the book itself, and where we fail, at any essential part, God will either send his evangelist Philip to our aid (Acts 8:26-40) or instruct us himself. But it is only to patient, loving study that help is given. God could have poured all knowledge into us by easy inspiration, but it is by earnest search alone that it can become the treasure of the soul.
But if so, it may still be asked what is the meaning of this prayer, and why does the Bible itself insist so often on the indispensable need of the Spirit of God to teach? Now there is a side here as true as the other, and in no way inconsistent with it. If prayer without effort would be presumptuous, effort without prayer would be vain. The great reason why men do not feel the power and beauty of the Bible is a spiritual one. They do not realize the grand evil which the Bible has come to cure, and they have not a heart to the blessings which it offers to bestow. The film of a fallen nature, self maintained, is upon their eyes while they read: “The eyes of their understanding are darkened, being alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18). All the natural powers will never find the true key to the Bible, till the thoughts of sin and redemption enter the heart, and are put in the centre of the Book. It is the part of the Father of lights, by the teaching of his Spirit, to give this to the soul, and he will, if it humbly approaches him with this request. Thus we shall study as one might a book with the author at hand, to set forth the height of his argument, or as one might look on a noble composition, when the artist breathes into us a portion of his soul, to let us feel the centre of its harmonies of form and colour. Those who have given to the Bible thought and prayer will own that these are not empty promises. John Ker, in a Sermon entitled, “God’s Word Suited to Man’s Sense of Wonder, “1877.
Ver. 18. O let us never forget; that the wonderful things contained in the divine law can neither be discovered nor relished by the “natural man, “whose powers of perception and enjoyment are limited in their range to the objects of time and sense. It is the divine Spirit alone who can lighten the darkness of our sinful state, and who can enable us to perceive the glory, the harmony, and moral loveliness which everywhere shine forth in the pages of revealed truth. John Morison, 1829.
Ver. 18. Uncover my eyes and I will look wonders out of thy law. The last clause is a kind of exclamation after his eyes have been uncovered. This figure is often used to denote inspiration or a special divine communication. “Out of thy law, “i.e., brought out to view, as if from a place of concealment. Joseph Addison Alexander.
Ver. 18. Wondrous things. Many were the signs and miracles which God wrought in the midst of the people of Israel, which they did not understand. What was the reason? Moses tells us expressly what if was: “Yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day” (Deuteronomy 29:4). They had sensitive eyes and ears, yea, they had a rational heart or mind; but they wanted a spiritual ear to hear, a spiritual heart or mind to apprehend and improve those wonderful works of God; and these they had not, because God had not given them such eyes, ears, and hearts. Wonders without grace cannot open the eyes fully; but grace without wonders can. And as man hath not an eye to see the wonderful works of God spiritually, until it is given; so, much less hath he an eye to see the wonders of the word of God till it be given him from above; and therefore David prays, Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. And if the wondrous things of the law are not much seen till God give an eye, then much less are the wondrous things of the Gospel. The light of nature shows us somewhat of the Law; but nothing of the Gospel was ever seen by the light of nature. Many who have seen and admired some excellencies in the Law could never see, and therefore have derided, that which is the excellency of the Gospel, till God had opened their heart to understand. Joseph Caryl, 1602-1673.
Ver. 18. “The word is very nigh” unto us; and, holding in our hand a document that teems with what is wonderful, the sole question is, “Have we an eye to its marvels, a heart for its mercies?” Here is the precise use of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit puts nothing new into the Bible; he only so enlightens and strengthens our faculties, that we can discern and admire what is there already. It is not the telescope which draws out that rich sparkling of stars on the blue space, which to the naked eye seem points of light, and untenanted: it is not the microscope which condenses the business of a stirring population into the circumference of a drop of water, and clothes with a thousand tints the scarcely discernible wing of the ephemeral insect. The stars are shining in their glory, whether or no we have the instruments to penetrate the azure; and the tiny tenantry are carrying on their usual concerns, and a rich garniture still forms the covering of the insect, whether or no the powerful lens has turned for us the atom into a world, and transformed the almost imperceptible down into the sparkling plumage of the bird of paradise. Thus the wonderful things are already in the Bible. The Spirit who indited them at first brings them not as new revelations to the individual; but, by removing the mists of carnal prejudice, by taking away the scales of pride and self sufficiency, and by rectifying the will, which causes the judgment to look at truth through a distorted medium, by influencing the heart, so that the affections shall no longer blind the understanding, by these and other modes, which might be easily enumerated, the Holy Ghost enables men to recognize what is hid, to perceive beauty and to discover splendour where all before had appeared without form and comeliness; and thus brings round the result of the Bible, in putting on the lip the wonderful prayer which he had himself inspired: Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. Henry Melvill, 1798-1871.
