The Sweet Psalmist of Israel!

There was required in the man who was to be, by way of eminence, “the Psalmist of Israel,” a saint of manifold experience. Such a man was David.

Into his single life were crowded vicissitudes of many lives. His boyhood made him acquainted with the deep-flowing, tranquil joys of a godly and well-ordered home (a better home than his man-hood or old age ever knew); it made him acquainted also with the hardships and the pleasures of country life among the pastoral expanses of Southern Palestine. After he was anointed by Samuel, Providence called him to ply the minstrel’s art before Saul and initiated him into the life of a court. Having returned home, he received a second and more brilliant introduction to the court in consequence of the victory over Goliath. Thereafter, for a succession of years, his life was spent amidst continual perils and trials. Persecuted by Saul, he had bitter experience of the worst vices of the ungodly in Israel; he was thrown for a time into the company of outlaws, and was obliged, more than once, to reside for a season among the idolatrous heathen, being driven forth, as he complained, from the heritage of the Lord. Nor did his trials cease when Saul’s death on the field of Gilboa opened his way to the throne.

Israel in his reign was a figure of the church militant; he ruled but it was in the midst of his enemies. First, he had the Philistines to make head against and drive back to their maritime plain. Then he had to confront a succession of formidable coalitions among the principal nations to the east and the north, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Syrians so that years were spent in wars which taxed his utmost energies and the resources of the kingdom. At length, victory crowned his arms on either side, so that his sway extended from the Euphrates to the river of Egypt. This might have brought him peace, but he forfeited the blessing by presumptuous sin. The evening of his life, which had held out the promise of a serene, unclouded sky, was vexed with storms more terrible than all that went before. The transgression of an unguarded day planted in his house a root of bitterness which troubled all his years. Incest and murder showed their frightful visage in the palace. One son after another rose in rebellions against him, which were only quenched in their blood.  His heart, a heart that beat with an intensity of natural affection never surpassed, was broken with anguish, and his grey hairs were brought down with sorrow to the grave.

I do not think it needful to spend many words in vindicating David’s character from the reproaches with which some have been pleased to load it. The fact is significant (I believe it to be a fact) that the quarters whence these reproaches come are not those in which the highest ideal of moral excellence prevails. It is not the men of unbending rectitude, of tender conscience, of holy life, who find it most difficult to understand how David should have been an eminent saint for all his sins and can perceive nothing by whining hypocrisy in his confessions. The psalms which he wrote on occasion of his great fall have gone home to the hearts of the best and holiest men that ever walked the earth. No sermons of Augustine’s betrays more tender emotion, more deep and thrilling sympathy with his subject, than the one he preached to the people of Carthage on the fifty-first Psalm. a great modern preacher gives similarly touching expression to his sense of the indubitable truth and sincerity of the king’s penitence. “In commenting on some of these Psalms,” writes Mr Spurgeon, “I have been overwhelmed with awe, and said with Jacob, ‘How dreadful is this place! It is none other than the house of God.’Especially was this the case with the Fifty-first. I postponed expounding it week after week, feeling, more and more, my inability for the work. Often I sat down to it and rose up again without having penned a line. The Psalm is very human; its sobs and cries are of one born of a woman, but it is freighted with an inspiration all divine as if the great Father were putting words into his child’s mouth. Such a psalm may be wept over, absorbed into the soul, and exhaled again in devotion, but commented on, ah! Where is he who, having attempted it, can do other than blush at his defeat?” Nothing can well be plainer, than that the psalms which for ages have thus found their way to men’s hearts must have come from the heart.

One who would appreciate the character of the Psalmist must remember that he was a man of prodigious energy. What he did, he did with his might. Moreover, he was a king, an oriental king, to whom law and universal custom permitted polygamy, and who was thus put in the way of being tempted by the foul sin which was the death of his domestic peace. Nor ought it to be forgotten that the sacred history has narrated David’s fall with a judicial severity full of the terror of the Lord. The chapter which records his offence sets down every hateful feature in it with unextenuating, inexorable circumstantiality, unparalleled in all biography, and, to a  thoughtful reader, suggestive of the indictment that might be preferred against a criminal at the bar of the Most High. These considerations are not adduced to cloak David’s transgression. Its enormity is undeniable and is denied by none. He sank to a depth of guilt into which few of God’s children have ever been suffered to fall. Yet this very fact contributed to fit him to be the Psalmist of God’s Israel. In was not in spite of his fall, but because of it, that God made choice of him to the spokesman of the church in penitential song. The church is not a company of angels, but of ransomed men; of men who were sinners, who are often sinning still. David well knew that the record if his fall and his forgiveness would furnish to sin-stricken souls in after-times a strength of encouragement which nothing else could yield. In crying for mercy, this was the plea he urged, “restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; then will I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee” (Psalm 51:12-13). 

There is not a poor publican in all God’s temple who, as he smites on his breast and cries, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” does not find, on turning to the Book of Psalms, that the mercy of God has there provided for him songs, too, originally written by as great a sinner as himself, in the agony of his repentance. Till the judgment day, it will never be known how many souls, who would otherwise have cast themselves down in despair, have been encouraged by David’s example, assisted by his psalms, to embrace the promise and to hope in the mercy of God.

The force of David’s character vast and the scope of his life was immense. His harp was full-stringed, and every angel, of joy and of sorrow, swept over the chords as he passed; but the melody always breathed of heaven.

By William Binnie, “A Pathway into the Psalms.”

(©️James R Hamilton, November 2018)
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