THOU art my portion, OLORD: I have said that I would keep thy words. 58 I intreated thy favor with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word. 59 I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. 60 I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments. 61 The bands of the wicked have robbed me: but I have not forgotten thy law. 62 At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments. 63 I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts. 64 The earth, OLORD, is full of thy mercy: teach me thy statutes.
In this section the Psalmist seems to take firm hold upon God himself; appropriating him (57), crying out for him (58), returning to him (59), solacing himself in him (61, 62), associating with his people (63), and sighing for his personal instruction (64). Note how the first verse of this octave is linked to the last of the former one, of which indeed it is an expansion. ‘:’This I had because I kept thy precepts. Thou art my portion, OLORD: I have said that I would keep thy words.’” Being many, these verses are still but one bread. 57. ‘“Thou art my portion, O Lord : I have said’ that I would keep thy words. ’” ‘“Thou art my portion, O Lord. ’” A broken expression. The translators have mended it by insertions, but perhaps it had been better to have left it alone, and then it would have appeared as n exclamation — ‘“My portion, O Lord!’” The poet’s lost in wonder while he sees that the great and glorious God is all his own! Well might he be so, for there is no possession like Jehovah himself. The form of the sentence expresses joyous recognition and appropriation — ‘“My portions. O Jehovah!’” David had often seen the prey divided, and heard the victor.’ shouting over it; here he rejoices as one who seizes his share of the spoil; he chooses the Lord to be his part of the treasure. Like the Levites, he took God to be his portion, and left other matters to those who coveted them. This is a large and lasting heritage, for it includes all, and more than all, and it outlasts all; and yet no man chooses it for himself until God has chosen and renewed him.
Who that is truly wise could hesitate for a moment when the infinitely blessed God is set before him to be the object of his choice? David leaped at the opportunity, and grasped the priceless boon. Our author here dares exhibit the title-deeds of his portion before the eye of the Lord himself, for he addresses his joyful utterance directly to God, whom he boldly calls his own. With much else to choose from, for he was a king, and a man of great resources, he deliberately turns from all the treasures of the world, and declares that the Lord, even Jehovah, is his portion. ‘“I have said that I would keep thy words. ’” We cannot always look back with comfort upon what we have said, but :in this instance David had spoken wisely and well. He had declared his choice; he preferred the word of God to the wealth of worldlings. It was his firm resolve to keep — that is, treasure up and observe — the words of his God; and as he had aforetime solemnly expressed it: in the presence of the Lord himself, so here he confesses the binding obligation of his former vow. Jesus said, ‘“If a man love me, he will keep my words,’” and this is a case which he might have quoted as an illustration; for the Psalmist’s love to God as his portion led to his keeping the words of God. David took God to be his Prince as well as his Portion. He was confident as to his interest in God, and therefore he was resolute in his obedience to him. Full assurance is a powerful source of holiness. The very words of God are to be stored up; for whether they relate to doctrine, promise, or precept, they are most precious. When the heart is determined to keep these words, and has registered its purpose in the court of heaven, it is prepared for all the temptations and trials that may befall it; for, with God as its heritage, it is always in good case. 58. ‘“I intreated thy favor with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word. ’” ‘“I intreated thy favor with my whole heart. ’” A fully assured possession of God does not set aside prayer, but rather urges us to it; he who knows God to be his God will seek his face, longing for his presence. Seeking God’s presence is the idea conveyed by the marginal reading, ‘“thy face,’” and this is true to the Hebrew. The presence of God is the highest form of his favor, and :therefore it is the most urgent desire of gracious souls: the light of his countenance gives us an antepast of heaven. Oh that we always enjoyed it! The good man entreated God’s smile as one who begged for his life, and the entire strength of his desire went with the entreaty. Such eager pleadings are sure of success; that which comes from our heart will certainly go to God’s heart. The whole of God’s favors are ready for those who seek them with their whole hearts. ‘“Be merciful unto me according to thy word. ’” He has entreated favor, and the from in which he most needs it is that of mercy; for he is more a sinner than anything else. He asks nothing beyond the promise, he only begs for such mercy as the word reveals. And what more could he want or wish for? God has revealed such an infinity of mercy in his word, that it would be impossible to conceive of more. See how the Psalmist dwells upon favor and mercy, he never dreams of merit. He does not demand, but entreat; for he feels his own unworthiness. Note how he remains a suppliant, though he knows that