Ver. 18. The wondrous things seem to be the great things of an eternal world he had turned his enquiring eyes upon the wonders of nature, sun, moon, and stars, mountains, trees, and rivers. He had seen many of the wonders of art; but now, he wanted to see the spiritual wonders contained in the Bible. He wanted to know about God himself in all his majesty, purity, and grace. He wanted to learn the way of salvation by a crucified Redeemer, and the glory that is to follow.
Open mine eyes. David was not blind his eye was not dim. He could read the Bible from end to end, and yet he felt that he needed more light. He felt that he needed to see deeper, to have the eyes of his understanding opened. He felt that if he had nothing but his own eyes and natural understanding, he would not discover the wonders which he panted to see. He wanted divine teaching the eye salve of the Spirit; and therefore he would not open the Bible without this prayer, “Open thou mine eyes.” Robert Murray Macheyne, 1813-1843.
Ver. 18. Wondrous things. Wherefore useth he this word “wondrous”? It is as if he would have said, Although the world taketh the law of God to be but a light thing, and it seemeth to be given but as it were for simple souls and young children; yet for all that there seemeth such a wisdom to be in it, as that it surmounts all the wisdom of the world, and that therein lie hid wonderful secrets. John Calvin.
Ver. 18. Thy law. That which is the object of the understanding prayed for, that in the knowledge whereof the Psalmist would be illuminated, is hrwt. The word signifies instruction; and being referred unto God, it is his teaching or instruction of us by the revelation of himself, the same which we intend by the Scripture. When the books of the Old Testament were completed they were, for distinction’s sake, distributed into hrwt, Mybwtk, and Myaybg, or the “Law, “the “Psalms, “and the “Prophets, “Luke 24:44. Under that distribution Torah signifies the five books of Moses. But whereas these books of Moses were, as it were, the foundation of all future revelations under the Old Testament, which were given in the explication thereof, all the writings of it were usually called “the Law, “Isaiah 8:20. By the law, therefore, in this place, the Psalmist understands all the books that were then given unto the church by revelation for the rule of its faith and obedience. And that by the law, in the Psalms, the written law is intended, is evident from the first of them, wherein he is declared blessed who “meditates therein day and night, “Psalms 1:2; which hath respect unto the command of reading and meditating on the books thereof in that manner, Joshua 1:8. That, therefore, which is intended by this word is the entire revelation of the will of God, given unto the church for the rule of its faith and obedience that is, the holy Scripture.
In this law there are twalpg “wonderful things.” alp signifies to be “wonderful, “to be “hidden, “to be “great” and “high; “that which men by the use of reason cannot attain unto or understand (hence twalpg are things that have such an impression of divine wisdom and power upon them as that they are justly the object of our admiration); that which is too hard for us as Deuteronomy 17:8, rkr Kmm alpy yk “If a matter be too hard for thee, “hid from thee. And it is the name whereby the miraculous works of God are expressed, Psalms 77:11 Psalms 77:78:11. Wherefore, these “wonderful things of the law” are those expressions and effects of divine wisdom in the Scripture which are above the natural reason and understanding of men to find out and comprehend. Such are the mysteries of divine truth in the Scripture, especially because Christ is in them, whose name is” Wonderful, “Isaiah 9:6; for all the great and marvellous effects of infinite wisdom meet in him. John Owen, 1616-1683.
