F. B. Hole
(Extracted from Scripture Truth Vol. 28, 1936, page 204.)
These five Psalms form a distinct group by themselves, in which we are introduced prophetically to the coming day, in which the once rejected Christ is to be glorified and Israel His people are to be delivered. The climax of the story is reached in Psalm 118, but before we contemplate it let us note the steps leading up to it as unfolded in the four preceding Psalms.
In Psalm 114 faith looks back and sees in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt the power of the presence of God. The same power was to be seen too in Israel's crossing of the Jordan when they entered the Land. Other eyes may have gazed upon these stirring scenes and seen nothing but natural phenomena and remarkable coincidences, just as modern scepticism looks back and sees nothing more than that, if indeed they admit that anything happened at all. Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan God's works in vain, as the poet has told us. Even when it is driven into a corner and forced to admit that something did happen, it cannot for one moment discern what lay behind the something. We know by faith. It was the presence and power of God.
In Psalm 115 faith again speaks and claims that the God who did act in this fashion in the bygone day is the living God today. The idols of the heathen are utter vanity, and their folly is only equalled by that of the men who make them and then trust in them. Our God is in the heavens, and He still acts as He pleases. He is therefore worthy of all confidence, and the Psalmist calls upon Israel, the house of Aaron, and all those that fear the Lord to trust Him as their help and shield. The closing verses of the Psalm are the confident language of faith. Without a doubt God will intervene and bless His people and all who trust in Him.
Psalm 116 voices the sentiments of faith, just as God's fresh deliverance is being experienced. Still viewing the Psalms from the prophetic standpoint, we may see in verse 3 an allusion to the sorrows of the great tribulation, when the godly had been brought down to the very gates of death and "hell," or "Sheol." Looking back on that terrible hour, the confession has to be made, "I was greatly afflicted: I said in my haste, [i.e., alarm or agitation] All men are liars" (verses 10, 11). Now however, the speaker is delivered from death, from tears, from falling (verse 8).
Many a saint who enters the great tribulation will not be delivered, as is made very plain in the Book of Revelation. Verse 15 of our Psalm fits in with this. The death of those who fall before the persecuting power of Satan, who is the energizer of the "beasts," will be very precious in the sight of the Lord; and He will demonstrate this to be so by the special resurrection, of which Revelation 20:4 speaks. Then, together with those who have been delivered and brought through the tribulation, there will be the sacrifice of thanksgiving in the courts of the Lord's house in the midst of Jerusalem, as is shown at the end of the Psalm.
Faith, however, looks on to the land of the living before it is reached, and that, whether it is to be reached by deliverance from death or by resurrection. "I believed, therefore have I spoken," is the language of faith. To this the Apostle Paul referred in 2 Corinthians 4:13, saying, "We having the same spirit of faith." Death rolled in upon his spirit and also threatened his body, but in faith he had his eye upon the resurrection world and hence was able to boldly testify, just as the Psalmist did in his day, and as those, to whom the Psalm prophetically refers, will testify in a day to come.
Faith can speak before the Divine intervention has materialized and say with confidence, "I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living." This is what we may do today. Are we doing it?
Psalm 117 is a very short one, but it strikes a very definite note of praise. It also contains two very striking thoughts. The first is that the nations and peoples are called upon to praise the Lord because of His mercy to " us," that is, to Israel. The reason for this is expounded to us in Romans 11:12-15. The receiving of them back into the favour of God will be as "life from the dead," as is indicated also in the first two verses of Psalm 67. It will mean an outpouring of blessing which will reach out to every people, and hence all the nations will heartily join in praising God for His mercy to Israel.
The second thought of much importance is the way that mercy and truth are linked together in the second verse. Neither mercy at the expense of truth, nor truth at the expense of mercy, would be for the glory of God and the blessing of men. In the coming day when God brings to fruition all His purposes concerning Israel the mercy of God toward them will be seen to be great indeed, and at the same time His truth will be established for ever. The foundation of all this has already been laid in the cross of Christ, and hence the same thing is true when the gospel reaches us today.
Psalm 118 picks up this theme and shows in a detailed way how the mercy will be displayed and how the truth will be established. In verses 2-4, the same three classes appear that we had in Psalm 115. "Israel" is of course the whole nation — the born-again nation that will enter into millennial blessedness. "The house of Aaron" is the priestly family, brought into special nearness to God. "Them that fear the Lord" is a description that would include the godly from among the Gentiles. In Psalm 115 they were all bidden to trust in the Lord who proves Himself to be a help and a shield. Here, in the light of what He has accomplished — as recounted in the rest of the Psalm — they are to praise Him and say that His mercy endureth forever.