he has all things in his God. God is his portion, and yet he begs for a look at his face,. The idea of any other position before God than that of an undeserving though favored one never entered his head. Here we have his ‘“Be merciful unto me’” rising with as much intensity of humble pleading as if he still remained among the most trembling of penitents.. The confidence of faith makes us bold in prayer, but it never teaches us to live without prayer, or justifies us in being other than humble beggars at mercy’s gate. 59. ‘“I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. ’” While studying the word he was led to study his own life, and this caused a mighty revolution. He came to the word, and then he came to himself, and this made him arise and go to his Father. Consideration is the commencement of conversion: first we think, and then we turn. When the mind repents of ill ways, the feet are soon led into good ways; but there will be no repenting until there is deep, earnest: thought. Many men are averse to thought of any kind, and as to thought upon their ways, they cannot endure it, for their ways will not bear thinking of. David’s ways had not been all that he could have wished them to be, and so his thoughts were sobered o’er with the pale cast of regret; but he did not end with idle lamentations, he set about a practical amendment; he turned and returned, he sought the testimonies of the Lord, and hastened to enjoy once more the conscious favor of his heavenly Friend. Acton without thought is folly, and thought without action is sloth: to think carefully and then to act promptly is a happy combination. He had en-treated for renewed fellowship, and now he proved the genuineness of his desire by renewed obedience. If we are in the dark, and mourn an absent God, our wisest method will be not so much to think upon our sorrows as upon our ways: though we cannot turn the course of providence, we can turn the way of our walking, and this will soon mend matters. If we can get our feet right as to holy walking, we shall soon get our hearts right as to happy living. God will turn to his saints when they turn to him; yea, he has already favored them with the light of his face when they begin to think and turn. 60. ‘“I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments. ’” He made all speed to get back into the royal road from which he had wandered, and to run in that road upon the King’s errands. Speed in repentance and speed in obedience are two excellent things. We are too often in haste to sin. Oh that we may be in a greater hurry to obey! Delay in repentance is increase of :fin. To be slow to keep the commands is to break them. There is much evil in a lagging pace when God’s command is to be followed. A holy alacrity in service is much to be cultivated. It is wrought in us by the Spirit of God, and the preceding verses describe the method of it: we are made to perceive and mourn our errors, we are led to return to the right path, and then we are eager to make up for lost time by dashing forward to fulfill the precept.
Whatever may be :the slips and wanderings of an honest heart, there remains enough of true life in it to produce ardent piety when once it is quickened by the visitations of God. The Psalmist entreated for mercy, and when he received it he became eager and vehement in the Lord’s ways. He had always loved them, and hence when he was enriched with grace he displayed great vivacity and delight in them. He made double speed; for positively he ‘“made haste,’” and negatively he refused to yield to any motive which suggested procrastination — he ‘“delayed not.’” Thus he made rapid advances and accomplished much service, fulfilling thereby the vow which is recorded in the 57th verse: ‘“I said that I would keep thy words.’” The commands which he was so eager to obey were not ordinances of man, but precepts of the Most High. Many are zealous to obey custom and society, and yet they are slack in serving God. It is a crying shame that men should be served post-haste, and that God’s work should have the, go-by, or be performed with dreamy negligence. 61. ‘“The bands of the wicked have robbed me: but I have not forgotten thy law. ’” ‘“The bands of the wicked have robbed me. ’” Afore-time they derided him, and now they have defrauded him. Ungodly men grow worse, and become more and more daring, so that they go from ridicule to robbery. Much of this bold opposition arose from their being banded together: men will dare to do in company what they durst not have thought of alone. When firebrands are laid together, there is no telling what a flame, they will create. It seems that whole bands of men assailed this one child of God; they are cowardly enough for anything: though they could not kill him, they robbed him; the dogs of Satan will worry saints if they’ cannot devour them. David’s enemies did their utmost: first the serpents hissed, and then they stung. Since words availed not, the wicked fell to blows. How much the ungodly have plundered the saints in all ages, and how often have the righteous borne gladly the spoiling of their goods! ‘“But I have not forgotten thy law. ’” This was well. Neither his sense of injustice, nor his sorrow at his losses, nor his attempts at defense, diverted him from the ways of God. He would not do wrong to prevent the suffering of wrong, nor do ill to avenge ill. He carried the law in his heart, and therefore no disturbance of mind could take him off from following it.
He might have forgotten himself if he had forgotten the law: as it was, he was ready to forgive and forget the injuries done him, for his heart was taken up with the word of God. The bands of the wicked had not robbed him of his choicest treasure, since they had left him his holiness and his happiness.
Some read this passage, ‘“The bands of the wicked environ me.’” They hemmed him in, they cut him off from succor, they shut up every avenue of escape; but; the man of God had his protector with him; a clear conscience relied upon the promise, and a brave resolve stuck to the precept. He could not be either bribed or bullied into sin. The cordon of the ungodly could not keep God from him, nor him from God: this was because God was his portion, and none could deprive him of it, either by force or fraud. That is true grace which can endure the test: some are barely gracious among the circle of their friends, but this man was holy amid a ring of foes. 62. ‘“At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments. ’” He was not afraid of the robbers; he rose, not to watch his house, but to praise his God. Midnight is the hour for burglars, and there were bands of them around David, but they did not occupy his thoughts; these were all up and away with the Lord his God. He thought not of thieves, but of thanks; not of what they would steal, but of what he would give to ]his God. A thankful heart is such a blessing that it drives out fear and makes room for praise. Thanksgiving turns night into day, and consecrates all hours to the worship of God. Every hour is canonical to a saint.
The Psalmist: observed posture; he did not lie in bed and praise. There is not much in the position of the body, but there is something, and that something is to be observed whenever it is helpful to devotion and expressive of our diligence: or humility. Many kneel without praying, some pray without kneeling; but the best is to kneel and pray: so here, it would have been no virtue to rise without giving thanks, and it would have been no sin to give thanks without rising; but to rise and give thanks is a happy combination. As for the season, it was quiet, lonely, and such as proved his zeal. At midnight he would be unobserved and undisturbed; it was his own time which he saved from his sleep, and so he would be free from the charge of sacrificing public duties to private devotions. Midnight ends one day and begins another, it was therefore meet to give the solemn moments to communion with the Lord. At the turn of the night he turned to his God.
He had thanks to give for mercies which God had given: he had on his mind the truth of verse fifty-seven, “Thou art my portion,’” and if anything can make a man sing in the middle of the night, that is it.
The righteous doings of the great Judge gladdened the heart of this godly man. His judgments are the terrible side of God, but they have no terror to the righteous; they admire them, ,and adore the Lord for them: they rise at night to bless God that he will avenge his own elect. Some hate the very notion of divine justice, and in this they are wide as the poles asunder from this man of God, who was filled with joyful gratitude at the memory’ of the sentences of the Judge of all the earth. Doubtless in the expression, ‘“thy righteous judgments,’” David refers also to the written judgments of God upon various points of moral conduct; indeed, all the divine precepts may be viewed in that light; they are all of them the legal decisions of the Supreme Arbiter of right and wrong. David was charmed with these judgments. Like Paul, he could say, ‘“I delight in the law of God after the inward man.’” He could not find time enough by day to study the words of divine wisdom, or to bless God for them, and so he gave up his sleep that he might tell out his gratitude for such a law and such a Lawgiver.