Ver. 18. Wondrous things. There are promises in God’s word that no man has ever tried, to find. There are treasures of gold and silver in it that no man has taken the pains to dig for. There are medicines in it for the want of a knowledge of which hundreds have died. It seems to me like some old baronial estate that has descended to a man (who lives in a modern house) and thinks it scarcely worth while to go and look into the venerable mansion. Year after year passes away and he pays no attention to it, since he has no suspicion of the valuable treasures it contains, till, at last, some man says to him, “Have you been up in the country to look at that estate?” He makes up his mind that he will take a look at it. As he goes through the porch he is surprised to see the skill that has been displayed in its construction: he is more and more surprised as he goes through the halls. He enters a large room, and is astonished as he beholds the wealth of pictures on the walls, among which are portraits of many of his revered ancestors. He stands in amazement before them. There is a Titian, there a Raphael, there is a Correggio, and there is a Giorgione. He says, “I never had any idea of these before.” “Ah, “says the steward, “there is many another thing that you know nothing about in the castle, “and he takes him from room to room and shows carved plate, and wonderful statues, and the man exclaims, “Here I have been for a score of years the owner of this estate, and have never before known what things were in it.” But no architect ever conceived of such an estate as God’s word, and no artist, or carver, or sculptor, ever conceived of such pictures, and carved dishes, and statues as adorn its apartments. It contains treasures that silver, and gold, and precious stones are not to be mentioned with. Henry Ward Beecher, 1872.
Ver. 18. That I may behold wondrous things. The great end of the Word of God in the Psalmist’s time, as now, was practical; but there is a secondary use here referred to, which is worthy of consideration, its power of meeting man’s faculty of wonder. God knows our frame, for he made it, and he must have adapted the Bible to all its parts. If we can show this, it may be another token that the book comes from Him who made man… That God has bestowed upon man the faculty of wonder we all know. It is one of the first and most constant emotions in our nature. We can see this in children, and in all whose feelings are still fresh and natural. It is the parent of the desire to know, and all through life it is urging men to enquire. John Ker.
Ver. 18. Wondrous things out of thy law. In 118 we had the “wondrous” character of redemption; in 119 we have the “wonders” (Psalms 119:18, Psalms 119:27, Psalms 119:129), of God’s revelation. William Kay, 1871.
Ver. 18-19. When I cannot have Moses to tell me the meaning, saith Saint Augustine, give me that Spirit that thou gavest to Moses. And this is that which every man that will understand must pray for: this David prayed for; Open thou mine eyes that I may see the wonders of the Law; and (Psalms 119:19) hide not thy commandments from me. And Christ saith, “If you, being evil, can give good gifts to your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” so that then we shall see the secrets of God. Richard Stock, (1626).
HINTS TO PREACHERS.
1. The precious casket: “thy law.”
2. The invisible treasure: “wondrous things.”
3. The miraculous eyesight: “that I may behold.”
4. The divine oculist: “Open thou mine eyes.”
Ver. 18. The hidden wonders of the gospel. There are many hidden things in nature; many in our fellow men; so there are many in the Bible. The things of the Bible are hidden because of the blindness of Man.
1. The blind man’s sorrow:”Open mine eyes.” I cannot see. I have eyes and see not. The pain of this conscious blindness when a man really feels it.
2. The blind man’s conviction:”That I may behold wondrous, “etc. There are wondrous things there to be seen. I am sure of it. There is a wonderful view,
(a) of sin;
(b) of hell, as its desert;
(c) of One ready to save;
(d) of perfect pardon;
(e) of God’s love:
(f) of all sufficient grace;
(g) of heaven.
3. The blind man’s wisdom. The fault is in my eyes, not in thy word. “Open my eyes, “and all will be well. The reason for not seeing is because the eyes are blinded by sin. There is nothing wanting in the Bible.
4. The blind man’s prayer:”Open thou mine eyes.”
(a) I cannot open them.
(b) My dearest friends cannot.
(c) Only thou canst. “Lord, I pray thee, now open them.”
Many seek to stop such praying. Be like Bartimaeus who
“cried so much the more.”
5. The blind man’s anticipation:”That I may behold.”
(a) The joy of a cured blind man when he is about to behold,
for the first time, the beauties of nature.
(b) The joy of the spiritually healed when they begin
“looking unto Jesus.”
(c) The personal character of the joy: “Open thou mine eyes,
that I may behold.” I have hitherto had to see through the
eyes of others. I would depend on other eyes no longer.
The glad anticipation of Job: “Whom I shall see for
myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.” Frederick G. Marchant, 1882.
Ver. 18. God’s word suited to man’s sense of wonder.
1. We shall make some remarks on the sense of wonder in man, and what generally excites it. One of the first causes of wonder is the new or unexpected. The second source is to be found in things beautiful and grand. A third source is the mysterious which surrounds man there are things unknowable.
2. God has made provision for this sense of wonder in his revealed word. The Bible addresses our sense of wonder by constantly presenting the new and unexpected to us; it sets before us things beautiful and grand. If we come to the third source of wonder, that which raises it to awe, it is the peculiar province of the Bible to deal with this.
3. The means we are to use in order to have God’s word thus unfolded the prayer of the Psalmist may be our guide “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” John Ker, of Glasgow, 1877.
Ver. 18. Wondrous sights for opened eyes.
1. The wondrous things in God’s law. A wondrous rule of life. A wondrous curse against transgression. A wondrous redemption from the curse shadowed forth in the ceremonial law.
2. Special eyesight needed to behold them. They are spiritual things. Men are spiritually blind. 1 Corinthians 2:14.
3. Personal prayer to the Great Opener of eyes. C.A.D.
Ver. 19. 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.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS.
Ver. 19. I am a stranger in the earth. David had experience of peace and war, of riches and poverty, of pleasure and woe. He had been a private and public person; a shepherd, a painful calling; a soldier, a bloody trade; a courtier, an honourable slavery, which joins together in one the lord and the parasite, the gentleman and the drudge; and he was a king, a glorious name, filled up with fears and cares. All these he had passed through, and found least rest when he was at the highest, less content on the throne than in the sheepfolds. All this he had observed and laid up in his memory, and this his confession is an epitome and brief of all; and in effect he telleth us, that whatsoever he had seen in this his passage, whatsoever he had enjoyed, yet he found nothing so certain as this, that he had found nothing certain, nothing that he could abide with or would abide with him, but that he was still as a passenger and “stranger in the earth.” Anthony Farindon, 1596-1658.
Ver. 19. I am a stranger in the earth, etc. As a sojourner, he hath renounced the world, which is therefore become his enemy; as “a stranger” he is fearful of losing his way; on these accounts he requests that God would compensate the loss of earthly comforts by affording the light of heaven; that he would not “hide his commandments, “but show and teach him those steps, by which he may ascend toward heaven, rejoicing in hope of future glory. George Horne, 1730-1792.
Ver. 19. I am a stranger in the earth. This confession from a solitary wanderer would have had little comparative meaning; but in the mouth of one who was probably surrounded with every source of worldly enjoyment, it shows at once the vanity of “earth’s best joys, ” and the heavenly tendency of the religion of the Bible. Charles Bridges.
Ver. 19. I am a stranger in the earth, etc.
1. Every man here upon earth (especially a godly man) is but a stranger and a passenger.
2. It concerns him that is a stranger to look after a better and a more durable state. Every man should do so. A man’s greatest care should be for that place where he lives longest; therefore eternity should be his scope. A godly man will do so. Those whose hearts are not set upon earthly things, they must have heaven. The more their affections are estranged from the one, the more they are taken up about the other (Colossians 3:2); heaven and earth are like two scales in a balance, that which is taken from the one is put into the other.
3. There is of sufficient direction how to obtain this durable estate, but in the word of God. Without this we are but like poor pilgrims and wayfaring men in a strange country, not able to discern the way home. A blessed state is only sufficiently revealed in the word: “Life and immortality is brought to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). The heathens did but guess at it, and had some obscure sense of an estate after this life; but as it is brought to light with most clearness in the word, so the way thither is only pointed out by the word. It is the word of God makes us wise to salvation, and which is our line and rule to heavenly Canaan; and therefore it concerns those that look after this durable state to consult with the word.
4. There is no understanding God’s word but by the light of the Spirit. “There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job 32:8). Though the word have light in it, yet the spirit of man cannot move till God enlightens us with that lively light that makes way for the dominion of the truth in our hearts, and conveys influence into our hearts. This is the light David begs when he says, “Hide not thy commandments from me.” David was not ignorant of the Ten Commandments, of their sound; but he begs their spiritual sense and use.
5. If we would have the Spirit we must ask it of God in prayer; for God gives the “Spirit to them that ask him” (Luke 11:13); and therefore we must say, as David, “O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me: let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles” (Psalms 43:33). Thomas Manton.
Ver. 19. I am a stranger in the earth, etc. When a child is born, it is spoken of sometimes under the designation of “a little stranger!” Friends calling will ask if, as a privilege, they may “see the little stranger.” A stranger, indeed! come from far. From the immensities. From the presence, and touch, and being of God! And going into the immensities again into, and through all the unreckonable ages of duration.
But the little stranger grows, and in a while begins to take vigorous root. He works, and wins, and builds, and plants, and buys, and holds, and, in his own feeling, becomes so “settled” that he would be almost amused with anyone who should describe him as a stranger now.
And still life goes on, deepening and widening in its flow, and holding in itself manifold and still multiplying elements of interest. Increasingly the man is caught by these like a ship, from which many anchors are cast into the sea. He strives among the struggling, rejoices with the gay, feels the spur of honour, enters the race of acquisition, does some hard and many kindly things by turns; multiplies his engagements, his relationships, his friends, and then just when after such preparations, life ought to be fully beginning, and opening itself out into a great restful, sunny plain lo! the shadows begin to fall, which tell, too surely, that it is drawing fast to a close. The voice, which, soon or late, everyone must hear, is calling for “the little stranger, “who was born not long ago, whose first lesson is over, and who is wanted now to enter by the door called death, into another school. And the stranger is not ready. He has thrown out so many anchors, and they have taken such a fast hold of the ground that it will be no slight matter to raise them. He is settled. He has no pilgrim’s staff at hand; and his eye, familiar enough with surrounding things, is not accustomed to the onward and ascending way, cannot so well measure the mountain altitude, or reckon the far distance. The progress of time has been much swifter than the progress of his thought. Alas! he has made one long mistake. He has “looked at the things which are seen, “and forgotten the things which are not seen. And “the things which are seen” are temporal, and go with time into extinction; while “those which are not seen, are eternal.” And so there is hurry, and confusion, and distress in the last hours, and in the going away. Now, all this may be obviated and escaped, thoroughly, if a man will but say I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me. Alexander Raleigh, in “The Little Sanctuary, and other Meditations.” 1872.
Ver. 19. I am a stranger in the earth, etc. In the law, God recommends strangers to the care and compassion of his people; now David returns the arguments to him, to persuade him to deal kindly with him. Robert Leighton, 1611-1684.
Ver. 19. In the earth. He makes no exception here; the whole earth he acknowledged a place of his pilgrimage. Not only when he was banished among the Moabites and Philistines was he a stranger; but even when he lived peaceably at home in Canaan, still he thinks himself a stranger. This consideration moved godly Basil to despise the threatening of Modestus, the deputy of Valens the emperor, when he braved him with banishment. Ab exilii metu liber sum, unam hominum cognoscens esse patram, paradisum omnem autem terram commune naturae exilium. And it shall move us to keep spiritual sobriety in the midst of pleasures, if we remember that in our houses, at our own fireside, and in our own beds, we are but strangers, from which we must shortly remove, to give place to others. William Cowper.