Three verses follow (5-7) in which the Lord's intervention on behalf of His people is declared. The past tense is used but this is quite a common feature in prophecy, since the accomplishment of what is declared is so certain that there is nothing incongruous in speaking of it as already done.
The word that is translated "distress" in verse 5 is, we are told, akin to the word "siege." Without a doubt Israel's distress is going to reach a climax during the siege of which Zechariah 14:2 speaks, and it will be just at that critical moment that the Lord's intervention on their behalf will take place, as the next verse shows. The answer of the Lord to their cry will result in their being brought into a large place and the destruction of their foes, as is indicated in verse 7 of our Psalm. As a result they will indeed be able to say, "The Lord is on my side, I will not fear: what can man do unto me?"
Verses 8 and 9 state the conclusion which they reach. Their confidence in man, even in princes, is broken. They recognize it is better to trust in the Lord. It has been stated that verse 8 is the middle verse of the Bible. If so, it is very appropriate. It certainly states one of the greatest facts that the Bible inculcates: the central fact upon which everything for us turns. How quickly do we put confidence in man; how slowly do we trust in the Lord! Yet to cease from man, and to trust in God is that which Israel has to learn. And we have to learn it too.
Verses 10-12 seem to link on with verse 7. All nations will indeed compass Jerusalem about when the day of the Lord is come: Zechariah 14. 2 expressly states this, as it also states that they do so to their destruction. This will be the moment when Jehovah appears for the deliverance of His people and the overthrow of their adversaries, and His feet shall stand in that day on the Mount of Olives. The feet that left the Mount of Olives in the vicinity of Bethany were the feet of Jehovah; and the feet of Jehovah, that yet will stand on that Mount, will be the feet of the glorified Jesus.
Thrice do we get the words, "In the Name of the Lord will I destroy them," or more literally, as the margin shows, "I cut them off," for still the past tense is employed in its prophetic significance. That the Psalmist should say, "I cut them off," is remarkable; but be it noted that he does it "in the Name of the Lord," which signifies that the power in which the thing is done is the Lord's, and not his own. This is fully acknowledged in verses 13-17. It is the right hand of the Lord that has achieved the victory, and the right hand of Jehovah is Christ. The Son of Man, made strong for Jehovah, is "the Man of Thy right hand" (Ps. 80:17). Hence instead of the godly being brought down to death, they live and declare the works of the Lord.
So much for the great deliverance to be wrought in the last days, which will incite Israel to give thanks to the Lord, saying that His mercy endureth for ever.
Now notice another thing. In all these great events the eye of faith can penetrate below the surface. Put together the three sentences: — "All nations compassed me about" (ver. 10). "Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall" (ver. 13). "The Lord hath chastened me sore" (ver. 18). The first of these deals with that which will be public: all men will know when Jerusalem is the great bone of contention for all nations. The next deals with that which may not be so public. There is an adversary of a very special sort whose one object is to overthrow the people of God, just because they are the people through whom the Divine purpose for the earth is to be established. Satan is that adversary, though perhaps we may understand the "Thou" as referring to the antichristian power through which he would crush them; were it not for the fact that the Lord helps them, and becomes their salvation, just as Ho did when He brought their forefathers out of Egypt.
Only faith however perceives the third thing. The chastening of God was in all this. He becomes their salvation, but only after His dealings in chastisement have had their full effect, leading to the tremendous national repentance predicted in Zechariah 12:9-14. God will deliver His people, but only after His chastening has achieved the happy end that it had in view.
All this is very instructive, for again and again do things work in just this way. In the remote past it was so with Job. There were the agents of his sorrows, quite open to public view — the Sabeans, the Chaldeans, the fire, the whirlwind. But behind these lay the sinister power of Satan, thrusting hard at him. Again, behind even this lay the chastening hand of God. Job's faith and patience was seen in the fact that he looked not at the third, or even at the second, cause. Ne looked straight through to Gad, and accepted all as from His hand. It is just the same in the present for ourselves. When trouble sweeps in upon us we are utterly distracted and often provoked if we look to second or third causes. If we bow beneath the hand of God we are greatly blessed.
The last part of the Psalm (verses 19-29) furnishes us with details as to the way in which the millennial blessedness is going to be secured. In the first place righteousness is emphasized (verses 19-21). In that glad epoch righteousness is going to reign; so the gate of entrance to it must of necessity be a gate of righteousness, and they who enter through it must be righteous. In the succeeding verses we find how the gates of righteousness are opened. The prophecy falls quite naturally under four heads — "The stone;" "The day;" "He that cometh;" "The sacrifice."