This verse is an advance upon the sense of verse fifty-two, and contains in addition the essence of fifty-five. Our author never repeats himself: though he runs up and down the same scale, his music has an infinite variety. The permutations and combinations which may be formed in connection with a few vital truths are innumerable. 63. ‘“I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts. ’” ‘“I am a companion of all them that fear thee. ’” The last verse said, ‘“I will,’” and this says, ‘“I am.’” We can hardly hope to be right in the future unless we are right now. The holy man spent his nights with God and his days with God’s people. Those who fear God love those who fear him, and they make small choice as to the rank of their companions so long as they are truly God-fearing men. David was a king, and yet he consorted with ‘“all’” who feared the Lord, whether they were obscure or :famous, poor or rich. He was a fellow-commoner of the College of All-saints.
He did not select a few specially eminent saints and leave ordinary believers alone. No, he was glad of the society of those who had only the beginning of wisdom in the shape of ‘“the fear of the Lord’”: he was pleased to sit with them on the lower forms of the school of faith. He looked for inward godly fear, but he also expected to see outward piety, in those whom he admitted to his society; hence he adds, ‘“and of them that keep thy precepts. ’” If they would keep the Lord’s commands, the Lord’s servant would keep their company. David was known to be on the godly side, he was ever of the Puritanic party: the men of Belial hated him for this, and no doubt despised him for keeping such unfashionable company as that of humble men and women who were strait-laced and religious; but the man of God is by no means ashamed of his associates; so far from this, he even glories to avow his union with them, let his enemies make what they can of it. He found both pleasure and profit in saintly society; he grew better by consorting with tile good, and derived honor from keeping right honorable company. What says the reader? Does he relish holy society? Is he at home among gracious people? If so, he may derive comfort from the fact. Birds of a feather flock together. A man is known by his company. Those who have no fear of God before their eyes seldom desire the society of saints; it is too slow, too dull for them. Be this our comfort, that when we are let go by death we shall go to our own company, and those who loved the saints on earth shall be numbered with them in heaven.
There is a measure of parallelism between this seventh of its octave and the seventh of Teth (71) and of Jod (79); but, as a rule, the similarities which were so manifest in earlier verses are now becoming dim. As the sense deepens, the artificial form of expression is less regarded. 64. ‘“The early, O Lord, is full of thy mercy: teach me thy statutes. ’” ‘“The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy. ’” David had been exiled, but he had never been driven beyond the range of mercy, for he found the world to be everywhere filled with it. He had wandered in deserts and hidden in caves, and there he had seen and felt the lovingkindness of the Lord. He had learned that far beyond the bounds of the land of promise and the race of Israel the love of Jehovah extended, and in this verse he ,expressed that large-hearted idea of God which is so seldom seen in the modern Jew.
How sweet it is to us to know that not only is there mercy all over the world, but there is such an abundance of it that the earth is ‘“full’” of it! It is little wonder that: the Psalmist, since he knew the Lord to be his portion, hoped to obtain a measure of his mercy for himself. He desired to know more of one so good; and as the Lord has so freely revealed himself in nature, he felt encouraged to pray, ‘“teach me thy statutes. ’” It was to him the beau-ideal of mercy to be taught of God, and taught in God’s own law.
He could not think of a greater mercy than this. Surely, he who fills the universe with his grace will grant such a request as this to his own child, Let us breathe the desire to the All-merciful Jehovah, and we may be assured of its fulfillment.
The first verse of this eight is fragrant with full assurance and strong resolve, and this last verse overflows with a sense of the divine fullness, and of the Psalmist’s personal dependence. This is an illustration of the fact that: full assurance neither damps prayer nor hinders humility. It would be no error if we said that it creates lowliness and suggests supplication. ‘“Thou art my portion, O Lord,’” is well followed by ‘“teach me’”; for the heir of a great estate should be thoroughly educated, that his behavior may comport with his fortune. What manner of disciples ought we to be whose inheritance is the Lord of hosts! Those who have God for their Portion long to have him for their Teacher. Moreover, those who have resolved to obey are the most eager to be taught. ‘“I have said that I would keep thy words’” is beautifully succeeded by ‘“teach me thy statutes.’” Those who wish to keep a law are anxious to know all its clauses and provisions, lest they should offend through inadvertence. He who does not care to be instructed of the Lord has never honestly resolved to be holy.