Ver. 19. Hide not thy commandments from me. The manner of David’s reasoning is this. I am here a stranger and I know not the way, therefore, Lord, direct me. The similitude is taken from passengers, who coming to an uncouth country where they are ignorant of the way, seek the benefit of a guide. But the dissimilitude is here: in any country people can guide a stranger to the place where he would be; but the dwellers of the earth cannot show the way to heaven; and therefore David seeks no guide among them, but prays the Lord to direct him. William Cowper.
Ver. 19. Hide not thy commandments from me. There is a hiding of the word of God when means to hear it explained by preachers are wanting; and there is a hiding of the comfortable and lively light of the Spirit, who must quicken the word into us. From both those evils we may, and we should, pray to be saved. David Dickson.
Ver. 20. My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times. 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, 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 there is no appeal.
“This is the Judge which ends the strife
Where wit and reason fail;
Our guide through devious paths of life,
Our shield when doubts assail.” Watts.
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 heart break, 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 can be put off and on like our garments are at best but mere wishes, and possibly they are hardly true enough to be called by that name, they are temporary emotions born of excitement, and doomed to die 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.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS.
Ver. 20. My soul breaketh, etc. Here is a protestation of that earnest desire he had to the obedience of the word of God; he amplifies it two ways: first, it was no light motion, but such as being deeply rooted made his heart to break when he saw that he could not do in the obedience thereof what he would. Next, it was no vanishing motion, like the morning dew; but it was permanent, omni tempore, he had it at all times. William Cowper.
Ver. 20. My soul breaketh for the longing, as one that with straining breaks a vein. William Gurnall.
Ver. 20. My soul breaketh, etc. This breaking is by rubbing, chafing, or crushing. The spirit was so fretted with its yearning desire after the things which Jehovah had spoken, that it was broken as by heavy friction. The “longing” to find out and follow the hidden wonders was almost unbearable. This longing continued with the Psalmist “at all times, “or “in every season.” Prosperity could not make him forget it; adversity could not quench it. In sickness or health, in happiness or sadness, in company or alone, nothing overcame that longing. “The wondrous things” were so wonderful, and still so hidden. To see a little of “the beauty of the Lord” is to get to know how much there is which we fail to see, and thus to long more than ever. He who pursues ardently the wonders of the word of the Lord, will never set that longing at rest as long as he remains “in the earth.” It is only when we shall “be like him, ” and “shall see him as he is, “that we shall cry, “Enough, Lord!” “I shall be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness.” F. G. Marchant.
Ver. 20. My soul breaketh for the longing. For the earnest desire. “That it hath unto thy judgments at all times.” Thy law; thy commands. This was a constant feeling. It was not fitful, or spasmodic. It was the steady, habitual state of the soul on the subject. He had never seen enough of the beauty and glory of the law of God to feel that all the wants of his nature were satisfied, or that he could see and know no more; he had seen and felt enough to excite in him an ardent desire to be made fully acquainted with all that there is in the law of God. Albert Barnes.
Ver. 20. My soul breaketh for the longing, etc. The desire after God’s appointments becomes painfully intense. A longing an intense longing for the judgments of the Lord at all times. These are the particulars of his breaking soul. His whole mind is toward the things of God. He prays that he may behold the wondrous things of Jehovah’s law, and that he may not hide his commandments from him; and here his soul breaks for longing towards his judgments at all times. The state of the Psalmist’s mind would not lead us here to suppose that he was awaiting the manifestation of the Lord’s judgments in vindicating his cause against ungodly men, or that he was longing for opportunity of fulfilling all the deeds of righteousness towards his fellow men; for this he was doing to the utmost. Evidently he is intent upon the ordinances of religion, which were called “judgments” in reference to the solemn sanctions with which they were enjoined. The man of God so longed to join with the Lord’s people in these, that his heart was ready to break with desire, as he was forced from place to place in the wilderness. The renewed heart is here. Another might long to be delivered from persecution, to be at rest, to be restored to home, relations, and comfort. The man of God could not but desire those natural enjoyments; but, over all, his holy mind longed with ardour for the celebration of Jehovah’s worship. John Stephen.
Ver. 20. Thy judgments. God’s judgments are of two sorts: first, his commands; so called because by them right is judged and discerned from wrong. Next, his plagues executed upon transgressors according to his word. David here refers to the first. Let men who have not the like of David’s desire, remember, that they whose heart cannot break for transgressing God’s word because they love it, shall find the plagues of God to bruise their body and break their heart also. Let us delight in the first sort of these judgments, and the second shall never come upon us. William Cowper.
Ver. 20. Mark that word, at all times. Bad men have their good moods, as good men have their bad moods. A bad man may, under gripes of conscience, a smarting rod, the approaches of death, or the fears of hell, or when he is sermon sick, cry out to the Lord for grace, for righteousness, for holiness; but he is the only blessed man that hungers and thirsts after righteousness at all times. Thomas Brooks, 1608-1680.
Ver. 20. At all times. Some prize the word in adversity, when they have no other comfort to live upon; then they can be content to study the word to comfort them in their distresses; but when they are well at ease, they despise it. But David made use of it “at all times; ” in prosperity, to humble him; in adversity, to comfort him; in the one, to keep him from pride; in the other, to keep him from despair; in affliction, the word was his cordial; in worldly increase, it was his antidote; and so at all times his heart was carried out to the word either for one necessity or another. Thomas Manton.
Ver. 20. At all times. How few are there even among the servants of God who know anything of the intense feeling of devotion here expressed! O that our cold and stubborn hearts were warmed and subdued by divine grace, that we might be ready to faint by reason of the longing which we had “at all times” for the judgments of our God. How fitful are our best feelings! If today we ascend the mount of communion with God, tomorrow we are in danger of being again entangled with the things of earth. How happy are they whose hearts are “at all times” filled with longings after fellowship with the great and glorious object of their love! John Morison, 1829.
Ver. 20. If you read the lives of good men, who have been, also, intellectually great, you will be struck, I think, even to surprise, a surprise, however, which will not be unpleasant, to find them, at the close of life, in their own estimation so ignorant, so utterly imperfect, so little the better of the long life lesson. Dr. Chalmers, after kindling churches and arousing nations to their duties, summed up his own attainments in the word “desirousness, “and took as the text that best described his inner state, that passionate, almost painful cry of David, My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments. But how grand was the attainment! To be in old age as simple as a little child before God! To be still learning at threescore years and ten! How beautiful seem the great men in their simplicity! Alexander Raleigh, in “The Little Sanctuary, “1872.
HINTS TO PREACHERS.
1. The word sought, and sought at all times.
2. The word sought, and sought with intense desire.
3. The word sought, and sought the more intensely the more it is found. It was because he had found so much in the word of the Lord already, that the soul of the Psalmist was breaking to find more. Those who have been once admitted to “the secret of the Lord” find their highest joy in knowing that secret still more fully. It is to those who know that secret that the promise is given: “He will show them his covenant:” Psalms 25:14. F.G.M.
Ver. 20. One of the best tests of character and prophecies of what a man will be, are his longings.
1. The saint’s absorbing object:”Thy judgments.” The word here is synonymous with the “word” of God.
(a) The Psalmist greatly reverenced the word.
(b) He intensely desired to know its contents.
(c) He wishes to feed upon God’s word.
(d) He longed to obey it.
(e) He longed to feel the power of God’s judgments in his own
2. The saint’s ardent longings.
(a) They constitute a living experience.
(b) The expression used in the text represents a humble
sense of imperfection.
(c) It indicates an advanced experience.
(d) It is an experience which we may term a bitter sweet.
(e) These longings may become very wearying to a man’s
3. Cheering reflections.
(a) God is at work in your soul.
(b) The result of God’s work is very precious.
(c) It is leading on to something more precious.
(d) The desire itself is doing you good.
(e) It makes Christ precious. See “Spurgeon’s Sermons, “No.
1586: “Holy Longings.”
Ver. 21. 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 “In the foundations of the world were discovered at thy rebuke, O Lord.” In the person of the naughty 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 in it 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 true 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 levelled against the haughty upstarts who would fain lord it over righteous men; and we may well be of good 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 forms of those evils.