Christ, at His first advent, was the stone which the builders refused. This is put beyond all question by repeated quotations and allusions in the New Testament. When He arrived on the scene just over nineteen centuries ago men were very busy building their empires, their schemes, religious and otherwise. Had He been subservient to their ideas they might have been glad to work Him into their building, that He might adorn it by His supernatural powers. However, they discovered Him to be a Stone of such a shape and texture that they were unable to fit Him in anyhow or anywhere. They refused Him. Now He returns in glory to be the Head-stone of the building which is the handiwork not of men but of God. It will indeed be the Lord's doing, and we can understand how marvellous it will be in the eyes of those who at last see the truth, but who until lately looked upon Him as One rightly rejected.
In His glorious second advent He will be the stone cut out without hands, of Nebuchadnezzar's vision. He will fall with terrible and incredible velocity upon the proud kingdoms of men, and crush them beyond all recognition. The great winds of heaven will blow away the debris like chaff from the threshingfloor. Then the once-rejected Stone - the blessed Lord Jesus — will inaugurate a new order of things, of which He will be both the Foundation and the controlling Head.
Before proceeding with our Psalm let us pause to note that today — before the second advent — the same thing is true in principle in connection with the church, as Ephesians 2:10-22 shows. First, certain things are abolished. The "enmity" and also "the law of commandments contained in ordinances" are gone. Indeed both Jew and Gentile, in their characters as Jews and Gentiles, are gone. What is of God's workmanship, "one new man," remains. There is the new building, God's building, and of this "Jesus Christ Himself " is "the chief corner stone." Our business is to keep out in practice what God has put out, and to promote in practice what God is building. No small task this, and one to send us to our knees, even as it sent Paul there — see Ephesians 1:16-20, and Ephesians 3:14-21.
When the once rejected Stone is established as the Head, a new day will be inaugurated. Redeemed men will say with exultation, "This is the day which the Lord hath made," and what a day of glory and blessing it will be! Today we look round upon a torn and distracted world. Men's hearts fail them for fear, and Scripture speaks in no uncertain terms of what is coming upon the earth. We sigh and say, This is the day which man has made. The very term, "man's day," is used in 1 Corinthians 4:3, though translated "man's judgment." Man's day is the day in which man insists on putting himself into the centre and forefront of the picture. It has been one long-drawn-out nightmare, and special horrors are predicted as marking its close when human iniquity reaches its climax. Man's day will be quenched in the night of judgment.
When Christ steps into the centre and forefront of the picture, the day which the Lord hath made will arrive. It will be a day of salvation and prosperity. Men will rejoice and be glad in it. It even makes us glad to contemplate it before it dawns.
Everything centres in a Person, and in verse 26 we are not allowed to forget this. When the Psalm was written "the stone" was quite impersonal, and centuries had to pass before the significance of the word became quite clear. But no centuries had to roll away before it was revealed that blessing for men was bound up with the advent of a Person who would come in the Name of the Lord. He would be Jehovah's Representative. Ultimately we discover Him to be the Son, who is Jehovah, equally with the Father.
When the Lord Jesus entered Jerusalem riding upon the colt of an ass, the multitudes cried, "Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord," (Matt. 21:9). But that was the result of a sudden gust of enthusiasm, and had no permanent significance, as the sequel showed. Within a week He was crucified. The Lord knew the worthlessness of their excited cry, and hence a little later He said, "Ye shall not see Me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord" (Matt. 23:39). The Psalm speaks of the moment when they will see Him again, and utter the cry of welcome with full truth and sincerity.
Lastly we come to the sacrifice, in the light of which God is known. At first sight it seems remarkable that we should come to this at the end and not at the beginning. The Psalm deals with His second coming, and His sacrifice was accomplished at His first coming. Yes, but it is only at His second coming that Israel will understand it. Then, and not till then, will it burst upon them as light from heaven; and what sacrifices there are in the millennial age will be bound to the altar as simple memorials of the great Sacrifice, that once and for ever was offered at Calvary.
In coming to sacrifice at the finish, we come to that which lies at the foundation of all. If He who was the refused Stone had not become the Sacrifice, He had never become the Head of the corner, nor would there dawn the day which the Lord hath made. When men transfixed Him to the Roman gibbet, He turned His cross into an altar. The cords that held Him there were the cords of a LOVE that was both divine and invincible.
God has indeed showed us light, for we have the knowledge of what His sacrifice has accomplished. In the light of that we are waiting for His coming which will usher in the day which the Lord hath made. Then the once rejected Stone, our adorable Lord Jesus, will stand forth in His glory.
We need not wait for that day to dawn in order to praise Him. Today we can say, "Thou art my God, and I will praise Thee: Thou art my God, I will exalt Thee. Oh give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever."